After Phuket and Khao Lak, I took a ferry boat down to Koh Lanta. Let us not speak of that ferry ride, or at least not until a later post titled “Worst Transportation Experiences of the Trip.” Suffice it to say, when I arrived on Lanta Island (“koh”=”island” in Thai), I was soaking wet from ocean spray, my muscles were cramped from crouching on a crowded boat deck, and I was in no mood for the “island cleaning” charge I had to pay when I disembarked. Happily, things turned around once I got to my guesthouse, a stripped-down version of a hotel that populates all of Southeast Asia.
I repeated my formula from Khao Lak at Koh Lanta; I slept in, moseyed on down to the beach (more of a walk here than at Khao Lak, but that meant a six-minute walk instead of two), found food along the waterfront, read, sunbathed, floated in the ocean, found food along the water or up on the road, watched the English language titles on Thai TV (“Psych” and “Law and Order” seem to be popular), and slept. Foolproof formula. There’s more to see and do on Koh Lanta, and maybe on another visit I’ll work up the courage to rent a motorbike and take a tour, but this time, I was content to work on nothing but my tan.
Once again, this part of the world was very popular with vacationing Scandinavians. I invited myself to dinner with an older Norwegian lady so we’d both have company for the meal, and she chatted excitedly about all the places she’s visited with her daughter. The next night, I moved to a cheaper guesthouse, which wasn’t a good move in terms of sleep (the number of mosquitoes in that place was astonishing), but was a good move in terms of meeting people. A delightful Swedish couple invited me out to the porch for a drink and a chat, and we ended up staying out til 3.
After a few days, I took a minibus up to Krabi Town (which, like Phuket Town, is part of a larger region known by dropping the “Town”). The minibus was cramped and at least an hour longer than I’d been told when I’d bought my ticket, but I made it in one piece. After a few weeks of hearing nothing but syrupy Thai ballads on the radio, I was pleased to find that my hostel was owned by a classic rock fan, and I registered to the sweet, sweet sounds of the Stones.
That evening, I went to the weekly night market just a few blocks away. I’d been shamefully unadventurous in my food choices down in the islands, so I sampled lots of street food here. Pork satay, quail eggs, crispy roti, and little sweet pancakes folded up with whipped cream and sprinkles inside.
I had my first real brush with Thai patriotism when the national anthem played over loudspeakers and every person stood still out of respect. A few people leaned over to slightly adjust their goods during the latter half of the song, but basically for the whole 45 seconds, anyone who was sitting got to their feet and anyone moving stopped in their tracks.
The next day, I went to Wat Kaew, a newer Buddhist temple built in the center of town. (There’s a more famous “Tiger Temple” outside of town, which involves climbing a lot of stairs, that I chose to skip.) The exterior of Wat Kaew is mostly white, with no exterior murals.
Inside, the painting on the back wall, around the door you just entered, depicts demons of all races engaged in battle using various weapons. The chaos of the battle takes place around a buddha seated serenely in the center. Apparently, this is meant to depict the battles we have within ourselves, against the desires that tie us to this world.There are also scenes of people engaged in daily life–lovers holding hands, friends sharing a laugh, monks holding out begging bowls, etc.
The side walls are lined with images of what I believe are asparas, dancing feminine spirits, who are meant to show your spirit’s improvement as you move toward enlightenment (and toward the altar). Finally, the wall behind the buddha’s altar contains images from the Buddha’s life (like the bodhi tree) and other religious symbols. This general progression of demons-asparas-buddhas is found in wats all over the country. (I hope I’m giving you the right basic idea on their significance; I’m cobbling together what I learned from memory, and my notoriously poor googling skills aren’t helping me any.)
The main feature of the wat that sticks out is the little park attached to it. The wat sits atop a hill, and down one side of it, they seem to be in the middle of building a small park. There’s a pond, a short path, and several wonderfully fake-looking statues of large wildlife, including an elephant and a cave full of a regal tiger and her suckling cubs. I saw a group of monks posing for photos by the elephant, their orange robes bright against the dull gray paint of the hollow statue. I tripped over garden hoses, two by fours, and a partially completed stone staircase that led me to conclude this park isn’t quite finished.
And that was it! I did spend a couple days exploring the beach areas of Krabi, and I’ll write about those in later posts, but for the most part my time in the Andaman Sea was delightfully lazy.