I am sure that my expression of disbelief and shock was not as cute as Wee Scotch’s (above) when I was told by our resort’s front desk staff that there were no beach chairs this time of year due to high tides.
Now there are some vacations that are less about relaxation and more about constant sightseeing, exploring new cuisines, and photographing the hell out of everything (like my month-long trip to Vietnam early this year). Then there are the holidays like our recent trip to Thailand where the priority was on beach bumming rather than island exporing and where photo taking was more of an afterthought than a prerequisite.
But how can one beach bum on a 10-day beach vacation when there was hardly a beach and nowhere to sit on the wet sand except for a washed up wet log?
* * * * *
Scotch, Wee Scotch, and I left Phuket on a very wet and rainy day and traveled via ferry for our four-hour sea journey to Koh Lanta, a friendly, laid-back, away-from-the-crowds beach and scuba diving destination southeast of Koh Phi Phi.
The ferry from Phuket was spacious, air-conditioned and provided free snacks, coffee, tea, and soft drinks. Two flat screen TVs projected Kung Fu Panda to keep the kiddies entertained and life vests were clearly marked and easily accessible behind each seat. Since it was low season (monsoons), there were no direct ferries from Phuket to Koh Lanta so we had to transfer to another ferry at Koh Phi Phi.
The ferry from Koh Phi Phi to Koh Lanta was much smaller and less comfortable but the staff were just as helpful though quite noisy as they played and gambled at cards on the seats just behind us.
Our pickup from the ferry terminal at Koh Lanta gave us hope that our hotel would be suitable. We seemed to be the only passengers that were picked up in a van and thus sheltered from the pouring rain whereas other passengers were loaded into open air trucks with plastic sheets that ineffectively kept the rain out.
But that was probably the only positive part of our arrangements.
We have booked at many questionable hotels before and most of the time they turn out to be hidden gems and even at the awful ones, we would make do for the one or two nights. But never have we stayed in any one hotel for ten days and traveling with a small child is a different experience altogether. At Wee Scotch’s age, he needs room to run around, constant stimulation and for our part, any help from hotel staff (especially babysitting services) is much appreciated.
All hopes were dashed of lounging all day on the beach as we soon discovered that during high tide, the entire beach was submerged at Kantiang Bay (below, left) and no beach chairs could be placed out. Low tide coincided with Wee Scotch’s afternoon nap so by the time we were out on the beach by late afternoon, we had limited time to enjoy the beach and only a washed up log to use as a make-shift chair.
For the next three days, we tried to stay positive and think of the whole experience as an adventure. But every morning, as I tried to explain to Wee Scotch why we couldn’t go to the beach (high tide) or the pool (covered in questionable debris), nor run outside (nowhere to run), and every evening when I had to flick live as well as dead ants off our beds and laptop, use wet and sandy towels (the hotel insisted on changing towels once once per day), or sit on a wet toilet seat (I just don’t understand why wet baths exist outside of boats) my patience and resolve to “rough it” were wearing thin.
And we tried in vain to avoid the female staff member who constantly frightened Wee Scotch with her booming shouts of “BOY!” as if she were Megatron menacing Shia LaBeouf’s character in Transformers.
Honestly, if I wanted to carry my own towel, chair, umbrella, food and drinks to the beach…I would have just stayed home in Dubai and gone to the public beach across from us.
On the third day of our stay at the Baan Laanta
resort motel, Scotch walked along the beach to the other end of Kantiang beach to check out the spa at the Pimalai Resort. He disappeared for a few hours and came back later that night with tales of the wonderful pampering he had experienced. He insisted I go the next day so I did.
Scotch was right. The Pimalai spa experience was amazing! It wasn’t just the soothing massage but the outdoor showers, the relaxing landscaping, and the lovely staff.
After my massage, sitting on the veranda overlooking the rain forest, listening to the soothing sounds of cascading waterfalls while leisurely sipping ginger tea and admiring the sunset, I felt at peace for the first time since we arrived in Thailand.
The hotel grounds were huge and golf carts were available to shuttle guests around if needed. Plenty of room for Wee Scotch to run around. AND they had beach chairs and beach-side service! I didn’t want to ever go back to the Baan Laanta.
So I didn’t.
Actually that’s not entirely true. I did go back to pack our things. After my massage, Scotch and Wee Scotch joined me at the Pimalai for dinner. And after a very short discussion, Scotch and I decided that six more nights at the Baan Laanta was going to be depressing and torture after seeing the Pimalai. So, before we even finished our first cocktail of the evening, we had made arrangements with the front office to check into the Pimalai for the remainder of our stay.
Over dinner, we felt like a huge weight had been lifted off our shoulders and I was excited about the “proper” vacation that lay ahead of us.
Kantiang Bay is one of the most beautiful beaches in Koh Lanta and we were finally able to enjoy it.
During low tide, the Pimalai resort had a huge expanse of beach for us to play on and Wee Scotch enjoyed chasing the little sand crabs, kicking ball, playing frisbee with Scotch, and catching baby goat fish in the rock pools. I enjoyed sitting on my cushioned beach chair and ordering lunch service so that we didn’t have to abandon off our sun-worshiping spots or deal with dragging an unwilling toddler away from newly found sandy play area.
The resort had erected a sea wall of sand so that during high tide, we could still enjoy a small portion of the beach from our lounge chairs and make sand castles.
Kayaks, windsurfing boards, sunsails, sand toys (for kids) and more were all available for use at no additional charge.
Here are some more iPhone photos that I took that week. You may have seen many of these photos on my Instagram profile:
We loved the beach, the pools, the views, the rooms, the bath tub (no wet bath, thank god!), the kids playroom, and most of the food (the buffet breakfast was a little disappointing in quality) but the lunch and dinner options were great.
One of the favorite parts of our stay was dining at the beach restaurant – the grilled seafood was phenomenal and since we were seated directly on the beach, Wee Scotch happily played on the sand by our feet (still in his swim trunks) so that we could enjoy dinner in peace.
This grilled fish with Thai herbs (I tasted ginger or maybe galangal, lemongrass, garlic, dried chilies, and kaffir lime leaves) wrapped in banana leaves was so flavorful that I want to buy a grill just so I can attempt it at home.
We didn’t do much sightseeing but Wee Scotch did finally got his wish to ride an elephant. He was so excited!
And I got more than I bargained for when the tour guide let me ride on the elephant’s head. I could feel the elephant’s thick wiry hair through my thin khaki pants – a very prickly experience.
Kantiang Bay “town” was perhaps a radius of 2-3 blocks centered around a T-junction. It was steps away from our first hotel and a 5-minute stroll along the beach from the Pimalai.
We frequented the 7-Eleven for its ATM and to buy juices, beer, and rain ponchos. I counted five dive shops within a stone’s throw from each other (to accommodate the demand during high season), at least one tattoo parlor, and a few open air massage parlors that offered very little privacy from passerbys like us.
In town, we tried to eat at as many of the restaurants as possible. Scotch wasn’t interested in the small street vendors but I was. I didn’t know what I was ordering but it was fun to experiment.
After a few days, we found ourselves returning to the same two restaurants: Drunken Sailors and Spices and Herbs.
We enjoyed chilling at Drunken Sailors for their coffee, tea, lively music, friendly service, and for their wonderful Thai food and satisfying Western breakfasts.
Spices and Herbs served some of the best and cheapest Thai food in the area – we kept going back for more. Shame the cooking school was closed when we were there – I would have loved to sign up for the Sea Gypsy cooking class.
At Som Tum, a roadside shack that was run by a husband and wife team, we enjoyed BBQ chicken and one of my favorite Thai dishes, Pad See Ew, and a stir-fried spicy red curry with shrimp that came out of an ice box as there didn’t seem to be any other form of refrigeration and tried to ignore all the flies that hovered over the food prep area.
So despite the rough start to our Koh Lanta beach vacation, things worked out to a very happy ending and thoughts of returning to the Pimalai in the future.
Besides eating, sunning and relaxing by the beach (eventually), we also did some scuba diving which I’ll write about in my next and final post of our trip to Thailand.