It’s always been the case in my travels that the places I’ve loved most are the places I’ve met people I’ve enjoyed spending time with. Koh Lanta was no exception. Besides being incredibly beautiful, the people here will certainly draw the strongest memories. I’d heard wonderful things over the years and regretfully skipped Koh Lanta on my previous visit to Thailand in order to spend more time on Koh Phi Phi. Again, it was the people on Phi Phi that kept me longer than I’d planned.
Not knowing much about Lanta, I decided stayed right in Saladan and not on one of Lanta’s many beautiful beaches as most people do. Since I didn’t know the area, I figured I’d rent a motorbike to explore the island and find a different place to stay after the first night or two. Plus, one of my least favorite things while traveling is arriving somewhere late and then walking around with my pack while searching for a place to stay.
Stepping out of the minibus I asked the driver where the hotel was since I didn’t know where it was. For some reason, he chuckled at me and simply said “there”, pointing east. Clueless, knowing I wouldn’t get any more help from him I headed east. It was soon apparent there wasn’t anything there, much less a hotel. I stopped in a few shops, but no one had heard of my hotel: apparently it was pretty new. After a few inquiries, I finally found a woman who, while laughing, said she knew where it was. Walking around asking everyone if they’ve heard of your hotel is a wonderful way to stick out as a tourist if you’re ever inclined.
After her giggles subsided, she walked out of her shop and hopped on her motorbike to show me the way and then motioned for me to join her. “On the back?” I questioned since I was easily twice her size, including the motorbike. She just pointed to the back and grabbed my daypack to put between her legs. Again I said “on the back?” it didn’t seem like the easiest task, especially with my backpack, but she insisted. After a short and wobbly ride, due west of course, we arrived at the Heart Inn. I thanked her and offered her a small payment for her trouble before she asked me to only rent her motorbike if I wanted one while on the island. Renting out their motorbikes is a nice source of extra income for locals and I’ve found is quite common.
After settling in, I met up with Chris and Michael. I’d met both over Twitter and when I mentioned I was heading to Lanta, Chris invited me on a diving trip with him and Michael and while I passed on the liveaboard, I knew a few beers were in order. We met for dinner at Catfish, where Chris proclaimed I had to have the hamburger as it was a rare find in Thailand: a real beef burger made American style. I hadn’t had any western food since arriving and normally try to avoid it, but being a good guest, I followed my host’s suggestion…right into stomach trouble the following morning. My first stomach “flu.” Thanks Chris!
After dinner Chris and I headed over to Serenity Massage and Spa, which is owned by Chris’ friend Rob and his girlfriend Nin. While I didn’t get a massage, we did get to sit out behind the shop and have beers on the pier. We also had a few Singapore slings made by their neighbor, who runs a tiny speakeasy out of his house. The “bartender” hollows out a whole pineapple and mixes the drink inside. While not normally what I’d choose to drink, it was pretty fabulous and good lubricant for the ensuing conversation.
The next night Chris invited me to join them for Loi Krathong, which is a huge festival celebrated across Thailand every November during the full moon. Loi means “to float” and krathong is a small float made from a section of banana tree trunk and decorated with elaborately folded banana leaves, flowers, candles, and incense sticks. The candle is meant to honor Buddha with light and the act of floating away the krathong is symbolic of releasing one’s grudges and anger to start fresh again. Some people also cut their fingernails and hair and add them to the raft as a symbol of letting go of the bad parts of oneself as well. Lastly, a small coin or two is included as an offering to the river spirits.
We headed over to Lanta Town to take part in the festival and watch everyone float their krathongs. Exemplifying the hospitality I’ve found everywhere I’ve traveled, Rob’s girlfriend Nin and their daughter Baimon made us each a krathong to float.
In the middle of the soccer field, there was a big stage with a beauty pageant going on, a few rows of food stalls, and lots of people celebrating.
Off to the side of the field was one of the things I enjoy most in Thailand: people releasing lanterns in to the sky. They’re simple paper cylinders with a small dish for fuel underneath and when enough hot air accumulates inside they float. Plain white and about a meter tall, they’re quite fun to watch take off and beautiful to watch them climb in the night sky. I can only imagine what it must have looked like in Chiang Mai, as I heard they closed the airport because there so many lanterns are released.
Being with everyone as they prayed and released their krathongs, it reminded me of the Days of Awe, where Jews try to amend their behavior and seek forgiveness for wrongs done against God and against other human beings. While brief, I thought about the past year and what I would like forgiveness for as well as the things I’d like to try and improve on over the next year. After a few minutes of self-reflection, I placed a few coins in my krathong, lit the incense and candle, and set it afloat.
While I’ve already been traveling for a few weeks celebrating loi krathong, especially with Chris, Rob, Nin & Baimon, was the perfect beginning for this trip. Next up, exploring Lanta’s beaches and reefs.