Thailand Fling - Part 5... Mud, Sweat and Piers
Koh Muk, Thailand December 2022
Our next port of call was the tiny island of Ko Mook or Koh Muk. However, we soon learnt that it should be re-named “Ko Mud” as the lanes that traversed it rapidly turned to quagmires in the torrential rainstorms that returned to plague us over the next few days.
Our plans to explore the island’s beaches and enjoy some snorkelling were put on hold, so we had to entertain ourselves with long lunches at the lovely little bakery and watching films on my laptop. I did manage to trudge through to “Farang Beach” one morning but decided to take a tuk tuk back, which to my alarm was driven by what looked like a ten-year-old with a yearning to be the next Lewis Hamilton.
Our nearest beach, the Sabai, was beautiful and we did manage a few hours enjoying a rare glimpse of sun until I realised that my legs were providing lunch for the sand flies.
Our local tour agency was run by the exuberant Mr Jes (who also owned the supermarket and a guest house). Always on hand in his booth to greet new (and old!) visitors to the island, he was a mine of information and on his recommendation, we took a chance on the weather improving and booked a long tail boat to take us to the neighbouring island of Ko Kradan and the highly recommended Emerald Cave.
Jes managed to find another couple to share the ride with us and we set off under (finally!) a cloudless sky. Ko Kradan was blessed with a long stretch of gorgeous white sand and surrounded by stunning coral reefs, a few of which we visited before mooring up for lunch at the beach. The water was crystal clear and full of multitudes of colourful (and curious) fish, some swimming right up to our masks! We then headed back to Ko Mook’s main attraction – the Emerald Cave.
The cave was apparently once a hide-out for pirates and re-discovered by locals searching for edible birds’ nests. It can only be entered at low tide and I decided to don a lifejacket as we had to swim through a pitch black 80m long tunnel. Luckily our guide had a head torch and as he led us through the eerie and echoey chamber it felt a little like a Disney ride and I was expecting to find dayglo animated characters popping out from the walls! We eventually saw a glimmer of light and swam out into a small circular pool of shimmering emerald water surrounded by towering limestone cliffs. It was formed when the roof of the sea cave collapsed creating an inland lagoon and was indeed a stunning location, reminding me of the cenotes in Mexico.
On hindsight, we could have probably cut short our stay in Ko Mook by a day or two as, even being hindered by the weather, it was a little too sleepy for our liking. We opted to head back to Ko Lanta and gratefully accepted a lift in Mr Jes’s tuk tuk along the extremely lengthy pier (no joke – it rivals Southend’s, albeit without the amusement arcades) to catch our transfer the following day.
It felt good to be back in familiar surroundings, and we were beginning to get a feel for places that we could perhaps settle down in. After days of being caked in mud I felt in need of a bit of pampering and popped up the road for some emergency repairs to my nails (totally buggered by getting my fins on and off – I know, tragic eh?!)… My lovely nail lady recommended someone who could give my fringe a quick trim, and although a little surprised when a “ladyboy” dressed in black satin shorts and shirt welcomed me into the salon, he/she did a very professional job.
One of the reasons we were attracted back to Lanta was that weekend they were hosting a reggae/ska music festival…on “our” beach! Unfortunately, the rain had followed us back and the preceding days were again stormy and wet. On investigation, the festival site was beginning to look a bit like Glastonbury and I was regretting not packing my wellies! As it happened, the rain held off for the actual concert, and the atmosphere was amazing. The headline act, T-Bone, are one of the biggest bands in Thailand and had a large contingent of fans at the festival. We were more impressed though by one of the supporting acts from Singapore – Mantravine – described as “a tribe of sonic sorcerers” – their blend of afro rhythms and funky dance beats totally blew us away!
Farangs in Trang
As the “beach weather” again seemed to be taking a leave of absence, and fancying a change of scenery we headed inland for a bit of a city break. Our minibus transfer to Trang City involved a quick hop across to the mainland on a car ferry and an hour or so along the well-maintained highway. Generally only used by tourists as a transit hub to the islands, we found ourselves pretty much the only “Westerners” walking around the interesting, heavily Chinese influenced streets.
The occasional odd glance we received was less to do with our ethnicity but more to do with the fact that we were actually walking! The Thais use scooters and cars to go everywhere – even to cross the road as we discovered when trying to use a crossing for its correct purpose. Pavements were simply there to park scooters and cars on, extend the seating of your restaurant or display your shop wares. The few meters which weren’t cluttered up, they’d stick a tree or street light, or were so overgrown you ended up ducking and diving as you tried to manoeuvre your way along, or took your chances in the road.
The one road we felt safe walking down later that evening was the one closed off for the night market. Being a bit of a novelty in these parts, a few of the friendly locals stopped us for a chat to practise their English and offer us free coconut patties. I didn’t feel brave enough to try anything else from the stalls as it all looked very “meaty” or unrecognisable so we headed back to the hotel to find a restaurant. Not as easy as it sounds, as most eateries seemed to close around 8pm, the only shops remaining open seemed to be the copious barbers and hair salons. We were about to give up when we spotted some lights at the end of the road, and found a small family run establishment which appeared to be open.
What followed was a hilarious interlude trying to decipher the menu (understandably, entirely in Thai) and communicate our preferences with the welcoming (and very patient) owners through the medium of hand gestures and Google Translate. We ended up with spicy mushroom soup (Ian’s had what looked like half the ocean swimming in it) and a bowl of salad, which was at least edible. Obviously eating out in the “real Thailand” was going to be a bit more challenging! I very quickly learned the expression “I am vegetarian” in Thai (“mang sa wi rat” if you’re interested!).
The next day we hired one of the strange “frog headed” tuk tuks, originally imported from Japan in the 1950’s, to take us to the Botanical Gardens. It was a welcome relief from the heat (typically, the sun was blazing now we were miles from a beach!). A tranquil few hours were spent wandering though the leafy grounds, and exploring the treetops on the series of canopy walks.
I had a yearning to experience a train journey in Thailand, and Trang was almost at the end of the line which connected Bangkok with the old coastal capital of the region, Kantang. The capital was moved inland after flooding and for security reasons after the bombing of Penang in the first world war. Either way, the 40-minute journey took us on old British rolling stock (I had an expert at hand) to one of the oldest railway stations in the country, and cost the princely sum on 5 Baht (around 12p – Greater Anglia take note!). This historic old timber station had a collection of antique scales (one made in Breda, Netherlands where my son lives) and certainly recalled a bygone era.
The town itself was once a major trading port but it’s main claim to fame now was the street art that adorned the side streets and the golden dugong, the large statue that pays homage to the now elusive sea creatures that are sometimes spotted off the coast. Again, we were accosted by a friendly local restaurant owner who was keen to improve her English and enjoyed a lovely meal and a chat before setting off to explore the town. The heat getting the better of us, we hitched a lift in a wonderful old 1970’s Toyota Crown Classic back to town.
Later that evening we found another of night market and the Cintra was probably the best, offering plenty of seating, a wide variety of food (some of which I actually recognised!) and lots of photo opportunities.
On our final day, I couldn’t resist visiting the huge (but pricey) new mall for some respite from the heat and a bit of window shopping. The Thais certainly see to have a very sweet tooth (maybe why there’s a dentist on every block) with bakeries selling the most sickly-looking cakes and huge bags of confectionaries. Even their bread and sauces contain sweeteners of some description – and yet you very rarely see anyone overweight! Must be all that walking they do!!
We really enjoyed our brief experience of an authentic Thai town, but set off for the coastal town of Pak Bara the next day (in the teaming rain, would you believe!) for our journey over to Koh Lipe in time for Christmas.
Next Stop: Koh Lipe and on to Malaysia