Braden and I do our best to take advantage of all of the long weekends we get here in Hong Kong, and one of the “best” in terms of days off in a row is Chinese New Year. With Monday through Wednesday as government holidays, we took two extra days and jetted off for a week of relaxation in Thailand. This was back in early February (apologies for the long delay between posts…between visitors and lots of travel I’ve gotten behind!) Believe it or not, winters in Hong Kong are chilly, and trust us to relocate here just in time to experience the coldest winter on record in close to sixty years. After months on end of wearing my down vest, several weeks of regretting not bringing a down jacket, record setting low temperatures and the eventual purchase of a space heater (remember, we don’t have heat in our apartment and it was around 4°C outside and 15°C inside for days on end!) we were ready for some sunshine.
Of course it’s a busy time to travel. Chinese New Year is a huge family event, and many people travel to be with family. Another hint: the main word in the holiday name…China. All of Mainland China is off at this time and many, like us, seek the heat. This means expensive flights and busy airports, but we found a decent deal and set off for the sun. We decided on Thailand after reading an article by one of our favourite travel bloggers, Adventurous Kate. We’ve come to trust her advice and her article about the Best Places to Travel in 2016 featured locations to visit “before it’s too late”. Describing Ko Lanta as everything good about Thailand, not too touristy, and unspoiled, we were sold. An island couple hours south of Krabi, on the west side of Thailand (on the Adaman Sea) sounded pretty perfect to us. As you may have guessed form the title of the blog, there were so highlights and some low points in this trip. I’ll hit the high (and low) lights below.
LOWLIGHT: The most cost efficient / time efficient itinerary we could create involved red-eye flights. We left Hong Kong around midnight, and arrived in Krabi around 3am. 3am is not my best hour, especially when it involves standing in line to clear Thai customs. Even worse when there’s not stanchions or line control in a small, stifling hot room. Even worse when you arrive just after 3 other planes, all of which are carrying full passengers loads from Mainland China. Even worse when everyone is jostling, cutting into (indiscernible) lines, and yelling. To be as polite as possible, it does not seem – in general – that it is a strength of the Chinese to move, at all, in a reasonable, orderly, or polite fashion. It took us two hours to make our way to the front of the line at which point I had used basically every ounce of strength not to entirely lose my sh!t It was a nightmare.
HIGHLIGHT: Ko Lanta was everything we’d been promised, in terms of the research we’d done. It was quaint enough for us without being untouched, remote without being inaccessible, and comfortable in terms of accessibility to restaurants and amenities. We fell easily into our “Thailand Formula” as I think of it now: nice hotel with a pool near a beautiful beach, scooters to get around and explore, and enough prawns, spring rolls, Thai curry and cold Singhas to keep us fueled.
HIGHLIGHT: There’s nothing better than the beaches and sunsets in Thailand, and Ko Lanta really does seem to have some of the best of both. Our resort, Royal Lanta Resort & Spa was lovely. Right on the beach, beautiful pool, comfortable rooms with great air conditioning and comfy bed. Nothing better. A complimentary 20 minute massage upon arrival didn’t hurt either.
HIGHLIGHT: We took a day trip from our spot on Klong Dao Beach to the south end of the island to explore Lanta Old Town. First of all: what a scoot! We loved the ride there (probably about an hour) and stopped a few places along the way to take in the view / cool down with an icy beverage. Once in Old Town we were rewarded with a cute street of shops and restaurants built out over the water with the million dollar, don’t-believe-it-unless-you-see-it, must-be-photo-shopped out of this world view.
LOWLIGHT: The allure of island proved largely to be true. We had read that there wasn’t too much garbage littered around (unfortunately, a surprising common issue in Thailand) we did see an alarming sight. You know those pictures of birds tangled in fishing line or turtles with pop can plastic rings around their neck? And those photos almost seems unbelievable? Well, not so. We saw a beautiful rooster trotting along the side of the road with a plastic bag tangled around his neck. He didn’t seem distressed but definitely didn’t seem comfortable. We were so shocked by the sight, and so busy trying to figure out if there was a way to help him, we din’t catch a photo. If we had, it would be on every post promoting the elimination of plastic. Distressing to say the least.
On a happier note, we did come upon a mama chicken and a whole line of chicks so long and oblivious that it caused a little adorable traffic jam while we pondered that age-old why did the chicken cross the road question.
HIGHLIGHT: We have read about lantern festivals in Thailand and thought they sounded amazing. While we didn’t get to participate in the launch of a paper lantern alongside hundred of others, we loved doing it on our own. I think it was around 250฿ ($10 CAD) we bought one from a guy on the beach and he helped us launch it. He lit a little coil of rope at the bottom and then we held the lantern down firmly to allow it to fill with the heat / gas. When he told me it was ready, I lifted it up and coaxed up and in the direction of the ocean. Our lantern caught a great wind and off it went. We followed its progress until it disappeared.
LOWLIGHT: It always feels a bit sad to return home from an amazing vacation. In our case, we had booked flights in the middle of the night to maximize our time away and also keep costs reasonable given we were travelling during such a peak time. On the Saturday at the end of our trip we traveled from Koh Lanta back to Krabi, booked ourselves a hotel and set our alarm for 2am. Already packed, we quickly got up and out the door when our alarm rang, only to find that the taxi we’d booked was nabbed by a different hotel guest on their way to catch the same flight. The hotel scrambled to find someone else to take us (it literally seemed like they called a friend with a car to take us). This put us back on our schedule a bit, but traffic was non-existent at that hour, and we got to the airport quickly and more than an hour before our flight departed. No worries, especially with only carry-on luggage. We got to the desk and were told, “sorry, there is only one seat left on the plane.” Ummmmm, WHAT? We explained what seemed quite obvious to us: we had purchased and paid for two tickets. How was that possible? It seems that Hong Kong Airlines participates in the (in my opinion) abhorrent practice of over-booking flights. Because we were some of the last to arrive, we were simply out of luck. Options were: 1) both take a different flight (via Bangkok) to get home. Actually no; oops. That was already booked; 2) Both take the next direct flight (same time early Sunday); or 3) one of us take the last seat and the other remained behind to take the Sunday flight. We quickly decided to take the last seat available and the debate began. Who would use it?!? Braden HAD to back in the office for a meeting, so I was the “lucky” one to gain an extra day in Thailand.
The airline “compensated” me with a hotel room and transportation there and back to the airport. I was put up in the Maritime Park & Spa who seem to have employed every trick in the book to earn a 4 star review. It is truly a nightmare hotel and probably the worst I have ever experienced. I’m sure they put me in one of the worst rooms (based on some terrible cheap agreement with Hong Kong Airlines). Regardless, by the time I got to the hotel all I could think about was collapsing for a couple hours of sleep. I climbed into bed, finally managed to fall asleep around 5:00am and was startled awake by a 8am wake up call that I had obviously not requested. Unable to fall back asleep I got some breakfast. At this point I received a text from Braden. “Hi! Back home from the airport. Just showered and can’t wait to climb in to bed for a little nap.” Ugh. I was SO JEALOUS that he was back home while I was stuck in this deplorable hotel. Trying to make the best of I resolved to enjoy a relaxing day. I sat on the bed reading for a while, and caught some movement out of the corner of my eye. A little ant in the bed, I thought. And then I looked closer…not an ant. A quick google confirmed it was a bed bug. EWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWW!!!!!
I collected the little sucker in a glass, packed my bag and marched down to the hotel reception to demand a new room. They barely glanced at it, nor seemed surprised, and sent me to a new (marginally better) room. As I am now an expert on bedbug searching and identification, I spent the better part of an hour inspecting the new bed before deciding to stay. Such a stupid day! The rest of the afternoon was spent typing up as many negative reviews as I could think of. TripAdvisor is well aware of my experience!
A few hours of sleep and a trip back to the airport later, I was ready to stake my claim on a seat. Relieved to receive a ticket and shuffle through customs, I finally boarded the bus to get on the plane to take me home. On the bus, this woman was in front of me:
And I think that about sums it up 🙂 Another trip, another story and a lot of gratitude to finally get back home!