Friday, October 10, 2008

Low Season on Lanta

The boat from Koh Phi Phi yesterday carried a full load of backpackers across the bay to Koh Lanta, the second island paradise on my holiday itinerary. But what I found was a ghost town. It couldn’t be more different from Phi Phi. It’s a much larger island for one, and usable beaches stretch over 25 kilometers north to south leaving plenty of room for the world’s tourists.

But few have yet come. The main reason is it’s still the low season and the boats have only begun running. Todd from Perth, the owner of the Koala Bar down Khlong Dao Beach from Lanta Bee Garden where I am staying (500 baht a day for a/c, tv and hot shower), told me the season doesn’t get underway until October 15th, the day I fly back to Bangkok, and Lanta doesn’t get crowded until December. So at the moment many of the stores, restaurants and other facilities are closed. Another reason for the lack of visitors might be the political situation in Bangkok. And of course because of the economic meltdown, few might be able to afford the long flight here.

Phi Phi’s tiny “village” was claustrophobic; Lanta’s population is spread out along the west coast, from Saladan in the north to a national marine park in the south. It reminds me of Koh Samui’s undeveloped areas. In fact, I’d even call it underdeveloped. I had to search for a cappuccino. With Dr. Holly’s help (she recommended Lanta Bee Garden), I found a small, tasteful cafĂ© not far from the ferry dock. Transportation is mainly by tuk tuk, and I discovered them to be expensive (40-50 baht for what seemed like short trips), so I rented a motorbike (for 300 baht a day) and intend to explore the island during my four days here.

I arrived just before a thunderous cloudburst and settled in while the late rains pounded the beach not far from my door. Later in the evening I witnessed a grade A sunset. This morning I took a long walk down the beach and managed to fend off a pack of dogs that smelled my blood. Coconut husks make good weapons. Long-tail boats were loading cargo taking it away to unknown ports. Walking down the wide beach I spotted numerous large jellyfish waiting for the tide to carry them out to sea. Swimming could be dangerous here. While the beach is still largely empty, there were several groups of families outside the Southern Lanta Resort which Todd told me was owned by Scandinavians. A place next to it advertised yoga and meditation, but it was closed. I rode my motorbike down to Phra Ae beach and found...nothing. Even though it's the second major beach on Koh Lanta there was no "village," just a shop here and a restaurant and bar there, most closed for the season. Most of the resorts and guest houses are hidden behind scrubby vegetation. There are a distinct lack of palms here.

I began writing this post on the terrace of the LBG restaurant across from my room after breakfast, surrounded by (I think) members of the owner’s large family who run the place. The tuk tuk driver who brought me rom the boat thought it was closed, probably because there is work being done on the two-story units at the front on the highway. The TV above the tables is tuned to ASTV which broadcasts the PAD rally in Bangkok 24-7. Most of the TVs in Koh Phi Phi were likewise telecasting the anti-government speeches. While the government might be more popular in the north and northwest, this is a region of Thaksin haters. I’ve eaten dinner and breakfast here and the food is good if a bit expensive, making up for the very cheap accommodation. There seems to be only one other guest, a farang with a pony tail. Now I'm in the travel office where I've been permitted to use the ethernet connection to the internet. This spot is turning out to be an excellent choice. Thank you, Dr. Holly.

For entertainment I've got BBC and the stash in my laptop. The other night I watched "Elegy" with Ben Kingsley playing a literature professor at Columbia who falls for a slightly-older Cuban student played by Penelope Cruz. The gap between their ages is huge, but not so big as that between Pim and I. Nevertheless, I could identify, with the conflicted academic and with the feelings he had for the icon of beauty and youth. The ending has a neat twist. It was directed by Isabel Coixet, whose "Secret Life of Words" I loved, from Philip Roth's "The Dying Animal." Last night I watched "Constantine's Sword," a documentary to go with James Carroll's book about the roots of Christian anti-Judaism. It's an excellent expose of the long history of Christianity's campaign against the "killers of Jesus," and its complicity even today with the current pope. Carroll, a former priest and anti-Vietnam war activist, is a wonderful novelist and writer with a regular column in the Boston Globe. And I finally finished Dave Eggers' contemporary classic, A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. It's a memoir, which some have called "creative non-fiction," about the death of his parents and the parenting of his younger brother while leading a 20-something orphan's life in San Francisco. It's funny and tragic and I loved the way he dramatized his fears and fantasies. I wouldn't call it a masterpiece (it was nominated for the Pulitzer), but I think with a little discipline (a good editor would have been helpful), he'll be a major writer. Before falling asleep last night, I watched a couple of episodes of "The Office."

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