Koh Lanta – Beaches, Monkeys, and Another Motorbike Accident

The journey from Koh Phangan to Koh Lanta was a long one.  We were picked up from our bungalow on Haad Rin at 6am and taken to the ferry pier where we got on a boat to Surat Thani, back on mainland.  Several hours later, we landed in Surat Thani and boarded a bus to the bus stop in Krabi.  Then, we had to take another bus to Koh Lanta which included a trip across the water on a car ferry!  Finally, we had found ourselves on Koh Lanta, sometime in the late afternoon.

KP to KL
The circled island toward the top is Koh Phangan, the pin is Koh Lanta. We had to take a boat from Koh Phangan to mainland, drive across to Krabi, then take a bus/car ferry over to Koh Lanta.

The bus dropped us off in the heart of Phra Ae Beach (also known as Long Beach) where we found a nice little 300 Baht bungalow a short walk from the beach, with a balcony and shared bathrooms. We had made it just in time to catch an amazing sunset and enjoy a dinner on the beach.  After a long day of traveling, we went back to the bungalow and crashed pretty early.

DSC_0651
Joe on Long Beach, Koh Lanta
DSC_0664
Amazing sunset on Long Beach

———————————————————————————————————————————————

The next day, we let ourselves be infiltrated by the chilled out, paradise atmosphere of Koh Lanta.  We also finally gave into the desire for a spa treatment and got Thai massages right on the beach.  They were surprisingly painful, but therapeutic in their own way.  After an hour underneath the weight of a small Thai woman, we were ready for some beach bumming.

DSC_0647
Long Beach by day. It never got more crowded than this!

The beach was beautiful and not terribly crowded.  It was almost unbearably hot though, so most of the people were bunched together under the palm trees trying to get some relief under the shade.

DSC_0649
Neverending sunshine.

That night, we decided to have a few drinks at a treehouse bar/hostel called Chill Out.  There are multiple levels where people can climb around and have a few drinks.  They closed at 11, though and everyone was moving to the party at a beach bar called Ozone.  We decided to join, and met some people from England that we hung out with for the night.

IMG_2685
Some cool black light art at Chill Out
IMG_2686
The beach party at Ozone

———————————————————————————————————————————————

The next day we were super hungover and did nothing, so we’ll just move onto the day after that.  We decided to explore some other parts of Koh Lanta by motorbike.  We rode down the entire west coast to a beach called Klong Jark.  It was practically deserted, and we spent a couple of hours sipping fruit shakes on the beach, listening to reggae.

DSC_0677
Complete desertion on Klong Jark
DSC_0678
Seriously! No one else was there.
DSC_0679
Enjoying a couple of fruit shakes

Next, we decided to check out the National Park at the very southern end of Koh Lanta.  We paid the entrance fee and parked the moto to explore.  The park is full of unbelievable views, including an old lighthouse that visitors are able to walk up to (but not actually inside.)

DSC_0683
Mu Ko Lanta National Park
DSC_0685
The lighthouse!
DSC_0695
Awesome view while making our way up to the lighthouse
DSC_0696
Almost there..
DSC_0698
Joe at the top of the hill
DSC_0699
And a beautiful view of the bay below
DSC_0701
Another shot of the lighthouse in all its glory.

We walked onward and became hypnotized by all of the adorable monkeys!

DSC_0712
Monkeys!
DSC_0716
This picture isn’t so great, but these ones were kind of creepy looking. They almost looked like some type of lemur, maybe.
DSC_0725
Then we found a bunch of babies running around and teasing each other!

DSC_0729

DSC_0732
One of the mothers came right up close to us and started nursing, it was really special. 🙂

DSC_0740

After getting our fill of the stunning plant and animal life of Koh Lanta, we decided to make our way back to Long Beach.  Our perfect day got a little ugly here, due to another small motorbike accident.  The bike got only a few small scratches, but Joe wasn’t quite so lucky…

Luckily the guy we rented the moto from didn’t seem to notice the scratches and we didn’t have to pay any extra fees.  We did, however, have to spend a few bucks on medical supplies…

IMG_2700
Burn from the exhaust pipe…(he saved the bike from falling, though!)

Minus the very end, our time on Koh Lanta was all smiles and one of our favorite beaches in Thailand.  Despite its beauty, Koh Lanta is not nearly as overpopulated as many of the nearby islands, which only made it a more pleasurable destination, in our eyes!  Everyone was very friendly and the prices were cheaper than most of the other islands, as well–always a plus!

3/25

Snacks: 50B ($1.54)

Water: 20B ($0.62)

Taxi/Boat/Bus to Krabi: 1400B ($43.13)

Sandwich: 60B ($1.85)

Boat to Koh Lanta: 700B ($21.56)

Lunch in Krabi: 225B ($6.93)

Water: 15B ($0.46)

Dinner: 510B ($15.71)

Water: 15B ($0.46)

Accommodation: 300B ($9.24)

3/25 Total Spending: 3,295B ($101.51 USD)

3/26

Breakfast: 120B ($3.70)

Water (2): 30B ($0.92)

Thai Massages:  600B ($18.48)

Dinner: 130B ($4.00)

Ice Cream: 20B ($0.62)

Chill Out House (Beers): 440B ($13.55)

Candy Bar: 25B ($0.77)

Ozone Beach Party (Beers): 460B ($14.17)

Accommodation: 300B ($9.24)

3/26 Total Spending: 2,125B ($65.46 USD)

3/27

Chips (2): 110B ($3.39)

Water (2): 30B ($0.92)

Ice Cream: 40B ($1.23)

Lunch: 50B ($1.54)

Lemon Shake: 35B ($1.08)

Water/Electrolytes: 23B ($0.71)

Dinner: 290B ($8.93)

Accommodation: 300B ($9.24)

3/27 Total Spending: 878B ($27.05 USD)

3/28

Breakfast: 120B ($3.70)

Moto Rental: 200B ($6.16)

Gasoline: 160B ($4.93)

Water: 30B ($0.92)

National Park Entrance (2): 420B ($12.94)

Pad Thai (2): 100B ($3.08)

Chips/Ice Cream: 75B ($2.31)

Bandages: 85B ($2.62)

Water: 15B ($0.46)

Accommodation: 300B ($9.24)

3/28 Total Spending: 1,505B ($46.36 USD)

Angkor Wat – Visiting Sacred Spaces

Siem Reap is a city in Northwest Cambodia, and one of the most popular destinations for travelers due to its proximity to one of Southeast Asia’s biggest attractions: Angkor Archaeological Park. The park contains the remains of the world’s largest pre-industrial city in the world, covering approximately 250 square miles.  The temples and other structures were not thought to have been built all at the same time, but the complex is approximated to be about 1,000 years old.

Like most visitors of Southeast Asia, Angkor was one of our top destinations–about 2 million people visit each year.  Our hotel was about 4.5 miles away from the entrance to the complex, so we decided to rent bicycles to get there.  Once we arrived, we had to choose which ticket we wanted.  A one day pass is $20 and a three day pass is $40.  Knowing that one day is not nearly enough to see more than a fraction of the park, we decided to go for the three day pass.

Screen Shot 2015-03-20 at 9.47.43 PM
A screen shot of Angkor on Google Maps.  It’s seriously huge!

We decided to dedicate our first day solely to the park’s most famous temple, Angkor Wat.  Angkor Wat is so famous that many people don’t even know that the park has its own name, they think the whole complex is just called Angkor Wat! Once we reached the front of the temple, we parked our bikes across the street and made our way to the entrance.  It’s really hard to justly describe in words, luckily we took plenty of photos!

DSC_0743
The entrance to the outer wall, within the (man-made!) moat
DSC_0750
The entrance
DSC_0751
Closeup of the outer wall
DSC_0755
Another close up of the outer wall
DSC_0756
Inside the outer wall
DSC_0760
Wall detail in the outer wall
DSC_0765
Once inside the outer wall, we followed the causeway to the central structure
DSC_0766
Lying on either side of the causeway are libraries
DSC_0768
Angkor Wat, the temple proper
DSC_0777
…and some local monkeys hanging out 🙂
DSC_0778
The walls were sculpted into masterful depictions of things like war and work

DSC_0785 DSC_0790

DSC_0796
There were a lot of repeated patterns in the architecture, like these columns, for example.
DSC_0798
One of the coolest parts is that you don’t get to just walk around and look at it from afar, visitors get to climb up, around, and through the temple.
DSC_0800
A courtyard

DSC_0802 DSC_0805 DSC_0808 DSC_0811

DSC_0815
The temple is so impossibly huge that people look tiny when walking around.

Another good thing about the three day pass is that you don’t feel pressured to spend all day temple hopping.  It was insanely hot and the sun just zaps the energy right out of you.  This way, we were able to spend a relaxed afternoon at Angkor Wat and save the rest for the other days.

…and we did just that! Except this time, we were planning on going further than just Angkor Wat so we had to decide what we wanted to do about transport.  You can rent a tuk tuk to take you around for the day, but we ended up deciding to rent electric bicycles instead.  They don’t allow motorbike rentals in Siem Reap, so the electric bike was the next best thing.  Plus, they’re fun and better for the environment (and Siem Reap is pretty polluted.)

There are two popular routes that take visitors to some of the other major and minor temples in the complex called the ‘small circuit’ and the ‘grand circuit.’  We decided to do the small circuit, which is about 10 miles starting at Angkor Wat. The bike ride was an experience in itself.  The scenery was beautiful and the breeze felt great in the heat of the afternoon.

DSC_0007

DSC_0011

DSC_0016

DSC_0021

We followed the road into Angkor Thom which translates to “Great City.”  It was built in the late 12th century, covers about 5.5 square miles and is believed to have housed between 80,000 and 150,000 people. In the center of Angkor Thom lies The Bayon, a well-known Khmer temple decorated with hundreds of faces.  This ended up being one of our favorite sites and we spent quite a while exploring it.

DSC_0028
Entering The Bayon

DSC_0031

DSC_0039

DSC_0043

DSC_0045

DSC_0051

DSC_0059

DSC_0086

DSC_0096

DSC_0128

After exploring The Bayon, we hopped back on our bikes and moved on to Ta Prohm, another popular temple.  Ta Prohm is one of the temples that was left as it was found, because its merging with the jungle was so impressive and picturesque.  It was also used as a location in the movie, Tomb Raider, starring Angelina Jolie. Ta Prohm was undeniably stunning, but it was crowded with hoards of tourists to the point of discomfort, so we didn’t spend as much time there as we might have liked.

DSC_0139
Riding to Ta Prohm

DSC_0145

DSC_0169

DSC_0173

DSC_0191

DSC_0194

DSC_0198

DSC_0204

We followed the road to Banteay Kdei, which means “Citadel of Chambers.”  It is not entirely known what purpose this temple originally served, but it did house monks at various times up until the 1960s.

DSC_0219
Banteay Kdei

DSC_0268

DSC_0246

DSC_0239

We were exhausted by the time we neared the end of the circuit, but on our way back home, we spotted a bunch of monkeys on the side of the road and decided to give them a couple of our bananas.  One of them hopped on our bike and started looking at himself in the mirror!  It was funny until he wouldn’t get off…

DSC_0281
We decided to give this guy a little treat.
DSC_0294
Then, he hopped on one of our bikes and started watching himself in the mirror!
DSC_0299
He kept putting his weight on the handlebars and we were afraid he was going to tip the bike over. Joe tried to step in, but he was really difficult to shoo away!

Once we got back into town, we finished the day with dinner on Siem Reap’s Pub Street where all the hip bars and restaurants are.  We had a lot of fun there!

The electric bicycles ended up being perfect because we rented them in the afternoon the second day, so we didn’t have to return them until afternoon the next day.  So when we got up to go to Angkor Wat at sunrise, we didn’t have to pay for another day of transportation which was great.

We woke up at about 5am and groggily got on our bikes to ride to Angkor Wat.  Sunrise is a really popular time for tourists to go, so it was very crowded!  It was kind of funny to see all of the people packed around the lake in front to get the stereotypical shot of the reflection in the water.  We ended up getting some pretty nice pictures in between our yawns!

DSC_0301
Riding through the streets of Siem Reap before sunrise
DSC_0308
Just arriving at Angkor Wat
DSC_0323
People waiting to get their picture of sunrise reflected in the lake. Apparently people get there at like 4am to get the best spot!!
DSC_0399
Sunrise just peeking over the temple
DSC_0422
Funnily enough, the crowds vanished about 3 minutes after the sun made its appearance. We just strolled over a few minutes later and got virtually the exact same shot!

DSC_0426

DSC_0411

We had to have the bikes back before 1pm so we decided to spend the morning doing the Grand Circuit to check out some of the temples we hadn’t seen yet.  The first one was The Terrace of the Elephants, a viewing platform for public ceremonies.

DSC_0441
There were pictures of elephants carved into all of the walls
DSC_0481
Elephant sculptures on either side of the entrance

Beyond the Terrace of the Elephants, we explored and climbed the temple, Phimeanakas.

DSC_0444
The walkway leading to Phimeanakas

DSC_0446

DSC_0447

DSC_0448

DSC_0454

DSC_0458

DSC_0461

DSC_0468
The very top
DSC_0470
The view from the top

DSC_0473

Next we rode on to Preah Khan, a lesser known temple that has also been left largely unrestored.  There was a lot of rubble, but the trees growing over the stones were beautiful.  Plus, it was a lot less crowded that Ta Prohm (the Angelina Jolie one.)

DSC_0487

DSC_0500

DSC_0497

DSC_0494

DSC_0492

The next temple was Neak Pean, a Buddhist temple built on an artificial island.  It is surrounded by four connecting pools that are believed to represent the four elements.  The temple was originally designed as a sort of hospital, so people were meant to bathe in each of the pools to cure diseases by restoring balance.

DSC_0502
An ornate balustrade
DSC_0508
The middle of Neak Pean

The final temple we visited was Ta Som, another small temple left mostly unrestored.  One of the entrance ways is overgrown by an enormous strangler fig!

DSC_0515

Words really don’t do it justice, but Angkor was beyond breathtaking and we were really glad we decided to invest in a three day pass.  Despite all of our exploring, we barely scratched the surface.  The complex is so huge, it’s impossible to fit it all in in three days (or four, or five, or six, etc…) but we got to see most of the commonly visited temples and a few of the lesser-known, as well.

Definitely a major highlight of backpacking through Southeast Asia!