I’d moved to Koh Lanta yesterday from Khao Sok after deciding it would be less touristy and expensive than Koh Phi Phi. It’s not an island that get’s much attention so I was curious to visit.
Now, being a relatively small and non-touristy island that does limit your transport options. There are no buses or taxis. There are tuk-tuks with a type of side car on 3 wheels with benches for sitting, but they’re expensive and I think dangerous. So on recommendation from the hostel I hired a scooter.
Parents: before you worry, everything was fine.
I had never ridden one before but Koh Lanta is significantly quieter than other parts of Thailand so now seemed like a good time to try. For 200 baht (about £5) you could hire a scooter for 24 hours and got a 30 second ‘lesson’ on the main road. The man who gave me the lesson spoke no English, it was all pointing, gesturing and a few false starts where I nearly crashed into his other bikes (I didn’t, there’s brakes). A brief recovery and I was off.
The first stop was 5 seconds later when the fuel light flashed angrily.
Second stop was 10 seconds after that for the same reason.
Eventually, fuel sorted, we set off for our day of exploring.
I had no real map, just an idea of where I wanted to go. The beauty of driving yourself is you can stop wherever and whenever you like, for as long as you like. My first view point I came to by spur of the moment decision. It was Khlong Khong beach; a tiny strip of beach with a rocky shore. Extremely quiet and private, and rarely visited being literally off the beaten path.
But as you can see, quite pretty. You really only need a few minutes here to take it in, so I hopped back on the scooter and did my first right turn (rights are hard, I still haven’t mastered that one yet), heading South.
Koh Lanta isn’t big but nothing is sign posted so I spent the first 1.5 hours driving aimlessly because I couldn’t find the beach I was looking for which I had actually already driven past. I ended up coming back on myself to the North side of the Island, the opposite of where I’d intended to be. My Google Maps was of no help and after many trial and errors with local directions I found a local with good enough English who was nice enough to let me follow him and his tuk tuk.
As he led me down a road I’d seen once already that day, I did start to wonder if he’d remembered me behind him, but before I could panic he pulled over and gave me verbal directions the rest of the way; ‘See three 7/11s then turn right’. I found the 7/11 he meant, the one I’d driven past earlier, and bought a bag of mini banana muffins and an Iced Latte. Side note, their Iced Lattes are actually quite nice as they don’t use syrup like the other coffee shops. Muffins and Latte tucked safely away, I got back on and did my second right hand turn a little more quickly than I meant to.
On turning down the road I immediately saw the beach I was aiming for but drove on. The road was so quiet with little shops on the side and for the first time that day, I enjoyed riding. I’d been carrying so much tension that you could have rung my clothes out. But everything started to relax and I felt happy with the sun on me and wind whipping about my clothes.
As I got further down there was a bend in the road, but before that a little pull in with a view. I pulled in and parked under the shade of a big tree.
I believe this to be Khlong Hin Beach but as nothing is sign posted I’m guessing. It was completely deserted barring a few other sightseers, and so peaceful. I was as I stood next to my bike under the tree that I decided we should be on first name terms, and I christened her. Don’t ask my why. I am the last person to name a vehicle for many reasons but I just felt like she needed a name. A named bike is a friend and, I felt, less likely to kill me. Less intimidating.
So I had some selfies with Betsy.
I also found the name to be positively encouraging to both of us when her little 1.0L engine was trying to take us up steep hills. I’d give her an encouraging comment like, ‘come on Betsy’ and she’s vroom up loud as a hairdryer.
The final beach was Tambon Koh Lanta Yai.
This was a beach you could really bathe at with white sand and blue water. Again, almost deserted save a few beach goers.
When I was ready I set off once again, took some different turns to last time and found myself near the National Park I’d seen on my Google maps earlier, with a turning point to a waterfall. The waterfall was was sign posted as being 2.5km away but what it didn’t say was there’s a sheer lethal dirt road at the end and the fact that the waterfall was a good 30 minutes hike through jungle with little to no path.
I stared the hike and was quickly grateful I was wearing trainers. At one point I got myself up such a steep slope that I genuinely couldn’t get back down. I ACTUALLY HAD TO WAIT TO BE RESCUED. And of course when the time came it was a woman. Her partner with his walking stick saw me stuck, tried the same route then changed his mind and came back down, LEAVING ME UP THERE.
It was the woman, Lucinda, who helped me down. After that, I stuck with them and good job because I needed her hand a lot. I didn’t need his stick.
30 minutes of hiking, caked in dirt and sweat, we finally got there. I’ve been lucky to see a number of waterfalls here in Thailand, and each time they never fail to impress me with their size and natural beauty. And it was beautiful and big and cold. I fast stripped off (I had a bikini on underneath my clothes) and all but ran in.
It’s times like these where solo travel has it’s downsides because there’s no-one there to take fabulous photos of you. You are instead forced into taking mediocre ones yourself. There’s only so many times you can force strangers into being your unwilling photographer while semi-naked and wet, shouting ‘work it!’. Sadly you can’t see my photos because water droplets blurred the camera lens…
Narcissism aside, it felt so good to wash away the grime.
The whole experience was only made better by my buying the banana muffins earlier. I sat on a log in the sunny jungle of Thailand and ate them.
The journey home was easy now I’d done it a few times; I was more comfortable on Betsy and more familiar with the roads. I made it back to the hostel just as the roads started to get busy and was greeted by the same man who had set me up this morning. I won’t forget the smile on his face that I’d returned both of us in one piece. He’d clearly had his doubts after I nearly crashed into his other bikes earlier that day.
I switched Betsy off, unloaded her and gave her a pat. She’d done well. We both had.
Scooters are a very easy way to get about, HOWEVER, they are not for everyone and definitely do not hire one on the mainland or busy islands if it’s your first time.
I would say if you are in any way a nervous driver think twice about hiring one. Koh Lanta in low season has relatively quiet roads so I didn’t feel unsafe in terms of traffic, but some parts have either no road or really bad road. Huge potholes are everywhere and some of them you don’t see until a few feet away. You need to know how to manoeuvre the bike safely whilst avoiding cars/other bikes in a matter of seconds.
Here are a few pieces of advice if you do go ahead:
– Helmet! This goes without saying but it’s a legal requirement.
– Sensible shoes . Flip flops do not constitute sensible shoes. Come on.
– Wear long clothing. It’s hot but the sunburn is lethal and you don’t even feel it. I put cream on my face and arms but burnt my hands from holding onto the handlebars. Long clothing will also give you a shade more protection in case you do come off.
– Sunglasses. For sun but also dust. As I said above, some roads are just clay dirt, you will need to cover your eyes.
– Steer by putting weight onto the handlebars, do not jerk the handles about. It’s a guaranteed way to unbalance and come off. Also, lean into corners/bends. There’s a really good YouTube tutorial here which I watched first.
– Like a bicycle, it’s easier with a bit of speed. That does not mean fast. 20 – 30 KM/h is more than enough to start with and keep you at a steady pace. Too little speed and you’ll wobble and shake, exactly as you would on a pushbike.
– To ride a scooter safely you need to be able to think quick and act calmly. Defensive not aggressive driving.
– I found it easier when sat further back on the seat. I think the weight distribution was easier on the bike and gave you more control.
– Finally, I’d recommend a.) checking your travel insurance covers you and b.) taking out an Internatonal driving licence before arriving. The Thai Police love to stop tourists and they can fine you whatever they like. Also, take good clear photos of the bike when you collect it. Capture any existing scratches or dents. This will support you in case of an accident as it’s not unheard of to charge tourists 5000 Baht for a scratch if they have an accident.
Use your coomon sense, enjoy and be safe!
P.S. Sorry dad.