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Wishes Come True on Ko Lanta

DSC_0017If you want it badly enough, the wind will grasp your wish and take it up into the night. Khoom Loy as they’re called in Thai, or wish lanterns, carry the bad luck and misfortunes away with them into the sky.

Me on NYE holding the lantern over the sand for several minutes before lift off. I had the fortune of sailing my wish off into the sky with a unique, bright red lantern; most people chose white.

Left: A man sets his lantern off gracefully. Right: Me on NYE holding the paper lantern over the sand for several minutes before lift off. I had the fortune of sailing my wish off into the sky with a unique, bright red Khoom Loy. Most vendors only sold white ones.

Our view of all the NYE wishes sailing off from the beach.

What a breathtaking backdrop to our New Year’s evening. As we dined with the sand between our toes, beach side bars glowed and the excitement for New Year’s mounted with each hour. Even more amazing were the hundreds of glowing lanterns sailing off into the sky with the hope that whatever went wrong the year before would float away and the New Year could bring something more, maybe something better. My heart swelled as I correlated the glowing orbs with optimism, awe and introspection. Everyone stared as far as their eyes could, standing on the edge of the vast ocean, tracing the tiny extension of themselves out into the night with the occasional stray firework exploding in the distance. Funnily enough, as everyone else’s lantern rose gradually into the heights of the pitch black sky, ours shot forward and up, barely scraping the water at first. It continued up fast and determined, disappearing moments after lift off. Laurens and I looked at each other and laughed – of course our lantern was the spastic one. Whatever we wished for must have been urgent, because we saw it blaze away, quicker than the rest. All I know is that the previous year in Indonesia flew by faster than our lantern in the Thai sky, ushering in a new year and a new mentality. Our lives would never be the same after living in Asia. I think we both realized it in that moment and although the previous year was behind us, a new one would welcome us, only this time in Malaysia.

After our (amazing) unforeseen detour to Bangkok, Laurens and I wanted to finish off our holiday not too extravagantly, yet memorably enough to pay homage to our successful past year in Southeast Asia. Some beach relaxing was in order…so naturally our minds jumped to Thailand. Fotor0422134441

“Koh” or “Ko” means island, and not many people have heard of anything other than Phuket when Thai beaches come to mind. A common problem in Thailand is this: If you’ve seen the movie The Beach with Leonard DiCaprio, you probably remember the stunning backdrop of Ko Phi Phi and the staggering limestone features. What a dream! How secluded and heaven-like the scenery seemed. Sadly, that same island has become unrecognizable and  overcrowded because of all the attention drawn to it after the film. Often times, people flock to the picture of perfection a movie or raving review might give, but that’s not what makes for a cozy vacation, at least not to me. Thailand is one of the most carved out Asian destinations for Europeans and the trick is to find the sweet spot: just touristy enough without the overkill of overdevelopment. Places like Phuket seemed more exhausting than exciting with all the nighttime debauchery and spring breaker mentality. What gets me excited about a tropical place is the beauty of the water and the lounging potential at hand. After several google search marathons, we were set on Krabi province. Let me tell you, there’s no shortage of lounge-worthy beaches in Thailand, but there certainly a shortage of nice resorts and hotels if you wait too long to book (like we did). In the end, we chose Ko Lanta island in the Krabi Province because it seemed like a great place to go diving, it was lesser developed than other islands, and seemed to offer the off-the-beaten-track vacation we longed for.

TRIP HIGHLIGHTS:

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Palm tree paradise.

Surrounded by stunning islands nearby, you can really jam pack your trip with plenty of day trips if you feel like it. The Four Island tour is a great option if you want to explore other islands with stunning waters and hope to get some snorkeling in. The Emerald Cave at Ko Mook (a stop on the tour) was an amazing experience as you float through a dark, narrow cave with flashlights to reach a secret beach where sea pirates used to hide their treasures. This spot isn’t so secretive anymore and hoards of tourists go on weekends and during peak season. There are many agencies offering the “best price” for island hopping, so if you want the best deal do the research and shop around. We stayed on Long Beach and rode a motorcycle down the island coast to Kantiang Bay. This was my favorite area.

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Me contemplating my next Massaman curry meal.

 A RESTAURANT WITH HEART:

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Thai cuisine in a tree-house setting with an amazing cooking school (and a heart to boot).

The standout moment for me has nothing to do with the beaches, but with Ko Lanta’s heart and soul. The number one attraction (according to Tripadvisor) is the most rewarding of activities. Funded by the proceeds of Time for Lime restaurant (an amazing restaurant), Lanta Animal Welfare takes in and rehabilitates island animals who have been injured or left astray due to religious misconceptions or just plain cruelty. The owner donates her restaurant profits to the animal shelter she founded years ago in hopes that foreigners or locals will adopt these lovely animals as pets. We stopped by on our last day and took a tour of the facilities and had the chance to walk some of the dogs around and interact with them (my favorite was a three-legged dog named Brave).

Laurens and the kittens at the shelter.

Laurens and the kittens at the shelter.

As an animal lover, I SO recommend stopping by this amazing shelter and donating whatever you can, time or money.
The cats want a cuddle and the dogs need a walk, so even if you can’t give, interacting with these animals makes a real difference. Looking for a reason to move to Thailand, live the island life and help animals at the same time? The shelter is always looking for volunteers, with a one month stay (minimum) necessary to help (board included). Need more inspiration to help animals on a beautiful island? Volunteers get a free cooking class at Time for Lime, 20% off at the restaurant and staff prices at the bar. Sounds like the perfect reason to move to me! Click here to get more information. Shelter photos at end of post.

 

 

FOUR ISLAND DAY TRIP:

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A traditional long tail boat took us on our day trip around the different islands near Ko Lanta.

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Our captain on the long tail boat. He had a mean face and that engine behind him was definitely iffy, secured and steered with makeshift parts.

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Inside the cave, almost out! I got over my fear of claustrophobia, swam through dark water with minimal light, but hey, reaching the other side was totally worth it.

Standing on the beach once outside the Emerald Cave.

Standing on the beach once outside the Emerald Cave.

MAINLAND KO LANTA:

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Somewhere on the West coast, heading to Kantiang Bay.

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Our hotel’s beach view: Long Beach.

Our hotel’s beach view: Long Beach.

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Why Not Bar- Kantiang Bay

The one and only amazing Massaman Curry. Literally listed on every menu we saw in Thailand, this yellow curry has an amazing mix of vegetables, chicken, coconut milk and roasted peanuts and cashews. So fragrant and wonderfully rich.

The one and only amazing Massaman Curry. Literally listed on every menu we saw in Thailand, this yellow curry has an amazing mix of vegetables, chicken, coconut milk, roasted peanuts and cashews. So fragrant and wonderfully rich.

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What an amazing dinner at Noon Sunset View Point restaurant.

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LANTA OLD TOWN:

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Definitely not expected: Lanta Old Town looked like a city out of a Western. Wild West meets Thailand, anyone?

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Laurens at the edge of the Andaman sea.

Laurens at the edge of the Andaman sea.

SEA GYPSY VILLAGE:

Home to seafarers that were the first settlers on the island almost 500 years ago, Sang-ga-u is a sea gypsy village in the southeast corner of Ko Lanta island. “Chao Leh” or people of the sea as they’re called, speak their own language but since there is no written form of it, little is known about their origins.

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DSC_0386   DSC_0387 LANTA ANIMAL SHELTER:

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Some of these cats had a tougher previous life than others, but one thing they all had in common? They all loved to be pet.

Brave, the 3 legged dog, ran like a champ down to the stream.

Brave, the 3 legged dog, ran like a champ down to the stream.

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The cats couldn’t resist Laurens.

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Cuddle love.

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Happy to be out for a walk at the nearby stream.

One of the many adorable dogs waiting for adoption at the shelter.

One of the many adorable dogs waiting for adoption at the Lanta Animal Welfare Shelter.

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