I had been planning a day out at sea in Koh Lanta and finally, on a stunning morning not so long ago, I got the chance to hop on my friend Didier’s wooden boat.
I had carefully planned the trip from Ao Nang, on the mainland; I set off in the early morning and my car and I managed to board the first set of ferries to the Lanta islands. We reached Koh Lanta Yai at 8am, I stopped in the village of Ban Saladan to buy some breakfast fritters from one of the local vendors and arrived at Didier sea-front wooden house on stilts soon after. My friend was busy talking to his captain and checking the boat for the forthcoming trip.
I drunk a coffee and socialized with a group of tourists who were joining the tour, before being summoned by Didier; we boarded the boat via a bamboo floating jetty and off we were, cruising towards the Koh Lanta straight. On the Ban Saladan shores, a series of private piers hosted boats on which staff loaded air tanks and diving equipment, and divers chatted with their instructors, excited about the day’s programmed dives.
The water on the straight was calm and the tides high, and the captain headed towards the maze of mangroves. The program then proposed cruising south through the islands of the straight, with Koh Mook, in the Trang archipelago, as the southernmost destination. As the captain cruised skillfully, I took my time to check up the back of the boat. It was different from the traditional longtail boat that characterize the Andaman, which uses an overboard engines attached to a long iron stick that ends with a propeller. This was a bigger boat, with an onboard stored-away engine and a proper rudder. Captain Bang Sod, an aged local with white hair and a witty smile, with his several years experience at the command of large diving boats, looked quite proud to be the captain of such a boat.
With my exploration completed, I turned my attention to the mangrove forest; their environment is so complete, so quiet and peaceful especially at that time of the day. Thailand only has a few areas that have been recognized as wetlands of the world and the mangrove forest of Krabi Province is ranked in the Ramsar List of Wetlands of International Importance. Lots of plants and wildlife live in the mangrove environment, including monkeys, birds, and fish.
The boat’s slow pace then allowed us to enjoy the magnificent views of the gulf, and to take on the healthy sea breeze. The magic of the sea is always appealing to me. I love slow boats, drifting in the vastness of the water masses, watching the horizon line and never reaching it, evoking past navigations of intrepid seafarers.
At 9am we exited the mangroves canals and the sun started to get stronger; the sky was a nice shade of blue. The boat cruised along Koh Por island with its nice bays and a picturesque fisherman village, passed Lanta’s southernmost point, then a few islands: Koh Ngai, where several boats discharged sunbathers; Koh Ma and Koh Chuak, well-known diving and snorkeling sites; Koh Kradan and Koh Mook, the most popular islands in the Trang province, part of Had Chao Mai National Park.
Koh Mook is home to several local communities; it features high cliffs and rocks facing the open sea at its western face, and is well known thanks to Morakot (emerald) Cave, a unique attractions part of the Unseen in Thailand tourism campaign that takes its name from the color the water assumes in the proximity of the cave.
Captain Bang Sod anchored the boat in proximity of the cave entrance, where one by one we jumped in the water. The exciting thing about this hidden lagoon is that in order to reach it you need to swim through a narrow fissure a few meters wide, a sea tunnel inside the majestic limestone rock, carved by the sea. Didier swam at the helm, holding the torch and making the way through the pitch-dark tunnel accessible only during low tides. At that time of that day the tide was so high tough that it forced us to lower our heads in order to avoid hitting the rock ceiling. After a short while, a ray of light filtered in from the end of the tunnel, and soon we entered the small lagoon.
Enclosed in a shell of sheer rocks several hundred meters high covered in tropical vegetation, a small beach was lined with huge beech trees and plants that sprouted massive foliage from a red earthy ground. We got out of the water; the sand there had the consistency of powder. We spent some time in peace, had another swim, explored the jungle-ridded sides of the encircling mountain, and left for the swim back.
Captain Bang Sod was waiting for us, ready to cruise on. On the way back, we had lunch: a simple yet delicious rice and vegetable ratatouille, followed by fruit and soft drinks. During our trip back, we sailed along the West side of Koh Lanta, stopping to snorkel at a couple of destinations, and taking a break at a semi-desert bay along the coast.
We arrived back in Ban Saladan jetty at 5pm, tired from the several hours of boating but happy and content, amazed by this experience out at sea in Koh Lanta.