Another day, another country.
Being the hardcore backpackers that we are, we forego the opportunity of taking an all in transfer from our room in Langkawi to our room in Ko Lanta (which was the only real option given we hadn’t booked accommodation in advance!) and decided to do it independently and hopefully therefore, more cheaply.
Setting off at 7.45am, our independently fashioned journey involved a taxi ride to the Jetty, a 2 ½ hour ferry to the Thai port of Satun where our 60-day visa was approved, a bumpy saangthaew ride (pick-up truck with benches) to a bus terminal 10km away, a double decker bus to the regional hub of Trang and an onward minivan from there to Ko Lanta via two more short ferry hops.
We arrived on the island just before dusk. It had been a long day, longer than anticipated and the minivan driver had been less than understanding of our needs when he determined to drop as at the first (inconvenient) opportunity in the small town of Saladan from where we would then have to acquire local transport to a beach and begin our room hunt from there.
With our bags half unloaded, I forcibly made my point that if the transport included drop off at a fixed resort, then he could at least drop us halfway along Klong Dao beach to save us the bother of getting there after dark.
Reluctantly he obliged.
Piling out upon an unpaved stretch of roadside, we played a game of eeny-meeny to choose where to start and opted to go for the left hand option of The Mermaid Beach Resort.
The Gods were smiling upon us as the proprietor informed us she had one a/c chalet left at £12 per night.
Intending to stay for 3 or 4 nights, we ended up staying 6 as we felt we had really maxed out on our luck.
The property fronted onto a wide stretch of golden sand and the attached wood and bamboo beach bar not only served some of the best Thai food in town, but also proved to be hugely child friendly with an impressive array of toys, balls, slides and a set of staff who were only too happy to entertain “The Boy” whilst we got down to the serious business of chillaxing over beer and cocktails.
Best of all, “The Boy” was taken under the wing of Ma Prang, a 4 year old Thai girl with a fine talent for hula-hooping. Ma Prang had escaped the serious flooding causing havoc in the Northern suburbs of Bangkok and was temporarily staying with her relatives who worked at the Bamboo Beach Bar.
With the stretch of beach still a nice low-season kind of quiet, and just a few hundred perfectly Blond Scandinavians sharing its waters with us. I decided allow my relaxed nonchalance get the better of me and somehow I persuaded the 0.5 to agree to the hire of a Tuk-Tuk for the day.
The Tuk-Tuk of Ko Lanta is effectively a cart attached to the side of a moped; in UK terms, a motorcycle and sidecar of dubious build quality which had likely never been occupied by dummies and put through any form of crash test.
With my confidence sky-high having ridden a newer, more powerful bike around Bali, and with the Tuk-Tuk offering all the weather exposure of a bike yet the lack of manoeuvrability of a car, what could possibly go wrong???
Conscious of my responsibility to my passengers, I promised to take things sedately and was 100% true to my word as we trundled along the progressively poorly paved road that spans the West coast of Ko Lanta in search of a nice beach to stop for lunch.
Skillfully avoiding potholes and slowing where possible over what appeared to be speed bumps but could have been shallow dug pipelines, we made slow but steady progress and I was if not mastering the gear mechanism, then at least working with it.
Our basic map showed the road to the Southern beaches being pretty much straight, so following our noses it came as a surprise when we started ascending the steep interior forest.
It came as even more of a surprise that our Tuk-Tuk seemed to struggle in even as low as 2nd gear on some of the hills, whilst to hill-start in 1st gear demonstrated a tendency to pull a slight wheelie and lurch to the right.
With hindsight, this was a pretty keen warning.
The 0.5, who in the UK would have been considered to be a leading practitioner of the highway-code and sensible motoring behaviour in so far as her coworkers once nicknamed her “Road Safety Sue”, insisted on me taking the steep bits as a sole rider whilst she hiked up the short inclines with “The Boy” still attached to her within his wriggle band.
At the top of a crest she would join me in the tuk-tuk and we would descend together, finally arriving in Lanta old town, somehow diametrically opposite the beaches we intended to visit.
Now, I’ve got a pretty good sense of geography, but this had me scoobied until the owner of a jewelery shop informed us that much of her trade came from bather and bikini clad visitors who unexpectantly found themselves on the wrong (mangrove swamp dominated) side of the island courtesy of a poorly marked turn off some 10km or so back on the west coast road.
Making the most of my error, we explored the town and then lunched at a renovated house at a nearby sea gypsy village whose lounge deck suggested that it previously served as a fishing boat launch.
It really was a case of out of the Tuk-Tuk frying pan and into the boat-launch fire for the boy as his every step of exploration needed to be swiftly mirrored for fear of him falling into the watery depths beneath him.
After lunch we took the alternative (and far less steep) cross-island route, stopping off at an elephant safari park where “The Boy” was awe-struck by the massive trunked beasts just a few metres away from him. Characteristically, he showed no fear of the animals and at times I had to restrain him from getting too close as they munched upon a leafy afternoon meal.
It pleases me greatly that our baby is becoming an extremely confident and engaging toddler, but it also gives me kittens that he could injure himself on one of his many missions of exploration.
Que sera, Cery. As the saying almost goes.
He’s a free spirit and that sense of independence and adventure should be left unbridled where possible.
Which reminds me, the Tuk-Tuk.
Like father, like son, following our elephant experience I insisted on pushing south to our original destination of Bamboo Bay.
The flat coast road of the north of the island quickly gave way to an undulating pot-holed nightmare as we journeyed further south.
Another warning as a pot-hole bullseye forced by an overtaking truck resulted in us bumping upward and lurching left, then right upon landing.
I took on board the 0.5’s pleas to take it easy on the next hole which we encountered on a steep gradient, slowing down, we negotiated the dip perfectly well, but upon accelerating away, our weight was way to far toward the rear of the vehicle and we pulled another wheelie, this time forcing me to drop all power and turn sharply towards the rainwater on our ditch on our left-hand side.
A clutter, a clatter and a missed heartbeat later, we came to a halt, having turned through 45 degrees and with the front wheel of the bike in the depression ahead of us.
Fortunately neither humans nor machine were damaged bar a piece of my left big toe disappearing somewhere during the melee.
Shaken, but otherwise OK, we returned carefully to flatter terrain where we stopped at a beach bar for a calming beer (the 0.5) and a soft drink.
Washing my bleeding foot in the sea, I had time to reflect on our lucky escape.
It shouldn’t have happened.
We shouldn’t have ever been in that position.
It was irresponsible of me as a father and husband to put those that I love at risk whilst at the helm of a machine of which I had too little understanding.
Whatever natural chemicals were pumping around my system as I switched into fight/flight mode had numbed the pain from my foot to such an extent that even the salt water failed to impress upon me.
What has been impressed upon me is that henceforth, where “The Boy” and the 0.5 are concerned, I will be taking no machine-based risks.
The 0.5 often accuses me of being a control freak.
Perhaps she is right.
For a split second there I lost control, and I really, really didn’t like it.