A piece I've written about how tranquil the island becomes in low season (May to October) when tourists desert the island.
Laid-back Koh Lanta is
a low season delight
Words and photos by: Ciaran Tierney
With its deserted sandy beaches and fantastic deals on accommodation, the delights of low season on Koh Lanta are among the best-kept secrets of the Thai tourism industry.
While Lanta retains a laid-back vibe even in its busier months, when the island’s popularity never matches the intensity of Phuket or Phi Phi, it’s during the monsoon season that its character really shines through. Just ask some of the ex-pats who have made the island their home about how hard they find it to leave.
For them, low season provides an opportunity to relax and engage with their friends, to enjoy long walks on empty beaches or party with the ‘hard core’ who visit the island when the seas become rough between May and October. Apart from the month of September, it only tends to rain for about two hours per day during the low season, if it rains at all, and for the resident ‘farangs’ it can be a magical and peaceful time.
“It’s just really relaxing,” says Irish man Darren Troy, who operates the Irish Embassy bar on Long Beach. “There are great deals in the resorts during low season and the couple of hours of rain cool the day down nicely. We call it the green season. During the low season you have more time for your friends, because you’re too busy during high season. People tend to get more involved in Lanta life, because they have more time.”
Darren ‘discovered’Koh Lanta during a backpacking trip with his ex-girlfriend and immediately fell in love with the island. Within days of first visiting, he decided he wanted to live on Lanta, and he opened up his first pub, the Laughing Leprechaun, in late 2004.
“I thought it would be affordable to open a business here, because I could not live in a really busy place like Phuket,” he says. “I opened my first business just six weeks before the Tsunami and eventually moved down here, to Long Beach.”
The Irish Embassy has built up a reputation as Lanta’s leading sports bar, with soccer and rugby games on four screens on weekend nights, and the staff are expecting quite a few regulars in during the World Cup football tournament over the coming weeks.
They intend to stay open throughout low season, with reduced hours, and will continue to serve food, including the legendary Sunday roasts which have become firm favourites among the ex-pat residents on the island.
“I still enjoy life on Lanta, after almost six years on the island,” says Darren. “I love when I go out every day on my motorbike, before the bar opens, and the scenery still takes my breath away. I love to just drive around and take in the sea and the jungle. If a place can still do that to you after almost six years, there really is something about it!”
Dutch woman Joyce Quarre, co-owner of the acclaimed Red Snapper restaurant, easily discovered the joys of life on Lanta. Her parents, Joop and Clarie, had retired to the island about seven years before Joyce and her husband, Ed, also made it their permanent home.
Chefs back in Holland, the couple used to visit her parents regularly before Joop spotted what they believed would be a perfect site for a European style restaurant in a tropical garden at the southern end of Long Beach. It didn’t take them long to make up their minds!
“After my parents saw this spot, within a month we got married, sold our house, and came out,” says Joyce. “We knew the potential of Koh Lanta, that the island was growing, and we were among the first people to provide quality European style cooking on the island.”
That was in October 2003. Since then, Red Snapper has become known as the best ‘farang’ restaurant on the island. Joyce, Ed, and their staff work seven days a week between mid-December and the end of January, which is why she loves the peace and tranquility of the monsoon months.
“When you have time off, you just enjoy the wonderful sunsets on the beach,” she says. “In low season, it is really friendly here and everyone has more time for each other. It doesn’t actually rain as much as people think and the island doesn’t shut down completely. I love it here around this time.”
This year, Red Snapper is shutting down for six weeks from mid-May, but Joyce and Ed intend to be back in business by early July. Until October, they intend to take a well-earned break every Tuesday and Wednesday.
“I love the weather in low season,” she says. “Because of the rain, it’s not that hot. You have more time to have a chat with your friends and neighbours and it’s also nice to have more interaction with the customers in the restaurant. I find that the same people come back here every year and that people just don’t want to leave Koh Lanta!”
English woman Mellisa Bunyan first came to Koh Lanta to run a dive centre on a six month contract in October 2006. She loved the place so much that she became a partner in Blue Planet Divers by the end of her first dive season.
“I had been working in Greece at the time and could either have gone to England or Thailand,” she says. “I had been to Thailand ten years ago, with a boyfriend in Koh Samui, but I didn’t know anything about Koh Lanta. I bought a share in the business in April, right at the end of the season, and expected to be inside all the time, watching videos and hiding from the rain, for the following six months!”
Mellisa was pleasantly surprised by how little it actually rained during her first low season on the island and also by how much she actually enjoyed the monsoon rains. “It really shocked me, how little rain there was, even though it really was heavy when it did rain,” she says.
“Most of us who live here really look forward to it; we start to get excited in March. People just seem to have more time for each other in low season. It’s kind of sad to just stop talking to people because you don’t have time. People who come here in low season really notice how much time we have to talk to each other.”
She has had a busy high season at Blue Planet and now she cannot wait for long days off, walking the dog on an empty beach, watching videos, or enjoying a few beers. “There’s always diving on the island, but it’s less predictable in low season because you cannot dive every day between May and October” she says.
“We spend a month getting the boat ready and we do repairs to the shop. Last year we spent a month completely revamping the shop. But it was a social thing. We come in, do a few hours, and then have a couple of beers. We’ve got plenty of time.”
Mellisa intends to keep her dive shop in Saladan open throughout low season, apart from September, which is usually the wettest month. She could go home to England, but all she wants to do is enjoy the most relaxing time of year on the island.
“There’s nothing better than going to an empty beach to walk your dog and feeling like you own it. Parties are great, too, because everyone goes to the same bars. Koh Lanta feels more and more like home to me every year. I have four or five months off when the boat doesn’t go out, but all I want to do is stay on Koh Lanta!”
* This piece was written for the June edition of 'Krabi' magazine. I've been a bit lazy the last ten days or so, due to an ear infection and the 'distractions' involved in finishing the DM course on April 16. I'm due to leave Lanta, sadly, on May 1, but the island has become extremely quiet since Songkran. I'll update the blog as the next episode in my adventures begins....
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