Koh Lanta is an island down towards the south of Thailand, on the west coast. Standing on the beach, you can see the silhouette of Koh Phi-Phi (made famous by the film “The Beach”) and other smaller islands rising in the distance. It is almost exclusively a backpackers place, with few tourist-style resorts. The main beach is occupied by a succession of beach huts and palm-fronded bars – and apart from a few ticket offices to book ferries off the island, that’s it! During the high season it’s full, with every hut occupied by a hammock-swinging backpacker, and the bars packed all night long with heavy drinking, heavily tanned Europeans. We’ve noticed the trait of backpackers to always make sure that they’re in range of a bar for the evening, despite the fact that drinking is one of the more expensive things to do in Thailand. A bungalow, like in the picture above, costs from 200 – 400 Baht (£3-6) and main meals cost around 80 baht (£1). But beer costs 100 Baht (£1.50) for a 700ml bottle, and cocktails on the beach in Koh Lanta cost 140 Baht (£2). Although it doesn’t seem like a huge amount of money from a UK perspective, a few drinks a night easily costs more than your room and food together.
In fact, we overheard a typical exchange on the beach this afternoon, with one female backpacker complaining that it was too hot to sleep at night, so she’d have to switch to an air-conditioned bungalow. “It will cost me more, but I’m just not going to eat in the evening. As long as I don’t have to give up my beer and cigarettes, it’ll be okay.”
Reading all of that back it seems as if I’m describing some Ibiza-style drinking binge, which it certainly is not! During the day everybody just lazes on the wide beach, topping up their tans, and reading books. And in the evening, they move up the beach to the cushions and hammocks laid out above the high-tide mark by the bars. It’s a very easy-going lifestyle, and it is easy to imagine getting ‘trapped’ on the island! As it is coming into the monsoon season shortly, the island is moving into ‘off season mode’, and many of the businesses will close down for three months until the drier weather comes along again. This makes the accommodation even more of a bargain, but few will stay on the island, when the other coast of Thailand is now in the dry season.