We left Krabi with high hopes for Trang, the next province to the south. Research told us of quieter islands, yet to be overcome by the behemoth of tourism, and a more authentic Thai way of life.
Trang Town for its part is devoid of tourism. There’s the odd hotel for people who don’t make it through to the pier in time, and a spattering of western bars and restaurants by the train station, but otherwise it’s Thai through and through.
Consequently, staff in local restaurants are at first surprised when you take a table and then seem grateful and proud a westerner has dropped in to try out their menu. It’s nice, but still, not an awful lot to do there.
Time to really get off the beaten track. Reading up on the Trang Islands, the phrase “the largest and yet least visited in the archipelago” jumped out at us. The prospect of truly deserted beaches, proper Thai food, and a backdrop to give Robinson Crusoe crippling emotional flashbacks was too great. Koh Libong was the name of the island. It was all it had promised to be, and then some.
There’s no ferry to Koh Libong; you have to take the long-tail with the locals, which means waiting at the pier until there are enough people to warrant a trip. Once there, you’ll need to pay a tuk-tuk to take you to the west of the island, where the limited accommodation can be found.
You’ll be immediately aware that this is not your ordinary holidaying island. Koh Libong is home to a large Muslim fishing community. There are no ATMs on the island, no 7/11s, no happy hours, no reggae bars, no rocks that look like cocks – it’s just a few small villages, some rubber plantations and a shed-load of fishermen.
There are two resorts on the island, Libong Beach and Libong Sunset. They’re little more than a collection of bungalows facing the sea with an open-air restaurant that may or may not be open, depending on how the staff are feeling. Libong Beach seems the more established, with a working (if temperamental) internet connection and the odd tour package to spot dugongs in their natural habitat. The food in both is disappointing and (relatively) expensive.
Instead, the best places to eat, as has become evident everywhere we’ve been, are the small, ultra-basic kitchens, staffed by pregnant women or sweating old men, where they make food faster than any burger joint and tastier than anything the western restaurants can cook up for five times the price. But take a torch with you to dinner, or you’ll be falling over hermit crabs all the way home.
Speaking of which, unlike the tourists, hermit crabs have an enormous selection of accommodation to choose from, much to Swarana’s delight. The beaches are rich pickings for shells of all kinds, from glistening cockles and clams to impressive conches. Every walk by the water had Swarana stooping to pick up some shining, twirling mollusc secretion.
But beware: we woke one morning and opened our cabin door to find on the porch one of Swarana’s collection (which I later discovered was a Cabrit’s Murex) had grown legs and was making a break for the sea. I’d been carrying that creature in my pocket the whole day, completely unaware of the gruesome antennae flittering about within.
It’s spectacularly quiet on the island – our “resort” only had one other guest, an old German lady – so more often than not we had the entire beach to ourselves. And, I know I said I wasn’t going to mention sunsets, but the ones here are astonishing.
As the ludicrous ball of flame descends over a near-rippleless ocean, silhouetting moored long-tails and a karst island, brilliant bands of lilac and coral sky light up clouds too thin to blemish the scarlet sun’s perfect circumference.
And the celestial show continues long after Sol dips beyond the horizon, as dazzling rays of auburn light punctuate the darkening blue gradient above you, stars already beginning to pierce the twilight.
But bloody hell, it gets dull after dark. There are no bars, nor alcohol in the little shops. (Shock! Horror!) Nope, there is nothing to do but get under the mosquito net, play cards or read a book. If you’re lucky. If you’re not, you’ll find even less to do when there’s a power cut at 8.30pm and your cabin’s fan stops working and it’s sweltering hot and every inch of your skin is clammy and sticking to the sheets and your face is wet with sweat and why oh why didn’t you bring some movies on your laptop you fool?!
I also chose this remote place to become ill – it was probably the ice, which elsewhere has been absolutely fine to drink, but, yeah: poopy town.
Poor Swarana had to occupy herself for 36 hours while I just lay in bed. She was most pleased when, after four nights, we finally left the island for the rather more happening Koh Lipe – our rucksacks three bags of shells heavier.
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