Wednesday, April 27, 2016

La Guelâa aurassienne

Un article publié dans AWAL-Nº3 (Cahiers d'Études Berbères, Paris), écrit sous la direction du regretté Mouloud MAMMERI vient d'être republié en ligne: Inumiden-La Gelâa aurassienne
Il s'agit de la construction du grenier-forteresse appartenant au monde berbérophone d'Afrique du Nord.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

KOH LANTA [เกาะลันตา]

Map of Koh Lanta
This is one of these Thai islands people rave about. I had wanted to get there for a long time. So, I made up my mind recently, packed up and went there to see for myself.
As a matter of fact, this is not just an island, it is also a small archipelago. But the main, larger island known as Koh Lanta Yai is the most touristic place on this side of the Andaman Sea, south of Krabi.

17/04/2016- D1: Bangkok to Koh Lanta.
I left home in Bangkok at the peep of day. Too early to commute with the Airport Link to Suvarnabhumi Airport, so I hailed a taxi on the road downstairs. Being Sunday and the last day of the Songkran holiday, it was quick to get to the airport.
Bangkok [BKK] to Krabi [KBV]
After checking in at the THAI Airways counter, I went down to the domestic
From BKK to KBV
lounge of THAI-Royal Orchid. Very impressive to be privileged to use this lounge on a first occasion. Anyway, it went fast because the boarding started at 7:30am and the aircraft left at 8:00am sharp. On this route, TG241 is operated with an A330-300. The flight only lasts 1 hour.
THAI Airways A333

Krabi Airport to Koh Lanta
I had arranged to be picked up by a car to take me to Koh Lanta and my resort. However, I had a
Aboard the 1st ferry
whole van for myself. The driver was not particularly friendly nor very cautious on the road. It takes exactly 2 hours to go from Krabi Airport to Lanta Klong Nin Beach, half way down the west coast of the island.
Once you leave the main road southwards, you turn to the right across a mangrove area until you get to a channel, where you take the first ferry across to Koh Lanta Noi. Then you get to a second channel for another ferry to Koh Lanta Yai. But right now, they are in the process of completing a bridge to cross this narrower channel to the main island.
Lanta Klong Nin Beach Resort
Lanta Klong Nin Beach
I reached the resort before noon. The room was ready because this is not the high season anymore. The room I booked is in the main building. It is large but is not particularly attractive. There are Thai bungalows at this resort too, a garden and a big swimming-pool. But it is not directly on the beach although only the coastal road separates it from the lovely sandy beach of Klong Nin.
I spent the first half of the afternoon to relax at the resort. It was really hot
The resort pool
anyway. So I cooled off at the beach for a while but the waves were a nuisance. So, I went to the swimming pool where a group of three French scuba divers was training.
Later in the afternoon, I rented a motorbike at the reception (THB200/per day) in order to start exploring the island.
At Lanta Klong Nin Beach
Drive along the southwestern coast.
If my first impression of Koh Lanta was a mixed feeling, it changed during the second half of the afternoon. It was simply beautiful. The southern part of Koh Lanta is really gorgeous. Cliffs and a backdrop of rainforest and a succession of sandy beaches and coves. I went as far as the Sunset Viewpoint, had a mango smoothie and watched a glorious sunset. Once back to the resort, I decided to have dinner on the beach right across the hotel. It was a nice setting but the Kung Kai Gai (coconut chicken soup) I ordered was not thick and not spicy at all, obviously catering for farang visitors.
Sunset panorama on the southwestern coast
18/04- D2 : Koh Lanta Yai south.
Lazy morning today with breakfast by the pool, then I decided to move to one of the bungalows. So, I
Room bungalow
switched to the new location before going to the beach, and then to the pool.
Just before noon, I rode the motorbike back to the Sunset View Point and had lunch there. Today, I wanted to explore fully the southwestern coast. It was another scorching day, so I did go to the beach many times. This island has really many beautiful beaches. The drive to the southern cape is awesome : rainforest hills on one side, a rocky coast on the other with superb viewpoints and more lovely beaches. There are many monkeys
The lighthouse
everywhere. I also discovered, there were three different sunset viewpoints. So I decided to try a new one later today. But first, I drove on to the southernmost cape, which is home to the Marine National Park (entrance fee THB200 per adult/per day + THB20 for the motorbike). At the park headquarters, there is a beautiful sandy cove. I went up the trail to the lighthouse, which is the local landmark.
After that, I explored all the beaches on the way back to Ban Kantian village,
A beach
which is the most developed section of this area? I had coffee at Ananta Coffeeshop and cooled off in the A/C as I had taken too much sun already. But after that, I went back to the beach and had a long, relaxing swim in the Andaman.
Ban Kan Tian Beach
Viewpoint sunset
19/04- D3 : Koh Lanta southeastern coast.
I thought I had seen the best of the island on the southwestern coast...What a surprise then, when I explored the eastern seaboard! The west is good for its beaches and glamorous sunsets. However, the east has a dense, lush tropical vegetation and fabulous vistas on the neighboring islands.
Just north of Khlong Nin Beach, there is a T-junction to cross the island towards the east. The road winds through the densely forested heart of the island till you reach the coastal plain on the eastern side. Before going downhill, there is a great viewpoint with friendly service to make a first enjoyable stop on this journey. At the next T-intersection downhill, the road to the right leads you southwards along the coast. 
Viewpoint café
Lanta Old Town.
I also thought that the Old Town was not really worth seeing. Wrong! Such a charming old place, stretching along its one street lined with wooden constructions. It is a mix of Chinese and Muslim cultures living peacefully side by side. It is not only quaint but charming as well: a few handicraft shops, some attractive cafés and restaurants, fresh fruit juice stalls, a hammock factory and an amazing Chinese shrine overlooking the bay and the islands. When you arrive on the main town square, there is a shady square housing a local folk museum in a colonial construction. Then there is a Thai shrine at the
Chinese shrine
roundabout: the old city is at left-hand, the Pier is straight ahead, and there is a smaller road at right-hand worth taking until the end, where there is a beach used by the local fishermen as a harbor. There, on your left side, facing the bay and all its islands, there is a wonderful café and restaurant inviting you to rest while enjoying the view. I found out that the owner is a French guy, who has been living here for the past six years. This place is a pure bliss for those of you, who enjoy a quiet atmosphere in a superb environment.
Lanta Old Townsquare
Fishing harbor

Stilt café facing the bay
Stilt café at low tide.
Ban Seong Ka U.
Sea gypsy village
The road going to the southeastern point is also worth taking. It is a lovely coastal drive with a few viewpoints on the closest islands. I thought the gypsy of the sea village had no real interest. However, at the very tip of Ban Seong Ka U village, there is a great resort worth visiting. I had a late lunch there. It is a heteroclite resort designed in the Thai spirit, which is lovely and interesting. They have a few animals held in cages (not the coolest thing to see), but the water's edge and its most amazing wooden pier are extremely photogenic.
Ban Seong Ka U resort
Baan Kan Tiang village (west coast).

Noon Sunset viewpoint
After refreshing for a while at Klong Nin Beach Resort (it was a really hot day), I went back to Baan Kan Tiang at the southern end of the west coast. This time, I tried the 3rd viewpoint to watch today's sunset. It was a fine place to stay for the view chilling off with a cool drink to wait for the sun to go down. But today, the sunset was not as brilliant as the previous days.
Today's sunset
20/04- D4 : Lazy day on the beaches of the southwestern coast.
The morning turned out to be a really lazy holiday way of life between the bungalow, the garden and
At the swimming pool
the pool, and Klong Nin Beach. Another bright sunny day, turning really hot around midday and the afternoon.
Before noon, I rode on my motorbike to head back south to Baan Kan Tieng village. I had a light lunch with pad thai & a mango shake in a small roadside
Ao Nui location
restaurant. Then I drove on uphill to Moon Viewpoint, this time, to walk down to Ao Nui Beach, which is only accessible by foot. There is a steep climb down to this secluded beach but once you are there, you feel like a Robinson away from it all! Yet, even in this remote, pristine sandy beach, there is still a Thai bamboo hut catering for lonely hikers. They provide shade, a few basic Thai dishes and cool drinks (water or cola). And if you had thought that prices would be higher than at other places, then you must review your initial judgment because it was ridiculously cheap! So here I was, at an afternoon's hideaway, a slice of my own paradise: crystal-clear water, as warm as you could expect in this part of the world, in an idyllic surrounding, shared only with a few other people in search of beauty and solitude. To add that I truly enjoyed it, remains a pure understatement.
Ao Nui Beach
Hiking down to the beach

Swimming in the Andaman
Climbing back the hill to Moon Viewpoint, I had to avoid a group of monkeys. Then I drove back
Dream Team Beach Resort
but stopped on the way to visit another resort called Dream Team Beach Resort. I looked nice but totally deprived of any visitors. The female owner tried to lure me to stay by offering a mere THB1,200 for an A/C bungalow facing the pool and the sea. But this lovely, secluded resort is built on a rocky seaside with very little sand.

I did not go back to the resort yet, So, I drove past Klong Nin village to Klong Toab village on the island main road. There, on top of a hill, there is an A/C coffee shop where I sat for a while to cool off and get a cup of coffee. Once refreshed, I drove back on the road towards Lanta Old Town
The island countryside
because I wanted to have a look to the inland part of the island. I took a smaller country road towards Kao Mai Kaeo Cave. I had no intention to visit the cave so late in the afternoon. Rather, I wanted to have a look at the countryside: dense rainforest on the hills and in this small valley, a few farms growing either palm-oil or rubber-tree.
Upon returning to my lovely bungalow at Lanta Klong Nin Beach, I went back to the sea and the pool to cool off. It was already time for sunset while I was chilling out with a beer at the beach bar of the Andalay Boutique Resort across from my hotel. Later at night, I had dinner on the beach at a Thai restaurant. I ate shrimps in a thick curry sauce with coconut milk and nuts with steam rice, and a glass of yogurt shake while the music played Jamaican sounds.

21/04- D5 : From Klong Nin Beach to Phra Ae Beach.
The morning was spent relaxing at the resort as I had to move to another location around midday. The day started with an enjoyable breakfast by the pool. The rest of the morning went rather fast between packing, walking a bit around and checking out. I had asked for a side-car transport to my next
Map to Phra Ae Beach
destination. But yesterday, I was asked to wait till today. And then when I asked in the morning, I was told to wait. Rather typical, particularly asking for the price. Finally, I was told to pay for THB200. Since it is only a short distance north, I thought the price was not the fair rate. So, I stayed on the roadside and inquire with other passing side-cars. One stopped, thought for a while (this is always a bad sign) and ask for THB250! Well, a few minutes later, I found a middle-aged Muslim lady, who agreed to take me for THB150. Done deal.... However, the family receptionist was not too happy with my deal, since it was supposed to be his bro for THB200.
Anyway, less than half an hour later, I was dropped off on the northwestern coast at the Casuarina Beach Hotel. The room was not ready yet. I visited the premises of this fine 3-star resort located right on Phra-Ae Beach (also known as Long Beach). I had a light lunch at the beach restaurant. Then I walked back to the main road in search of a place to rent for another motorbike. I found one again for THB200/per 24h. Nearby, there is a small Thai coffee shop, where I paused for a while before returning to the hotel via Long Beach. This is another beautiful beach, but this area is fairly more touristic than further south.
I cooled off for a while in my room: large and nicely furnished with a balcony. Then I went to the
The pool at the Casuarina Beach
beach and the pool. Around 4:30pm, I walked back to the motorbike rental and by 5:00pm, I was on the road. First, I needed to add some gasoline to the tank. Then, I decided to explore the other transversal road to the east coast.I did not go too far because I just wanted to have a look to the rainforest and the valley. There is a small elephant camp that offers to take visitors on a ride. But by 6:00pm, I was back to the resort to watch another glorious sunset.
In the evening, I had a Thai dinner in a nearby restaurant on the main road.
Hotel garden
Sunset over the pool and the Andaman
22/04- D6 : West coast / east coast.
Nice breakfast by the pool restaurant at about 9:00am. Today, I was dying to drive back to the east coast because the main road between Klong Nin and Phra Ae did not really appeal to me.
Stilt restaurant at Old Town
It took me about 25 minutes to get back to Lanta Old Town under a scorching sun. I first started to explore the northern part of the small town. I had not been there previously. This is a fisherman's quarter with many wooden houses on stilts. Next, I went back to my other hangout place, called “Caoutchouc” ('Rubber'). I met again with the French owner and found out I was the only customer at the time being. I ordered a salad with feta and a glass of ginger lemon juice with the sound of exotic tunes. I
'Caoutchouc' terrace
spent quite a long time there, enjoying the view, the cool space and even having an expresso on the boardwalk terrace. And today, it was really lovely because it was high tide. This place is pure heaven!
Panorama of Lanta Old Town bay.

Instead of going back the same road, I decided to drive back to the lower interior junction and explore more the coast between Klong Nin and Phra Ae. On the way, I stopped for another fruit shake at the Viewpoint restaurant.
Past Klong Toab village, I made several stops to have a look at the many coves of Klong Khong Beach before heading back to Long Beach (Phra Ae). Before returning the motorbike, I sat again at the same Thai coffee shop of yesterday. Then, I walked back to the Casuarina Beach Resort by the seaside.
Long Beach sunset
I spent the rest of the afternoon in the Andaman and in the pool; rested on a
Klong Khong Beach
long chair finishing up the book I was reading; and then before 6:00pm, after being back to the room for a short while, I went to the beach to a nearby beach bar to watch the sunset at Happy Hour.

I did not feel to go anywhere for dinner, so I ordered Thai food at the resort beach coffee shop. Another great day at wonderful Koh Lanta!
Inside 'Caoutchouc'
23/04D7 :From Phra Ae Beach to Klong Dao Beach.
Morning at Phra Ae Beach [@ Casuarina Beach Resort]
Early morning breakfast at the pool restaurant, then a relaxing half day spent at the beach and at the pool. Check-out time was at 11:30am. The hotel provided me for an immediate transfer to my next destination (for THB1000). My next hotel was a mere 5km away up to the north.
Klong Dao Beach (near Saladan)
Afternoon at Klong Dao Beach [@ Royal Lanta Resort & Spa]

Royal Lanta garden
The Royal Lanta Resort & Spa is a superb 4-star hotel built in the most exclusive Thai style. It is just on the outskirt of Baan Saladan, the economic capital of the island. The beach here is called Klong Dao Beach and it is another magnificent sandy beach with many other resorts and restaurants. I was able to check in immediately upon arrival. The garden reminded me of the Balinese gardens, except that here the atmosphere was purely Thai. I have a super semi-attached bungalow at one end of the garden. There are two swimming pools: one by the beach, the other near the reception. The resort also has an old Thai teak house that has been restored and kept as a reading room. I had a late lunch on the beach nearby at a Swedish-owned restaurant. Then I wanted to explore Baan Saladan. 
Royal Lanta gardens bungalows
Baan Saladan.
If Lanta Old Town is the administrative capital, Baan Saladan is de facto the economic capital of the island at the northern tip of Koh Lanta. It is a 1.5km's walk from the resort to downtown. There, the channel that separates Koh Lanta Yai from Koh Lanta Noi is a mere river. And yesterday, 22 April, the new bridge had finally been inaugurated. Baan Saladan does not offer much interest and lacks the charm of Lanta Old Town. I walked back to the resort a different way, heading first to the Cape area and then walking back onto Klong Dao Beach. It was a long, long walk, particularly under such a scorching sun.
Panoramic view of Klong Dao Beach
Happy hour
Anyway, once back to the resort, I enjoyed swimming in the Andaman and the
Dinner on the beach
hotel swimming pool. At happy hour, I ordered a piña colada at the beach bar and watched another beautiful sunset.I went back to the same beach restaurant [Diamond Sand Palace] and ordered a grilled barracuda with a baked potato (for THB180).
Sunset at Klong Dao beach

24/04- D8 :From Baan Saladan (Koh Lanta) to Krabi.
Morning at Royal Lanta Resort.
Morning at the beach
Early morning breakfast at the open beach terrace of the resort. Apart from a noisy Chinese family, it was a cool moment facing the Andaman. I relaxed the whole morning, first by going to the backyard pool and then later on to the beach and the front pool. This is such a splendid resort. The water is so warm that once you are in, it feels like a hot, relaxing bath. I was allowed to keep my bungalow till 12:30pm. So at 11:00am, I walked back to the nearby restaurant (Coral Sand Palace). I ordered a tuna salad with a glass of fresh pineapple juice.
Lunch time
A little before 1:00pm, the ferry shuttle service came to pick me up as well as a few other passengers

Ferry route to Krabi
at the resort reception.
Sala Dan Pier.
At Saladan Pier
We had to wait for a little at the pier for the ferry to arrive. But it left on schedule at 1:30pm. I thought the 2-hour voyage would be done with a regular ferry. I was surprised to find out it was a speed boat. As a matter of fact, it only took an hour to get to Ao Nang Pier ! Great. This would allow me more time to go to Railey as I expected.
Speed boat living Koh Lanta
Map of Krabi area
Ao Nang, Krabi.
The ferry company provides free pickup and free dispatch to and from the hotel. So the transfer to Ao Nang IBIS-Styles hotel went smoothly. After checking in, I soon left and walked to the seaside in order to get a boat to Railey Beach. On the way, I stopped for coffee. Here in Krabi, prices are as high as in Bangkok because of the tourist activity.
Ao Nang beach
Once at Ao Nang town seaside, I bought an RT ticket to Railey at the booth (THB200 for RT). We had to wait for a little for a longboat to leave because they wait for a full load of passengers to go. The sea was pretty rough. It means that the waves were splashing us but the crossing to Railey beach only takes about 30 minutes. I had been here before but I wanted to see the spectacular view again,
At Railey Beach
particularly just before sunset. Railey beach is quite popular of course : many foreigners on the beach but also some rock-climbers. There is a small village with a few resorts. Crossing the isthmus to the other side of the bay, you will find the path that leads to Phra Nang Bay. This is another spectacular beach. It has
Phra Nang Beach
a curiosity not to be missed : two caves turned into shrines. They are dedicated to Phra Nang, the goddess of love. There, you will find a large collection of male organ emblems. This is a Thai tradition, particularly conspicuous with sea mariners. It probably goes back to the old Hindu tradition of the lingam. Quite a symbolic place : the rocks, the caves, the sea and the male symbol of fertility to a goddess. The wood penis being placed in a cave near the water holds a high sexual act of fertility.
The cave, shrine of the goddess of love
On the way back to Railey Beach, it was time to watch another sunset with so many other people sitting on the beach and watching. Going back after 6:00pm reserves a surprise. Even if you hold a return ticket, they will charge you another THB50 after 6:00 ! Of course, nobody will tell you before. You only learn it on the spot.
The rock formation at Phra Nang Beach

25/04- D9 : From Krabi back to Bangkok.
View from IBIS-Styles Hotel
Early morning wake-up on this last day of the trip. Breakfast at the peep of day, at 6:00am, in the nice Ibis-Styles restaurant by the pool with a view on the nearby rocks. The pick-up van comes at 8:00am to take me and other travelers to Krabi Airport (THB150/per passenger).
Krabi Airport is modern and quite pleasant. THAI Airways flight departs on time. The aircraft is full, mostly with foreign tourists having a connecting flight at Suvarnabhumi Airport. It takes exactly one hour to fly back to BKK aboard the A320-200.
TG A322 to BKK

- End of this trip -