Adventure on Koh Lanta
As residents of the best island in the world, we are often asked, “What is there to do on Koh Lanta?” Now I admit that it takes very little to entertain Lory and I on our island. We are the quintessential beach people. We like to walk our dogs on the beach, read and relax, and occasionally swim laps, – “Do you like pina coladas?” you may well ask.
We have never felt any need for “adventure” on Koh Lanta. In an attempt to entertain our guests, we have done one-day snorkeling trips, and we even sailed on the Club Atlantis to Koh Ngai. But those are aberrations in our island lifestyle. Mostly we like to chill. We have never done the four-island tour, we are not divers, and we don’t care if we ever get up on another elephant.
Our first experience with the Lanta Mangrove Forest was at the urging of our friends Jeff and Susan Crawford who joined us on for a week’s vacation on Koh Lanta in 2011. Jeff and Susan are “earth people” as opposed to “beach people”. They eat healthy food and live a healthy lifestyle. They are concerned about environmental issues, even if the issue may be in their backyard. They run, rather than walk, and they go on adventure holidays to remote corners of the world that have no beaches. “What do they do for fun?” you may well ask.
And sometimes Lory can get Susan to just relax and breathe too.
It was a thrill and a challenge for us to share “our island” with Jeff and Susan. Knowing who they are, we were looking for a little extra adventure. Giving them a tour of the east side of the island, we passed a sign that read “Mangrove Way”. We had passed this sign many times, but had never checked it out. There are also signs for “The Monkey School” and “The Snake Show”. These events remain on our “Maybe Someday” list.
Khun Luen’s Mangrove Tour
Hence it came to pass that the four of us drove down Mangrove Way to discover what wonders would be revealed. The road ends at Tung Yee Peng Pier, on the edge of the mangrove forest. A small kiosk advertises ecotourism opportunities. Our first instinct was to jump into kayaks and paddle leisurely up the narrow inlet into mangrove land. We were immediately informed that we would not be allowed to kayak without a guide. They want to ensure that their guests find their way out of the mangroves. So we decided we might as well save our energy and take the longboat tour.
We crossed a walking bridge to access a long narrow pier that winds through the mangrove to a boat launch and a restaurant on stilts. Here we were greeted by Khun Luen, who would be our boatman and guide. A longboat is a small fishing boat. The propeller is at the end of a long pipe extending from the motor at the back of the boat. Longboats are also used for low cost tourism ventures in Thailand.
Boarding the longboat, we settled in for our adventure. Khun Luen spoke no English, but this did not stop him from shouting out information to the tourists about the islands we were passing and other information that will remain a mystery. He was charming. The boat followed narrow channels between the mangrove islands, and it reminded me very much of boating on the bayou in Louisiana. It soon became clear why we would not kayak without a guide. Only experienced guides could navigate these waterways.
We passed a fish farm in the form of a houseboat sitting in a wide stretch of seawater, and we spotted Lanta Old Town in the distance to our right. Then we turned back into narrow channels again and enjoyed the magical atmosphere of life in the mangrove forest.
We passed local fishermen in other longboats. Their relaxed body language suggested that they enjoy an idyllic life on the water. Various species of shore birds proliferate the area, including the lesser egret. Birds flew in great numbers out of the mangrove trees and over our boat. We also enjoyed the flying fish that skimmed along the water close to the boat.
The highlight of the adventure for Khun Luen was his specialty of “feeding the friendly monkeys” (as advertised in the brochure). The monkeys were long tail macaques that live in the mangrove forest. They are quite accustomed to Khun Luen bringing tourists and fruit for them to enjoy. Khun Luen maneuvered the boat up to the mangrove trees so that a dozen monkeys could jump onto the boat. It quite startled us initially! We knew wild macaques from living in the jungle in Sumatra and they can be quite vicious.
Surprisingly, these monkeys were almost domesticated in that as Khun Luen moved to the front of the boat, they climbed up his legs, almost pulling his pants down. Khun Luen’s smile was as wide as the macaque’s tail is long! The monkeys were all over him, clambering to get their share of the fruit. It was hilarious!
When the fruit was gone, Khun Luen returned to the helm and backed the boat away from the mangroves. The monkeys instinctively leaped from the boat, flying through the air to latch onto a mangrove branch and scamper to shore. Another successful monkey feeding expedition!
On the way back to the pier, we passed a group of kayakers. They were working very hard and would not cover anywhere close to the area we able to see and enjoy. A beautiful thing about the Mangrove Way experience is that you really feel you are supporting the local economy. Your money goes directly into the hands of the locals who run this little ecotourism enterprise.
In recent times the mangrove forests have become endangered. Since 1980 we have lost twenty per cent of the world’s mangroves. They have been removed for both urban development and for agricultural purposes. Some of the loss is the result of powerful tsunamis and other natural disasters that wash away the soil that sustains the plants. We are very fortunate to have an extensive mangrove forest on the east side of Koh Lanta.
Mangrove trees live in salty water, like ocean water. Mangrove forests are found along tropical and subtropical coastlines in both the western and the eastern hemisphere. The mangroves have massive root systems that protect the shoreline from soil erosion, even from hurricanes and tsunamis. They protect a special ecosystem of living species – including mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds.
Various fish species , shell fish and crabs also thrive in the forest. Below are photos of the fiddler crab which can be viewed on the mangrove shore trail.In a small way, the Tung Yee Peng community is preserving the world’s mangrove forest. You cannot do this tour without increasing your awareness and appreciation of the special ecosystem of the mangrove forests.