After riding my bicycle to Chiang Mai and pushing the Mae Hong Son Loop I was ready to return to Koh Lanta and settle back into island life. While Hilux The Bike was shipped back via Thai Post I boarded a 2 hour direct flight back to Krabi in order to check in with immigration and extend my education visa. I also made it back in time to spend the holidays with my pandemic family at KoHub.
We had an awesome Christmas party with great food, a gift exchange, and even a keg of Chang! While I hadn’t expected to spend a 2nd Christmas abroad I was very thankful that I ended up enjoying this one at KoHub. A week later we all descended on the beach and celebrated the New Year with food, drinks and fireworks at my favorite beach bar on the Andaman Sea.
Once the excitement of the KoHub Christmas Party and New Years at Fat Turtle and Joker Bar settled down I got back to life on Lanta. I was still unsure of when I’d actually leave and return to the western world, but KoHub had just finished building brand new bungalow apartments so I moved into one for $300 a month. After living on the bicycle it was nice to unpack in my own place, just steps from the coworking space.
Another benefit of living at KoHub was that I was across the street from a beach resort where I could launch my stand up paddle board. I’d returned for the best of high season when every day the ocean is flat and clear so I was happy to trade my 2 wheeled adventures for walking my board 10 minutes to the sea and paddling along the coastline.
In addition to taking full advantage of living on Lanta during the uncrowded high season, the group of us KoHubbers still around planned a few trips on and off the islands. One of the highlights was a snorkeling trip to Koh Ha and Koh Rok islands. The day started choppy but the Andaman Sea calmed down and gave us some incredible views through the afternoon.
We also explored more of Koh Lanta Noi and Yia (the north and south islands) and found a great place to watch sunset on the water in front of an old abandoned Chinese mansion.
Although I had my paddle board and beaches to run on I couldn’t keep myself off the bike. The north island is less developed and has better roads so it’s a great place to explore on two wheels. During one of my 50km rides I came screaming down a hill and spotted a long black rope laying across the road. When it moved I realized it was a snake. I knew I wouldn’t be able to stop in time so I aimed for the tail, brakes squealing and tires skidding, as the head lifted and I saw the giant cobra flares. Holy s***!
Luckily the 8 or 9 foot long cobra slithered off the road and into the jungle as I screeched past. When I came to a stop some local Thai guys sitting outside their house were yelling “Cobra! Cobra! Cobra!” Yeah, uhhh, I got that.
While that was the biggest snake I saw on Lanta (actually, I did see a giant python snared and coiled up under a Hilux pickup), they were a fairly common occurrence, like this monocled cobra (also called the Indian spitting cobra) that I almost ran over in front of my apartment a few weeks before leaving.
Not all the wildlife on Lanta was deadly though. Just after I returned from the north a new kitten wandered into KoHub. She hung around for a few days and soon became part of the family. Somehow her unofficial name became Little Chang (or Chang Lek in Thai), and my bottles of Chang may or may not have had something to do with that.
Little Chang sort of attached herself to me, which I didn’t mind. Each morning when I was the first into KoHub she was often sitting on my desk waiting, and eventually she even followed me home now and then. When she got “fixed” she retreated to the safety of my closet for a day and a half until she felt normal enough to venture out again.
As life returned to normal in the spring of 2021 we got back to our routines of Thursday night games, Friday happy hours, and tastiest of all, Taco Tuesdays (which normally happened on Wednesdays). Baja Taco was on the east side of the island and while most people rode their scooters down for lunch, me and my buddy Dirk decided if we rode our bicycles we could eat more, have a few Changs, and work it off on the way home. Unfortunately Hilux the Bike continued his streak of flat tires and a few of my Taco Wednesday meals came with a hint of road grime and bike grease.
While some people came and went we had a core group of friends who stuck around longer term, taking advantage of the incredible deals for luxury villas and beachfront rentals. Although the island was pretty quiet we had a vibrant social life with happy hours, sushi in the jungle, games nights, coffee hours, cookouts, pool parties and way too many nights at Joker Bar.
Thailand was still open to domestic tourism so we took some local trips too. My buddy Rohan and I did a quick visit to Railay Beach and ended up extending our stay longer than planned. Railay is typically choked with tourist crowds, but with no international arrivals it was very very very quiet.
While that wasn’t good for local businesses, we were treated to incredibly beautiful and completely empty beaches, great kayaking, paddle boarding, and snorkeling, a very steep discount on beachfront resort rooms, and laid back nights at a local bar with the owner and his wife.
The only downside was that there were less tourist targets for the local monkeys, and while the dusky langurs were nice and just hung out in the trees above the pool the macaques were not so nice and when they tried to steal my bag I fought back and nearly regretted it.
In June I returned to Krabi Immigration one last time to get the final 3 month stamp for my year-long educational visa in Muay Thai. I’d arrived in February of 2020 for a 3 week stopover between Kuala Lumpur and a trade show in India, and nearly a year and a half later I still hadn’t left. I definitely wasn’t complaining. Koh Lanta really had become home, but I knew it couldn’t last forever.
As people started leaving to head back to Chiang Mai or fly home to get vaccinations our friend group started to shrink. Before my friend Dirk and his girlfriend left for the UK he wanted to have one last adventure in Thailand, and always down for silly ideas I agreed to riding our bicycles 100 miles around Koh Lanta in one day.
We met at 5 AM at 7-Eleven, started with coffee and toasties, and spent the next 12 hours circumnavigating and crisscrossing the north and south islands. Right at 5 PM we finally ticked over 100 miles and coasted into our favorite craft beer bar on the beach for some well earned brews.
In late spring / early summer Thailand started to get hit with a new wave of COVID-19 and we began to experience restrictions for the first time since the initial global outbreak. Soon we were in a serious 2 week lockdown, and with no new digital nomads arriving KoHub closed their doors until the next high season. Our friend group continued peeling away and we were down to just a handful of people meeting for drinks at the beach and discussing vaccines and visa options.
Eventually it became apparent that I wasn’t going to be able to get a vaccine before my year-long visa ran out. With the days on my passport stamp counting down and another friend planning to head back to the United States we decided to book flights together. Kevin bought a duffle bag for the stuff he’d acquired over the year and a half living on Lanta and I tried to figure out how to get all my new toys home.
The biggest unknown was my Decathlon bicycle. It wasn’t an expensive bike, but after 1,600 miles touring with Hilux across Thailand I was kinda tied to him. I had it in my calendar to go to the bicycle shop on Lanta and ask for a box and if they didn’t have one then maybe I’d sell the bike. One night on my way to a beachside happy hour my scooter had a flat so I took the bicycle instead. As I spun past the trash drop-off I spotted, wait… what is that!? It’s a bicycle box! I turned around and carried it home, knowing that the universe had spoken and that Hilux the Bike was going home with me.
With that I wrapped up my time on Lanta, had a few more going away parties, celebrated Kevin’s birthday again, got our brains tickled with COVID tests and arranged a private van transport to the Phuket airport.
The day of departure was a torrential downpour and I was sweating not just from the island heat but from trying to fit the bike in a box, pack my inflatable paddle board, and get the rest of my clothes and electronics into my two other backpacks. For someone who’s been homeless since 2015 I sure had acquired a bunch of stuff!
I boarded my flight from Phuket bound for Doha, then home, and reflected on the past two years.
In December of 2019 after spending the summer in Alaska I took a break from driving the Pan-American Highway and flew to Bali with my girlfriend. Two months later I was single and left Bali alone, meandering through Singapore and Malaysia before I pegged Koh Lanta as a spot I could visit for 3 weeks while waiting to work a trade show in India.
In those 3 weeks the the pandemic spread rapidly, borders began to close, flights were grounded, and on my day of departure I had 3 flights booked out of the Krabi airport, none of which I took. India and Sri Lanka had both closed to international arrivals and as I stood on the street waiting for a van to the the airport I read that Malaysia, the destination of my 3rd flight, was going into a lockdown that very night. So, I canceled my ride, unpacked my bags, and settled in to wait things out.
Over the next few months Thailand went into lockdown, foreigners were somewhat singled out, but the family who owned my bungalow made sure I was okay and invited me to many of their evening iftar meals for Ramadan. I watched the rest of the world go into even more extreme lockdowns and hit a pretty low low of personal depression from the end of my relationship.
Eventually the internet went out at my place and in a search for wifi I ended up at KoHub. The coworking space had just reopened and I immediately made new friends, moved into the KoHub apartments, and proceeded to make Koh Lanta my pandemic home.
I spent the next year working more than I have since becoming a freelancer back in 2015, growing my client list, service offerings, and expertise. On top of that, Thailand is a stunningly beautiful country with incredibly kind people. Not only did I get to live on a tropical island for a year and a half during a global pandemic, but bicycle touring 1,600 miles to the northern mountains with virtually no tourist crowds was truly a once in a lifetime experience.
Looking back I can’t really say why I parked the truck camper in the winter of 2019 and put my dream of driving the Pan-American Highway on hold, but one thing’s for sure, I’m really glad I did.