Friday, December 5, 2008

Ko Lao Liang

A great place for adventure travellers and those seeking a new laid-back location. Image - http://www.laoliangresort.com/

Lao Liang Yai and Noi are two lumps of limestone rising precipitously some 80m from the Andaman roughly midway between Ko Lanta and Ko Lipe. I first spotted them a few years back with their bigger neighbour Ko Phetra, from Ko Sukorn some distance to the east. Sukorn’s viewpoint was high enough to see the sun catching two rather enticing looking beaches, one for each Lao Liang, which made them a must to visit some day.

Lao Liang Noi - you can just see part of Lao Liang Yai tucked in to the south at left. The sun aint exactly catching the beach here - this was on departure on an uncharacteristic rainy late November day.

Michael and Vinnie who run an adventure company based at Ao Nang, along with a Bangkok partner X-site Diving, have established a luxury tent resort on Lao Liang Noi, the smaller of the twins.
This place is a natural to attract CLIMBERS AND DIVERS looking for new locations. From what I understand the climb sites range from beginners to quite challenging grades and the dive-sites are attractive, have some excellent spots for beginners and exclusive in that the Ko Phetra bird's nest group which has some sort of ownership title on the 3 islands won't allow other outfits, only the resort which pays them rent.
tezza takes his first ever climb. This is something I've always wanted to do but avoided because I couldn't afford another time-consuming interest.
This is about as high as the two beginners' climbs I did went.
Other climbers told me there are routes covering all but the most difficult grades on the European scale. This and many other routes are less than 50m from the tent section.
FISHERMEN AND KAYAKERS are also catered for.
I'm a novice kayaker and didn't trust my camera to keep dry when I grabbed a kayak and circumnavigated Lao Liang Noi. This took less than an hour, but I should warn that the combination of wind and tidal current made rounding the north-west and north-east corners difficult. I'm very experienced with the ocean thru surfing, didn't worry and worked at it, but maybe novices should stick to the beach-side of Lao Liang Noi and to crossing to Lao Liang Yai which is a relatively short distance with no other problems. Experienced kayakers would find the around island thing no problem.

The back of Yao Noi (western side) rises sheer out of the water. There are multiple ropes which the climbing outfit has strung up to help the birds nesters from Phetra who have some sort of ownership claim on the Lao Liangs. And big sea-level undercuts in the limestone where in several places you can hear waves swashing against the back of caves some distance in. (image - http://www.laoliangresort.com/)

SNORKELLERS will find the coral and fish off the northern end of Laoliang’s resort beach pretty good with even better stuff accessed via the snorkelling trips at Ko Ta-Kiang aout 10 km further east.You can see one of the good coral bommies just off the beach at Ko Ta-Kiang. The area also has nice plate coral and good fish life.
The commercial fishing boats in the background are a good sign for you rod-fishermen.
That is Ko Phetra in the background, maybe twice the size of the Lao Liangs and some 5km further south. It is off-limits to visitors, but Vinnie got permission from the birds-nesters for us to go. However once they heard there were to be some Thai guests with us, the withdrew their invitation - maybe they were thinking of some Bangkok land-grabbing spies or something.
It rained during my snorkelling trip so this is a http://www.laoliangresort.com/ image.
But my time on the island showed it is very nicely suited for quite a few other categories of travellers:
- THOSE LOOKING FOR A COMPLETELY LAID BACK LOCATION
Places don’t get much more relaxed than Lao Liang Noi. Only one small resort, no roads, villages, tracks etc and few other visitors - the handful of boats I saw from the mainland all headed for Lao Liang Yai which has a bigger beach and a small pretty rustic visitors’ area which can sell drinks, food, fruit etc.
You can often find a big section of the beach all to yourself. The best snorkelling off the beach is found between the northern end here and the north-east corner in the background, on the fringing reef drop-off which is about 50m out. That's Ko Libong in the background.

- PEOPLE WHO APPRECIATE GOOD SERVICE AND FOOD
More than half the guests during my visit where middle class Thais from Bangkok. Several resort owners have told me such people are more demanding than most western guests so if you see plenty of Thais at a given location it usually means the service level has stepped up somewhat. This was certainly the case at Laoliang where the staff, led by Vinnie and the gorgeous Safina were amazingly hard-working, cheerful and attentive.
Thais not only ensure good standards but seem always to get maximum enjoyment from their holidays. Always a nice atmosphere in a place with a good share of local tourists.
Note that even though the Bangkok part owning company is adventure-orientated, the Thai visitors during my stay were ordinary tourists.
And THE FOOD. An oft-heard western gripe in LOS is small Thai helpings. Well you fang-merchants won’t have to buy seconds and thirds at Laoliang because all meals are buffet-style with seemingly unlimited quantities and a large variety. Traditional Thai breakfasts or eggs any style, cereals, fruit, unlimited toast and jam, tea coffee etc is a great way to start the day. The BBQ fish and prawns every second or so night don’t go down too badly either, particulary as they are bought fresh that day from the sea gypsy village on neighbouring Lao Liang Yai.

- ENVIRONMENTALLY CONCERNED TRAVELLERS
Vinnie and Michael have recently taken over direct management of the island from an employee of their Thai partners, and are in the process of rebuilding and refurbishing key areas. The rebuilt bathroom block was sparkling and they opened a newly built beachside bar with adjacent sitting-cabanas while I was there.
Part of the refurbishing involves plans for water recycling and perhaps desalination, the latter powered by battery banks which collect excess power from the generator and perhaps solar panels. Michael apparantly has plans for rainwater collection too - something that may not make too much sense for a resort open dry season only - but believe me, November and April can get a fair amount of precipitation and other dry season months can have short sharp storms. At present all water must be shipped from the mainland.

This stuff is a work in progress but I was amazed at the amount done since the resort opened for the new season - Vinnie showed me some before-pictures. Thing is, I'm going to have to go back and check the place some time in the near future when this stuff is finished.
Rubbish, the bane of so many Thai resorts, is shipped out, there is a no-plastic bottles policy and the beach is swept for the usual junk which drifts in from fishing boats and the mainland. The grounds are also assiduously manicured - this is one spot which passed the tezza no-ring pulls, no cigarette butts test with ease. Michael and Vinnie's long term aim is to create a model sustainable resort in the Andaman region. Ideally, they would like to use Laoliang as a 'educational' resource centre for other resorts and Parks.
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ACCOMMODATION

The tents are in 3 rows in a nicely wooded area between the beach and the cliffs, the lower parts of which are clad in rainforest.

Each tent is divided into 2 sections - living and sleeping. A mosquito zip screen to each section means mozzies will find it hard to get into the inner sleeping area. The outer living area has a daybed, table, light, fan, fancy foot mat for entry (with a bowl of water for sandy feet outside the zip). Each section was about 2.5 x 3.0 m with plenty of headroom for a tall person, giving a total area as big as most flash-packer bungalows. Bath towels, toilet paper, and a hand towel were provided. Outside each tent were a deck chair and beach chair and a hammock lurked nearby.
The inner sleeping area had comfy thick mattresses and pillows, cushions and 2 sheets plus a blanket. A second power outlet made it easy to transfer the fan and reading light from the living section. My tent actually had twin extra-sized singles which could be pushed together to form a bigger double bed than the one shown here. tezza's budget point and shoot Olympus can't do the fancy low-light, wide-angle shots, so both the above images are from Laoliang.com
THE BAR
Traveller Ruese from Carmel, California hams it up in the opened-that-night beach-side bar. Small beers were 50 to 60 baht when I visited, close to budget bungalow average and cheaper than some I visited this trip.
The beach bar is flanked by two sitting cabanas (bar hidden behind) which double as nice lounging areas during the day.


MORE ON ACTIVITIESCrustacean-spotlighting. Laoliang has these rather big tree-climbing crabs.

Island visits - our snorkelling boat put into Ko Loa Liang Yai for luncheon and some beach time. There is a ramshackle daytrip area run by the locals behind the camera and a very small sea-gypsy fishing village at the end ot the beach out of frame to the left. That is our resort island, Loa Liang Noi, in the background. We also swam into Ko Ta-Kiang's small beach after our snorkel there.

Bouldering. Climbing-guide Elliott checks out some routes under the cliff overhang directly behind the tent section. It varies between a 2 to 3m "fall" to soft sand here - Elliott landed on his feet every time.

Fishing - and not just tiddlers. This is a loaliang.com shot. Note the high background trash levels are not acceptable under Vinnie and Michael's new management.
PRICE
A look at Laoliang’s website costs page http://www.laoliangresort.com/Packages.html shows a range of packages including food and transport, plus a daily rate (currently 1600baht per person high season, 1300 shoulder) if you make your own way to the island (Michael told me there will be promotions of 1200 per day for longer stays). Not budget.
But the way I looked at it was to compare with similar operations in Thailand and overseas:
In Thailand the closest I have experienced is the Similan Island Snorkelling live-aboard trip by Poseidon. This trip's location is as spectacular, the food as good - but the activity is more mono-focused and the living conditions way more cramped. Daily cost is similar.
In Australia the local aboriginal community runs a luxury tent resort at Cape Leveque in the semi-arid Kimberleys of northern West Australia. Isolation and water shortage means costs for supplies are similarly high. The beaches are even better, the landscape not quite as spectacular - but you have to be on the lookout for sea-going saltwater crocodiles (up to 6m long - crikey!!) and you can’t dive or climb. The daily tariff is 3 x Laoliang's.
Another viewpoint is to take a location with similar activities and landscape (this means the Railay area or Phi Phi), stay in a not too flash bungalow, eat to the same standard and quantity + unlimited tea, coffee, water, and hire snorkelling gear and kayaks - I reckon you could easily burn 1600 a day. And those places aint exactly uncrowded and exclusive locations like Laoliang.
GETTING TO LAOLIANG.
Tigerline can get you there on their very fast ferry from nearby Hat Yao pier or from a variety of islands between Phi Phi and Lipe. They have a minibus service to Hat Yao from Trang, Krabi, Ao Nang, Phuket and connections to Surathani, Khao Lak, Hat Yai and Bangkok.
You can make your way independently to Hat Yao pier on the minibus from Trang’s northern minibus station.
Tigerline’s fare from Hat Yao was 750baht when I bought my internet ticket, but Michael and Vinnie negotiated a 500 baht fare the day before I left. This is pretty comparable to accessing the Trang islands from Lanta or the Trang mainland piers when the quality and speed of the boat is taken into account.
Tigerline didn’t open it’s 08/09 operations until November24 - Laoliang resort had been operating a month or so before this - access in such circumstances is by the resort’s supply long tail out of Tasae, one of the mainland piers for Ko Sukorn. You can get to the pier from Trang by catching a songthaew or a Satun bus as far as Ban Na on the main north-south highway and another songthaew to the pier.
TRANSPORT UPDATE NOV 2012 - I just read a user report on one of the booking websites (I think it was Agoda - nice you can book that way now) saying Tigerline ceased calling into Laoliang in 2011. This person hired a longtail from one of the mainland piers and found it very expensive - I'd be looking at the resort website for info on its supply boats.

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GENERAL ISLAND UPDATE NOV 09 - a frequent visitor to Laoliang who is friends with the operators just sent me this information:
tezza- this is the word on laoliang: The National Park will be operating the resort WITH LIR this season. They take care of the restaurant, maintenance and care of the beach environment, shopping, ensuring water supply etc.

The Laoliang Island Resort staff takes care of guests, activities, tents and the bar.

A set amount from every guest goes directly to the Park Service.
If Park stays true to their word; this can be the best of both worlds.

Email Mike at the laoliang site to get more details.
Leaving Laoliang - the beachside tents can be just seen in the background. The upright is a tsunami tower. Tigerline's low long fast ferry rocks along at the pace of a speedboat - got me into Hat Yao pier past the scenic coast of Ko Libong in less than 40 minutes and up from Lipe in under 90.

CONTACT:
Laoliang's website for western guest is -
http://www.laoliangresort.com/

Email -
http://www.laoliangresort.com/

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If you visit Laoliang you might also be interested in nearby:
Ko Libong and Hat Yao
Ko Sukorn
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4 comments:

Peter said...

Good post on koh samui beach resort.

Lux Blogger said...

We recently spent some days in Koh Laoliang; the island was nice, laid-back, not commercial or overdeveloped but really, really small. So much potential.

However, the management could do much better. Let us explain:

1. The tent area is too crowded leaving less than 1 meter between the tents. The number of tents could be reduced.

2. The generator hours should be reduced. We did not understand why the generators were up and running for 18 hours per day (constant noice from early afternoon until early morning, all night long). We did not expect that we would have to use earplugs. Some hours in the afternoon should be enough to power the batteries. Or even better; solar panels to power few light bulps. In general, the tents were too close to the generator.

3. There were too many buildings on the beach (huts, cabanas etc and other buildings), most of them were not used. The number of building should be reduced to create a more attractive, airy resort.

4. The resort was not meticulous. Although the beach was cleaned on a daily basis, the grounds were not manicured. We saw broken chairs and tables, obsolete building materials, and other debris and trash dumped on the grounds. Were were surprised to see this because leaves and other forest debris were raked every day but the man-generated debris was left on the ground! Should be other way around! No, the staff was not busy, they spent most of their time sitting in cabanas and surfing in internet rather than cleaning grounds. We estimate that it would take about 1 day for 1 person to clean the ground so it is not a big exercise.

5. Dinner was good, breakfast acceptable (e.g. no real coffee) but lunch was very poor (once it was so bad that we could not even eat it).

6. The kayak and climbing gear, which was made available to guests, was in poor condition. No wonder because the staff was so lazy that they could not even bother collecting life jackets, which were lying on the ground for several days.

7. The area occupied by the National Park Service was a shame; mountains of rubbish, building materials, junk, clutter, debris and all kind of trash dumped next to the beach. And they even burnt plastic!

In sum, nice island, nice beach but take care of it.

Withkids said...

Beautiful island, huge potential, don't expect the comfort they try to sell you on the website,etc. Food ok at best,poor often. Constantly run out of basics ie milk, tea, some soft drinks.Cleaning poor,our tent wasn't cleaned during our 4 nights Some staff lovely, most just disinterested. Shame really because with a little effort could be amazing.

Sierra said...

According to Tigerline´s updated website in the end of August 2011 their ferry does not make a stop at Lao Liang any more.