Best Kept Secret: Panorama on Koh Lanta

Panorama is the name of a roadside restaurant on Koh Lanta positioned high on a cliff's edge, surrounded by trees strategically positioned to allow for exceptional views out across the sea towards a neighbouring uninhabited island. NewMan and I stumbled upon it as we did one of our many motorbike tours of Koh Lanta.On the approach to Panorama you are greeted by numerous signs in German, English, Swedish warning of the restaurants presence ahead on an otherwise deserted and quiet road. They also invite you to enjoy, "the best coffee on Koh Lanta". Neither NewMan or I are coffee fans so this didn't entice us but the restaurant's appearance (white wood structure, all open plan and bright blue features) and views did.Our first visit was for a beer, having already eaten in Lanta Old Town, which is a ten minute drive away from Panorama. That didn't bother our host and Panorama's owner "Jack" who welcomed us like old school friends and with the menus he also presented us with additional reading material; a collection of travel magazines featuring a few select and well-thumbed articles about Koh Lanta. Also in each menu is a photo copied letter from one of Jack's loyal German customers, who explains now is a "good friend". It describes how Jack, real name Paiboon Tachajaruvong used to live and work in Bangkok but some years ago gave up city life for island life on Koh Lanta.We drained our beers and left feeling relaxed and happy that we'd found another Lanta gem. We promised Jack we'd return. This we did on the Sunday after I completed my Open Water Diver and this time we came hungry. After devouring some home cooked Thai food we spent a lazy few hours reading our books as well as more reading material provided by Jack including an academic thesis about the native Lanta sea gypsies written by a Swedish academic, which names Jack as a great help in arranging interviews.Jack is representative of a surprising number of Thai people whose stories are easy to relate to as a traveller who has recently left London behind. Fed up with long hours at work turning into long days in a city, Jack steered his career and life into a sharp U-Turn searching for something more, or maybe, actually a little less out of life, like less stress.After stretching ourselves a little too far and having desert, we were presented with complimentary jiulong tea a less common blend of Chinese green tea which Jack explained combats stress and is "good for the heart". I may not do coffee but I certainly do tea, and this slipped down a treat. It was so good I paid for a second pot and we both smirked at the cheeky cups. I am convinced that Jack's U-Turn from Bangkok to Koh Lanta was a decision he hasn't regretted and here's why.

During our first visit as we sipped our cool beers and enjoyed some shade, the view and a friendly dog that slept at our feet, the peace was interrupted by a motorbike speeding up to Panorama's entrance and breaking sharply. A voice called out in heavily-accented English: "There's been an accident! A motorbike accident. Can you call ambulance?" Jack moved quickly but not in panic. He grabbed his mobile phone, climbed on to the back of the motorbike and calmly asked the (Dutch?) tourist to take him to the accident.

Twenty minutes later Jack returned. He appeared unshaken and only slightly sombre. We asked him what had happened and he explained that a tourist had been driving on the wrong side of the road, went round a corner and collided with two locals and a toddler on a bike going the other way. One woman had "certainly broken her leg" and the child had a head injury. They were on the way to the hospital.

It wasn't that Jack was unmoved by the accident, he was just completely calm in reacting to the events that had unfolded and he had no doubt been incremental at translating and organising transportation to the hospital. It struck me how differently I would have reacted.

Rightly or wrongly, I would have been breathless, adrenaline fuelled, overly chatty and maybe a little teary as a result of witnessing a serious accident, particularly one which involved a child. I don't know for certain but if Jack's change of pace from Bangkok to a sleepy corner of a beautiful island was part of his quest for a greater inner calm, I think it was an important step and is inspiring to those of us who debate a similar path for ourselves.

Either that or that jiulong tea is even better than I thought...

Frances M. Thompson

Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before starting a family with her Australian partner. Frankie is the author of three short story collections, and is a freelance writer for travel and creative brands. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her two young sons around Amsterdam.
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