The morning we left Penang, we woke up at 4:15 a.m., a painfully early hour, but we were fueled with excitement to get to Thailand and its pristine beaches. The air was heavy and the streets were buzzing as if the city had never gone to sleep. Our driver arrived about 30 minutes late, and I was already dozing off on the curb. I slept until the border, despite the numerous smoke and coffee breaks. It didn’t take long to realize why we needed a full day to travel a couple hundred kilometers. The border crossing was easy and shortly after we were dropped at a travel agency in a small town to wait for our connection. The rain pelted down, ranging from a drizzle to a full downpour and we sat in the office for an hour staring outside at the flooding street. “This is supposed to be the dry season?” I asked Fabien. When our ride arrived, we crammed 15 people in a mini-bus while the driver strapped our backpacks to the roof, luckily they covered them with a plastic tarp. It poured the entire 3-hour journey, and the visibility was bad, so my first views of Thailand were the brake lights of the vehicles ahead of us. Not exactly what I was expecting. And to our dismay, we had only a 15 minute lunch break (we were a bit behind schedule) so we ate a package of dried bananas and a green tea. As we got close to Krabi, we started to get nervous about missing the ferry. Again, we were dropped at a travel agency to wait for a bus to shuttle us to the pier. “What time does the ferry leave,” we inquired, knowing full well that our tickets said 2:30. “2:30,” they replied. It was 2:38. We were told not to worry, surely the bus would arrive soon. Miraculously we made the ferry (actual departure time 3PM) where we staked our spots on the front deck. It was a bit rough, so we moved higher, not high enough to keep us dry. Several waves crashed over the bow, partially soaking us. We were still in good spirits, especially as we could see a break in the clouds and sunshine in the direction of Ko Phi Phi, the mainland was covered in a grey mist. It took about 2 hours to reach the island, but we were rewarded with a beautiful view of the towering rocks on either side as we came into the bay. At first we couldn’t see the pier, and thought we’d have to swim for the beach. When I called to reserved our bungalow (that’s a nice word for a hut on the beach), Pon, the owner told me that they would meet us at the 7-eleven in the village. When we got off the boat, I asked for directions to the 7-eleven, the response: “before the tsunami, it was just up this road, but now it’s just ruins of the old building.” Sure enough, it was just the frame of building,identified by the surviving green and orange sign. There was a Canadian couple there looking out for us, they took us to the longtail boat, our water taxi to our secluded beach. The rain had stopped but the wind remained and the usually 15 minute ride turned into 30 minutes of waves crashing over the bow, soaking us and our backpacks. The other passengers were in their swimsuits, but we were not prepared and when we arrived, we looked like a couple of drowning rats and our packs weighed about 10kg more with the water that had soaked through. Pon sent us to our hut to shower and dry,and we emptied everything out of our packs (sleeping bags, winter coats, etc) and hung it to dry. Luckily nothing was destroyed (we keep everthing in plastic bags)- and I guess they were in need of a good wash anyway. It had been a long day of traveling and we hadn’t had a hot meal, so we hobbled down to the restaurant and had a nice Pad Thai and shared a much deserved beer. It wasn’t until the next morning when we woke up late that we realized we had landed in paradise.
Our first day was still a bit cloudy and it was pretty windy in the morning. We took it easy, went for a swim, in the sparkling blue water,and then headed up to the viewpoint. An ambitious walk through the jungle, but the view was spectacular. We peered down onto the village which sat on a small stretch of white sand that spread between two enormous rocks. We could see the two harbors on either side, both surrounded by beautiful rock formations. We continued the path to the village where we could stock up on supplies, and check our email. It was low-tide and the boats just balanced on the sand as the water had receded about 150 meters. It was this small village that was completely destroyed just one year ago during the tsunami. They are quickly rebuilding, but you can still see the bare spots. We read in town that about 2,000 people died on the island…there we’re only 8,000 when the tsunami hit. You can’t help but feel sad, but the Thais are so friendly and positive, and here it feels like the whole community has worked hard to rebuild their paradise. We took the same path back to the guest house and then we spent the rest of the day relaxing in the hammock on our porch.
Our next day, we did a snorkeling trip organized by our guest house. We started about 8 in the morning, the weather was promising, sunshine and a just a bit of wind. They took us out to Koh Phi Phi Leh, the most famous island in Thailand, as it is where “The Beach” was filmed. To actually enter the beach, there is a 100 baht charge (about 2 euro), but our driver was sneaky and took us to a small cove on the side of the island, beautiful for snorkeling, from which we could swim to a cave, which was actually just a small opening in the rocks that led us to a sandy path that led us to “the beach.” What a perfect way to discover our little utopian community. (As Fab mentions in his post, what we actually found was a bar…but I guess it’s about the same.) The beach was spectacular, milky white soft sand, calm turquoise water and palm trees. After a swim, the boat arrived with our cameras, so we could try to capture on film a bit of the beauty. We then went to another snorkeling spot on the main island, famous for the swimming monkeys, but unfortunately the monkeys didn’t come out for us. Instead, we threw bread from the boat and jumped in among thousands of tiny sergeant major fish jumping about. Underwater we found another magnificent world of beautiful coral, teaming with fish, giant clams and urchins. When we returned to our beach, we hadn’t yet had enough. It was rumoured that the best reef on our island was just off our beach, so we spent another hour snorkeling off our beach which was also full of beautiful fish. Water-logged and a bit toasted from the sun, we retired to our hammocks and spent the rest of the day reading and relaxing.
Our 3rd day we planned to swim and snorkel off our beach, climb up to the viewpoint again and relax. It was quite muggy in the morning, and I just wanted to go back to bed. We played a little paddle ball on the beach and went for a swim, then we took a nice walk. It poured rain in the evening giving us some relief from the heaviness of the day. The next day would be a big travel day- a boat to a bus to boat- to get to Koh Tao, Thailand’s premier diving island.
We arrived in Koh Tao about 6:30 in the morning on Friday. We had taken the night ferry which was noteably more conducive to sleeping than the night bus. We didn’t expect to have any problems finding a place to stay, but we had forgotten that the full moon party had just ended on Koh Phagnan, the neighbor island, and people were flocking here in droves. Groggily, we made our way up and down the beach, looking for an available and affordable room. The places we had been recommended were full, but finally just when we were on the verge of breaking down, I found a nice little bungalow with a view right on the ocean. We moved in and crashed. The weather was perfect, almost too perfect as we had no clouds or wind to relieve us from the sun. We took it easy the first day, just swimming, playing paddle ball and reading. We also treated ourselves to a couple of good meals, Thai for lunch and Italian for dinner.
Day two we were more adventurous. Koh Tao is famous for diving, but the spots are also fantastic for snorkeling, so we decided to forego the diving and try out some other sports. We found a place that rents hobie-cats, but unfortunately they were all in need of repair, the last one suffering from a broken mast. “There’s usually not much wind this time of year, anyway.” I looked around and noticed that the water was like glass. So we chose a double kayak and a couple of mask/snorkels and set off for a trip around the island. The first part was easy, and we found a rocky spot to pull up the kayak and jump in for a swim. As we continued, I started feeling all of the muscles that hadn’t been used in the last 6 months (for some, it’s more like 6 years.) Not to mention that our hands were constantly wet and soft, so the breaks were frequent. Fabien is crazy in the water, he can snorkel twice as long as me in any place. I was completely pruned from head to two and he was still ready for more. We made it around about 1/3 of the island, before we turned around. We’d had a cross wind, blowing us towards the shore for most of the time, but we were lucky and had a little tail wind on the way back, so it felt like we were surfing. The island is rocky and green, with lots of rocks jutting out into the sea. We crashed about 9:30 in the evening. Too much sport in one day.
So today (day 3 in Koh Tao), we were ambitous again, and we took a snorkeling trip around the island. Our first stop was in Shark Bay, where I saw one shark, about 1 1/2 meters, and Fabien saw three sharks, the biggest between 2-3 meters. It was rough and unprotected and I was feeling more seasick bobbing up and down in the water than on the boat. Luckily the second spot was well-protected and calm. We saw some beautiful reef fish: angel fish, scorpion fish, giant groupers, leopard fish, pikes, as well as various corals and sea cucumbers. Our last spot was on an island, which looked like a miniature koh phi phi, just a spit of sand between three large rocks. There was some nice snorkeling off the beach in the Japanese Coral Gardens. The rain started rolling in while we were there, and we got soaked and cold during our trip back to town. We climbed off the boat into the back of a pick-up in the pouring rain to get taxied back to our hotel. And who should ride up on his scooter behind us but our French/Swedish friend Jocke who we trekked with in India. At first we didn’t recognize him with his tan and surf clothes, but then we had another one of those reunions that makes the world seem so small…
Tags: BIG TRIP 2005-2006, In English 2005-2006, Thailand