Once again we packed our bags and headed off to the airport. Of course, we took a tuk-tuk! You have no idea how spacious they are: We got our two bags, two carry-on backpacks, and us into one single tuk-tuk - and it wasn't even cramped! In the by now so common tuk-tuk manner we were driven swiftly to the airport, where - just as it was in Ubon Ratchathani - first security checks were already done at the terminal door. All luggage was screened and passengers had to walk through a metal detector. Pretty useless if you ask me - I gave up on removing my pen, wallet, keys, and cell phone from the pockets, and those detectors didn't even go off! Anyway, courtesy to being an UA Premier Executive member we had access to the Thai Airways lounge, which is always welcome: Free food and drinks, and free Internet access. And the waiting time goes by much faster in a much more comfortable environment ;-) But we didn't have to wait that long anyway, and we boarded the good old A 300-600 for the 1:20hr flight to Phuket. The flight was once again nice and friendly, with a meal service. Arriving at Phuket, John awaited us at the airport. I have known John for quite a few years now, through the tourism research discussion forum TRINET. He owns SeaCanoe in Phuket, an ecotour operation that tries to do the best possible job, and be a real ecotour operator. It was good to finally meet him in person, and it was incredibly nice of him to come all the way up to the airport (about a one hour drive), just to pick us up and drive us down to Patong, where our hotel was. We had a good chat about this and that, and the drive was over very quickly. He dropped us off at the Deevana Patong Hotel & Spa, which we also booked through the Internet. What a nice hotel! It looked beautiful, at check-in we were sat down (instead of the common standing at the counter), given cold towels and a cocktail! That's how we like it, haha! John bid us farewell until we'd see him a couple of days later on one of his trips.
It was another hot day, and thus we made good use of the pool. We also walked around the town, and it was quickly confirmed what we expected: A typical tourist town, with everything geared towards western tourists. I already knew what to expect, but it was still a bit shocking to me how open it was: There were lots and lots of white men in their 50s or older (mostly from the UK, Germany, and the US), with a young Thai girl. What was interesting (and a bit unexpected to me) was that they all walked down the street, holding hands. It almost looked like "normal" married couples, fresh in love. What we also realised was that it didn't seem like prostitution in the classic way, i.e. for a short time, but more like a "holiday romance" (or at least the illusion of one) - and of course paid for as well... Often , we saw such couples sitting at the dinner table at restaurants, and not even exchanging one word. I guess the bedroom performance is more important than language skills and any conversation...? At about 5pm we went towards the beach, and it was surprisingly large. The sun started setting, and it turned into the most beautiful sunset we had ever seen. The red of the sun was almost unreal! We kicked our behinds for not having had the camera with us. Oh well, this is paradise, and we had two more evenings!
Next day, we walked around town, and found a spanking new shopping mall of a size that puts any mall in NZ to shame. Even better, in the mall was a supermarket with a variety of food that is beyond imagination. I lived in Germany, Canada, New Zealand and Scotland - and have never seen such a supermarket! The lollie section alone was huge (and we bought lots, haha!), even with lots of imported stuff from Europe, including my favourite Haribo wine gums, and German and Swiss chocolate!
We also spent time at the pool again (of course with a cocktail...), and I started reading a book I got from Renee when I was home in February. It was "The Kite Runner" by Khaled Hosseini. If you get a chance to read this book, please do so! It is a fascinating book, very touching, thrilling, and one of those books you can't put down before you have finished it. it is about life in Afghansitan, long before the Russians invaded it, and up to the years the Americans came... I finished it on the flight back home... And at 5pm we were back to another wonderful sunset at the beach - at least we thought we would... But today it was cloudy, and although it was beautiful, it was not even close to what we had seen the evening before. Anyway, we had tripod and camera with us, so we took a few photos. Oh, have I mentioned yet that we also liked the Singha beer? ;-)
On Saturday, we got picked up by John at about 11am for our adveture out on the water. The transfer by van to the pier took about an hour. On the van with us was John, Lottie (an independent film maker from the UK, who was working on a documentary on birds nest soup - a delicacy in China), and an Australian family. On the boat we met the rest of the gang and headed off towards Phang-na Bay National Park. On the way we got a nice snack with some really yummy food. John and his crew gave an introduction to the area, but also a briefing on saftey and behaviour on the water. On the way, we also saw a number of Bramany Kites hovering behind the boat, and diving through the air to the watersurface in order to catch some chicken skin, the crew chucked out for them (see photos).
Not long and we reached the first hongs (btw., it was close to the famous "James Bond Island", which is basically a rock in the water where tour operators take thousands of tourists all the time...). Every inflatable kayak had a guide and two passengers. Mario, or Thai guide with an Italian name, was really nice, friendly, knowledgable, and spoke English very well. He paddled us through the hongs and did a great job. You get close to the rock wall of the island and wonder where you will go, until you are under some overhanging rock, that gets lower and lower. Eventually, you have to lie down flat in the kayak, and have the cave ceiling about 5cm away from your nose! At times it gets pitch dark, and only torches can help navigate the system. After a short while daylight reappears, and the cave opens up to a spectacular lagoon, surrounded by very high steep cliffs - almost like a fiord! At times it is an almost eerie feeling there, very quiet, little wildlife. But we did indeed see a monkey high up on the wall, and a few mudskippers on mangrove roots. Mudskippers are amphibians, and basically fish with two front legs and a tail. We went back out again, and into the next hong. Again, it was breathtaking, and sheer beauty! After quite a while there, we went back to the boat and had a wonderful dinner. Freshly grilled fish, shrimps, salads, etc. An impressive buffet, especially for the location, i.e. on a boat! We also had time to take a kayak on our own and paddle around the area. It was wonderfully calm - the calm before the storm! - and Neil, Lottie and myself paddled around a bit. Well, Lottie and I paddled, and Neil relaxed ;-) When we got back to the boat, the sun started setting, and it was quite spectacular. Dark rainclouds and a thunderstorm came closer, and the dark light made the sunset look even more impressive! At sunset each group, together with their guide, built a little offering, made of banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense. When it was dark we hopped into the kayaks for the final time and paddled to a nearby cave, lit the candles and incense and let the offerings float. It was a very beautiful sight, and quite touching, except for the British brats that kept shouting, laughing and splashing around - they spoiled the whole thing a bit :( On the way to and from the cave we could see plenty of dinoflagellates, tiny organisms that light up when wave energy hits them. Holding your hand in the water and they light up! Quite a funny thing to see. The only time I have seen this before was from a ferry from Oostende to Dover on the English Channel - there, the whole sea was lightning green! Back on board, we headed back to the pier, and were brought back to the hotel. Each person received a CDRom with lots of information about the area, photos, etc. A valuable and welcome treat at the end of the tour!
Below a number of photos about the trip. The guy in the red single kayak is John Gray, and in front of me in the yellow kayak is Lottie...
At the hotel, we once again encountered a few of our favourite neighbours: Cats! They were everywhere, and to our surprise very clean. They are a different breed (I saw those in Fiji as well), and much smaller than our domestic cats. The ones on the photos are fully grown. I wish Stella and Jamie were that size, haha! Back at the pool after sunset, it was great to swim, because another thunderstorm came close - VERY close. It was suddenly bucketing down, and we left the water when the lightning was right above us ;-) The rain drove a number of toads out of their hiding and we saw a few jumping around the park-like grounds of the resort.
Next morning, we once again had to get up early. We took the hotel shuttle to the airport for our final leg back to Bangkok. But this is - as you have guessed - another story, and will be told in the next blog....