Thailand: Koh Phi Phi redux

Yesterday we rented a long-tail boat to take us to Phi Phi Lei, the uninhabited island made famous in the 60s by one James Bond movie, possibly Goldeneye, in which James comes roaring out of this canyon of emerald green water and high jagged cliff faces in a super-fast speedboat. It was all over for PP then, I’m afraid, although PP Lei is magnificent. It juts out of the water just south of PP Don and can be reached by long-tail in 20 minutes or so. It’s very steep rock cliff-faces jut vertically up out of the water and have been weathered and eaten by waves and wind for thousands of years into sharp, jagged formations. Clinging to these cliffs are twisted and gnarled trees hanging on for their lives. The bottom of the cliff faces are undercut into many caves, some very deep and the locals are harvesting swallows nests in one particularly large cave. The cliff walls open up into the “James Bond” canyon lagoon where the water is calm and emerald green; a tiny beach is nestled into one side of the cliff face. We slowly toured through here on our long-tail.

After emerging from this lagoon we stopped along with several others at a rocky knoll to snorkel. Ty and I had fun looking at all the variety of small fish, many gold and yellow, some larger ones iridescent blue and green. In areas of the seabed the coral reef has been destroyed, likely from the tsunami and is just beginning to grow back. My portable camera bit the dust (or water) here. Somehow, water got into its supposedly waterproof body and that’s that for that. Ty got some footage of the fish on our small video camera.

After our snorkel we travelled around to the west side of the island and into Maya Bay. It was also made famous in the same Bond movie and in The Beach, a schlocky 70s movie featuring a young Brooke Shields, I believe. As a result, the Bay was packed with longtails, tours boats and, most annoying, speedboats from Puket (on the mainland), screaming in every two seconds and creating huge wakes. We decided to pass on visiting the tiny and enormously crowded beach. The island itself is really beautiful and better to be visited as early in the morning as possible for the plague of tourist boats arrive.

In the afternoon we took a long-tail taxi to Long Beach, just around the point from our place and tried snorkeling along the rocky wall into the water there. We were able to see quite a few fish because the water is clearer there than on our beach, where construction projects and thousands of boats coming and going have stirred up the silt and clouded the water. Many construction projects are going on here; new bungalow and storefront developments are blasted into the rock right along the water, leaving a residue of cement bags and mud. Guys with small wheeled carts haul construction material through the cobblestoned paths, in and around the tourists obliviously walking in their way.

In behind all the chi-chi shops developed for the tourist trade are the usual corrugated and rusted tin hovels housing the local people who man these shops – not too many tourists venture into these parts and if they accidently do, they scuttle out quickly. The contrast between the two parts of town is more striking here than on any of the other islands that we’ve seen. Two nights ago we ate in a local hangout; we were the only farangs there until an old, fat white guy showed up with his new young Thai “girlfriend”. We were given the tourist menu and likely paid enough for our dinner there to feed a family of four for a week or possibly a month. Neither of us felt bad about paying probably 10 times what the other diners were paying for their meals – the disparity in wealth between us and them is huge. Our motto here is “Spread the wealth”.

We’ve seen quite a few really old white guys with beautiful young Thai women here – the men are shameless, possibly quite proud of themselves, and being taken for every penny, no doubt. Before Viagra, these guys would not have merited even a one second glance – I guess both parties deserve one another, although I’m more sympathetic to the women, for whom the tourist men are a way out of their corrugated shacks. Almost everyone here is opportunistic; the beach dogs, the cats who proliferate in the stores and restaurants meowing piteously for scraps, the myna birds who hang around on our deck, calling to us for food, the tourist touts, the off-island owners of the “Irish pub” and the Italian coffee-bars, the tourists looking for cheap sex and cheap booze … In the evening herds of youth stumble around holding plastic buckets of cheap liquor – it’s always Happy Hour on Phi Phi Island.

For Chinese New Year we decided to have grilled sea food in one of the beachfront restaurants. The first one we tried had sullen and surly young male servers who did little serving and much horking into the palm trees. After being presented with what looked like reheated prawns in tinfoil, we sent them back and bailed fast. We ended up instead in Mama’s Resto on the main drag, a restaurant owned by an Italian man who helped me pick out a nice bottle of white wine and served us fantastic, and huge, grilled prawns, so big that we just could not quite finish them all. Good food, good service and a pleasant atmosphere with local oil paintings on the wall. Here we paid a fortune for our dinner – 3000 baht, including tip, but figured that Chinese New Year on Phi Phi Island will only come around once for us and so it was worth a splurge.

Our last day on Phi Phi was spent on Bamboo Island, off the north coast of PP. We rented a long-tail and headed off through the pounding waves, getting a wet and wild ride. Once there, it was deserted and beautiful – we saw a black, white and yellow spotted moray eel, many beautiful angelfish, a barracuda and two blowfish.

We’re off to the much less developed island of Koh Jum tomorrow – more later.

See pictures here.

Thailand: Koh Phi Phi

We’re now on Koh Phi Phi. Our resort is right at the far end of the smallish bay into which the ferries from Lanta, Lipe and Krabi come, close enough to the action yet far enough away to be relatively quiet at night. We arrived here on the smaller of the two Phi Phi foot-passenger ferries which leave Lanta at 8 am and 1 pm each day after a short one hour ride up on the top deck. (All the ferries travelling between the islands here are foot traffic only – they are quite small, much smaller than the seabus, for example).Travelling on ferries here is a bit anxiety-producing for someone used to the BC ferries system. No announcements are made, people crowd around the gang-planks, pushing and shoving with all their gear, ferries dock two and three deep at the pier. We had to travel over one ferry to get to ours, carrying our hundreds of pounds of luggage. Here the safety protocols that we take for granted in Canada are not observed; life jackets lie piled up on the floor, no announcements are made about anything to do with safety, people are allowed to travel, as we did, up on deck for the journey with little in the way of guard rails or concern about weight distribution. People freely drink booze aboard; if you had too much to drink on one of these trips, you could well end up in the sea. Although I am thoroughly sick of BC Ferries, they look pretty damn good now …) Anyway, we did have a very pleasant sunny ride over and arrived safely on the dock at PP. There we, and several others, were met by a guy from the resort; because it was low tide, the long tail boat could not take both all of us and our luggage so we walked to the resort while our bags travelled in style on the boat.

Ty and I were expecting a beachfront bungalow but what we got was a bungalow halfway up the mountain. The terrain here is steep – you wouldn’t want to stay here if you had mobility or fitness problems. No stairmaster necessary with these hills! It is a very nice room, very large and well-appointed, with a nice view of the bay and the island of Phi Phi Lei across the water. Unfortunately, the shower drain was clogged so the first order of business was to call in the plumber; while he worked we had our first tropical storm go by. After that, we took a shower and headed into “town”.

Phi Phi is a cross between Monterosso on Cinque Terre and Venice, on a much smaller scale. Like those two Italian cities, Phi Phi has narrow pathways between two and three story walkups thronged with flowing crowds of people; unlike the Italian cities, the terrain here is flat – but it has a similar feel, lots of small shops, restaurants, bars, and the ubiquitous massage parlours. At night the place has a carnivalesque feel, with pods of twenty-something women and single men rushing here and there. There are many Italian restaurants, an Irish pub, pizza parlours, many tour offices and dive shops and expensive beachside seafood restaurants with singers crooning saccharine seventies hits to an audience of three.

After walking around and around, we decided to have dinner at Cosmic Café, an Italian restaurant in one of the back streets. I had some really tasty fettuccine with ricotta and asparagus and Ty had seafood and mushroom fettuccine. We finished off our meal with a great cappuccino and people watching street-side at one of the island’s bookstore/cafes. The music in the beachfront bars must have started up full blast around 11, just as we old folks were going to bed, and went on until four – gaggles of drunk and giggling women could be heard staggering home after closing time. Phi Phi is party central – we’re glad to be spending only 4 nights here …

Downtown, right by the beachfront path, is an enormous banyan tree with a very large and beautiful shrine in front of it. At night, tree and shrine are illuminated; this is a memorial and thanksgiving for the tree that saved many lives; during the tsunami many people were able to save themselves by climbing up into the tree’s giant spreading branches. Sunday we spent on the small beach just down to the left of our resort, away from the hub-bub of the main town beach and bars. Among the rocks are many iridescent crabs and small centipedes with sharp large front pincers. No jellyfish to be seen, thank God!

See pictures here.

Thailand: Lanta

Today we are off to the Bayview Resort on Phi Phi Island to spend 4 days over Chinese New year, taking the 1 pm ferry from Lanta. When we arrive there, someone from the resort will come to pick us up and transport us and our multi-bags to our next room. We’ve really enjoyed the Lanta Garden Home, even though the jellyfish kept us out of the water.

Yesterday the jellyfish disappeared; the water or wind currents must have changed and taken them out to sea again. I hope we do not encounter these creatures again on our journey through Thailand.

We spent our last night on Lanta in Saladan Village and at the night market, playing games and buying little trinkets. On stage two ladyboy performers in traditional Siamese costumes entertained the mostly local crowd while people played roulette and ate sate.

Thailand: Koh Lanta

Our plans had been to spend 2 weeks on Lipe but after 8 days, we’d had enough of the relentless wind and the generic tropical village ambience; we decided to make an unscheduled stop at Koh Lanta, north on the way to Phi Phi. Speaking to a fellow traveler at the Mountain Resort about the changes on Lipe, he concurred with the Canadian man from Saskatoon we’d spoken to earlier that Lipe had changed almost beyond recognition in the past year. A paved road had been put in, financed by the Thai royal family’s princess, as well as prefab row shops and small concrete bunkers ready for more “south seas” massage and tattoo parlours. He also told me that the princess was responsible for the erection of a bungalow palace that we’d seen being built on the far side of Cozy Cove. The overall effect is a cross between Mexico’s Playa del Carmen, on a much smaller scale, and a west coast gulf island; there remains hardly a vestige of Thailand.

Rather than take the Tiger Line directly to Phi Phi, a trip that takes about 8 or 9 hours, we decided to splurge on the speedboat to Koh Lanta and stay there for 4 days. The speedboat costs 1,800 B per person, about $54, and takes 3 and ½ hours to get to the island of Lanta, with 3 other island stops on the way. So, we were up at 6 am, down to the beach in front of the Mountain Resort at 7:30, on a long tail boat to Pattaya Beach and at the Bundhaya speedboat platform in the water by 8:15 Tuesday morning. The boat holds40 passengers when full, plus the captain and 3 crew. Our boat wasn’t full – 29 intrepid passengers made the journey up the Thai coast with us. The first half hour was kidneycrushingly rough; we rocked along to reggae tunes played at full blast. The remainder of the journey, though, the sea was relatively calm and the trip not so punishing. Luckily, no one was sea sick enough to puke.

After stops at an unknown island, Koh Mook, and Koh Ngai to let off and take on passengers, we cruised along a channel through a mangrove forest. This was an amazing part of the journey. The captain slowed down so that we could more fully appreciate the unique vegetation and the beauty of the scenery. Shortly after, we emerged into a larger body of water and docked at the port of Saladan on Koh Lanta.

Lanta is much bigger than Lipe, about the size of Libong (about Saltspring size). Upon disembarking, we were immediately seized on by housing touts trying to get us to stay at their particular resort. These folks were amazingly persistent and would not leave us alone. One woman, though, was more low key and polite that the rest so we decided to go with her. She led us off the dock and around to the parking lot, where the van for Lanta Garden Home was parked. Joining us in the van was a German family from Berlin we’d met on the speedboat. After taking a look around, we decided to stay at the Garden Home. For 600 B a night (about $18) we have a very large room with private bathroom in their family run complex on Klong Dao beach, on Lanta’s west coast about 3 km from Saladan Village. For comparison, we paid 800 B on Libong ($24) and 1100 B on Lipe ($33). In addition to the usual king size bed, our room has a fridge and a TV, neither of which we’ve had to date. The complex itself has everything – a restaurant upstairs right on the beach, an internet facility, a mini mart, a bar, a hairdresser, and a massage hut, all right on the beach. It’s great and the family running the place is large and very pleasant.

The only thing the room did not have, which is a necessity for me, was a mosquito screen. So, one of the first orders of business was to get one. After much miming, hand gesticulations, and laughter with 3 old Thai saleswomen at the “sell everything” Thai equivalent of a giant dollar store, I managed to find a mosquito net, some pins and some string to erect it. Ty did a great job of rigging the whole thing up in our room.

The beach out front is beautiful, 3 km long and sweeping. However, one very serious problem here, which we had only just heard about a few days before we decided to come, is that the beaches here – all of them – are infested with thousands of purple jellyfish. Hundreds of them roll up dead on the beach every day and the water is full of live ones. We think that the large purple ones are not dangerous, but there are other, smaller, brownish ones with long tentacles which may be very poisonous. Speaking to the owner of the Swedish Bakery on the main drag, we found out that the jellyfish were recent visitors, having been swept here by the high winds generated by the northern Siberian cold front which had also brought cold and freezing temperatures to other parts of Thailand, as well as the torrential winds to Lipe.

So … the beach is beautiful to look at, lovely to walk along, but no swimming in the water for us! A few people are swimming but not very many. Piles of jellyfish carcasses lie everywhere along the high tide line. It’s really a shame because I’m sure that visitors have dropped off since the jellyfish arrived. We were both surprised at how inexpensive accommodation is here – this is the least we’ve paid so far and we had expected Lanta to be much more crowded and more expensive than Lipe. Having been here before, Ty figures that tourism is down on Lanta by maybe 70 %; we’re not sure whether that’s because of the jellyfish, or the trouble in Bangkok last December, or the general economic malaise. The beach front resorts here, in most cases, are almost deserted. Our place seems to be the exception – it’s full, perhaps a testament to the woman’s sales technique or the low price – maybe both. If the jellyfish remain, we think that within 5 years this island could be a ghost town in terms of tourists, with all the big splashy beachfront resorts slowly rotting back into jungle. Around here it will not take long – the jungle grows very, very quickly if it’s not pruned back daily.

Our first night here we flagged down a tuk-tuk taxi, a small motorcycle and sidecar with a surrey on top, and drove into the village for a great seafood dinner on the river at the pier. The village itself is mainly composed of stalls and shops selling wooden masks, shell and bead jewellery, sarongs and T-shirts. Ty and one vendor had fun teasing each other; the man tried to sell him a bead bracelet which he said had a depiction of the Buddha. When we looked at it, though, the Buddha was actually the virgin Mary – a bit odd, I thought, in this part of the world.

Wednesday, our first full day, we took another tuk-tuk down the west coast to Klong Hin beach, the furthest away from where we’re staying. We rode with a father-daughter duo driving the small taxi – it was a blast to sail along with the wind in our hair. As usual, no one wears a helmet – the little 2 year old girl riding on her Dad’s lap was allowed to clamber all over the taxi and us as we drove. I was a bit nervous that she’d fall out if we hit a particularly big pothole in the road.

Later, we enjoyed a walk and a drink at the Funky Fish resort on Phra-Ae (Long) Beach, the middle and longest beach (at 4 km) on the island’s west coast. We had an interesting conversation with a beach vendor who sold me an anklet for 50 B, her first sale of the day. She said that she lived with 6 others in a one-room flat off the beach and that jewellery was a difficult sell these days. (50 B is $1.50).

We decided to walk back to Klong Dao along the beach, clambering over huge and extensive volcanic rock formations to get there. Along the way we saw many rock pools, jellyfish graveyards and abandoned fish nets. Coming out at the end of our beach we saw many old fish nets and piles of debris, as well as quite a few long-tail boats parked. In the forest that touches the beach several tents and hammocks are erected, and derelict tuk-tuk cages proliferate – this is where many local single men live.

So far, I’ve had two great massages at our little beach side massage hut, we’ve both had some very tasty seafood and curry and three great tuk-tuk rides. The three main beaches on the west coast of Lanta are enormously long and lined their distance with resorts both large and small, some with swimming pools, and beach front bars, coffee bars, massage huts, and volleyball nets. Once again, the visitors seem to be mostly Swedes, with some Germans and French. Not much English is heard in these parts these days. Behind the beachfront resorts are the houses where the locals live; here these are somewhat more elaborate than those on Libong and Lipe. One large paved road runs around the entire island, travelled by rental mopeds, tuk-tuks and resort vans. Saladan Village reminds me of some of the villages that I saw in Turkey and, like there, the vendors are quite persistent. They have to be – tourists are fairly sparse compared with earlier years and a certain air of desperation can be felt in town.

Thursday we walked into Saladan Village along the main paved roadway. Ty watched as hatted and masks workers poured and smoothed concrete for a new sidewalk. We found a gallery selling local handcrafts and bought a beautiful set of three wooden butterflies forthe wall. The gallery manager explained to us that all Thai handcrafts are made in Chan Mai, and that the techniques are passed down from generation to generation – the person who carves the birds cannot also carve Buddhas. Each artisan has a particular specialty.

From there we walked back down to the beach, deserted except for jellyfish remnants, and carried on to the village. There we had lunch at the Swedish Pub and Restaurant, a blues bar on the water decorated in the Swedish colours of blue and yellow. Several talking myna birds entertained us as we ate. After lunch we went to a local painter’s studio and watched him working on an oil of a flamingo. After quite a few minutes of haggling with the painter’s wife, I bought an oil painting of two elephants with enormously long legs in a surrealistic Thai landscape for 1,700 B. The artist had several works in the style of western artists such as Picasso, Dali, and Warhol; it looks like he works on these from western art history books or posters.

Thursday we spent the evening on the beach, having a few tequila sunrises, playing beach volleyball and singing along to – what else – the Eagles greatest hits.

See more pictures here and here.

Koh Lipe Two

Lipe is a very small island, easily navigable on foot in less than a day. We have travelled over all of the island that is accessible by footpath through the jungle. Lipe only has one paved path, for motorcycles.

Walking through the jungle is very pleasant; we have seen several eagles, a very large dead millipede, and lots of mating frogs. We hear many different types of birds and, occasionally, the cries of monkeys. On the highest point of the island, quite close to our cabin, is a Buddhist temple.

As a structure it is quite minimalist, basically a wooden shed with open sides and steps up to the main Buddha shrine. Around the temple grounds there are several smaller shrines and sculptures. We spoke to the Buddhist monk on duty; he explained to us that there are three monks resident on Lipe and that he walks around the island visiting his flock every day from 6:30 to 8 in the morning.

Thursday, after coffee in Kafair and an encounter with a Polish tourist who insisted that Ty was the spitting image of a Polish avant-garde musician from the 60s and 70s named Czeslaw Niemen, and insisted on taking several photos of him, we travelled through the bush in search of the Flour Power Bakery, but it was nowhere to be found.

Instead, we found the unfortunately-named Porn Resort and Sunset Beach. In Thai “porn” means “blessing”; however, there was little in the nature of a blessing visible at the Porn Resort – what a hole. Staffed by very slow-moving and sullen workers, the resort seemed like it was sinking into non-existence. The beach was very pleasant, though. We swam and snorkeled a bit but the water was too cloudy from all the wind kicking up waves to see much.

Friday we finally found Cozy Cove. We had seen signs pointing the way to the Cozy Cove bar but had never been successful in locating it. Coming out of the Mountain Resort we turned right, towards the water, and clambered down a rope ladder stair to find ourselves on a beach consisting of three interlaced coves. There we saw the remains of the advertised bar, fallen into decrepitude, and a new one being erected from its ashes. Other than one woman and one beach dog, we were the only visitors to Cozy Cove.

Across the way we could see men working on what looked to be a new resort on the water. The beach dog followed Ty around as he searched for a painting palette; sensing a soft touch he hung around on the beach with us. I remembered that I’d brought some bread from breakfast in my bag and tossed it to him, a gesture he seemed to appreciate.

The Cozy Cove bar manager was working hard on getting the bar ready for opening; I gave him my watercolour painting of the landscape for good luck. Later, after clambering up another rope ladder, we joined the crowd at Jack’s Jungle Bar for a Chang beer, Ty’s new favorite, and a tinny Ipod blaring out Abba’s greatest hits.

In the evening we walked to Pattaya Beach for a grilled fish dinner in one of the restaurants on the beach. We had a front row seat on the sand and proceeded to scarf down a small whole tuna (250 baht per kilo) and 2 gigantic Tiger prawns (1000 b per kg).  Joining us in our feast were two beach dogs. The food was not great, although we really enjoyed the prawns, and was the most expensive meal we’ve had to date.

After dinner we walked along the beach to the Reggae Bar and collapsed on one of the chill-out carpets stretched out on the sand by three enormous round fire pits. Reggae hits churned out over the beach as two different men entertained us by juggling flaming coconut shells, twisting and twirling in time to the music. Farther down the beach, young boys trying to learn copied their moves.

Behind each resort are the workers’ shacks and gigantic pits full of glass bottles and plastic. Beside these pits are enormous bags of plastic bottles, possibly waiting to be recycled or, more likely, burned. We have to wonder about the PCBs released into the air from the burning of this junk. Chickens, ducks, and roosters roam freely here; they can be found in most restaurants, wandering under the tables, as can dogs and cats. Avian flu does not seem to feature in the minds of the locals here. Plastic bags litter the jungle paths almost everywhere.

See more pictures here.

Koh Lipe, Thailand

It’s Wed Jan 14 and we’re on Koh Lipe in the Andaman Sea, the farthest south we can go in Thailand before hitting Malaysia. We arrived here Monday, after taking a longtail boat from Libong to Had Yao pier and then the Tiger Line ferry to Lipe.  The ferry is small and fast, shaped like a barracuda. We sat on deck chairs on the top deck for the 2 and 1/2 hour trip; it was really fantastic weather, sunny and cloudless.

When we arrived at Pattaya Beach, Lipe several long tail boats were waiting there to ferry us and our mountains of baggage to the beach. Having been dumped there, the first order of business was to find a place to stay. We persuaded a local guy with a motorcycle and sidecar to take us up the hill to the north to the Mountain Resort overlooking Adang Island and the inlet. This will be our base for the next ten days. Ty rode on the seat behind the guy and I was in the sidecar with our hundreds of pounds of baggage – the ride was like being on the Mad Mouse at Playland – weeeeeeeeeeeee!! That is, until we came to the last hill and the cycle ground to a halt. We had to push it up the remaining few meters.

The resort has many bungalows arranged on the shady hillside above the beach and a cavernous, atmosphere-less lodge house restaurant. We’ve taken to calling it the “wind tunnel” because sitting there is like sitting in front of a jet engine blast. The wind is relentless in the morning and evening. The first night it was so strong I was worried that a tree would blow down on us but we lived through the night. Below, on the beach, are the Karma Bar and one of the hundreds of Thai massage parlours. Many longtail boats are parked in the water at the bottom of the stairs, waiting to ferry customers back and forth to the other islands and the mainland.

Two sets of steep, long stairs allow people to get from the beach to the bungalows. We made the mistake of eating dinner in the resort restaurant the first night we were here – bad move. There were more wait staff than customers, and it was a bit disconcerting watching them watch us and pounce on us as soon as we glanced over at them. Most of the food was quite bad, Thai food made bland and tasteless for the European palate. The only exception was the Tom Yum seafood soup (not on menu) – that was very good and the most expensive thing on the bill. The resort is anonymous, in the sense that, unlike on Libong, no one here says hello or even acknowledges others – each linguistic or cultural group sticks to its own kind; Swedes, Germans, and Italians are the main clusters, with the odd North American.

Tuesday we walked into “town”, along a sandy path through the forest and onto the main drag, a very narrow paved motorcycle path. This area of the island, pretty much in the centre, is where most of the shops and restaurants are. These primarily consist of massage parlours, bars, coffee houses and restaurants, with the odd convenience store and small bookshop thrown in. Visually the place reminds me quite a bit of Ganges on Saltspring Island, with shops and businesses in among the trees. It is quite pretty and quite touristy. Almost everything seems to have been designed with the European and North American tourist in mind and people flock to the places that seem familiar. It is sad to see that almost no-one patronises the places run by local people because they’re not as done up or “funky”.

After having a coffee at a bakery we walked to the south end of Pattaya Beach, where we found what looked to be an abandoned resort and a custom house occupied by one lone soldier in camouflage carrying a submachine gun. Behind the shiny new bungalows and funky shops are the workers’ hovels, all tin roofs, chickens, and rusted corrugated metal, many with satellites dishes for the ubiquitous TVs. Here the women wash laundry for the resorts and the men ride around on motorcycles.

From there we crossed the island on foot and went body surfing at Sunrise Beach. The howling wind there really kicked up the waves and we had a great time frolicking in the water. After that, we continued on around the point to “our” beach below the Mountain Resort bungalows. After a cool one at the Karma Bar we retired to our room for a siesta.

In the evening, after a coffee break at Kafair, we walked back to Pattaya beach and watched the locals play beach volleyball and the beach dogs scratch themselves. One older gent with long wavy dyed black hair and a very dark tan graced us with the sight of his black speedo swimsuit pulled down to expose his stringy buttocks as he sunned himself into that all-over tan – I had to avert my eyes …. Strolling along the beach at sunset was very pleasant – everyone was out enjoying the gentle breeze and the sun going down. Dinner at Fino’s consisted of a cashew nut and bacon pizza and, by 7 pm, it was pitch dark. We walked back over hill and down dale, using our night vision lights to see where we were going, and arrived without incident at the Karma Bar, where Ty proceeded to drink the place out of Cuba libres until late.

So far, my impressions of this place are that it is entirely devoted to extracting money from western tourists (it’s a fair bit more expensive than Libong) and allowing old hippies to flourish in reggae bars and peace and love coffee shops. If you were wondering what happened to everyone from the 60s and 70s, they’re here on Lipe, wearing tie-dyed batik and beads, letting both hair and breasts swing in the breeze.

Unlike on Libong, where we were two of about 30 tourists on the island, here we are faces in a crowd. There seems to be very little left of authentic Thai life here. On Libong, the villagers carried on with their lives pretty much indifferent to the two resorts, making sheets of rubber and fishing. Here the only occupation seems to be catering to the tourists. This sign says it all: “Koh Lipe finish because Swedish arrive”. Evidence of the 2004 tsunami is here, too. The old Andaman Resort bungalows destroyed by the tidal wave stand rotting behind the rows of new ones built since 2004.

See more pictures here and here.

Koh Libong, Thailand … yeah!

Well, here we are on Libong Island in southern Thailand. It’s Wednesday Jan 7 and we’ve been here for 5 days. It was a tiring flight from Vancouver to Trang, through Hong Kong and Bangkok. Ty had the pleasure of travelling business class from Hong Kong to Bangkok, going from cubeman to podman. He had his own little pod and spent the time consuming prawns and drinking champagne. I, on the other hand, consumed nothing on my Air Emirates flight since I slept through the whole thing. After landing, we stayed for 5 hours or so at the Xen Suites in Bangkok, a hotel that had absolutely nothing going for it other than its cleanliness, which was better than nothing, I guess. I think we were the only guests in the whole place.

On our arrival in Trang we looked for the guy who was supposed to pick us up from the Le Dugong resort but he was nowhere to be found so we took a taxi. It was supposed to take us to Had Yao pier but the guy was a rogue operator, we think, and took us to some other pier instead for the 800 baht we paid. From that pier we had to ask another guy to drive us to Had Yao for 300 bt more.At the pier we shared a long tail boat ride with a German couple to Libong Island. Even though we had to spend an additional 300 to get to Had Yao, because we were able to share a boat, we ended up saving 150 in the end. There are two resorts right next to one another on the west side of the island, the Libong Beach resort, and ours, the Le Dugong, slightly less upscale. Our bungalow is great – made with hardwood and a thatched roof. It is only about 50 feet from the beach and one wall opens right up to receive the ocean breeze. It has power for a couple of hours in the morning and in the evening. Inside the bungalow are two beds pushed together, a sink, a mosquito net, and an attached bathroom with toilet and shower.

We have been eating our meals at the Beach Resort restaurant mostly because the food there is way better and it has a much better selection. The beach here is beautiful, with soft pink sand and warm water. When the tide is out we can see lots of coral beginning to regenerate. Along the beach are quite a few flip-flops and other detritus from people who died during the tsunami – it’s a bit eery. We can hear monkeys in the trees, as well as birds and geckos. Other than that, it is very quiet here during the day. In the early evening the cicadas get going like mad for about half an hour – their noise is amazing. At night, the young guy who helps run our resort operates a small bar near the beach where he plays the Eagles every night from his tiny light-decorated hut. We have heard “Tequila Sunrise” quite a few times now …

Simon and his friends Chris and Michelle came to visit us from Malaysia for 3 days and we had a blast hanging around with them. The first full day they were here we rented a long tail boat to go dugong spotting. The dugong is a relative of the sea cow and manatee, the smallest of that family of creatures. It has a tail sort of like a dolphin and leaps out of the water like a dolphin or orca. We headed south in the boat and spent an hour or so watching several of the beasts leap out of the water. After that, we went bird-watching and travelled to a marine park for lunch and a stroll along a beautiful white sand beach. The boatman took us completely around the island on our return.

The second day was spent on another long tail boat. We travelled out to Koh Muk with Simon et al and Jim and Jane from Saltspring Island who were staying at the Beach resort. The boat took about an hour to get out to the island on which is the Emerald Cave, a famous snorkeling spot. We put on all our gear and jumped from the boat to swim through the cave. Chris alerted us to the jellyfish nearby but I didn’t see them and swam right through what must have been a cloud of jellyfish. All of a sudden my entire body was tingling hard, a very weird sensation which I then realized was me being stung by many jelly fish. It was a bit scary because I did not know whether I might be allergic to them. Anyway, we swam through the darkness of the underwater cave, along with quite a few other people from other boats, and arrived at a beautiful interior space surrounded by tall cliffs and full of large green leafy plants.

After spending some time there, we hopped back on the boat and went to Koh Kradan for lunch. This island has a beautiful marine park with incredible light blue water and a white sand beach where we hung out eating and swimming. Our boatmen anchored off shore (because of the choppy water, not because they were avoiding us …) and after waiting quite a while for them to come back for us we realized that they had fallen asleep out there. Thinking that it could be hours before they roused themselves, Jim swam out to the boat and woke them up. Later that night we all had a great feast for dinner, with whole fried fish, lots of different curries and papaya salad – yummm! Later on, after dinner, we watched Simon make a shell choker and drank tequila shooters on the beach listening to, once again, the Eagles’ greatest. With his little headlamp on his forehead, Simon looked like a surgeon performing a delicate operation. (Ty, Simon and I all have night vision headlamps to that we can get around in the dark – when the power is out, it is mighty dark here).

After Simon, Chris and Michelle left, Ty and I had a quiet day, swimming and floating on our inflatables. Yesterday Ty and I walked out to the small volcanic island offshore; our first trip was aborted because of the plethora of stinging sea anemones. We discovered a better route leading from the sea gypsy village around the corner and arrived on the little island without any stinging incidents. There are several trees out there, all with air roots coming back out of the ground around them. Ty told me this was because the roots could not go down through the sea water so they turned around and came back up again for air. On this island there was also evidence of the tsunami’s passing, with shoes, clothes and other debris. We collected a few fossilized shells and made our way back again.

The nights are quite quiet now that Simon, Chris and Michelle have left – those guys were keeping the bar in business …

Among the guests here are several Swedish families, lots of Germans, a couple of Brits, one or two Americans and us. Last night two Russians arrived. There are also many insects, a gecko resident in our bungalow, monkeys and beautiful large black butterflies.

I have made several shell necklaces and painted one small watercolour which we gave to the resort. I’ve collected quite a few shells and coconut halves – I plan to make masks and paint them.

The internet connection here is super slow – only 1 or 2 computers are available – so this will likely be my only post from here. That’s it for now – ciao.

See more pictures here and here.