Thailand: Koh Jum II


Spider monkey at Ting Rai Bay
Spider monkey at Ting Rai Bay

Random observations on Koh Jum etc. See more pictures here and here.

1. In the morning around 6 am when it is beginning to get light, we have hooting monkeys in stereo. We have several kilometers of jungle on three sides of the property, jungle in which the monkeys rule the roost.

2. On our deck, we have posts made of shellacked tree trunks. One of these is home to a hive of small bee-like insects, who are very active early in the morning bringing pollen to the hive inside one of the tree’s large holes. They have what look like large bulbous feet, as if they’re wearing Minnie Mouse shoes; this is where they carry the pollen. A large brown and red bee has made a home in one of the horizontal cross rails of the front deck; he was super annoyed when we had accidently covered his hole with a towel the first day we moved into Honeymoon Hut 2.

3. It has been raining torrentially in the night for the past couple of days. As a result, in the morning the plants and shrubs have grown several inches and put out many new shoots and leaves – things grow very, very quickly here.

4. Mr Chai’s kitchen at Old Lamp Bungalows was destroyed by the tsunami and four years later, cutlery and crockery are still washing up onto the beach here, worn smooth by the tumbling action of the waves.

5. We rode our bikes down to where we thought Coconut Green Bungalows were, the place where we had originally planned to stay on Koh Jum. We’d noticed that all the signs for it were gone; we assumed that they’d been removed by a jealous competitor. We found out, though, that it had been destroyed by the tsunami and not rebuilt after, even though their website continues to be up and running. The beach along that stretch of coast is very nice – wide, smooth and very quiet. We spent a few hours walking, collecting shells and swimming in the very calm ocean. On our way back to the bikes, we walked under an enormous tree beside Ao Si Bungalows; Ty made several hooting noises and generated an avalanche of spider monkeys who poured down out of that tree and several nearby ones. They were large and small, old and young; some tiny ones who hesitated to jump were pushed by their mothers; others swung from branch to branch; still others slid backwards down a branchless stump. Many dived from the tree’s topmost branches into the underbrush below. It was quite an amazing scene – they seemed to come out of the woodwork. After a few minutes, when they must have decided that we posed no threat, they all climbed back into the trees again, going back up the same way they’d come down. Speaking to the Bungalow operation’s Scottish owner, Phil the “Sage of Koh Jum”, he explained that a troupe of about 50 or 60 monkeys lived around there and came by daily, heading for the empty spot on the beach that used to house Coconut Green Bungalows. He said that some of them were quite large and aggressive; when he kicked them out of his kitchen, they retaliated by pulling up the corrugated tin roof on his dining room. Reflecting on this later, I thought that, while I found the monkeys fascinating because I’d never seen any in the wild before, and certainly not a troupe of them in action, staying in bungalows in which a wild monkey troupe made its home would probably be a drag after the initial excitement had worn off. They are noisy and dirty creatures who will tear clothes and shit everywhere. That same afternoon, on my way down to the beach, I saw a monkey underneath the bungalow next to ours, eating fruit – he was only about 8 feet away from me. As I slowly reached to get out my camera, he moved off into the woods, looking back at me every once and a while to see if I was following him.

6. The James Bond movie that made Phi Phi a destination was The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), starring Roger Moore as 007.

7. Roger from Bend, Oregon, the resident guru at Ting Rai, and webmaster of Koh Jum Online, told us that Canadians were the most generous of all international aid donors here post-tsunami. He said that Canadians paid for and established a boat-building business in Koh Jum Village to build and repair long-tail boats, most of which had been destroyed in the tidal wave, as well as building houses. Roger has 2 monitor lizards who frequent his bungalow. One, the smaller of the two, comes like clockwork every day between 2:20 and 2:30, climbs the tree next to his room, hops on his roof and has a little lie-down in the nest that he’s built there. A very noble looking beast, he has a face like a scaly ferret with a pointed nose, large claws and is about 3 feet long. The second beast is larger, and slithers through the underbrush underneath his bungalow. Roger told us that this island is reptile-rich, especially with snakes. In fact, there are few birds here because historically the reptiles have eaten all the birds’ eggs. Only swallows proliferate because they’re able to built nests that the snakes and lizards can’t access; their nests hang like balls in basketball nets from the tops of very tall trees or in undercut cliff faces.

8. More on snakes. Apparently they are very territorial and have a pecking order, not unlike dogs or monkeys. If a snake moves into your space, it is no longer your space, but the snake’s. And snakes fight each other over territory. After the tsunami, all the snakes who used to live down by the beach disappeared and reappeared in the hills above Ting Rai Bay; one can only imagine the cock-fight that must have ensued when the two groups of snakes met one another. Koh Jum has cobras, as we know, but also Burmese Ball Pythons; both species can grow up to 4 meters in length and very, very thick around. The Thai have no compunction about beating a poisonous snake to death or chopping off its head with a machete. The small, thin ones are the most poisonous.

9. Rogue animals. Monkeys are very social and usually travel in packs. Sometimes, though, for whatever reason, one gets kicked out and becomes a rogue operator. One rogue monkey apparently decided it liked the kitchen at Ting Rai Resort, and came down from the hills every day at the same time to steal and feast on food. Getting sick of this interloper, Tam hired a monkey-wrangler from the village who came in with a big cage, filled it with bananas, and waited. Right on schedule, the monkey strolled down the hill, spotted the fruit in the cage, hopped into it, and – clang – the cage’s gate came down. The wrangler took the caged monkey onto a long-tail boat and dropped it off at a nearby island, the place where all rogue animals are exiled. Here are bad dogs, bad snakes and bad monkeys, plus any other beast that won’t co-operate.

10. The tsunami destroyed the coral beds here and on the other islands. It ripped up huge chunks of coral and threw them up onto the beach. The tidal wave completely changed the ecology of Ting Rai Bay and Roger figures that it will not have regenerated itself in our lifetime. The sea water, formerly a clear crystal blue, is now sometimes muddy and cloudy with sediment. Two of the resort’s kayaks disappeared and are still somewhere on the bottom of the ocean. The tsunami may have made the waters more hospitable to jellyfish and perhaps that’s why they’re appearing on these shores now.

11. Insects, In addition to the usual mosquitoes, we have colonies of fire ants and termites who construct enormous mounded nests. These can be seen attached to dead tree stumps, concrete posts and buildings, as well as on the beach. Fire ants are small and bite. We also have other varieties of ants here and other insects with segmented bodies, as well as many varieties of dark-hued butterflies.

12. No joy in Joy Bungalows. The second day we were here, we walked down the long beach on the flatlands in the south. One of the places we stopped for a soda water was Joy Bungalows – we liked the look of this place and thought that it might be a nice place to stay. However, we later heard from a Dutch tourist we met in the village that a crazy man was living at Joy who was terrorizing the guests. Apparently he is mentally-ill but won’t take his meds, and wakes up screaming very early in the morning and generally makes himself objectionable to all. She said that people were bailing out of Joy like the proverbial rats off a sinking ship.

13. We’ve been playing volleyball each night for the last few nights; every day around 5 pm the women employees take a break and come down to the beach. They are deadly good volleyball players. We join in, along with random others each night. Last night Ty was serving and, on my return of the volley, I sprained a finger on my right hand – it’s now in a splint which is a bit of a drag. Ty accidently kicked a piece of coral hidden in the sand when returning a serve and has a badly bruised toe … nothing to worry about, though, just painful for a few days.

Thailand: Koh Jum

On Wednesday we were up at 6 am and on the road, or sea, again to Koh Jum, the last stop on our island-hopping tour of the Andaman Sea. Rather than wait at the resort for the longtail boat transfer to the pier and the associated stress of worrying about being late, Ty and I carried and wheeled our bags through town to the pier. Arriving there at 7:30 am for the 9 o’clock boat to Krabi, we were the first passengers on the ferry. After stowing our bags away downstairs we could relax and wait for take-off. The boat was full and our hour and a half trip to the mainland was uneventful on a calm ocean.

We had been told, we thought, that a longtail boat from the resort would pick us up in Krabi and so we were wheeling our luggage down a long walkway towards the exit when we heard an announcement that the boat to Koh Jum would leave in 10 minutes. Ty and I looked at each other, and, seeing that there were no longtail boats in sight, realized that we had to get a ticket and get on the Koh Jum ferry pronto. I sprinted down the very long walkway to the ticket office, unlocked my money bag in a panic in a flurry of money, sarongs, bits of paper, and sweat, grabbed the tickets, and sprinted back to Ty who had turned around with the luggage cart and was making his way back to where we’d come from, and we both jumped on the ferry with minutes to spare.

The boat was crowded with a herd of sweaty humanity, pineapples, flats of beer and water, lettuce, and onions, with which we spent the ride on the top deck. Our resort, the Ting Rai Bay, was at the first stop – the ferry came to a halt several hundred meters offshore, and three longtails zoomed out to meet us. We were transferred, along with about 20 other people and bags, into the 3 small craft, and off we went to the beach.

Ting Rai is a family-run operation that was recommended to us by a guy we were talking to on Lipe. It has about 16 bungalows, a restaurant, a beachside bar, one kayak, and is in a quiet bay north of the area where most of the island’s bungalows are located. It is a steep property and once again we’re almost at the top of the hill in our standard bungalow for the first two nights – both of us are going to have buns of steel after this trip. The food is excellent and the portions are large; the atmosphere is laidback and pleasant. There are enormous black and orange bumblebees here, rhinoceros beetles, black and blue iridescent butterflies, a few of our old friend the purple jellyfish (although not enough to keep us from swimming this time), and, at low tide, thousands of multi-legged tiny insects that inhabit the rocks on the beach and scatter in a swarm as we walk by. New here are small translucent tentacle-less jellyfish about the size of hockey pucks. Our first full day here we decided to walk into one of the three villages on the island, Ban Ting Rai, a couple of kilometers from our bungalow. Once there, though, we just kept going, and ended up walking all the way down to Koh Jum Village at the southern most point of the island, probably about 8 kms away. Half the way we walked along the dusty red dirt road and early on saw a spider monkey in one of the large banyan trees. He looked to be about three feet tall with a very long mobile tail and was not at all afraid of us until Ty gave him his duck imitation – that seemed to startle him.

The last half of our walk was along a very long flat stretch of beach with quite a few bungalow operations. We found several fantastic shells, which, of course, I had to pick up and Ty had to carry in his pockets for me. After a few pit stops for liquid refreshment, we arrived in the village at the Koh Jum Seafood Restaurant on the water where we had a great plate of fried rice with crab. The guy running the place also operated a motorcycle taxi and whisked us back most of the way to our resort. On the remaining walk back Ty saw a small cobra on the side of the trail after hearing some leaves moving – it stood up to see what Ty was doing as Ty was standing to see what it was doing. Both man and beast exited quickly stage right and left …

Electricity transmission lines are being put in here, as well as an underground cable to Phi Phi, about an hour from here across the water. Rubber trees are being harvested for sap all over the island. Village life here seems to consist of small houses, many with shops selling not very much of anything and others, more prosperous, selling toiletries, water, potato chips, and bags of fried chicken morsels. Roosters, hens, chicks, and ducks roam freely through the yards and houses. Motorcycles are parked out front, some, used as taxis, with sidecars. Mostly the people seem to sit quietly or sleep in hammocks when no customers are in evidence. No one walks here any more; no one even rides bicycles. The odd sign for a restaurant or bar can be seen, but these are mostly out of business, if in fact they ever were in business.

Along the beach at Ting Rai Bay, in addition to our place, there are two other resorts and one more in the process of being completed. In between these is a bar called Chabaa, or Nud’s Place, a minimalist operation made of driftwood and planks set up around a banyan tree. We were its only customers and, after trying to order a rum and coke and being presented with two cokes, we realized that the sign above the bar said it all: “Gin, Tequila” – that’s it, that’s all – no rum here. We watched Nud in the process of decorating the place, wrapping and rewrapping a green length of fabric around the tree, never getting it quite to his liking. In front off the Ting Rai resort is an enormous banyan tree, another saviour tree with lengths of red and yellow fabric wrapped around it very high up in the branches, indicating the height to which people had climbed during the tsunami.

At the Ting Rai we have electricity from 6 to 10 in the evening; internet access, in the form of one laptop computer, is only available during those evening hours. In our standard bungalow, quite small, we had a bed and adjoining washroom with a bucket toilet and shower combo, as on Lipe. On our second day we moved to one of the two honeymoon bungalows, right at the very top of the hill, with a huge balcony and panoramic view out over the ocean, perfect for watching the sun set. It is much larger, newer and better appointed than our previous digs. It also has a much larger bathroom with – luxury – a flush toilet and hot water shower. It is terrific! Ty negotiated a price of 10,200 B for the two weeks that we’re here – about 700 B a night ($21), an excellent price. In the evenings, after watching the sun set over Phi Phi island in the distance, we have dinner in the restaurant and play crib or have a drink at the beachside bar. Mosquitoes are out in force at sunset, as are the ubiquitous ants and other flying insects. They love me – last night something must have been trapped in the fold of flesh between my right butt cheek and thigh and died a horrible death, biting me about 30 times as it passed away. Our resident gecko is grooving on our tunes – we have the ipod and speakers set up and are enjoying the vibe on our deck. Bob Marley may have died years ago but his spirit very much lives on here on the Thai islands. I painted a landscape of the Ting Rai Bay resort which we gave to Tam, the woman who runs the place.

Today is Sunday Jan 31 – yesterday saw the arrival of a new bunch of people, among them 2 Swiss volleyball fiends, so out came the net and ball and we joined them and several Thai women in 3 rousing games of beach volleyball before dinner. What with the enormously steep walk up to our bungalow at the top of the hill and digging deep on the volleyball court, my old knees are starting to feel their age.

Today we decided that, in order to see more of the island, a better mode of transport was required so we rented 2 bicycles from a bar down near Golden Pearl Bungalows, about 4 km from our resort. When we told the woman where we are staying she seemed quite concerned that we’d trash the bikes riding up and down the hills and back. After reassuring her that we’d take good care of them, we zoomed off down the street, well at least as much zooming as one can do on a single speed bike that’s about 30 years old …

Along the road to Koh Jum Village we stopped at what looked like a quite new Chinese cemetery, containing what is possibly a memorial to the island’s Chinese victims of the tsunami. At one of our pit stops in Koh Jum Village, the restaurant owner kindly helped Ty tolower his seat slightly because the seat post looked in danger of snapping. We rode through the new bungalow village financed by the Rotary Club Bangkok for some of the island’s tsunami survivors, with its rows of identical white-washed generic prefab buildings. Some of these have been modified by the inhabitants to reflect their own personal style, but most are rather plain and sad-looking. Where the electricity transmission lines have been put in along the village street, we saw the new houses that must have been built to recompense those whose old bungalows had to be demolished in order for the line to go through. We also saw quite a discrepancy between the old, rundown bungalows left from the pre-transmission line period and the new, much larger and more elaborate homes.

See more pictures here.