Yesterday dawned sunny and hot, great weather for our Four Islands longtail boat tour. The guy at Sabai Mansion’s front desk had told us to wait out front for an 8:30 pickup, so naturally we were there early; as 8:30, 8:45, and then 9:00 ticked past, I started to get sweaty and agitated. Just as I was about to give up, the small song thew showed up with a bunch of people already piled in the back. We joined the pile and off we raced to the boat harbour on the river at the end of Nopparat Thara Beach, the next beach along north of Ao Nang.
We’d requested a tour company with a small number of small boats (apparently some tour operators have boats that take up to a hundred people at a time, a situation which did not seem all that appealing). At the harbour, we, along with all the other people from all the other tours, clambered into our respective boats and headed for open waters. This is also the harbour from which the Tiger Line Ferry plies the coast to and from Lanta and Phi Phi Islands.
Our first island was Tup, one of the limestone spears rising out of the green sea, visible from Ao Nang Beach.
As we pulled up to the strip of soft white sand we could see people – lots of people – and boats, lots of boats, both speedboats and longtails. Tup, and Chicken Island, its neighbour, are joined by an isthmus which can be walked across through the water at low tide, a walk which we proceeded to do.
The water was a beautiful turquoise-emerald and very warm, home to small green and yellow striped fish who clustered near the rocks at the edge of the beach. Many of the tourists simply sunbathed on the beach, some unbelievably fried, others took advantage of the cantines set up in the shade of the trees to down beers, while others strode through the hip-deep water to reach Chicken Island.
As we watched, one massive two-decker longtail pulled in heavily laden with people both inside and on the roof – the Barracuda Tours party boat, presumably (looked unstable to my paranoid eyes).
After an hour of trucking around the beach, we were back in the boat and motored to a spot just off Chicken Island for snorkelling, along with ten or so other boats. Ty and I had brought our own gear which we put on in the water, me not as successfully as Ty (I had to throw my fins back on deck because I couldn’t adjust them properly while treading water). We swam around for a bit but it became evident that all the coral here is grey and dead; although there are some fish, they likely only come here because the tour operators feed them. Once we were all back in the boat, we circled around the back of the island to see why it got its name – the island’s rocky profile is sort of like a chicken (although it is much more like a camel as many on our boat noticed, but Thailand has no camels … hence, “chicken”).
Our lunch stop was Poda Island, a place which reminded Ty and I of Calaquai, just off Levuka in Fiji, although way, way more crowded. We each received a Styrofoam package of lukewarm fried rice and wandered off to eat it on the beach. Once again, many, many boats were parked on the beach, and lots of people were seeking shade under the trees, while others swam or snorkelled. Even out here there is no escape from the ubiquitous vendors selling the same stuff available on the beach and in the shops of Ao Nang.
While waiting for the time to leave, several folks amused themselves feeding the very aggressive monkeys living at the edge of the beach, one of whom went racing up to a fellow from our boat and grabbed the corn cob which he’d only just begun to eat right out of his hand.
This monkey, obviously the alpha, plopped himself on a tree branch and proceeded to eat his two corn cobs with obvious relish while the younger, smaller monkeys tried to steal a bit from him to no avail.
For our final island visit we rolled up on the beach at Phranang, not really an island but rather a beach protected by limestone cliffs just around the corner from Rai Lay, only accessible by boat.
Since it was a very high high tide, there was very little beach at all and a constant stream of people marching back and forth on the sand available. Most of the property seems to be taken up by three resorts, one of which has been partially built into a limestone cavern at the foot of towering cliffs.
The siren song of one beach front bar called to Ty and we enjoyed a very expensive drink overlooking the beach and the far islands.
At the far end of the beach are huge cliffs, cut into which is a cave with several altars and an enormous number of phalloi, giant dicks carved out of wood and fashioned in metal, lovingly crafted by anonymous worshippers of the lingnan, representative of the masculine generative principle of the universe in Hindu and other religions.
Just as we left Phranang, the rain came – not torrential, but steady for a bit, freshening the air, and gone by dinner time.
We enjoyed our day at sea, but were a little surprised at the sheer number of boats and people at every place we stopped – these are not exactly deserted tropical islands. But, for 450 Baht, or about $10 each for the day, the tour was good value.
Thailand’s coasts have a problem with erosion – a big problem that is only going to get worse in the coming warm years. At the moment the east coast (Gulf of Thailand) is eroding more quickly than the west, but both coasts are adversely affected. The problems include monsoons and heavy wave action, neither of which can be ameliorated by humans, but androgenic actions such as destroying and removing mangrove fields for shrimp farms and resorts are equally or more at fault. In one small village south of Bangkok, Khun Samutchine, in which the people formerly made their living from the sea, they are now seeing it destroy their lives. Erosion is eliminating 65 meters of the coastline each year, with the result that their houses, and the village Buddhist temple, are falling into the sea.
See more pictures here.