Coconut Cocktails, Limestone cliffs and Underwater Wonders in Thailand
It has been just four days since we got back, and already images of our wonderful two weeks in Thailand feel like distant memories. However it is highly unusual that a two week holiday is so relaxing that it feels like you have had a month off when you return, so there is a lot to be grateful for, as we closed out 2007 in fine style!
Its about the destination, not the journey!
After spending the first two weeks of her month long Christmas holiday (the perks of being a teacher) visiting friends and family in South Africa, Tanith was forced to arrived back in Tokyo about 50 hours after she had initially checked in at Joburg International, which was entirely due to Flight Centre not knowing the difference between a real ticket and an e-ticket. Emirates did, and wouldn’t accept her e-ticket, causing Tanith to miss her flight to Dubai and her connecting flights to Osaka and again onto Tokyo. Eventually we had to resort to booking a bullet train to get her from Osaka to Tokyo, arriving at 11 at night, just in time as we were leaving the next day to Bangkok!
There was no rest for the wicked, as the bizarre flight schedules resulted in us arriving in Bangkok’s impressive but soulless Suvarnabhumi Airport after 1am, and then needing to check in for our connecting domestic flight at 5am. Given the commuting times into and out of town there was no point in booking a hotel, so we roughed it on the plastic bucket seats for a few hours. Given Tanith’s jetlag and 4th straight day of travel, I think she could have fallen asleep anywhere!
But the holiday spirit picked up when we landed at Koh Samui airport, a charming assortment of open-air wooden structures that looked more like an outdoor restaurant than an airport! Form what we had read, Koh Samui sounded a little commercial and overpopulated, so we headed straight to the peer and caught a speedy catamaran to Ko Tao, a much smaller island about 65km north of Samui. All was well as we stopped off at the island of Koh Phan Ngan, but our suspicions were aroused when the staff started handing out several plastic bags to each passenger. Just a few minutes later, their actions were justified as the waves got bigger and the catamaran started to feel like a giant rocking horse. Tanith’s new tan rapidly faded, as did the colour from everyone else’s cheeks, as the poor staff spent the next hour running up and down getting rid of everyone’s little bags – enough said!
Koh Tao is a small island, but tourists are well served and spoilt for choice in terms of food and accommodation. We had booked our “resort” over the internet, only to find that our room looked completely different to how I had seen it on the web. In a glorious piece of marketing, we discovered that the “resort” shown on the web reflected only the premium rate rooms. Given that it was Christmas eve and Tanith was in danger of sleeping right through it if we didn’t find a decent place soon, we chose to upgrade to a premium room right on the shore. The place was perfect for our needs and one could lie in bed and enjoy the sound of the waves below – until a nearby beach bar’s speakers got warmed up. Their decision to point their cupboard-size speakers towards the ocean backfired on us, as we were in one of the only rooms that managed to pick up the sound extremely loud and clear! Everyone is entitled to party, but until 6am? Clearly we must be getting old!
Christmas day was very relaxed, and after a tasty Italian lunch we bumped into Tim, my old flatmate from UCT, which ended up with us all having a fantastic seafood barbeque on the beach that night – not a bad alternative to Roast Turkey or Beef!
Diving in paradise
About 30 minutes from Koh Tao lies and even smaller island chain known as Koh Nang Yuan, which is a unique natural setting of three islands, no bigger in size than a cricket field each, linked by a thin strip of beach sand. It was here that we were to spend five days relaxing and undertaking a PADI Open Water course.
There is only one resort on the island, and although there are visitors coming through for the day, once they leave at half four you feel that you have the islands practically to yourself. Sipping cocktails out of coconuts and watching the sun go down behind the waves is the perfect antithesis to Tokyo, which feels claustrophobic in comparison!
Our divemasters were Hungarian and Thai, and soon we were taking our first breaths underwater and practicing the various skills required to be a competent and confident SCUBA diver. A more laid back course I couldn’t imagine, although we did have to write a “test” to make sure we didn’t kill ourselves under the water!
The attraction of doing our course out here was that Thailand has some of the world’s best dive sites, and our decision was vindicated within minutes of decending a few metres into the first dive site, known as Japanese Garden (How appropriate and ironic!) Here we were treated to sightings of multi-coloured hard and soft coral, and hundreds of brightly coloured fish. Having missed out on the opportunity of climbing another mountain this holiday, I expected a lot from diving, and am happy to say that I was not disappointed by our experiences. Underwater worlds like these are so tranquil and peaceful that it’s just a pleasure to spend time down there and explore the what the marine world has to offer.
A few days later we were both qualified open water divers, and we sadly turned our backs on the beautiful island as he headed across the Andaman sea to Surat Thani and on by bus to Krabi.
Natural Limestone Wonders
There is not a whole lot going on in the town of Krabi, and even though it was New Year’s eve we were happy to have a quiet night. Despite the town not having a lot to offer in its own right, Krabi is 30 minutes from Ao Nang, the launching point of some wonderful daytrips to Railey Beach and other nearby islands.
Ao Nang is surrounded by some incredible limestone cliffs, many of which come straight out of the sea and constitute islands in their own right. Not surprisingly it is a rock climbing Mecca, although we opted for a slightly less strenuous activity in sea kayaking around the coast and some nearby islands. It is hard to put to words the sheer grandeur of these limestone cliffs, and the photos below hardly do justice to them either, but at least it gives an idea of the magnificence of these natural wonders, several of which had alluring caves and coves to explore by boat.
With turquoise blue water beneath us, hundreds of fish were never far from sight, and a few clouds meant that the weather was just perfect.