Andaman Sea

{This was an email I sent out to my contacts on my first trip to Asia in 2002}

we flew back from hong kong to bangkok and met up with our friend gabby. we spent the evening in bangkok and then flew south to phuket and rented a car. the touts in the airport were insane.. “excuse me where you going?” following us around everywhere. one of them would not leave us alone and started reading our guide book over pippin’s shoulder, saying “thats a nice place, i take you there, 400 baht”.

we drove around the island, on recommendation that the far south of the island is the cheapest place to stay. phuket has become one of the “world class tourist destinations” — meaning too many fat farangs and outrageous prices, as well as making the island completely overdeveloped. the food is really expensive too.. compared to the rest of thailand. they even want to charge you 2 baht per minute to use the internet at the cafes — its 15 baht per hour in the north.

the first hotel we saw that i figured would be cheap enough, quoted us 198 US dollars! i laughed a bit and asked the girl if she might know a cheaper place, around 400 baht, (7 US dollars) and she laughed a bit and said of course, head down the road a bit and stop at the next guesthouse.

we hate phuket – its been overdeveloped and its very touristy. granted the beaches are really nice, the water is like 80 degrees, and crystal clear, its tacky and way too western. unfortunately its another place that has been ruined by tourism.

we left phuket after 2 days and drove onto the mainland. phuket is connected to the rest of thailand by a bridge. we drove north, to phang nga. phang nga and krabi are famous for these huge limestone formations that stick out from the sea. its quite surreal. we got on a tour for a half day to check out phang nga bay and a muslim village that is built over the sea, all over water.

we took a longtail through the mangrove forest first, then off into the bay to james bond island (spelled here “jame’s bond island”). its where “the man with the golden gun” was filmed. i’ve never seen the movie, but maybe some of you have, and you’ll know what type of scenery im talking about? we saw some caves, and drove the longtail into them, some had prehistoric painting inside, then off to the muslim village.

the village was great. its been almost totally corrupted by tourism, tons of tour groups let tourists off at the main dock and give them a half hour to “explore” the place… which means pretty much walk down the main “road” dock and buy crap. we immediately walked past that and walked waaay over to the other side of the village, where people were muttering “farang farang” to each other, they were surprised to see farangs so far away from the “farang section”. kids were waving and saying hello, one even did a cannonball jump into the water for me. “HELLO(splash)”. when pippin and gabby were waiting for me at the dock at the end a kid came over with a stick with a chicken on the end of it. gabby took a picture of him and he held out his hand for some money. gabby gave him 10 baht. he then ran back and they were inundated with kids with strange animals asking for handouts. when i arrived at the dock i followed a little girl with a squawking chicken down to the water, and reached the end of the dock where kittens, cats, chickens, birds, and reptiles awaited me.

we drove from phang nga over a hilly road through the jungle to krabi province. we ended up at a beach called ao nang. we hired a longtail to take us out into the ocean to another beach which is not accessible by road, thinking it would be much less busy — we needed a break after phuket.

when we got there it was expensive, the beach wasn’t so hot, and everything was booked. we left pippin at a coffeeshop and walked over to the next beach to check our luck there. we walked down the beach with no luck, then up the back and found a place for 400 baht a night. we stayed there one night, then took a longtail to an island gabby had read about, poda island. we could see it across the bay, the beach looked nice, and maybe there would be less people.

we arrived on poda island and the place was packed. we found out later that a tour boat had dropped a bunch of farangs off for the day, and later on they all left, leaving us alone on the island, which was nice. there was only one choice in accommodation, so they charged us pretty much whatever they wanted. (700 baht, i talked them down from 1200). the food was really expensive too. the beach however, was amazingly beautiful. super soft sand, like silk, and clear water. we stayed there for three days. anyone who thinks they’d like to live on a quiet island with a beach is crazy, because we went nuts after only three days.

we took a choppy longtail boat ride back to ao nang, hopped in the car and drove to krabi city where we hung out for the day and then drove back to phuket.

we had signed up for a 4 day, 3 night dive trip on a boat on the similan islands before we left, and got picked up the next morning. the similan islands are a marine park 20km (10 miles) out to sea, meaning no people can live there, and you cannot fish or otherwise hurt the environment. people haven’t really been going there, so the reef was pretty intact and alive, and there were tons of fish.

it was great living on a boat, you get used to the rocking of the waves after a few hours and it doesn’t bother you at all. the thai staff were really cool, and after i explained to them i only eat vegetarian food, they made me a separate meal each day than the rest of the people, which i thought was really nice. all the dive staff onboard were really cool as well, mostly scandinavian.

i was surprised to find so many americans on board. it was really hard to take. at one point i mentioned to a canadian that i sometimes tell people im canadian, and an american overheard me and said, “huh huh yeah sometimes i do too – especially when there is someone wearing a turban in the room”. he didn’t get it at all — i tell people im canadian to not be associated with ignorant people like him!

anyways, the diving was amazing. i did 12 dives in 4 days, and saw every fish imaginable. sea turtles, sea snakes, unicorn fish (they’ve got a horn), lionfish, stonefish, jellyfish, sharks, huge starfish, soft delicate corals, hard corals, tube sponges, sea cucumbers, damselfish, moray eels, crabs, parrotfish, aggressive triggerfish (one kid got bitten pretty badly on his hand), tunas, baraccuda, giant travelli… tons of fish. i even got to do a dive at night, where the crabs come out and i saw phosphorescence. (glowing plankton).

pippin got stung pretty badly by a jellyfish, but he’s alright now. note: if you ever get stung by a jellyfish, put vinegar on it. if you don’t have vinegar, you can pee on it. (the kitchen had vinegar).

corals take years to grow tiny amounts, maybe 5 years to grow one inch. i saw people bang their tanks and fins into corals, years and years of growth broken. i keep distance, for fear of harming anything, but it seems people just don’t care. they don’t do it on purpose, but they don’t have much control underwater, and they don’t recognize their limits. i know i’m not so experienced, so i keep farther away from the corals, in case the current changes or whatever. its hard to see this stuff happening, and continue diving, though i know i am careful.

on the last day we saw a fin come out of the water near the boat, and the divemaster said it was a dolphin. i asked her if we could jump in with it. we all jumped in off the boat with mask and snorkel and fins and swam over to the dolphin, who played with us for a good 15 minutes. it made noises at us and swam around us, and quite close to us, checking us out. it was really cool, definitely the highlight of the trip. dolphins are really smart… it would cock its head to the side at us, cluck and wait for our reaction, then swim away to come back seconds later and do something else.

we came back to bangkok and saw gabby off, then picked up some more friends from the airport, a couple from massachusettes, aj and mandy. now we are all up here in chiang mai, and we’ll head to laos in two days.

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