We woke up bright and early to meet up with our driver from Phuket Panwa Canoe, who was picking us up in a minibus. We'd gotten an insanely good deal for booking the tour in the off-season, and we were all pretty excited about the adventure we'd been promised. However, my sunburn had me feeling like I might keel over and die. I dragged myself out to the curb and sat there, pitifully waiting for our ride. As is typical with things like this, our ride was about 10 minutes late, but before long I was peacefully sleeping in the back of a minibus bumping its way up Phuket to Phang Nga Bay, which is located in the Andaman Sea between the island of Phuket and the Thai mainland.
By the time we arrived about an hour later, I was feeling a lot better but a little hungry. We got off the minibus and had to hang out for a few minutes before hopping on another bus that drove us a ridiculously short distance to catch our boat. KT must have been hungrier than I was, because in those few minutes of waiting I managed to lose her. I looked around and spotted her at a nearby food stall, scarfing down a big plate of food at breakneck pace while a Thai woman stood behind her, watching and laughing. Typical KT.
Before long we were on the boat, munching on bananas, rambutan and delicious pineapple cookies while Johnny, our charming tour guide, outlined the plan for the day. He was surrounded by a rambunctious crew of young men and women, who were bustling around making preparations and serving food and drinks. The sun was shining, there was a light, salty breeze, and the landscape was gorgeous even though we'd barely left the dock. Johnny kept us entertained with his jokes, and KT and I couldn't help but giggle every now and then when he would doubt his English and say something like, "Later we go in the water in a place where the water is shallow and warm, like a swimming pool....do you understand me, swimming pool?!" or, "You can have all the Coca-Cola you can drink...do you understand me, Coca-Cola?!"
Our first stop was Ko Phanak, where the three of us hopped into a canoe with Johnny. We paddled up to a big stone island, where there was a cave opening. It looked pretty short, and Johnny repeatedly warned us that we'd need to lie flat in the canoe in order to make it through without hitting our heads on the ceiling. He told us that as the tide came in, the opening got smaller and smaller and at high tide, the opening is completely underwater. I was surprised at just how close it was- we were all lying in each others laps, with our legs completely flat. If anyone had left a knee sticking up, it probably would have gotten a nasty scrape!! As it was, at some points I had to point my toes to keep them from hitting the ceiling! When we popped out the other side, it was all worth it. We were in a big, open circle full of shallow, warm water. Tall, limestone walls surrounded us on every side and the sun streamed into the open middle. Mangrove trees grew out of the middle of the opening, and lush greenery covered the walls.
We got out of the canoe and explored a bit on foot. The water was sooo warm, and the sand was soft on the floor. Johnny told us that there are often macaques in this spot, but we didn't see any that day. He also told us to keep an eye out for sea snakes, but apparently they were hiding out too. Scanning the water for snakes made us a little jumpy though, and when Johnny jumped on Mark's back, I though Mark might jump out of his skin.
Eventually we squeezed our way back out of the narrow entrance, which seemed to have gotten even tighter during the time we spent exploring inside. I was silently thankful that I wasn't claustrophobic. Back out on the open water, KT and I were talking about the humongous pink jellyfish we'd been seeing all over the place. "They don't sting, you know," Johnny said. I was skeptical- I'd never heard of a kind of jellyfish that doesn't sting. But he erased all of my doubts a few seconds later when he reached over the side of the canoe and snagged a jellyfish. Out of the water, it looked even bigger! He strained to hold it up, and told us to touch it. KT and I both asked worriedly, "Is it OK? Are you hurting it? Is it going to be OK when you let it go?" He assured us that it would be all right, then passed it over to KT, who strained to hold the heavy bulk of it. I reached over to touch it and shrieked at the icky, slimy texture. So strange! But it didn't sting! I'm still not entirely confident that yoinking the thing out of the water was harmless to it, but it was an interesting experience.
We got back onto the big boat and headed off again, this time in the direction of Ko Hong. On the way there, KT and I laughed at all the girls fawning over Mark. The Thai women just seem to love him, and one girl in particular kept coming back and sidling in next to Mark, giggling and staring at him. The male tour guides, on the other hand, had taken to referring to Mark as "lady boy," and at the next stop when one of them yelled, "Jump, lady boy!" KT and I were shocked when Mark did just that, launching himself over the second story of the boat and into the water below!
KT and I took the more conventional route down to the canoe since I was toting the camera (we took our turn to jump at the next stop), and this time I took control and paddled for awhile. We went around the outside of the islet, appreciating the scenery and the amazing green color of the water.
We slid out of the canoe and swam in the warm water awhile. It felt so soothing on my sunburn, and it was pretty surreal to just float around in the lukewarm sea with my friends, under the bright Thai sun. Eventually we flopped back into the canoe and paddled back to the big boat for lunch. Lunch was pretty seafood-heavy, but I scarfed down loads of rice and pineapple and some delicious fried carrots. Yum! While we ate, we watched the cat sleeping under the bench opposite ours. It had been sleeping ALL DAY- through the loud hum of the boat motor, through people stomping on and off the boat, through Johnny talking through the megaphone, everything. It was unreal!
After lunch, we were heading toward the most well-known of the Phang Nga islands. Ko Tapu is hardly ever called by its original name anymore. Ever since its movie debut in The Man With The Golden Gun, it's been referred to as James Bond Island. We headed there now, with full stomachs and high expectations. When we got there, I was surprised to be greeted by a row of small outdoor shops manned by touters. We hadn't seen many other people throughout the day, and the islets had been completely empty except for us, so it was strange to see these people and all of their touristy wares. My friends and I squeezed by them and set out to explore a little bit. The first thing we saw was the monolith made so famous by the movie, and we stopped to admire it for a few minutes before wandering off to check out the rest of the island.
We followed some rudimentary stairs we found on one side of the island. The stairs went up and around, and shortly we found ourselves on a quiet, secluded beach with rock outcroppings. As we looked around, I noticed something above and behind us. A snake!! As I stood below it snapping pictures, I realized that it was a paradise gliding snake, which is capable of launching itself, flattening out its body, and gliding through the air! With that realization, I figured maybe I should scoot back a bit...
After a bit, we headed back to the other side of the island to meet up with the boat. We paused to get one more shot with the recognizable landmark.
Back on the boat, one of the guides pointed out a sea eagle soaring in the sky above us. I clumsily clamored to get a picture but failed, and was briefly bummed that Bryan wasn't there with his superior camera and skills. We were headed to our final stop at a small island with a picturesque lagoon.
At the lagoon, KT and I left the camera behind and jumped off the second story of the boat. The water was so amazing- warm and clear and heavenly. We swam around for awhile, then spotted a small cave off to one side. We got Mark and swam over to the cave. The cave was pretty short and opened up back into the lagoon, so we decided to swim through it. Somehow I ended up in the lead, and halfway through I mentioned that there were bugs all over the surface of the water. KT looked up and screeched that there were crabs all over the ceiling, just as Mark mentioned something about sea snakes. I had to swim through the rest of the cave with KT wrapped around me like a terrified spider monkey.
After our cave adventure, KT and I decided to swim out farther, into deeper water. We swam and swam and got pretty far from the shore, the boat, and the rest of the people. We were just kind of floating around, chatting and hanging out when OH MY GOD WHAT DID I JUST PUT MY HAND INTO?!?!?! I screamed bloody murder, certain that I had just punched a a shark in the face and that I would be devoured in a matter of seconds. Then I proceeded to attempt a getaway, but I didn't want to touch whatever I'd just touched, so I was kicking my feet (but only a little) and trying to swim with tiny strokes since I was afraid to touch anything. All the while I was gasping for air and KT was saying, "WHAT?! WHAT IS IT?!" This all lasted a few seconds before I recognized the texture of the thing I just touched. "JELLYFISH!" I shouted, now hysterical with relief and laughing so hard I could hardly swim, "JELLYFISH! JELLYFISH!!" I yelled, swallowing salt water and cracking up. KT shook her head, just as a rescue guy paddled up in his canoe, "Ummm...are you OK?" he asked, eyeing me warily. "Yeah," I gasped, "There was...I thought, a shark, but a jellyfish. Just a jellyfish. I punched it in the face. We're OK." He looked at us both again, offered us a ride that we declined, then paddled off. KT and I swam after him, back toward the boat, even though I was still having trouble swimming through my laughter. When we reunited with Mark, who had been all the way back by the shore, he looked at us wide-eyed and said, "Was that YOU screaming? Jeez!"
We kicked back on the boat, ate some more rambutan and enjoyed the scenery passing by slowly.
Even though we'd been gone all day it still felt too soon when we pulled into the dock and hopped off the boat, back onto the bus, and then into the minibus to head back to Karon. Unlike the sleepy morning ride, we chatted all the way home, looking at the pictures on my camera and repeating, "Do you understand me, swimming pool?!" enough times that we probably annoyed our fellow riders. Back in Karon, we ate dinner at the delicious Royal Tandoor House next to our guesthouse, had a beer and went to bed early, worn out from one of the most beautiful days I've ever had.