Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Thailand Day Five: The Islands

The night before our last day in Thailand we'd worked out a deal with Ao Nang Travel and Tour company. We'd be picked up in the morning at our hotel and taken to the docks, where we'd depart for a tour of some of the nearby islands. We'd  snorkel, we'd have lunch, and at the end of it all, they'd put us on a ferry to Phuket, and once in Phuket someone from the company would take us to the airport. A lot of the time we like to avoid organized tours because they tend to be whirlwind affairs in which a group of people are herded from place to place all day. But sometimes the organized tours are so popular that it's difficult to see the same places without joining up with a group or paying a lot of money for a private tour. Anyway, it was kind of nice to surrender control to someone who promised to have us to the airport on time after a day of hanging out on beautiful islands. It definitely beat the heck out of haggling with taxi drivers for a ride to Phuket.

We enjoyed another feast-like breakfast at Ao Nang Villa before checking out and meeting our ride to the docks, where we hung around awhile before boarding a speedboat.
Longboats at the dock
Switching longboats

We boarded the speedboat, which idled for awhile before pulling up alongside a ferry, where a bunch more people joined us, filling up the little boat.
Ferries and speedboat

Once everyone had boarded the speedboat, our guide explained that we'd be making five stops at different islands throughout the day. We'd originally thought we were only making four stops but he said we were making an extra stop "especially for the ladies." Whatever that meant. Once he was done talking, the driver cranked up the power and we sped off. It was a crystal clear day, and we sped along with the wind in our hair for awhile before slowing to dock at our first stop, Tup Island.
Tup Island

 Tup was beautiful! As soon as the boat docked, I tugged my snorkeling stuff out of my backpack, walked down the beach, and swam out into the water. Bryan decided to walk around a bit and snap some photos. Underwater, everything was peaceful and blue. I don't think I've ever snorkeled in such clear water - even when I got into water over 15 feet deep, I could still see perfectly clearly all the way to the bottom. Just like at Ko Phi Phi, there were lots of sea cucumbers, but there was other stuff too: lionfish, brain coral, colorful anemones, and more. I was afraid I might be losing track of time out there in my own little world, hypnotized by the sparkling water, bright sea life, and the Darth Vader sound of my breathing through the snorkel. Sure enough, when I trudged back onto the beach it was almost time to go. Bryan looked about baked to death, but he'd had fun walking around with his camera.
At low tide, you can walk from Tup to another small island
If you look closely you can see my black hair and blue snorkel
View from Tup

After exploring the small island for awhile, everyone clambered back onto the speedboat for the short ride to the next stop, the intriguingly named Chicken Island. The guide kept saying that we'd soon see where the island got its name, but I couldn't help but laugh when he pointed triumphantly at an island that looked kind of like a turtle to me. After squinting and cocking my head to the side I saw a turkey. At least I was in the poultry family.
It's an island! It's a turtle! It's a turkey! It's a...chicken?
Random island we passed by. What a perfect day!

We didn't actually stop at Chicken, instead speeding along to Poda (I think. There were lots of unfamiliar Thai island names whizzing by my ears) to snorkel. Near the island, we all hopped out of the boat and into the clear water. It's weird when you can see straight down into the water from the boat, especially when there are a bunch of fish in the water that you're jumping into, and you can see them plain as day. The snorkeling off Poda was the best yet- there were tons of zebra fish, tang, long skinny fish that looked like pipes, latticed butterfly fish, sergeant fish, and more. My favorite were huge clams, some of them over a foot across. When I dove down close to them, they would hunch into themselves, literally "clamming up." It was a little disorienting to snorkel around the bases of the huge limestone structures that jut out of the water- there were all sorts of varying depths with nooks and crannies that made you feel like JAWS might pop up just around the next corner. Sadly we still don't have an underwater camera to document what was the coolest part of our day, but trust me: it was gorgeous.
Mask-marked faces
Snorkel spot

After all the snorkelers hauled ourselves back into the boat, we were off to another island. I definitely didn't catch the name of that one. We had about an hour on that island, and most people spent it soaking up sunshine and eating Cornetto ice cream cones purchased from one of the local kids selling them out of coolers they lugged around, or cobs of corn cooked on little makeshift grills on the beach.
Longboat snackbar

Instead of chilling on the beach, Bryan and I got our snorkel gear and went out into the water. Although this island wasn't far from the last place we'd snorkeled, there was new stuff under the waves. We saw tons and tons of spiky black sea urchins, and lots of gently waving anemones, some with clown fish peeking out. Some of the things we'd seen before were also there: clams, lionfish, sea cucumbers, etc. After about half an hour, we went onto shore to walk around. There was a little temple in the middle of the island, particularly scenic with the water as a backdrop.

After some time poking around on No-Name Island, we headed off for lunch at Railay Beach. Lunch was a buffet at a restaurant. I hesitantly reminded the tour leader that I'm vegetarian (I hate being an inconvenience about it) and he grinned and said "Vegetarians are the nicest people I know! They all have kind hearts," then he told Bryan and me to have a sit with two Indian guys on the tour, one of whom was also a vegetarian. They turned out to be interesting company. One had a daughter in Michigan and both had been to Singapore, so we chattered about the U.S. and Singapore over yummy vegetarian food. After lunch, Bryan and I walked to the end of the beach and I gave snorkeling a shot, but the water was murky there, so I just went for a swim instead. I swam out and around the end of a cliff and found a hidden little cove on the other side. It was beautiful and peaceful but I didn't linger long. Hidden away on the other side of the cliff as I was, I was afraid that Bryan might think I'd drowned. I headed back to shore and together we walked back to the boat, and zipped off to the next spot.
Riley at Railay : )
Unstable looking rock formation
Krusty Krab

*Ahem* This next paragraph is about the "surprise for the ladies" our guide had been talking about. You may want to skip it if you're reading with small children...or if you're uptight.

Our next stop was Phra Nang, the so-called "bonus" island, where we'd get the surprise for the ladies that our guide had been smiling about all day. When the boat came to a stop at the beach, he motioned for everyone to stay seated, and he said "This is the ladies' island. There is a temple here. It is called the princess temple. It is full of...how do you say...I'm sorry, my English, I don't know the right English. It is full of dicks." (confused faces and raised eyebrows) "You know? Dicks?" he made a phallus shape with his hands "Dicks?" (a smattering of giggles) "The story is that a girl, a princess, came here. She had no boyfriend. There was a storm and she died. WITH NO BOYFRIEND. She died." He said this with a gravity that implied that to die with no boyfriend was the worst fate imaginable. "After she died, women started to bring her the dicks because she died with no boyfriend. For her. So she would not be lonely." I snorted and I was not the only one unable to contain myself. Giggles had progressed to guffaws. But he was done with the story, and everyone scrambled out of the boat to journey to the penis temple...I mean the princess temple.
Phra Nang

Before we made it to the cave housing the infamous temple, I spied something exciting. Macaques! The first ones we'd seen on our trip! They were trotting along a wall surrounding a fancy resort on the island. We were the only ones that had noticed them. People lying on the beach were oblivious to the monkeys romping around right behind their heads. As we watched, one brave male inched closer and closer to the people, singling out one girl sleeping on the beach (or, more accurately, singling out her ice cold beverage). With his target acquired, he scurried down a nearby tree trunk, snapped up the juice sitting next to her on the sand, and scampered back up the tree with the plastic cup clenched firmly between his teeth. Hilarious! We weren't the only ones to notice the little escapade, and the sleeping girl was awoken by gasps and laughter. When she sat up, she looked around, confused by all the people standing around her previously quiet beach spot. For a second she seemed to think they were all looking at her and she looked flustered. Her exasperation grew when she looked around and noticed her missing drink. Finally she looked above her, where the monkey sat, sticking his hand into her drink and then slurping the liquid off his hand, over and over.
The Great Monkey Caper

We stood and watched the monkeys a while longer, but the big excitement was over. However, just as we turned to walk away, something else exciting happened. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something soaring through the clear blue sky overhead. A hornbill! It coasted to the limestone rock face, then perched there for a moment before flying off again, never giving Bryan a very good photo opportunity. While Bryan tried to photograph the hornbill, I also noticed a much smaller bluish-gray bird sharing a tree with some of the monkeys. So Bryan snapped a couple of photos of him too before we moved on.
Hornbill
Purty

Phra Nang had the most beautiful rock formations yet, and we admired the huge stalactites hanging off the cliff as we strolled down the beach.
Stunning
Temple is in the cave on the bottom left

Directly adjacent to this arresting site is the strange temple we'd heard so much about. The princess temple is nestled snugly in a cave, with all the usual temple trappings- a small altar and some flowers. But you don't notice any of that, because you're too busy staring at the mountain of phalluses (phalli? when I started this blog, I never thought I'd be googling "plural of phallus." Anyway, turns out either phalluses or phalli is correct. Bet you didn't know that!)
At first glance, a normal temple. But at second glance, things get weird.
Yes, that is a mountain of penises
Can't make this stuff up.

But I gotta say - when I die, flowers will suffice. Really.
A less awkward offering

Anyway, after much snickering like a second grader, I went for a swim. I swam back into a quiet little lagoon, where tiny fish darted in and out of the shadows of rocks. Water trickled down from the cliffs rising around me, and the sun reflected off the water, creating a glittery effect. It was so uncomprehendingly, mind-bogglingly gorgeous. It felt magical, like someplace you'd read about in a CS Lewis book. My very own Narnia. Of course I have no photos because I swam there, but like much of this day, I really feel like photos do so little to convey the beauty.
Swimming to the lagoon

Eventually it was time to go back to the boat. From there it was kind of a travel blur. The speedboat raced along for awhile before sidling up next to a ferry. We climbed over the side of the smaller boat and onto the big ferry, where we got comfortable for the ride to Phuket. After a day in the sunshine, it was nice to sit in the cool lower deck of the ferry. We putted along for about 15 minutes when a commotion startled us out of our zoned out state. Everyone seemed to be running and I felt a moment of stabbing fear. Were we sinking or something?! Why was everyone running AWAY from the doors?! Then I heard a shout of "DOLPHINS!" and joined everyone else in racing  to the front of the boat. Bryan and I didn't catch much more than some dorsal fin, but it was exciting to see wild dolphins anyway! The rest of the ride was peaceful, and when we reached the Phuket ferry dock, we waited awhile for some of the people to clear out. We relaxed in our seats, watching the sea eagles fly overhead and periodically dive into the water for fish. When we finally got off the boat, we were ushered directly to a van that took us to the airport, about a 30-minute ride. Aside from worrying about the poor, carsick girl in the van with us, the ride was uneventful. We got to the airport  in plenty of time, changed out of our swimsuits, and ate some pad thai at a restaurant run by Thai Airways (accompanied by some super annoying children who were, literally, running and screaming through the place while their parents ignored them. I joined the legion of customers passive aggressively glaring until the parents seemed to catch on about 10 minutes later, and situated their hellions in front of a TV). The flight was on time and smooth, and we were snug in our beds by 2 AM and up at 7 AM to go to work!

2 comments:

  1. That blue bird looks like a blue rock thrush (Monticola solitarius):

    http://orientalbirdimages.org/search.php?p=3&Bird_ID=2481

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  2. The Island of Thailand will surely take you to a tour of paradise. You just have to reach there by flights to Thailand and then see for yourself how beautiful and charming the islands are in Thailand. Either go for Phuket or any other appealing attraction in Thailand you sure will be amazed. The beaches are a delight to visit in Thailand as well.

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