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Krabi (Saturday January 29, 2005)

After an all-too-brief night at the Maritime Park & Spa Resort, and a quick run through the buffet, we loaded our island essentials and headed for a pier to catch a longtail boat to our first destination, the beaches of Krabi’s Laem Phra Nang peninsula, which has no access by road.

We landed on the southwest-facing Ao Phra Nang and explored some of the local attractions, including a large cave dedicated to the fertility of the sea (and featuring a number of large wooden phalluses); the less attractive East Railay beach, heavily used for deliveries; and the shopping corridor between East Railay and West Railay beach. Throughout the area, we saw our first serious tsunami damage, including buildings in various states of disrepair and reconstruction. There was a huge fire just off East Railay beach to burn up unwanted wood and other materials. We had a simple lunch of beef curry and rice, followed by (what else) Trang cake.

We headed to a snorkel spot in the middle of nowhere, conveniently marked with red buoys. The fish life was abundant, but the some of the coral showed damage, for example, in some cases fragile stag horn coral appeared to have been sheared off.

After snorkeling, we headed to chicken island (said to be named for a chicken head-like rock), a pair of islands that at low tide are connected by a sand bar. Even at the in-between time of mid afternoon, the water over the sand bar was no more than waist deep at any point. After playing in the water, we were ready to get to our “idyllic island home.”

Koh Poda

The resort features a long row of bungalows stretching South from the dining room, some of them a relatively long walk in the heat of afternoon. The bathrooms are fairly complete, lacking only hot water and a shower curtain (and a whirlpool bath, but this is not Krabi!). On the other hand, having only 6 hours of electricity in the evening (6 PM to midnight) requires a major adjustment, not only for the much-needed air circulation provided by the ceiling fan, but to recharge for all those batteries used by the digital cameras and laptop. (A flashlight also would have been a good idea!) It also takes time to get used to seeing fires burning in random patches of open ground. On Ko Lipe, such fires appeared rare, but here they seem to occur all day and into the evening, consuming wood, coconuts, garbage, and who knows what else. It isn’t the most pleasant scent, and contributes to a layer of haze around these islands.

After a cold shower with the island’s somewhat saline water, I “processed” the day’s snorkel photos in Photoshop Elements and made the rounds giving demos. After a few pre-dinner shots of Thai “whiskey,” we shared large plates of fried shrimp rings; a squid salad; barracuda with garlic; coconut soup with seafood; and stir-fried mixed vegetables. As the resort was running low on fuel, power went out some time before 11:00, and did not come on for the usual 6:00 AM to 7:00 AM “wake up” hours. As the cabin remained in the 80s well into the night, the fan was sorely missed.

Koh Poda (Sunday, January 30, 2005)

Election day — in Iraq — dawned clear, sunny, and calm on Ko Poda. Breakfast was pad thai with a choice of hot beverages (there is no ice first thing in the morning here). We had chartered a large boat for the day to take us to the Phi Phi islands on a snorkel and sand adventure, and although our longtail “taxi” was late, we made good time.

The Phi Phi (“pee pee”) islands are a chain of small islands South of Krabi and East-Southeast of Phuket. The largest island, Ko Phi Phi Don, features two tall, mountainous masses joined by a low, sandy isthmus. Before the tsunami hit, the resorts on this isthmus were among the most popular (and pricey) in Thailand. The next smallest island, Ko Phi Phi Ley, is uninhabited, and is best known for (1) caves from which the edible nests used in bird’s nest soup are harvested; and (2) the beach from the movie The Beach.

Our day began with a snorkel Northeast of Ko Phi Phi Don, in a spot in open water with a relatively shallow reef. There was a good deal of life here, but also a lot of overturned coral and other tsunami damage in the shallower areas. We continued Southwest, past Ko Phi Phi Don, to the famous “Viking Cave” area of Ko Phi Phi Ley. As the edible nest swiftlets are not spitting out nests this time of year, there was no one around to show off their climbing skills; maybe next time. Further down the coast was a pretty lagoon and then a snorkel stop. As the waters seemed rich with jellyfish, I got out early for lunch, turmeric chicken and rice, with sliced Southern Thailand pineapple on the side.

We proceeded to “the beach,” which unfortunately was not well restored after filming and is suffering from erosion. We snorkeled on the reef in the bay, but it was all too easy to bump your head on some floating wood, presumably from the resorts on Ko Phi Phi Don. After playing in a huge “ball” of tiny anchovies, we headed back to the boat, and our last snorkel stop, just off Ko Phi Phi Don. The reef here supported spectacularly colorful corals, and seemed to be in very good shape up to a certain point, after which it seemed to me to have been mostly wiped out, although others did not believe it was especially bad. As the sun sank low in the sky, we headed back to Ko Poda for dinner.

We arrived too late to shower or change before dinner, so we dumped all our gear in the dining room and chowed down on hot and sour prawn soup; steamed fish with soy sauce and ginger; sliced beef salad; stir-fried squid; and morning glories with stealth peppers. The last of the Trang cakes had been served as an afternoon snack, so we had small Chinese bean cakes for dessert. And then we could take our much needed showers and enjoy the evening’s remaining fan time. Such a tough life.

Koh Poda (Monday, January 31, 2005)

The power start up did not go smoothly, the fan and laptop power supply seemingly competing for too little current. By the time I turned off the fan and unplugged the laptop, the electricity was gone, never to return. Still, sunrise beckoned, and there was enough light after a photo run to load up the underwater camera.

Breakfast was a large bowl of rice porridge with fish. We caught two longtails (one brand new) back out to chicken island to see the sandbar at low tide. The sand is lower than before the tsunami, but it once again was a festive site, drawing visitors from various other points in the area. We next headed to Hong Island, a national park site that features extremely fine white sand and great kayaking terrain. Unfortunately, the snorkeling suffered from the fine sand and perhaps a layer of leftover tsunami silt. Lunch was a one-dish rice salad with tamarind dressing, cucumbers on the side, pomelo, and a mysterious Chinese confection for dessert. After having little luck with an inflatable kayak (they seem to like to go in circles), I did have a chance to photograph a monitor lizard. On the way back to Ko Poda, we circled a “lagoon” on Hong Island for photos. Here, and on the main beach, there were small groups of European tourists. We are not the only foreigners on the Andaman coast.

This afternoon was my first outing on the reef in front of Ko Poda island itself. Diverse coral and fish life made for entertaining viewing, but overturned coral heads were a reminder that few reefs with a Western exposure could completely avoid tsunami damage. I returned to a couple of parties; it seems everyone likes the local “whiskey.” There was barely time for toasts and a shower before heading out for sunset photos.

For dinner we shared steamed red snapper topped with chopped garlic and chili; a seaweed soup with pork and something like bok choy; squid with garlic in a slightly sweet sauce; shrimp with red pepper, garlic, and chopped peanuts; and a stir-fried green vegetable. We finished with delicious cashew cookies.

After dinner, I was given a second cabin with electricity to sleep in for the night, so I was not exiled to the beach (although I hear it is very comfortable and mosquito free). Tomorrow there would be time to pack up the dirty swimsuits and head back to the Maritime Park & Spa Resort in Krabi for another brief stay.

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