Satun (Sunday, January 23, 2005)
We got on the road North to Pak Bara from where we would catch our chartered boat out to the islands of Tarutao park. We stopped for breakfast very near the pier, having a choice of various lunch-like items. I vaguely recall a slightly tough beef stir-fry, but I wasn’t taking notes.
The visitor center near the pier had run out of English-language brochures, so we looked on as Kasma described our itinerary using a small map. The general plan was to take our big boat around the islands, snorkeling at various reefs, for the next three days. Sounded great to us! We stayed on Koh Lipe (pronounced lee-pay) — the one island in this archipelago which is not park property — at the Varin Resort, one of many little bungalow-and-restaurant operations packed along the Southwest-facing Pattaya beach. (There is another, better known Pattaya beach on the gulf coast of Thailand; this is not that one). Each hut featured a 24-hour fan (with occasional brief blackouts) and a “water room” in which there was a toilet with no flush handle, a floor drain, and faucet positioned over a bucket, and a separate hand-held showerhead. A traditional water room does not have a showerhead, and instead one washes using the bucket (what sometimes is called a splash bath). I decided to use the showerhead, as it makes quicker work of tangled, salty hair and caked on sunscreen. Most of our cabins had sinks, but they drained onto the floor, making quite a mess of, say, a mouthful of toothpaste. Many of us also had an air conditioner mounted high on the wall, but no remote control to operate it. The bed filled most of the cabin, and there were louvered windows on two sides. When we arrived in the afternoon (the first day and every day), it was over 90 degrees inside, and after a long night of blowing the fan with the window open, it barely cooled to the low 80s. Needless to say, sleeping in that kind of heat requires a big adjustment from the Bay Area.
Before checking in, however, we hit two snorkel spots, one along a pretty beach, the other around a large set of rocks in open water. For the morning snorkel, I didn’t unpack the underwater camera (Canon PowerShot S45 with WP-DC300 case), but I did take photos in the afternoon. In between, we took a longtail boat — our “taxi” that ferried us from the big boat into shallow water and back — to shore for some “take out” lunch from the restaurant on the pier. The lunch box included white rice and a fried egg, and a small plastic bag with a curry. (These plastic bags are closed expertly with thin rubber bands that take much practice to learn to remove quickly.) We generally had fruit or sweets for dessert before heading back to the boat. I would later learn to regret eating too much of these island lunches: the pressure changes during snorkeling and free diving created an unhappy tummy.
Dinner was set up on the beach, with many of us sinking below the optimal dining position in the soft sand. Main plates included fish steaks with curry; green papaya salad; chicken (?) in a green soupy sauce; stir-fried mixed vegetables; and a sauteed beef dish. The meal does not seem especially memorable, perhaps because the island was so hot that I often could not function normally. Time to crash!
Koh Lipe (Monday, January 24, 2005)
We at at Varin for all of our breakfasts on Koh Lipe, and the first morning we had the standard rice porridge with choice of toppings. The favorite appeared to be the toasted garlic; a good amount of crushed dried red pepper was helpful, too. Because the moon was full or nearly full, the tides were higher than usual and our planned first stop was postponed until after lunch. Some of us began to notice what looked like bites on our arms and legs, but which we concluded were stings from jellyfish or stinging plankton. Apparently the reaction is limited to those sensitive to the particular toxin/allergen in these creatures. As it didn’t appear to be fatal, we were all willing to risk getting more. Little did we know!!
The snorkel spots and lunch beach were beautiful, but the stingers persisted. Over the days, I accumulated more and more red bumps on my arms and legs, and tried various itch stopping remedies. Unlike previous trips, our snorkel outings were so long that the battery in my camera would give out before we had completed our day. Due to the dangers of getting an imperfect seal on the case, I never tried to open it on the boat, only in a dry cabin.
Dinner tonight was set up indoors, and by indoors I mean in an open-air dining room right off the beach. We shared a squid curry; whole fish with a sweetish sauce (and very sharp teeth); stir-fried Chinese greens; a not completely successful salad of raw shrimp pickled in lime juice-based dressing; and a sampler of grilled King Mackerel. After dinner, we watched an entertaining DVD video of a previous trip to Southern Thailand created by a trip participant, and various photos from sites we would be visiting. I wandered the beach wondering what happened to the full moon party; it’s just not the same without the hundreds of other tourists.
Koh Lipe (Tuesday, January 25, 2005)
This started off as a bad day for my intestines, but being a snorkeling fanatic, I was not going to miss my opportunity. For breakfast, we had a hearty dish of thick rice noodles (not quite as thick as those in chow fun) with egg and perhaps some meat. To that I added a couple of Pepto-Bismol tablets I borrowed from a fellow traveler. Our first stop today was quite far from Koh Lipe, toward the end of the island chain. Somewhat near the shore, it did not have the best visibility, there was an annoying current, and there were lots of stingers in the water — and I seemed to miss out on the best spots. Our second stop, very close by, was a set of rocks in open water, far clearer and less painful. This site featured excellent shallow and deep water snorkeling. After another island lunch on a pretty beach, we headed to a third site to conclude our adventure.
I was ready to pass out from heat, so I went to the front desk and asked for the A/C to be turned on. Soon I was in a 79 degree cabin and sufficiently conscious to edit fish photos. For dinner we once again gathered at the Varin’s dining room, where we began with a red curry of squid; a delicious cashew salad made up of shredded cabbage, Thai herbs, and lime peels, and topped with toasted cashews; a coconut milk soup with chicken (the one we see in California called Tom Kha Gai); grilled king mackerel with a sour-sweet tamarind sauce on the side; grilled super-mega prawns with a selection of sauces; and stir-fried vegetables containing true baby corn (it actually tasted just like corn!). The food was good, but I was not feeling so well and headed back to my air-conditioned cabin before too long.
Unfortunately, most of my dinner did not make it through the night. I took some various pills and hoped for the best on our return to Pak Bara pier and our brief journey to the capital of the next province North along Southern Thailand’s Western side, Trang, which is inland from the coast.