Krabi (Saturday, February 11, 2006)
Based on the 2005 trip, I was totally unprepared for the huge crowds at our various destinations today. It started with the breakfast buffet, when I could not find an empty table, and all of the tables for our party were full. I joined Kasma briefly, because she had persuaded the kitchen to make an omelet of our left over kua kling beef from the night before. (A spicy beef dish that starts off seeming medium hot and very flavorful, and builds to hot hot hot.) After a mad dash of packing, we were into our vans and off to the pier to catch our longtail boat to our idyllic island home Koh Poda (gaw po-DA). We would go by way of some of the more popular spots in the area.
What a Difference a Year Makes
We bypassed the popular tourist area of Ao Nang and stopped at the Princess Beach, Ao Phra Nang. The offerings in the Princess Cave were more elaborate than ever, and the collection of phalluses even more extensive. Fisherman seeking a good catch are said to be responsible for this tradition, but we saw a number of women praying here. Along the pretty stretch of sand were dozens, maybe even hundreds of people. They ranged from happy families to vendors of food, beach mats, and Thai massage. The tourists appeared to represent most corners of the developed world, but some seem to have forgotten their tops. (Topless or nude sunbathing is frowned upon in Thailand, but seems to occur quite regularly.) Compared with last year, when forlorn vendors wooed our business by promising the low, low “tsunami price,” it appeared that tourism and commerce were in full swing.
The beach was hot, and the other nearby attractions of Railay peninsula were not all that attractive. I retreated to the group’s beach mats for a lunch of beef curry and various cookies and sweets. Very tasty and filling. We clambered back aboard our longtails and sailed for Koh Poda. The beach was busy with day trippers: the trend toward recovery of the tourism economy continues. The Poda Island Resort consists of a mix of older cabins (or cottages, or bungalows, or huts, as you might prefer) and newer duplex-style units. The newer units are semi-reserved for a tour operation out of Phuket, so we stay in the older units, which are more rustic. The island’s biggest drawback is that its wells become saline in the dry season. Sometimes it is difficult to be certain when taking a shower after snorkeling that you are washing off more salt than you are depositing. But the island is scenic, and if you can forgive the short availability of electricity (6PM to midnight), it’s a good base for exploring.
After a quick change, we headed out to a nearby spot for snorkeling. The water was a bit rough, so we started in a protected cove. Heading outside, I found some rocks and fish, but it wasn’t spectacular. We expect much more from our trip to the Phi Phi islands tomorrow. For now, we will proceed to the “chicken and egg” islands, joined at low tide by a wide sandbar. Today the tide was very low and the sandbar very wide. Unfortunately, the overcast weather did not play to the area’s strengths: in good light, the water here is beautiful.
Breaking my usual pattern, I did not process fish photos immediately upon returning to Poda island. Instead, I showered in cool, saline water and dressed for the cocktail hour in a bug-repellent shirt. We had good snacks to go with our Thai rum: crunchy mixes of dried shrimp, cashews, peanuts, little fried fish, crispy basil, and dried red chillies. Starting from a small group of four people on three beach mats, our party grew. I brought iTunes and played a selection of songs while we ate, drank, and learned Thai and English phrases.
Eventually it was time for dinner. Our island cuisine began with squid (over)cooked with onions and large red chillies (less hot than the tiny ones). This was followed by pieces of what appeared to be pork loin, fried and served with some dipping sauces. A fish was served in fillets, topped with a sticky mixture of sweet soy sauce, onions and garlic. We got a tasty green curry with shrimp and Thai eggplants, and a plate of mixed vegetables including tomatoes. As Thais generally do not eat tomatoes, this first dinner appears to be the standard tourist fare, rather than something special cooked up at our request. Oh well, we can try again tomorrow.
The power is on from roughly 6:00 to midnight, providing time to charge batteries and enjoy a bit of air circulation. The cabins were a bit cooler than on the other islands, a welcome change that compensates somewhat for the unpleasant water. I crashed without cleaning everything, which would make for a very busy morning.
Koh Poda (Sunday, February 12, 2006)
The Secret is Out
Today we chartered a large boat to tour the world famous, but famously tsunami-wrecked, Phi Phi (“pee pee”) islands. And so did a lot of other people. I was late to our breakfast of fried noodles, but after a plate or two and a couple cups of tea, our boat arrived. We started by half-circling Bamboo Island, which already was flooded with tourists. The ocean was a bit wavy and it took numerous tries for the boat crew to tie up to a buoy floating over the snorkeling area. We saw some fish, but the coral here was nothing special. Our second spot was closer to the larger of the main islands, Phi Phi Don, and looked much better than I remembered from last year. It’s a large reef and knowing which direction to swim makes a big difference.
We proceeded to Phi Phi Ley, the smaller of the main islands. The Viking Cave where swiftlet nests are harvested for bird’s nest soup was not open to visitors today, so we continued down the coast, touring scenic inlets and eating a tasty lunch of turmeric chicken and rice before hitting our next snorkel spot. Here there were numerous boats of all types — big boats, longtails, speedboats, and sailboats — and the water was busy with swimmers. We were fortunate to tie up next to a turtle, although he or she quickly fled to deeper water, and to see some exotic wildlife (I saw the eel but missed the octopus). We then continued around the island to “The Beach,” featured in the movie based on the book. Last year, we almost had this scenic bay to ourselves. This year, it was crowded with visitors, and a “snack bar” (more like a table and an ice chest) had opened at one end of the beach. After three weeks off the beaten track, it is very strange to be on the same itinerary as dozens of other people.
After taking our pictures on the beach, we headed to the far size of Phi Phi Don for our final snorkel of the day. Just as we found last year, the steep hillside blocked the sun and visibility was limited. I tried a number of underwater flash photos to compensate for the darkness, but the water was a bit murky for that; maybe some will come out. On our ride back to Koh Poda, the seas kicked up and we had to retreat behind a curtain on one side of the boat while water accumulating on the top deck occasionally sloshed down to the lower level. It was wet. And then it rained, intermittently. Eventually we made it home, into showers, and out to dinner. Due to rain, I didn’t photograph the meal; a first for this trip. We had shrimp cakes with a choice of sweet plum sauce or a more subtle sauce with hot chillies; a spicy dish of shrimp, squid and fish with basil; a hot and slightly sour jungle curry with chicken and Thai eggplants; a steamed whole fish dressed with a classic lime-garlic-fish sauce-chillies dressing; and morning glories with a few green chillies slipped in as a surprise. We didn’t finish every bite, perhaps because we had so many snacks during the day.
Time to ponder the possibility of one last snorkel, the last of the trip, in the morning before breakfast. And to consider the alternative of sleeping in. Hmmm.