Krabi (January 30, 2010)
While the Maritime is lovely, its breakfast buffet has little Thai flavor. Eggs, hot dogs (“sausages”), potatoes, waffles, and porridge are available for the international traveler seeking the comforts of home. The porridge with a few pork meatballs and a soft-boiled egg was about as exotic as I could get.
Our first stop was to drop off laundry. The clerk counted every piece twice and wrote up a detailed invoice in multiple copies (with carbon paper). I dropped off two shirts, each of which was noted differently on the invoice (all copies of which were retained by the laundry). After everyone cycled through, we finally were ready to head out to the island.
We left from the beach in front of the Luna Restaurant in Ao Nang, one of the major tourist areas of Krabi. Our two longtail boats motored past dramatic limestone karsts fronted with white sand beaches and top tier resorts, eventually coming to rest at Ao Phra Nang, the Princess Beach. The tide was high, so we took refuge on our beach mats as far as back we could, under the shade of some trees. As the beach shrank due to the advancing tide, people started to walk through our trees. This was not a bad idea from a safety perspective: as the tide pulled the boats out and pushed them back in, the rope to the anchor would suddenly rise and trip passers by. You learn to step on the ropes.
Apart from its golden sand, the beach’s major attraction is the Princess Cave, where offerings are made to the sea goddess for a bountiful harvest of fish. Oddly, many of these offerings are enormous wooden phalluses, and people visit this cave also to improve their own fertility. As part of my sunlight avoidance strategy, I skipped the cave this year, leaving the shade of the tree only to buy a young coconut. The rest of my time I uploaded photos for you, dear reader.
As would be the pattern for our next few days, we had lunch on the beach from polystyrene containers. Today’s menu: Southern (Thailand) style fried chicken and sticky rice. This was supplemented with fruit and sweets. Having had more than our fill, we hopped back into our boats and completed our short journey to Poda island.
Ko Poda (January 30, 2010)
A private island controlled by a single resort, Poda nevertheless attracts numerous day trippers to its fine beach and easily accessible reef. Finding a parking spot among these boats was a bit of a challenge, but soon we were headed to our bungalows. The resort has larger units in front, nearer the beach, and ours were quite a way back. I was assigned one of the older, not-yet-renovated cabins. Because the bathroom door insisted on remaining open, it probably was a good choice for someone without a roommate.
There was no time to unpack, however: we quickly dropped off our bags, changed into snorkel gear, and returned to our boats. The first spot was a big hunk of rock where you could snorkel all the way around. The problem was that when you reached the last corner, there was a serious current pushing against you. It was quite amusing watching the fish struggle against this current: surely they are regulars here and must know some trick that we don’t know. I don’t consider myself a strong swimmer, but my big fins helped me make it back to the boat. It’s hard to believe that so many people go out with just a mask and snorkel; it’s best to have the complete kit, as you never know when you’ll need the extra pedal power.
Our second spot was a relatively shallow reef with a sandy bottom. The coral here wasn’t very pretty, but among the rocks we found one big ugly scorpionfish. Trying to find the right angle to photograph this hideous beast was a project that generated a lot of files. By the time we got back to Poda, the tide was quite low, which made the edge of the reef more visible, even in the late afternoon light. Kasma pointed out some interesting shrimpfish here: they look a bit like a quill pen or leaf, swimming with their mouths pointed down, the school floating and bobbing in near unison.
Having finished snorkeling, it finally was time to clean up for the day. In my cabin, the water merely trickled from the sink faucet and showerhead, making personal hygiene a chore. With the island’s saline water — during the low season the well becomes salty — it hardly seemed worth the effort. But I went through the motions, and there was time for a drink or two before dinner: Thai rum with some squid-flavored crunchy rice crackers. Just when my brain started to hurt, we convened for dinner in the resort’s dining room.
Four years ago, the tables were dressed with tacky plastic Coke tablecloths, so the first upgrade was a table that actually looked nice. The appetizer of deep-fried shrimp rings, with a sweet chilli dipping sauce, was the appropriate balance of tender, fluffy, and chewy. A red snapper with a sour dressing of lime and garlic was excellent. The roasted pork was a bit boring, and its relation to a plate of raw vegetables with a fiery chilli dipping sauce was unclear. Stir-fried squid with garlic and chillies was tasty but a bit tough, while the stir-fried morning glories were well seasoned and hot. Better than Ko Surin, but we looked forward to improvement.
Upon returning to cabin 16, my electricity was on (it’s on from 6 to midnight). However, I could only seem to operate one light and the fan. Adding a second light caused flickering and the fan would stop. This posed a serious problem for recharging all my gear, so I asked the front desk to help. Their solution was to move me to one of the renovated bungalows. Wow, what an improvement. Although I have to share this little hut with some large red ants, and there is occasionally a strange sulfur smell to the water in the bathroom, the electricity and water pressure are excellent.
Ko Poda (January 31, 2010)
Today and tomorrow we are hiring a speedboat to whisk us to snorkel spots around Koh Phi Phi. Unlike longtails, which reach speeds of about 11mph, the speedboats easily surpass 30mph. Of course, the ride is a bit rougher, which can lead to other problems, but assuming we don’t lose our lunches, we should be able to hit the right spots more efficiently.
After a breakfast of pad thai noodles, we headed out to our first spot, which is a reef near Bamboo Island. If you actually land on Bamboo Island, you have to pay 200 baht per foreigner (about $6), but if you don’t plan to enjoy the beach, that is not necessary, and we will be avoiding landing fees as much as possible.
The reef here is quite extensive, and there are both spectacular sections and areas of tsunami damage. There was a lot of stuff in the water, so the camera often seemed to focus on nothing. After wandering around for a while, I noticed a large pink jellyfish several feet below the surface. This is a good place to spot a jellyfish, rather than directly in your face; I’m going to have to be a bit more observant around here. The innards of the jellyfish seemed to be a tangle of pink strings, like venomous cotton candy. As the waves rolled over, the jellyfish would become discombobulated, and then gradually right itself. Trying to find the best angle to photograph this unruly blob, without getting too close, took several attempts. In clearer water, the results undoubtedly would have been more impressive, but we can’t control the weather.
At our next spot, I almost ran into a completely different and more lethal-looking jellyfish. This one had a sizeable entourage of tiny fish who may have been living off the jelly’s leftovers, or using it for protection. Its blue and red colors served notice that it was a beast not to be trifled with, and I gave it a wide berth in attempting to find a good angle.
As the tide had risen, we took a break and motored over to a lagoon on Koh Phi Phi Ley, the smaller of the Phi Phi islands, without any hotels or resorts. Here we took turns diving off the boat: I showed one called the “face plant” which stimulates the skin like a good slap. Ouch. Just around another bend was a pretty little beach with a large shaded section where we parked and ate another box lunch: turmeric-flavored chicken and rice with fried shallots and a sweet chilli sauce. This was a huge portion, and I inadvisably ate the whole thing.
As the tide went out, we decided to move into the bay for a snorkel. The boat traffic here was uncommonly heavy, which added a layer of stress to the otherwise relaxing activity of floating around face down. Highlights here included some large sea fans, a type of coral that can be very colorful. Some trip members found more exotic wildlife, but I was exhausted by dodging boats, so I returned to the boat early.
We reached our last spot, Ao Ling, after the sun had sunk below the ridge of the bay, challenging us to take photographs in the shadows. The primary attractions here were more sea fans, some soft corals, and potentially some crabs (I didn’t see those). A banded sea snake moved quickly along the bottom toward its hiding place.
We arrived back at Poda after six, so the electricity was already on. At dinner, many of us ate lightly: some trip members had been sick the night before, and others were just taking it easy to prevent problems. This meant we couldn’t clean the plates of what was a surprisingly spicy meal. A hot and sour shrimp soup served notice that the kitchen had no mercy tonight. A squid salad continued the theme while an eggplant salad (some pieces definitely underdone) with ground pork ratcheted up the heat. A fried whole fish slathered with chillies and topped with fried basil actually was pretty mild, but the tasty green curry chicken with a surfeit of bitter pea eggplants returned to form. We would be sleeping in a bit tomorrow, so we have time to recover from a very long day. Maybe the room will stop moving soon.
Ko Poda (February 1, 2010)
After a breakfast of fried noodles, we headed out to our speedboat for a shorter day of snorkeling. We started at Maya Bay, on Koh Phi Phi Ley, made famous as the location of “The Beach” in the movie of the same name. One of the main attractions here is a huge school of small fish (anchovies?) that swarm in a cave-like indentation in the karst. They mirror your movement as you swim through, over, or under them: if you’re smooth, they’re smooth; if you’re quick, they’re quicker. This is not unlike the swarm of snorkelers in the waters here, and the constant boat traffic was annoying. But this is the price of fame.
We returned to Ao Ling to examine the portion of the reef nearer the beach, but the busy bay was not too impressive at high tide. Just as we were returning to the boat, some dolphins appeared. Several of us swam out to play with them, but they remained aloof, surfacing ahead of us or behind us, keeping their distance. Having a “near swimming with dolphins” experience was exciting, but considering all the extra legwork in chasing them down, I was extra tired and extra ready for lunch.
We backed up to another pretty beach, but shade was sparse, so we headed up to the trees. From here, we had a commanding view of tourists in string bikinis posing for photos, but of course our attention was focused on a box lunch of spicy squid over rice with a fried egg. And on catching a little rest before our final snorkel for the day.
We sped out to a popular spot with zero scenery value: a reef on a large ridge just East of the Phi Phi islands. Here, too, there was plenty of boat traffic, my snorkel often filling with unpleasant engine emissions. The reef is very extensive, its treasures scattered far and wide. Early on I saw an odd creature that probably was a cuttlefish. Separated from its school, it quickly rejoined them and spread the word that I wanted a photo; they all vanished in a flash. I cruised a large area of the reef, and noticed some excitement near another boat: a lionfish, they informed me. At the same time, they were throwing bread to the plentiful sergeant fish, which proceeded to surround me and peck at my arms. This made seeing and photographing the lion fish much more complicated and potentially dangerous. Fortunately, we all survived unscathed, but I was beat. I was happy to skip our last potential spot and take a break before dinner.
Back in the dining room, the menu was a little less spicy tonight. A mixed seafood coconut soup was tasty and a fairly mild antidote to a chicken kua kling (more sour and a less hot than the beef kua kling we had at Ruen Mai) and a chilli-laden green papaya salad. A seemingly innocent dish of shrimp and sugar snap peas harbored “stealth” green chillies masquerading as thin snap peas, and a char-broiled fish was served with a hot-and-sour sauce on the side, so you could spice it up to your taste. We did a bit better tonight, but still are not up to our usual consumption. Could this be due to exercise reducing our appetites? We will find out tomorrow when we return to Ruen Mai after a day of doing as little as possible.
Ko Poda (February 2, 2010)
We slept in and had a late, light breakfast of congee with fish. When most of us had finished our initial bowl, the kitchen staff brought out the leftover kua kling, which spiced up the bland rice porridge considerably. We finished various snacks, packed our bags, took a few last photos, and waded out to our longtails for the ride back to the mainland. The salt spray was a reminder that we soon could take a freshwater shower for the first time in several days — after running a few errands.
Krabi (February 2, 2010)
On the way to town we stopped at a muslim restaurant for bowls of savory beef noodles. It was not yet noon, and even though I was not hungry, the deeply colored and flavorful broth, rich with aromatic spices, was irresistible. I easily polished off my bowl, but did abstain from a round of ice cream bars from the grocery store next door.
When we rolled up to Varich Krabi Batik, we found many more shirts in stock than on our last visit. I picked up one that is cut a bit too large for me, but as one trip member suggested, I could grow into it. Our laundry pickup went smoothly, and soon we returned to the Maritime Hotel.
Check-in was quick, with a welcome drink, and luggage delivery to our rooms on the seventh floor was friendly and efficient. The view from the top is stunning, the air conditioning strong, and the shower hot. It’s hard to find anything to complain about, although it would be handy to have a clothes line for all the swimwear I had to wash. While some trip members enjoyed the pool or spa, I took a much needed nap.
For dinner, we returned to Ruen Mai, and “our” table in the garden. Tonight we sampled the hot Southern-style sour curry (gaeng som) with seafood and coconut shoots (similar to bamboo shoots, but with a milder flavor). The rest of the menu was less searing: catfish marinated in garlic and turmeric, then fried to a crisp; a larb of mixed seafood; stir-fried ferns topped with shrimp; and slices of beef in a decadently rich panang curry.
In the morning we check out early, before breakfast, and hit the road for a day of hard leisure. Soon we will be heading out to our third and last island home, but we will be doing a little freshwater swimming tomorrow on our way South to Pak Bara.