The bug is back. And although I could have squished him (her?) several times in flicking it toward the corner, it failed to take the hint to run down the hole. Currently it has left the bathroom and disguised itself against the wood paneling of the Western wall of the bungalow. I will let the housekeeping crew deal with it.
I completed my sewing project, which was to connect some ties (shoelaces) to the bottom of my snorkel pants so I could close them more tightly. The goal is to keep stinging plankton and fragments of jellyfish from washing in, so the more I can seal them up, the better.
Pak Bara to Koh Lipe (Feb. 11, 2012)
Just next to the pier is a little shop selling noodles dishes, fried rice, and other assorted tourist friendly plates. Here we would have a pretty good shrimp Pad Thai to start our day. It’s not exactly like the one back home: here they leave the shrimp heads on.
While waiting for the dock to clear so we could board our boat, we did a little last minute shopping for appropriate t-shirts. Unfortunately they had sold out of speedboats, so we were taking a relatively slow boat fitted for fishing excursions. Eventually we got on board and started our “four hour cruise” to Ko Lipe. The two story boat could have seated over 50, so it was a little uneconomical for our group of eight; we will be returning on the ferry.
At about the half way point we stopped for lunch on a pretty island with an arch, Koh Kai (Egg Island). After plenty of photos, we settled under the shade of some trees for a box lunch. There was a foam container with rice, and two plastic bags of curry: one goat and one chicken. It was best to eat these in sequence to keep the sauces separate. Naturally we had fruit and snacks to ensure we were fully topped up. Once we were sated, there was optional swimming in the warm waters (which unfortunately were too murky for snorkeling).
As is usual at Koh Kai, the afternoon ferries to Koh Lipe stopped here to allow the passengers to get a quick photo at the arch. It doesn’t take long for a private beach to feel like a tourist hotspot when 50 people are snapping or posing for photos. Soon they were gone, but the crew of our boat appeared to have fallen asleep. It took a lot of whistling and yelling to get them to pick up us.
We tried one snorkel spot along the way, a set of rocks where we usually see a lion fish. The water was too dark and murky, and I got pretty worn out swimming back to the boat. It would turn out this was probably a bad idea on top of a little sore throat, but I didn’t know that at the time.
We checked into the Lipe Resort (sometimes spelled Lee Pae Resort). In 2010, I stayed in a traditional Thai bungalow, which didn’t have any air conditioning or a sink. It was not very tourist friendly, particularly with a cracked toilet seat that tended to pinch tender parts if you sat down on it a little too hard. This year we stayed in substantially upgraded rooms with 24-hour electricity. The whole bathroom floor still tended to get wet, but it was much more comfortable overall. Even the tiny ants were tolerable. (Like some other accommodations with electric water heaters in the shower, the flow level was pitiful; considering that the water was quite hot, a little more volume would be welcome.) I should update my review on TripAdvisor when I get a moment…
Sunset over the Western hills was a bust, so there was more time for pre-dinner drinks with Sun and Michael. We had a cheap Scotch whiskey named 100 Pipers over ice with a little water for dilution. This certainly isn’t the tastiest cocktail, but it goes well with snacks such as crunchy dried fish and squid flavored rice crackers. Meanwhile, I fed the large, voracious mosquitoes.
The resort recently hired a management company, and this seems to have improved service all around. However, the dinner plates still could be better. Our favorite was very fresh squid with lots of garlic and pepper (and oil; I don’t think that was butter). Fried mackerel steaks were topped with ginger, scallions, and shiitakes, which was a nice change of pace. The hot and sour soup, mixed vegetables, and larb were good, but the beef was a little tough and the sour curry wasn’t up to recent standards. They will have to do better in this very competitive environment.
Day 2 (Feb. 12, 2012)
We commenced two full days of snorkeling with the resort’s included breakfast, ranging from an omelet bar and sweet pancakes with honey to stir-fried dishes and rice. I tried a little of most things (excluding the hot dogs and luncheon meat), and it was fine. I miss the old days of fried noodles, however.
The tide was low, stranding many boats on the beach, and while our boat was not stranded, it also was nowhere to be seen. Our driver was at least 30 minutes late to pick us up, which got him a stern lecture. Off we went to the first of our many snorkel spots. To summarize: water not so clear today, strong currents, lots of work. Still, there are some beautiful soft corals and plenty of fish for the persistent. One thing we noticed was the absence of clown anemonefish (the ones made famous in Finding Nemo). Apparently they are being harvested at an alarming rate for the aquarium trade.
We took a lunch break on an island with a reputation for aggressive monkeys, and it is true: they run to the sound of a longtail boat motor, positioning themselves for handouts or larceny, as the case may be. We enjoyed a spicy green curry rice while throwing sticks at the monkeys and baring our teeth as needed. Eventually most of them left and ran over to a group of tourists who were feeding them. Please, people, you’re not helping.
After hitting two more spots we got back late, so no happy hour today. Dinner featured a less inspiring squid dish, but a succulent steamed fish in a hot and sour lime sauce picked up the slack. A hot and sour seafood soup, a red curry with chicken, grilled pork with a spicy dipping sauce, and cauliflower with shrimp rounded out the menu.
At some point, probably climbing back into the boat, I split my “snorkeling pants” which were admittedly a bit too tight. By day’s end, it was clear that they should be replaced, or at least repaired. I scoured the “Walking Street” shops and did not find anything similar. There was a full body diving/snorkeling skin for about $120, but I like the flexibility of being able to pop the pants on and off, which wasn’t going to be an option with the full suit. Another project for the sewing kit.
Day 3 (Feb. 13, 2012)
I woke up with a “productive cough,” which means inevitably a chest cold and head cold. But…I can’t really see any benefit from sitting around by myself on this hot island, so I’m preparing to spend the day on the water as planned. I’m going to snorkel like it’s my last day, actually, because this cold might be too serious by the time we hit the water again in five days.
After another uninspiring breakfast, we headed out in a more timely fashion. Because my pants situation was pathetic, one of my fellow adventurers lent me hers (with built-in ankle drawstrings, these were a major upgrade). Our first stop was another open ocean pinnacle covered with colorful soft corals. The view was similar to yesterday: a bit clearer, but stronger current. We had better luck at our other spots, where the ocean was largely calm. I finally saw an eel out here, although it fled when I dived down for its close-up.
Lunch today was basil chicken over rice, on a beach blessedly free of monkeys. Another long stretch of face-down time over another reef and we headed back for a final happy hour and dinner at Lipe Resort. It felt good to spend the day in the water even if, in the end, it could make my cold worse.
Tomorrow we will catch the ferry back to Pak Bara and speed North to Trang, a town with delicious food and our base for an early morning birding outing.