The boat that rocked. Part 1

I didn’t intent to write so much, but this particular blog has turned into something of an epic so I have decided to post it in two parts.
This is part 1.

Since I told Moo we would be coming to an island called Phuket she has been beside herself with a level of mischievous excitement that only a 5 year old can muster. When I told her we would be going to visit another Island called Phi Phi she could barely contain her glee. The tour had been booked, and at a rather bleary eyed 7am the mini bus arrived to take us to the boat.

I considered postponing as the weather that morning looked none to friendly, but Moo was having none of it. She wanted to go to Phi Phi (cue 15 minutes of hilarious toilet related humour), and there was nothing I could say to put her off.

When we arrived at the harbour we were given coffee and cake and a brief safety talk :

‘The weather is not so good yah. It’s gonna be bumpy bumpy, you had better to hang on tight yah’
‘If we find a piece of sea is not so bumpy bumpy and you go snorkel, don’t pick up fish with spikes, they give you much pain yah, many days to the hospital OK?’
‘If you not back at boat for right time we gonna leave you yah?’
‘OK now we’s ready, let go to boat’.

Whilst some of the patrons felt this was slightly less comprehensive safety information than they may have been used to I found it encompassed the salient points quite well.

'Shakira' & 'Beyonce'. There is nthing more I can add.

Our guides for the day were two of the campest men I have ever met, (and trust me that’s saying A LOT), who introduced themselves as Beyonce and Shakira and sported big hats and flowery sarongs…a few of the tourists were totally freaked out, but I just ran with it and became the instant tour guide pet by walking up to them and announcing that I ‘just love your hats’. There was all manner of giggling and jumping up and down, but we got the best seats on the boat, and defiantly the best lunch!

Molly thought they were extremely odd but very funny and it wasn’t long before they were all disco dancing up and down the deck together handing round sickness bags to those with slightly less than iron constitution that was needed to cope with some rather large waves, accompanied by strains of Gloria Gaynor assuring us rather loudly and rather appropriately that we all would indeed survive.

I’m not entirely sure the Japanese family on board were entirely convinced by Ms Gaynors assertations as to a man, woman and child they began throwing up as soon as the first wave hit the bow.

For some it would prove to be a very long day
For them it was going to be a very long hour till we arrived at our first destination of the day. When the first waves began to toss us around like peas in a tumble drier, I was a little concerned that Moo’s quite small sea legs may not be up to the challenge, but from the second we had the discussion about the differences between ‘scary-bad’ and ‘scary-exciting’, she was whooping and holloring with every pitch and toss. As soon as her height hits 132cm I’m taking her to a theme park again, she’s a lot of fun to ride with!

After about 50 minutes the boat slowed as we reached Koh Phi Phi leh island we rounded the enormous rocks and floated into the utterly breathtaking scenery of Maya Bay.

Phi Phi Leh from the air (not my own work!)

The sun chose this rather opportune moment to peek out from behind the clouds and illuminated the cove with glorious sparkling light. There are no pictures I have seen that can do justice to the reality.

Maya bay was the stunning location used for the the film ‘The Beach’ but looks even more serenely beautiful than ever I saw it on screen. If you haven’t seen the film I can thoroughly recommend that you watch the first five minutes of ‘scenery’ shots to get the place in your mind, skip the rest and read the book. Seriously it’s an hour and a half of your life you will never get back.

The real beauty of the book is, for me, the sense of solitude and isolation the main character experiences on the beautiful but seemingly deserted island and I stepped onto the golden sands hoping to catch a brief moment of that serenity. Just myself, the waves and the sand cut off from the rest of the world by the towering cliffs that almost completely encircle this golden oasis of calm, well just me the waves and about 700 other people who happened to be on the beach.

700 people searching for solitude...hmm

You see that’s the problem with tours, too many tourists.

I set myself a challenge to take a photograph that included part of the beach (without resorting to the cheat of using the zoom or crop tools), with no one else in it. It was a lot harder than you may think, and I very nearly managed to get one or two.

It seemed like a lot safer a challenge than those who were determined to get a picture of themselves or their loved ones swimming in the sea, the vast amount of motor boats coming and going to load or unload the next tour group onto the sand made the ‘surf’ a most treacherous place. Were it not for the sharp eyes and quick wits of the boat crews pulling stupid tourists out of the paths of spinning propellers it could so easily have been much more akin to the darker chapters of Alex Garlands book.

We were herded back onto the boat and taken on a stunning slow cruise around Phi Phi leh. We sailed through a crystal clear lagoon just a few meters deep for the most part and marvelled at the sight thousands of brightly coloured tropical fish darting around under the boat but almost as soon as they had appeared, they were gone. The cool clear water was suddenly a vibrant shade of blue and eerily empty of fish. You can clearly see a dividing line in the water that the fish would not cross, you witness them still happily swimming on one side, but the other was devoid of all life. This slightly spooky looking divide occurs where the fresh water that runs from the mountain waterfalls meets the sea water at the mouth of the cove, and of course the salt water fish cannot survive in the freshwater so they just swim to the ‘line’ and turn around again. Weird, but at the same time very cool.
If you look really closely you can see thousands of tiny $'s
We then passed by the Viking cave. The cave used to be a stopping point on the tour until a few years ago when it was bought up and privatised. I was a little perplexed as to why a large multinational company would want to buy a small cave in Thailand, but our guides provided the perfect explanation. The caves are a natural nesting ground for the Aerodramus fuciphagus and its slightly less common cousin the Aerodramus maximus. That would be a swift to you and me. These swifts make their homes on the walls and roof of this particular cave in vast quantities every year. The nests are then harvested and sold as the vital component in the highly prized Chinese delicacy, birds nest soup. The current selling price is between $2,000 and $10,000 per kilo (depending on the colour of the swift who made the nest). I guess that won’t be on today’s lunch menu then.

The rest of the boat trip story will be published in a day or two.

A Bientot.

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The adventure begins

Wake up, drink coffee, open blinds, look at beautiful ocean, go to poolside bar for breakfast, drink more coffee, swim in pool. What a wonderful way to start your day, and that’s exactly what we have been doing. Marvellous.

A view with a room

We are already settling in to life at the Hotel and having a great deal of fun, and we’ve only been here a few days. It is a charming place set in the midst of a mountainside jungle with a spectacular view of the Andaman sea with a tantalising glimpse of Kata beach to whet your appetite for a day of adventurous sunbathing!

Our first night consisted of a dip in the pool, then bed, and after a wonderful nights sleep and a fabulous breakfast we took full advantage of the hotel shuttle service, (being perched on a mountainside is all well and good until you actually have to climb said mountainside, which is where the shuttle service comes into it’s own!), and headed off into town to get our bearings.

The villages of Kata and Karon are situated in the South West of Phuket and between them are home to what must number several thousand hotel rooms, several hundred cafes restaurants and bars, a slightly smaller number of retail outlets and 3 glorious beaches. Kata Noi is the smallest ( but still nearly 1 km ) and most secluded of the 3, then just around the headland is Kata beach a beautiful 2km stretch of golden sand, and if that wasn’t enough, a little further on is the long straight stretch of Karon Beach with its bizarrely squeaky sand.

Kata beach is the most commercial beach with many and varied activities from parasailing, jet ski-ing and surfing to the slightly more sedentary hair braiding services (which Moo just had to try and astoundingly sat for over an hour while 2 nimble fingered Thai ladies worked her ‘do’) and numerous massage areas where you can get a full hour oil massage for the princely sum of around 6 pounds (which I will be trying out in the very near future!).

Our little Moo having her 'do'

All of the beaches are home to numerous food stands which serve both Thai and western menus and a mouthwatering selection of tropical fruit smoothies, or you can just have a freshly picked coconut with a straw. The beaches are also home to many many vendors who will try and sell you anything and everything including sarongs, belts, necklaces, musical instruments and a vast assortment of souvenirs featuring elephants, (the national animal of Thailand), and just about anything else you can think of. If you have no wish to buy a polite no thank-you or 3 and a smile should do the trick, but be warned if you do buy anything you will become a target for the other sellers for the rest of the day so it’s best to leave any purchases you wish to make till you are just about to leave. And don’t forget to haggle.

On our second day we visited the village of Karon and found what I think will be our favourite eatery. It’s a roadside shack (as many of them are) opposite the temple school and if you hit it at the right time of day you can watch the sunset over the temple and listen to the monks evening chants as you eat some of the best food I have ever tasted.

The temple from the Nok Noi cafe
Magical stuff. We had ordered a simple meal and as we waited Moo became completely absorbed in an episode of a very strange Thai soap – opera that was on the TV. The general jist was something about an evil spirit who took control of various leading ladies causing them to fight each other for no apparent reason. This story continued during our meal and I got not one single word of conversation from Moo till it had finished, at which point she declared it to be one of the best things she had ever seen. There’s no accounting for taste.
When we finished our meal a plate of mystery fruit* was presented for us to try and Moo was given a beautiful paper flower that the waitress had been making while we were dining. Such small gestures of kindness and welcome have been found all over the place since we arrived and I cant wait to get more of a taste of the island over the coming few weeks.
Watermelon smoothie and 'mystery' fruit

*The mystery fruit has since been identified (and purchased in bulk) as the delicious langsat

A bientot.

Panicing? I’m not panicing.

OK so here’s the deal . I am a little behind (about 3 weeks) in my blogging, and there are still a few things I need to write about China But I’m finding it hard to catch up and we have moved on a little….soooo.

I have inserted a couple of titles below which I will edit in the pieces when they are done and let you know!

If I don’t start to put the new pieces in now I will end up months behind, and that would be bad.

I had it covered, really I did. All the bookings printed out, passports, tickets and a plan. The plan was a good one too. We get the 11 am ferry from Macau directly to Hong Kong airport, that way we are all checked in by the time we get there and spend a leisurely couple of hours strolling the airport boutiques and changing our currency before boarding the flight to Thailand, without the need to cart our baggage on the underground across the centre of Hong Kong at a busy lunchtime. I told you it was a good plan. Flawless.

Well almost flawless.

Apart from the fact that when we arrived at the ferry terminal it transpired that there was no 11 am sailing to the airport, but all was not lost there was an 11.30 departure and the flight didn’t leave till ten past 2. We would be checked in at 11.30 and in Hong Kong airport by 12.30. lovely. Apart from the fact that when they said that when travelling to the airport by ferry you had to be checked in 2 hours before your flight what they actually meant was that you had to be at the airport 2 hours before your flight and ‘checking in’ at the ferry terminal didn’t actually count as part of the 2 hour time scale. I was then very calmly informed that if I arrived at 12.30 I wouldn’t be accepted for ‘airport check in’ as I would technically be 20 minutes late and would be sent back to Macau on the next ferry.

OK, so the plan was starting to look a tiny bit flawed now I’ll admit.

It was now 10.40am and time for a hastily constructed plan B.
11am ferry to Hong Kong non airport ferry terminal, there by mid-day, 20 minute taxi to central station then a half hour ride on the airport express. Easily be there by 1pm with an hour and 10 minutes before the plane left. That was do-able. Boarding began at 1.40, but that would be OK. Really we would make it in time. We would.

Plan B was rapidly replaced by a panic stricken and rather desperate Plan C when at 11.15 the 11am ferry was still idling in the dock at Macau.
By 11.20 we were finally under way.
At 12.21 I dragged 2 cases and a very excited Moo in my wake and joined the mercifully short lines at Hong Kong immigration. By 12.40 we were in a taxi heading directly for the airport with the cabbie on a promise of a $50 tip if we got to check in by 10 minutes past 1.
We got to the check in desk at 1.20, but as the cabbie had loaded our bags on a trolley and run them up to the counter himself he got his tip anyway. It’s not his fault there was a torrential downpour on the way there and he had to cut his speed a little.

With boarding passes in hand we hurtled thought the airport towards the gate, which was of course the furthest away, and arrived as they were calling for our row numbers to embark.

To say it was a relief to sink into the seat would be something of an understatement.
During the flight a young lady approached us and told us that she had been through the same panic stricken routine having arrived at Macau expecting the 11am departure, and had seen us on the ferry and was very glad we had made it. She had chosen the HK airport express route as it turns out you can check in at the train station and that does ‘count’. But she had only arrived at the gate minutes before us and had run most of the way. On balance I think with 2 cases and a 5 year old in tow plan C was defiantly our best option.

I am please to report that the rest of our journey was smooth by comparison and I can once again make an airline recommendation. Thai Airways are simply marvellous. Although the flight was only 2 and a half hours we were plied with alcohol almost as soon as we sat down and a lovely meal was served. There was a slight hiccough with meal as they had run out of the one I wanted and I was asked to wait a couple of minutes while they fetched another from elsewhere. When the ‘any more bread rolls’ lady was doing the rounds I mentioned I was still waiting for my meal and less than a minute later it was presented with a glass of champagne by way of apology, then 10 minutes later the steward who had forgotten arrived with a fresh gin and tonic and after that, quite frankly, I couldn’t care less.

There was a brief and incident free change of planes at Bangkok and another quick hop, (this time I thought I had better refuse the G&T if I actually wanted to make it to the hotel in any fit state), to Phuket. Our hotel driver appeared and 40 minutes later we were sipping complimentary check in drinks at the pool-side bar. After a swift coffee in the, very nice, room there was just time to take a dip in the pool before heading off to bed.

I have only been in Thailand for a few hours but I have already been struck by the genuine kindness and gentleness of the people, and by the darkness of the night sky. Coming from the neon lit nights of Macau and Hong Kong I had forgotten how dark the night sky actually is and how brightly the stars can shine.

A bientôt.