Burning up on Koh Lanta & on Florence
Trip Start Aug 22, 2010
76Trip End Jul 01, 2011
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Our second day in Koh Lanta was given over to snorkeling. We chose an outfit aimed solely at snorkelers and joined a group of 30 to Koh Rok, 47 km. south of Koh Lanta. Our speed boat had a crew of 3 and was powered by three 225 horsepower four stroke engines. The boat picked up people at various resorts down the west coast of our island before heading across open-ocean for the 45 minutes to get to Koh Rok. We had 3 different half hour snorkeling hits, 2 before lunch, one after. We saw a great variety of reef fish but for the most part were disappointed in the state of the reef, much of it seemed dull and dying. Pollution? We all had on a ton of sunscreen - definitely not good for the reef. Global warming? Too many visitors? Hard to know. I did see fish, and a lot of fish, that I'd not seen before: a striking purple coloured parrot fish, and a number of red fish that were new to me. Other tropical delights were familiar: yellow/white/black angel fish, translucent needle fish, tiny bright blue fellows, many other yellow, orange, blue, some striped, some speckled, a marvelous variety of sights. Our snorkeling stop after lunch was our best stop - here the reef was more vibrant. There was quite a bit of blue coral and some enormous giant clams. At all the stops were bright blue and purple edged smaller clams I mistook for sea cucumber type creatures until we saw them opening and closing revealing themselves to be clams.
Our lunch was served near the Koh Lanta's Marine Park Ranger's Station. Our guides warned us to not try and touch the wildlife, pictures only. I was not at all tempted to try and touch the four foot long monitor lizards that were hanging just off the picnic area. They knew that arriving tourists meant chicken bones! They scoffed at the watermelon rinds but made quick lunges to claim the drumstick bones, gone in a gulp! After lunch John snorkeled off the beach while I rested on the sand in the shade. This extra dip seems to have cost John his calf-comfort, as his sunscreen wasn't sufficient and he's been very sore in the legs ever since. Our boat got us home by 3 with one fun sight at another resort's beach prior to our drop off - out in the water was a young elephant with someone on their back. It was quite something, even from quite a distance, to see the elephant walking along, sometimes dipping under the water keeping only their trunk above the surface.
We were relieved to return to our room and escape the heat for a bit. We waited until the day had cooled before venturing out to find our supper. We had read about a place in our guide book and attempted to find it, but struck out, opting for a beach side hut with a simple menu. The items were delicious and very affordable. We had a drink each, Pad Thai with chicken for me, and another shrimp dish for John, all for about $20. Cdn. After dinner we walked back up the beach, passing our resort, to explore further and pick a place for dessert. We found a lovely beach side dining room with great music quietly playing and ordered one banana, and one pineapple flambé, each served with ice cream. One of our servers was male, his lace trimmed sleeves caught my eye and then I realized he also had on full make-up. We've read about the acceptance of transvestites in Thailand, but this was our first encounter.
Here John adds:
On our third day on our island in the Andaman Sea we set off to explore it's eastern reaches. Rising early so as to beat the punishing heat of midday (but not so early as to encounter the swarms of malarial mosquitoes (the quinine was running low)) we breakfasted and then met our guide for the day. To our surprise two other intrepid explorers - a father ("on my second mid-life crisis") and son ("on reading break from UBC") team - had joined the expedition. Imagine our further surprise when we discovered that they too had journeyed from that outpost of the Empire, Victoria B.C. Our journey would be long and would require all the kayaking skills and elephant handling abilities that we could muster. Our fast moving truck soon had us deep in the very heart of Koh Lanta's wild, interior jungle. The cries from unseen birds warned us of every beast lurking behind the wall of green foliage on either side of the road as we sped by. Soon we arrived at a small outpost - no more than a few huts on the edge of a mangrove swamp - and we were in our kayaks and moving with the outgoing tide to where we did not know (our guide spoke little English). The heat was already building towards the red-hot intensity of midday. Kate began to sweat and yet she soldiered on doing more than her share of the paddling (I was in the back and she couldn't see me relaxing with my feet and hands in the water) and only mentioned that she was "HOT" about 45 times. Our guide pointed out dark shapes on the shore shadowing our progress. Monkeys! Kate aimed and got off a few shots at the beasts but the low light and shadows left her little to show for her efforts. As best we could, we hugged the featureless green shore lined with mangrove trees trying to stay in the shade. Above us a hawk soared against a shimmering blue sky. We crossed a wide channel that spilled into the Andaman Sea and our guide indicated that our destination was the far shore by pointing and saying "banana" and "monkey". Sure enough as we approached the far shore we spotted a monkey in a tree, then a couple moving along the shore's edge. Soon the entire troop was massed along the shore. Youngsters tussled with one another and babies stayed close by moms as the alpha male did lookout duty six feet up a tree. Our guide produced chopped banana and began lobbing pieces onshore. A small monkey would retrieve a piece and would promptly be mugged by a larger monkey for his banana. The Law of the Jungle appeared to be in place. Kate began getting off some good shots at the little beasts as I watched, fascinated. In the excitement of it all, I had stopped paddling and our kayak drifted towards shore. Suddenly a teenage monkey left the shore as if launched by coiled springs and landed squarely on the foredeck. Before we had time to react another had followed suit. We were being boarded by piratical monkeys, demanding treasure that we did not posses. Both of us felt we were in over our heads and every story we'd read about biting monkeys played out in our imaginations. Luckily our guide threw some of what the beasts where after so that we could buy some time to gather our wits and figure out how to get out of the dicey situation we found ourselves in. One of the little buggers had Kate by the foot and looked to be taking over the paddling as you can see in the photo. We hit on a plan. I would maneuver our craft towards shore whilst Kate stayed at the ready to shove them overboard if required. Our hope was that they would go ashore to find the other pieces of banana being rained on the troop by our guide. Our plan worked and the furry little delinquents bounded ashore but to our horror the Alpha male was moving in our direction with every intention of boarding. We backpaddled with everything we had and narrowly escaped a banana mugging ourselves. The rest of this leg of our journey was uneventful and we arrived back at our put in spot so as to meet up with the elephants for our trek through the jungle.
And now kate concludes the entry:
Our elephant experience was a short few hours but it made a strong impression with both of us. We learned that there are some 100 elephants on the island of Koh Lanta. Tourist elephant trekking is a big draw these days. The Thai government banned hardwood logging with elephants in 1989 so now the beautiful beasts rock tourists around small jungle trails. According to our guidebook the Asian elephant is now endangered with fewer than 5,000 left in Thailand, half of that number roaming free in the country. Our mahout might have been 18? Like everyone else in the outfit he spoke very little English. Once on the trail, he did tell us our elephant was 16, the one in front of us 30. Apparently they train until they are 10 and might work till age 90. As we arrived at the elephant post John was sitting near the edge of the truck and grey filled his peripheral vision - he thought we were pulling up alongside some grey shack as the truck came 3 feet alongside this grey mass, but it was one of two elephants tethered in the yard. The driver nonchalantly got out of the truck and walked away, leaving us to gingerly walk past this enormous animal in awe. The one nearest us was picking up bunches of greens and thwacking them noisily against her tree trunk before continuing eating. I took a short video of her doing this. I say she as she lacked any tusk or enormous male bits dangling that the other elephant proudly had on display - massive pringle-like cylinder should be enough of a description! We were served some fresh fruit while we waited our turn on the elephants, then we were directed to a second storey platform to facilitate loading up on these pachyderms. A padded bench awaited with a one inch square tube of steel locking you in as a railing. The railing is quite low so you cannot bend your knees up but just let your legs rest on the elephants back below. Her skin was coarse and wrinkled with short one-inch coarse black hair protruding all along her head and neck. Our mahout sat in front of us, directly on the elephant's head, perched so casually while holding his foot long prod like stick that had a fairly serious looking metal hook at one end.
One guide book we'd read said the thrill of an elephant ride runs out in about 30 seconds, which I did not find to be the case. I wished we could have asked questions about the outfit, the mahout, and our beast, but that was not to be. Our young mahout sang a bit and 'drove' the beast with his flip flops pressing and moving against the back of her ears. He seemed to pinch her left ear a few times urging her to speak as the elephant in front of us was doing. The animal in front of us was droning out a very low frequency thrum. The other Canadians on this animal said that apparently there are many low frequency sounds they make that our ears can't pick up. John and I did notice a number of times a shuddering/trembling feeling in our elephant which reminded me of the shuddering one can get in one's legs when one has overexerted, perhaps this was related to sounds she was making? We're not sure. Our mahout stopped our beastie a number of times to show us various things along the trail: an enormous insect nest - we hope old!, drips on a rubber tree - a number of trees had been tapped along the road we entered along, and a few flowers. The elephant's motion on our tourist saddle is remarkably rocky and John and I were jostled back and forth along the trail. In contrast our mahout seemed to move about easily on her head, rarely held on, sometimes lying down, he was completely at ease. In all too short order our jungle loop was complete and we disembarked. We were led through the elephant yard to witness the baby elephant show. A four year old male, with a small tusk starting (only male Asians have tusks) was untethered from his tree and led in front of us and 5 or 6 others. The trainer than ran him through his array of tricks. He began by bringing the elephant right up to each of us - I found it hard not to move away with trepidation - with a straw hat and having him put the hat one by one on each of us. Each time the elephant completed the maneuver the trainer said "thank-you" to which the elephant had been trained to make a sound - which meant this mighty beast standing a bit taller than a man, who was 12 inches from your face, then made a grunting sound leaving you with elephant breath in your face! Other tricks reminded me of old-school circus acts - balance routines, hoola-hoop prowess, playing soccer. I recalled stories my father had told us as kids of people being the first to demonstrate at travelling circuses against the treatment of animals and how they'd buy front row seats but then stand up and call to the crowd about the injustices the animals faced before storming out in protest. My dad always told these stories with an admiration for these principled souls and sitting on my wooden bench I felt like I was contributing to what might be questionable practice. My Canadian neighbour responded in contrast that these were intelligent creatures and at least he wasn't simply chained to a tree all day. I remained conflicted - thrilled to be seeing this young elephant but uneducated about real conditions and options. Before the show was complete the young elephant asked us each for a donation with its trunk and then offered 'kisses.' Beyond my comfort zone, but John figured out to extend his arm to which the elephant planted a large suction kiss! I had been sprayed with a light misting of elephant snot back during our jungle loop so I felt I'd already done my bit interacting with the creature's body fluids. It was astounding on the trail when the elephant ahead of us stopped to do his business - massive gallons and quantity of his business, to which our young mahout retorted 'beer!' Before departing the young elephant show, out came the incredibly badly printed digital pictures taken earlier of us on the elephant and like we did during the kayak portion of the 'safari' we agreed to the purchase - it just seemed to be part of the package and hilarious in its poor quality. Now well into the heat of the day we very happily retreated to our resort room.
When the heat of the day was over and the sunset picture captured we struck out for supper. We decided to try one more time to find 'Red Snapper' mentioned in our guide book. This time we tried searching down the road instead of along the beach. As we left our resort a motorcycle/cart taxi driver asked us where we were going - just wanting to walk tonight - was my reply. He very nicely replied have a good night - such a nice atmosphere here on the island without the aggressive edge ever-present in Bangkok. We walked past a number of tattoo parlours, a british place, an irish place, several gasoline stands - where the gas is sold in wine and pop bottles - and were just about to give up when the Red Snapper came into view. We followed the driveway 40 feet off the road to find a small restaurant of perhaps 10 tables and maybe 6 staff visibly milling about. It was a gem. We shared a pork burrito with salsa to start - served very vertically, and although hard to share, it was very tasty, made with tender slices of pork tenderloin and big chunks of tomato salsa in a flour tortilla standing upright in a cocktail glass. For the main John had the Snapper done with pomelo, beans, snap peas and asparagus. I had pork lion served with bacon, onion, and a scoop of some very creamy pate like sauce, and again beans and snap peas. The flavours were fabulous and we were also given roast potatoes and a tomato salad to share. It was our best meal yet and after a drink each came in at $30 Cdn. The same meal at home would have been triple the price.
Once back at the resort we purchased a lantern from the front desk. We'd seen a photograph of the lanterns when masses of them were released to celebrate the King's birthday. We only released one, but it was a special thing to do. The lantern was made of a very thin 18" diameter wooden hoop fastened to a three foot tissue paper 'top hat' shape. A wax like disc was secured to the middle of the wooden hoop with two small wires. Once lit, the lantern is held close against the sand allowing the air inside the lantern to heat up before you release it into the air. We could see the lantern rising up into the sky for about 5 minutes - quite a lovely sight. It would make a great sight for a long winter's night festival in Atlin - many of these being released out over the ice...if only I can figure out an alternative to the 2 small wires that support the burning surface, as this would ultimately be the only non-biodegradable part....hmmnnnnn.
Our nights here have often been fairly disturbed: sun burn discomfort aggravated by mosquito bites in the night. Where do these bugs lurk before we turn out the light? Last night was another challenge, but our early morning beach walk helped restore our holiday moods. Ever since we arrived we've cracked the odd 'Chiang where?' joke with each other. Our original plan was to leave Koh Lanta tomorrow and fly to the north of Thailand for another adventure with northern cultures and jungles before retreating to Suzhou. We read up on the main two northern options, Chiang Mai and the smaller Chiang Rai, before booking our trip. Chiang Mai is larger and where we found flights to. On our first day in Koh Lanta, on our first pool dip, I had turned to John and said "Chiang Where?" meaning why would we be leaving here taxing our personal energy budgets by two more travel days? When we found a fabulous meal John too used the same line. This morning we decided to act on our thoughts - shuttle drive back to Krabi changed, flights cancelled, Chiang Mai hotel cancelled, hotel stay Koh Lanta extended, new flight booked! The boys will be gobsmacked to learn that we also walked ourselves down the beach and signed up for an Open Water PADI course. We begin our studying today, lessons start tomorrow. Our open dives will be around islands in the Koh Phi Phi group.
We are now half way through our course - two more open dives remain to 18m and two chapters of theory. It has been an opening to a whole new world but also very challenging. We progressed very quickly through all the basic skills - mask removal and replacement, regulator removal and replacement - both done under perhaps 4 feet of water out in the ocean - no pool start for us on this one! At the end of our first two-hour session I felt completely destroyed, beyond exhausted. Us old farts fade seriously when we fade and as we reached shore and cleaned and put away gear I realized I was seriously overextended which had taken me by surprise. I questioned being able to carry on, I really felt horrible and wasn't sure it was just being overextended. I did recover and worked hard to keep my fears and concerns in check as we began our two 12 meter open water dives today. Both dives went very well for both John and I, we repeated the various skills done in shallow water and added a few more. Our instructor, a 35ish gal from Northern Wales, is very clear and patient with us. There are no other students and Rhi (pronounced Re) tells us many diving stories alongside her instruction to emphasize various precautions, although there's no need, I have enough stress and fear at play that I don't need to hear any horror stories to keep me in line! Never mind, Rhi's been great and today I found Nemo! Much like seeing my first art masterpiece in the Louvre, where I was startled to learn how small the Mona Lisa was, somehow I'd pictures anemones and their resident clown fishes to be much bigger. Their larger than life depiction in Disney was no doubt the source of this confusion, but I was delighted when I spotted the inch and a half high anemone tentacles moving in the current with little two-inch western clown fish protruding occasionally - it was a real treat. We saw three different Giant Moray Eels - 2 large and one small, a varicose wart slug, serpent sea stars, sea urchins, incredible brain and bubble coral, a calm porcupine fish with his spines lying quietly against his body, a small bright yellow cube boxfish, Moorish idols (also of Nemo fame: the tough old tank guy with a scar on his face), and the very similar longfin bannerfish, a school of yellow tail barracuda, one large pickhandle barracuda, lots of parrot fish including the brilliant blue and green ones, an incredibly well camouflaged scorpion fish (no need to remind me not to touch!), a red snouted Ember parrotfish, and a large school of yellow backed fusiliers. There were countless other sightings of course too, but those are the items we had a chance to remember and look up in the fish books upon our return to shore. Tomorrow, thankfully, the dive outfit does not have other clients booked, so we get a rest day before the final installment of our training. We are relieved! We slept from 6:30 to 9 pm after an early supper and will now return to sleep for many more hours!
For those of you that read the title to this long winded entry, there is of course one more chapter to share. Not everything always goes swimmingly and so it has been on Florence Street. The good news is that everything is ultimately ok and all boys, girlfriends, and our much loved Llew are all ok. However, Chris and a buddy had an accident with some alcohol fuel not realizing what had spilled where, and/or the extent of the vapour, and when lit, things ignited Chris didn't expect including door jambs, dog bed and unfortunately dog. Chris scrambled to open the exterior kitchen door and extinguish door jambs and eject dog bed, unaware of Llew's condition. Chris' buddy flung open the front door in an effort to bring in air and silence the now screaming smoke detector - and didn't realize Llew ran out the door aflame! Poor Llew visible alight, flew out onto Florence heading herself up to Haultain. The neighbour across the road was outside dealing with her recycling and at the sight of the dog on fire flying by, and a smoke detector blaring from our door, called the fire department. Chris quickly realized Llew wasn't amidst the chaos anymore and ran outside to find her - running into the first response emergency vehicle and was able to reassure them that the fire was out, no need to respond with more trucks, and definitely not with lights and sirens as he flew up the street to help Llew! Llew was thoroughly singed but not burnt. Chris was able to quickly calm her, return her to the house and greet and discuss the chaos with fire and police now present in the house. What a day! For John and I, once we'd learned that everyone and everything was ultimately ok, couldn't get to sleep that night.... I kept picturing flaming Llew charging down Florence - that house on Florence sure keeps tongues a wagging in that neighbourhood! Unfortunately for Llew her misadventures weren't over yet. Greg got her a haircut to remove all the singed fur and her nails trimmed, so she's presentable but not looking terribly lab-like at the moment, but a few evenings later she began acting oddly. She's pace, change directions suddenly and then quite quickly couldn't maintain any balance. Greg and Jeff rushed her to the animal hospital where they treated her (charcoal and stomach pump) and kept her overnight - they suspected it was quite unrelated to her trauma and that she's gotten into something and was suffering from poisoning. It's now a few days later and our Llew seems to be just fine. Yet again John and I are kicking ourselves for not heeding our breeder's advice when we picked Llew out: "Be sure to get animal insurance, vets are very expensive these days!" Just having owned two older dogs, John and I poo-pooed the idea only to have Llew have girl and kidney trouble when she was very little and now this.... oh my she's been an expense! Note to self: always get pet insurance!
Here in Thailand things haven't been flawless either but then things never are. My chest burn morphed into an enormous cold sore related outbreak and I'm icing every few hours to make it through the night. Oh the price we pay for a little R&R. I'm sure things will settle down soon, both at Florence and here! For now we're taking it easy today, with love from Koh Lanta, john and kate.