A Travellerspoint blog

September 2012

Khao Lak, Thailand - Part 2

Mangroves, movie sets and monkeys (but no mantas)

Part two of our Thailand extravaganza, and we're starting out in fine form with the biggest day trip of the vacation.

After a morning pick-up at the hotel and a taxi transfer we're climbing down onto our boat and zipping down a wide river. When I say 'our' boat, I actually mean it as well, we've gone all VIP for this one and hired our own boat for the day. Not having to squeeze in between other people, and the freedom to move around and look out from anywhere at anytime, was wonderful - and there was a lot to see too. The river itself was like a watery highway, with isolated rocky peaks jutting out behind the trees on both sides as we scooted past small fishing villages built on the water.

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What we're actually heading for is the mangrove forests, which is one kind of environment I've never visited before. The water level was up when we went and the flooded forests were only accessible by boat. Despite it's length the (aptly named) long-trail boat moves quickly and easily through the maze of waterways. It really is like a road system too, with clearly marked big thoroughfares and smaller back ways, though in all the time we were there we only once saw another boat, and that was at a distance.

I really enjoyed the calm beauty of this jaunt into the 'groves, and was also so excited to see one of my all time favourite critters, the mud skipper, in it's natural habitat. When I was a kid on holiday in the UK, I remember going out into the mudflats at low tide and playing a game called 'mud skippers' - basically you run in the mud then belly flop, and see how far you can slide - and coming back to the camp site happy, but black from head to toe. So with this obvious affinity I was thrilled to see real skippers clinging to some of the roots.

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Eventually we follow the river all the way down to it's mouth and hit the sea, from there we pick up a bit of speed as the boats skips over the waves, and makes for some of those volcanic islands that rises almost vertically out of the water. The closer we get the more boats we begin to see, and by the time we reach out destination there is a small flotilla of boats from various tour companies lashed together to serve all the visitors. We transfer onto a sea kayak here and start to explore around the island, if you can call it exploring where you're a link in chain of kayaks all doing the same route... well, at first at least, I'm really glad we went for the VIP option as our guide broke away from the everybody else, and took us down a small winding path into the interior of the island. The access route was a cave so low that we had to lie flat for the kayak to pass through (see bottom right, below). Inside the island there's a small system of canyon like waterways that are really impressive and somehow primal, I can imagine this hasn't changed much for a long time.

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After switching back to the long-tail boat we make a beach landing on Khao Phing Kan, the biggest and most popular of these islands. Have a look at the pictures below and see if you can work out the reason for this popularity.

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Well, how did you do? It was a bit of a movie geek challenge I'm afraid, but the main reason is that it was used as the shooting location for Scaramanga's private island in the James Bond movie, 'The Man With the Golden Gun'. See the big mushroom like rock behind us (above right), well that's directly behind Bond and Scaramanga when they start their duel on the beach (bottom right below); and later with some wonderfully dodgy special effects a radar antenna also pops out of the top of that rock!

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Well it's been quite a morning, and for lunch we're making a stop at one of the bigger fishing villages which, like the ones we saw in the mangroves, is built on stilts over the water. As we got out of the boat I snapped a shot of the long-tail behind it. Basically a long pole, but the propeller that drives the boat is at the end of this pole instead of being fixed to the boat like an outboard motor. This is what gives the boat it's great manoeuvrability.

There was also a real LOL moment for us here, you can really see our VIP status here - we were the only people in the restaurant to get a table cloth, look how white that is!! Of course it would have been very disappointing to have a nice table cloth and lousy food on top, but luckily we got a fantastic spread of dishes that did the table cloth proud. Now, I'm not a foody by any stretch of the imagination, in fact I find having to eat a bit of an inconvenience most of the time, but I have to say I did like the food in Thailand. The range of curries, the sour soups, lots of salad and fresh fruit - very nice.

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After lunch we had plenty of time to look around the village, which survives on it's duel income from fishing and tourism, and catch a glimpse of how people really live here. One really nice feature of the village is it's floating football pitch. The story goes that one boy, who was a huge football fan, hated not having anywhere to play his favourite sport. So he collected wood and old plastic bottles, and slowly built raft to play on. The locals were so impressed with his tenacity and effort that they decided to help out and so a real floating pitch was created.

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It was time to head back to main land now, though we still had one more stop on the way back to the hotel. We were finishing up our day with a visit to the grandly named 'Monkey Temple', which didn't quite live up to it's promise. Sure we saw a couple of banana stuffed monkeys, but frankly I'm used to seeing more monkeys in my back garden living in rural Japan - I guess I'm just spoilt for simians!

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The main part of the temple is actually housed in a cave, and that was far more impressive. We hadn't had any time to visit any galleries or museums on this trip, so this was our only real contact with traditional Thai sculptures or art of any kind during our trip. The contrast of te sleek, soft golden figures and the rough, dark rock was very nice. I also liked that fact that a huge colony of bats living in the cave had been allowed to stay, which gave the place a harmonious feeling of culture and nature co-existing (something which should be promoted more I think).

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When we got back to the hotel we both agreed that it had been a great day, and one of the best trips we'd been on. We still had one more thing on the agenda though before we had to go back home, the almost obligatory day of scuba diving :-) The diving had been the high-light of last years trip to Bali, and we were hoping for similarly great experience in Thailand.

We chose a dive site that has a reputation for frequent sightings of giant manta rays, and a company that focused in manta dives (they help out with a global manta tracking project). Unfortunately, nobody seems to have told the mantas about this and they failed to show up for us; though apparently one was spotted by another group diving the same site while we were there (it's the whale shark I never saw in Egypt all over again!!).

I did see plenty of other nice sea life thought, and caught a glimpse of a black tipped shark too. So it was enjoyable even if the manta near miss was frustrating. I didn't have an underwater camera with me this time, so not much to show I'm afraid - though we did get a treat on the surface when a small school of dolphins started playing in the wake of our boat. This was my first time seeing dolphins outside an aquarium show, which almost made up for the mantas. (One of the pictures below was provided by a guy called Joshua who was also on the boat with a much nicer camera than mine - so thanks for that Josh!)

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The last day or so of the holiday was mostly spent in and around the hotel, pool and beach, just relaxing and recharging. Mainly to avoid that feeling you get when you come back from a holiday more exhausted than when you go.

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As you've probably gathered by now I really enjoyed this holiday, and would happily go back to Thailand again. I really wasn't sure what to expect from this trip. It seems that Thailand is all too often linked to images of sex tourism, and confusing genital surprises, in the media. I'm sure that that does exist, but there's a lot more here than that stereotype - which we didn't see any evidence of at all. Thailand, there's more to it than lady boys!

Posted by DKJM74 17:12 Comments (0)

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