Monday, January 18, 2010

Sea Canoeing, Koh Samui and Big Brother: Panda Edition


On Sunday, we went on probably the best tour we've been on so far. We went sea canoeing. But it wasn't just on the ocean, we got to explore some of the islands, and the hidden "hongs" inside them, accessible only via tidal caves.

The day started with us taking a leisurely boat ride out into the unforgettable Phang Nga Bay. The islands were slightly less brilliant than last time, due to the air having a small haze about it. Apparently this was due to farmers burning off sugar cane at this time of year. Still, it was only a small detraction, as the landscape was amazing.

We then had a light lunch. The food which they served us was very tasty -easily the best tour food I've had so far.

After lunch, we were briefed on which hongs we were going to explore, and then we were right into it. Our guide, Pung, paddled us through this cave, and at some points, we had to lie down completely flat to not scrape against the roof of the cave. I have no idea how Pung managed to continue paddling whilst lying flat.

Inside the cave, it was pitch black, except for the torch light that Emma was holding. The roof was covered in stalictites, and deposits of calcium carbonate that shimmered like diamonds.

When we exited the cave, we were presented with an amazing "lake" surrounded by sheer limestone cliffs covered in lush vegetation. Mangroves dotted the surface of the lake, and the faint sounds of crickets and bird calls was all that could be heard.

Unfortunately, this didn't last for long. Soon another tour company invaded our seemingly-private oasis, where clearly they had not instructed their customers as our company had us. They were loud, obnoxious and climbed all over the fragile ecosystem. We, on the other hand, were instructed to stay quiet and not to touch ANYTHING. We all adhered to the rules, moral high ground and all.

Our next cave we explored was equally as spectacular as the first. There was one point where we had to have every part of our bodies well within the canoe, lest our limbs be scraped against the sharp rocks of the cave's walls. Highly intense stuff.

Thankfully, the other tour company did not follow us to this hong. We had it all to ourselves, and it was brilliant. I lay back in the canoe, took off my hat, and all I could see within my vision was the huge mountains above me, teeming with bird life. I know this sounds highly nerdy, but it reminded me very much of an IMAX movie - something incredibly beautiful with astounding detail filling up your entire field of vision. The difference is is that I'd rather go on one of these canoe tours over an IMAX movie any day of the week.

The last cave we explored was the "Bat Cave". Whilst the Dark Knight was nowhere to be seen, there was a whole heap of bats in his stead. Tiny little "insect bats", apparently. The cave itself had a really high ceiling, so it wasn't a really up-close experience with them, but you sure could smell their droppings. Not very pleasant.

After exploring the inner hong, we were ferried to another island for some free time. As we were driving along, one of the crew started throwing raw chicken off the stern of the boat. It wasn't long before Kites in large groups began bomb-diving into the water after the pieces of meat. We even saw an eagle at one stage!

During our hour of free time, we went for a paddle to one of the local beaches, which wasn't nearly as pleasant as it looked - covered in shells and opaque, non-swimming safe water. Instead, we went for a swim near the boat. I jumped off the second storey of the boat several times. Great adrenaline rush.

After our free time, the sun was staring to set. We made a traditional Thai offering to the god of the water out of banana leaves and various flowers. Ours was very pretty.

We then had dinner on the boat. The food was easily the best I've had in the whole of Phuket, and to think that it was prepared in a tiny ship galley is a real testament to the cook's talents.

After dark, we were meant to go back to one of the hongs and explore it by starlight. Unfortunately, the tides were working against us, and the hongs were now completely emptied of water, due to the full moon. We had to settle for a sheltered cove on one of the islands to place our offerings. They floated away in the water, and when lit by candlelight, they were very pretty.

On the way back to the boat, Pung instructed us to run our hands through the water. When we did so, the surface shimmered with bioluminescent plankton. Very pretty. Apparently they're the aquatic equivalent of fireflies.

We then went back to the marina and chatted to an American couple we had befriended over the day. On the ride home to our hotel, I realised just how lucky I am to be able to experience something as awesome as what I got to see that day.

To anyone else who has the chance to, I'd recommend doing this tour. Make sure you book through John Gray's canoe tours though, as they're the original group to offer the tours. Hell, they *discovered* the hongs!


Today we went from Phuket to Koh Samui. We're staying in a lovely secluded resort up in the mountains overlooking the bay. We've mainly spent the day relaxing in our room.

They have an awesome channel on tv though - it's a 24 hour live link to a panda's enclosure in Chiang Mai zoo. There's a mother and baby panda, and I'm pretty sure they're the ones from the famous "sneezing panda" video on YouTube. The baby one is obviously a bit older, though. Nothing on tv beats watching a panda sleeping spreadeagle on its back for three hours. Nothing.

Well, this is the winding down time in my trip. We're mainly going to spend the next few days doing very little, mainly beaching and relaxing, so don't expect a daily blog post. If anything interesting does happen though, rest assured it'll be posted on here!

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