The Wild Dugong Hunt

By Evie

We were on a day trip to see dugongs around Koh Libong and near the end of it, just when we had given up looking for any wildlife, our guide pointed out something in the water…

He ran up to the front of the boat and pointed out a moving black fin. Then it jumped and dived – I had never seen one before but I knew what it was at once. A dolphin! What else would jump and dive and then completely vanish? Or I thought it had vanished until – whoosh!  ­– there it was again! About 4 or 5 times.

No it wasn’t an ‘it’; it was a ‘they’ – two – two dolphins.

We asked the guide if we could swim with them; he gave us the thumbs up because he didn’t he speak enough English to say “yes”.

By the time we all had our snorkels on the dolphins had gone, however we decided to try anyway. We clambered into the water and began to swim towards where the dolphins had been. When we turned and swam back to the boat, I suddenly realized how deep the water was – so deep I couldn’t see the bottom even though the water was very clear. Ow! I bumped my head on the boat and climbed on.

I say now: “I wish we had seen dugongs as well because that is what we set out to do. Or maybe that would be a bit too lucky.”

Move with the Times

“There are place I remember,
All my life, though some have changed,
Some forever, not for better,
Some have gone, and some remain”
The Beatles, ‘In My Life’

It’s a strange thing to be revisiting places where Fergus and I travelled 13 years ago.  This time, instead of it being my first trip out of Europe, I came from 3 months in Nepal.  As a result, rather than finding Thailand a dangerous, thrilling and alien land, I find it has a comforting, European, ‘second home’ feel to it.

And Thailand really has moved up in the world.   The evidence is everywhere. Sleek, air-conditioned bungalows have replaced almost all of the bamboo huts we stayed in last time around.  Where there were ramshackle beach bars, there are smart resorts with swimming pools.  Where there were longtail ferries, there are speedboats.  Where there were squatty pottys, there are flushing western style toilets.  You can buy good quality western food, cheese and wine are available everywhere, the mobile phone signal, the wifi and the transport connections are better than the UK, and all in all it feels a whole lot safer, more modern and a lot less remote than it used to.

You can still find the old Thai style places, but you have to look harder.  And I wonder how much longer they will last.  Thailand is on the move and has no sentimentality when it comes to growing their economy and extracting dollars from tourists.

Our last island was Ko Mook, stood out for us as a favorite from our last backpacking trip.  However, the coconut plantation we strolled though hand in hand all those years ago has been sold to a huge resort.  Much of it has been cut down to accommodate the swimming pool, and the rest has upmarket bungalows built in rows through the trees.  You can’t expect places to stay the same, and bringing our own tourist dollars here is obviously accelerating the rate of change.  But it did make us feel a bit sad.

So it is with some trepidation that we approach what we have always dreamed will be the highlight of our time in Thailand.  Our absolute favorite no 1 place was a tiny island in the deep south called Ko Turatao.  As part of a National Park, it is protected from development, although this hasn’t stopped some of its neighbours (also under National Park protection) from developing at a pace.  However, from what we can gather, there is still only 1 restaurant on the island, and all the accommodation (mostly tents) is owned by the National Park.  You can now get to it much faster in a speedboat (it used to take almost a full day on a boat) and there’s a mobile phone signal, which will make it seem a lot less remote.  But apart from that, it sounds as though it hasn’t changed a bit.

And I can’t wait to see it again.

Our Andaman Sea Island-Hopping Route

Andaman Coast Island Hopping Map

It’s occurred to me that all the little islands we’ve been visiting on Thailand’s west coast are probably so much gobbledegook to most people, so I knocked up this map to illustrate our route. Hopefully it will make it easier to see where we are as we travel.

We started at the top of the Andaman Coast, arriving on Ko Chang on the 29th of January, and since then we’ve headed south, moving on every 4-5 days. If we stick to our itinerary, we should hit Langkawi (and Malaysia) on the 20th of March, for nearly 2 long, idle months of island life. Maybe it’ll even be long enough for Janet to start getting a tan.

Lord of the Rings Meets the Andaman Coast

I’m ridiculously proud of my three daughters for reading the whole of the Hobbit (all completed age 7) and all of the first Lord of the Rings novel.  Jemima finished at age 7, before we left for the trip, Scarlett finished in Nepal and Evie fairly recently in Thailand.  (Actually, I can’t help but mention that Jemima has also now finished the Two Towers, how good is that?).

The story has really captured their imaginations.  “Do Gandalf’s voice, Daddy,” and, “Be Galadriel, Mummy,” are daily requests.   The storylines dominate their play, with the sound of Orcs attacking or Legolas firing a bow and arrow being the general background noise.

But I think my favorite way their new geek-chicness has manifested itself is through the sand sculptures they went off to create, completely unaided, yesterday.

Ferg’s role playing friends, you would be so proud.

The Shire

The Shire

Welcome to Rivendell

Welcome to Rivendell

 

This is Rivendell 1, before the tide came in

This is Rivendell 1, before the tide came in

And this is Rivendell 2, after the tide came in

And this is Rivendell 2, after the tide came in

 

Complete with Elven archer defending Rivendell

Complete with Elven archer defending Rivendell