More Islands

As I said, Koh Lanta is big on beaches, but not much else. For adventures, like snorkeling, we have to cross to some neighboring islands. Everywhere you look for things for tourists to do, they promote this “four-island tour.” Let’s give it a try.

29 boating party

Our long-tailed boat is full of tourists, all European. I assume Chinese and Thai tourists take the same tour on other boats, with linguistically-appropriate crew.

Our destination is a bit far, across the bay to the east and south, almost to the wild shores of Trang Province. It takes about an hour to cross, so the first approaches to little rocks where reef fish might be found is relatively exciting.

The first snorkel stop is not too exciting–and my mask is getting foggy, so I come back aboard early. The second rock looks the same, but–wow! (I didn’t bring an underwater camera, so you’ll have to take my word for it).  At first, we see just a few fish. Colorful fish, drab fish; small fish like silver minnows, bigger fish like carp. Fish that like hiding by looking like water, or like rock; fish that are bright and cheery, blue, gold. As we drift by the rock, their presence multiplies; we see clouds of fish and rivers of fish, whole sheets of fish passing by, and commuter trains of fish in neat processions. And that’s just a warmup, because when we think we’ve seen it all, we pass over a whole metropolis of fish, in many more shapes and sizes; and finally a great blizzard of tiny fish, bright silver flashing in the sun like a living disco ball, as the dancing waves pan the sunbeams through the living cloud.

As I say, I didn’t have a camera, this time. But here’s an old snorkeling video to put you in the mood:

Island number three will be Koh Muk, where we have to line up among a flotilla of tourist boats to enter the famed Tham Morakot, the Emerald Cave. Now, this should be a sacred rite of passage, not a circus-like crowd full of kids yelling in excitement, so I’ll pretend it was like this:
Put on your heavy-duty life vest, because you have to swim through a dark, narrow cave. It seems like just a crack in the rock wall, but we go deeper, deeper, darker. The guide has a light but it’s not much help, with everything moving. Try to follow the passage, because there are turns, and a wrong turn can leave you lost somewhere under the earth, with a rising tide ready to drown you.

It’s only 80 meters of darkness, but it’s enough. And then, the walls of the secret passage are aglow with the reflected light from the other side. I see a golden glow, but apparently some see it as green (hence the “Emerald Cave”).

We emerge into this amazing golden light, in a shallow pool, adjoining a backyard-sized patch of forest, surrounded by high cliffs. A sacred refuge, if left to nature. A large plaque is inscribed the sad history of the place: from early times, local people came to steal eggs from the swallows’ nests. Later, pirates used it as a hideout. No sign of any sacred respect. I suspect that if Buddhists had come to dominate this area, as they do north and central Thailand, it would be covered with a gilded temple.

The plaque also suggests that we are inside an extinct volcano. That seems improbable; more likely, a big sinkhole–but that doesn’t sound as romantic.

Island number four is Koh Ngai, where there is a broad beach. All the tours stop here, also, to serve lunch. Since it’s so useful that way, the beauty of the place is almost wasted.

The following day, we just want to relax on the beach. Our friendly hotel clerk tells us where to find the best beach on the island: clean, quiet, perfect for swimming. We take our motor bike south along the coast road, where the developments thin out a jungle looms large. At first try, we miss the turn, just a little pullout on the side of the road where a couple of bikes are parked. Climb down the cliff on adorably rustic steps, and here’s paradise.

We have a delightful romp in the sea, some quality time with the cliffs, and relax in the shaded hammock the locals have thoughtfully provided.

The setting is so idyllic, I can envision staying here forever. But in earth-time, dehydration and hunger start to set in. As we leave to head to lunch, we see whole van-fuls of new arrivals. Glad we were there early.

The next little bay has actual restautants at the top of the cliff, and the beach is almost as nice. And did I mention how good the food is here?


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