The morning came too soon. Bleary eyed loons we were, starved, grumping like mad, and on our way to Phang Nga national park. Food is all around us though. Thailand is the bread basket of Asia. Their relaxed lifestyle, relative to our western ways, stems from an accessibility to resources that in the west we have been removed from through processes. Where we come from, to eat, we must prepare, plant and harvest. Here, they grab some fruit off of a tree or a fish out of the ocean. Culture is inexplicably linked to the ways things have been done by our ancestry. Here, the relaxed pace of life comes from the abundance of resources enjoyed by the Thai people, past and present.
Kristin and I met our guides at the Phuket Royal Yacht Club. We really hit the jackpot with the tour company that we chose, Simba Sea Tours. They are a family run outfit, and today we would meet the father-son combo of Geoff and Seb - British Australians that live in Thailand. It essentially felt like going out on a boat with good friends. Our tour would bring us throughout Phang Nga Bay which is a protected Thai national park. The dramatic rock features of the park are a result of the Indian and Eurasian plates smashing into each other. Our first stop, a cave within a steep limestone rock, was dark and foreboding. Most of our travel group walked through barefoot, but Kristin insisted on wearing her shoes. It was probably not a bad move, as a few cave dwelling creatures were definitely spotted, creeping about on numerous appendages. When we arrived back at the boat, our hosts had provided a full spread of fresh fruit and we enjoyed it on our way to James Bond island. James Bond island is famous for being in the "Man with the Golden Gun" movie as a bad guy's hideout. The beauty of the island was great, though the Bondian significance was lost on Kristin and I.
Our next stop, an Indonesian fishing village called Panyee Village, is located on stilts in an area that has been fished nomadically for the last 3000 years. Nearby, one can even find prehistoric carvings on the walls of cliffs, childlike scrawls of dolphins and other fish, dating back thousands of years. The story goes that 5 nomadic Indonesian families originally settled this village many many years ago. They stuck a flag in the shallow waters to denote it as their land, and that is where the name Panyee Village comes from. It means flag in Indonesian. It has dramatic uninhabitable rocks exploding out of the ocean directly behind it, but, for all intents and purposes, this village is in the middle of the ocean. The village is 100% Muslim and completely free of dogs. There is no police force or judicial system to speak of, as Panyee is instead run by elders. It is also a co-operative, and the families all share in all tourist and fishing revenue together. Since Phang Nga park is considered a national park, no one is allowed to fish, exploit or do any business within park limits, except the people of Panyee. This is because their society predates the formation of the national park system by a very long time and they depend on the waters of Phang Nga for sustenance.
We attached the boat to the village docks, walked passed some sharks circling in sea nets right off the bridge way, and entered the open air dining room. We had a feast laid out before us, a Thai family style meal that we enjoyed with the Warner's, an extremely kind and interesting Australian family. It was really great for us to eat with a nice family because we missed our families so much. After doing the customary Thai utensil cleaning with a small pink napkin, which is a sort of measure of etiquette over here, we were flying through plates of Thai food, peppered squid dishes, enormous fried spicy drumsticks, chicken stir fry, and other delicious fare. Lunch was amazing.
Following our feast, we set out to navigate the village. A curious place, Kristin and I really enjoyed exploring its nooks and crannies. We walked about in a crumbled school, peaked into villager's homes, and tried not to make eye contact with the Gibbons monkeys being carried about everywhere. Many villagers had diapered Gibbons draped across their midsection's. Gibbons are cute furry headed creatures with long arms and a fondness for *mid-eighties Whitney Houston. They are also known to bite strangers and tend to carry the rabies virus. We refrained from engaging them or taking pictures, as supposedly, a tourist was attacked by a gang of bamboo toting Gibbons monkeys a few years back for taking a picture of one. The hypothesized reason for the assault? Gibbons feel as though they are not very photogenic, suffering from the deep psychological damage that being characterized as a lesser ape carries. Yeah, I made all that stuff up, starting with the star. Somehow, we just forgot to take a picture of one, and I felt that I needed to treat you to a fictional account in its absence.
Birds are really quite popular in this part of the world. I asked Geoff, our guide, why we kept seeing birds outside of people's homes. He told us that Thais frequently engage in bird competitions and theorized that plumage was probably a big part of the scoring process. He even gave us an example of a Thai handyman that came to fix some stuff at his house. The man brought a cage with his bird companion in it, a mohawked guy that had significant plumage. It is interesting how different cultures can be.
I spoke at length with Seb, our younger guide. He was probably around my age, and was a cool informative guy. We talked about a number of topics through out the day, politics, religion, entertainment, and living in Thailand. Apparently, as a westerner, it is very difficult to do business in Thailand. A foreigner must not own more than 49% of their own company, and it takes a strong stomach, smart lawyers, and probably a bit of courage to do business over here. Many western men will marry Thai women to legally maneuver around this foreign ownership paradigm.
We took the boat out to an island called Ko Naka, and on the way, the trip was a bit dicey. A storm was beginning to roll in, and as a result, the water was becoming choppy. We were told that a while back on the same route, a passenger in the front of the boat threw up, and it flew back onto the captain. Bummer. Geoff and Seb now make sure that individuals prone to seasickness sit towards the rear of the vessel. Once on the beach, we ate a variety of fruits. Geoff came over and noticed that we had only partook in the watermelon and pineapple, and urged us to be adventurous. We tried mangosteen (the queen of fruits), lonkongs, and ramburtans. All were delicious. We followed the fruit with some homemade flapjacks. Unfortunately, all was not good in paradise. Our underwater camera that we borrowed from Kristin's dad just quit working, so we were not able to take too many pictures on this island. It is a huge bummer because we brought that camera for our dives and had yet to even go on one. Kristin thinks her family has a curse with electronic items. After nearly being overrun by giant hermit crabs, we returned to dry land and eventually our hotel.
We arrived at our hotel to meet up with Dave. The three of us went to a nice dinner on the beach. We ate beef and drank fruit shakes, followed by a long walk home on the beach.
Leaving Phuket for Phang Nga Bay National Park, for the day
Pretty other worldly
A very, very small beach
that led to a cave with this creepy monster in it
Outside the cave
Kristin shaking off the morning
Enjoying the boat
Phang Nga Bay
A junk in the bay
James Bond Island - called so for the Golden Gun movie, that
came out 35 years ago
Bay opposite James Bond Island
Another shot of the bay
Ancient carvings of sea gypsies
An Indonesian fishing village - Panyee Village
The docks of the village
Our lunch - diversification at its finest
Kristin's lunch, but not really
The village, they seemed to eke out a decent living
A Panyee street scene
Would be kind of weird living on water
Kristin looking at a shark
We took a sea canoe through some hongs (cave rooms with
no ceiling) and mangroves.
A caveish opening
Going through the caveish opening
A Tree Crab
On our way to the beach
Kristin on the beach - Ko Naka
A hermit crab skittering across the sand
He was a pretty big guy