February 26, 2012
Dear Friends and Family,
We were awakened at 0730 on our first morning at Ko Rok Nok by the annoying banging of the big mooring ball against the boarding ladder. Since we had to get up to get that squared away, we went ahead and made coffee and settled in the cockpit with some of our favorite Chinese cookies to greet the day. We noted that the Survivors had survived their night on the beach and were wandering along the edge of the reef.
The Ko Rok group of islands is managed by the park service, and they maintain the handful of moorings in the area. Irresponsible anchoring is fatal to the reef, and the fine for damaging the coral is $1000.00 US, so the officials have wisely sunk a collection of moorings to protect the reef from anchor damage. At mid-morning a park service dinghy came alongside our mooring, and two divers jumped in to inspect it. We walked up to the bow to say hello, and were told that our mooring looked in good shape. Before they left, the divers also volunteered the information that water was available onshore at Ko Rok Nai, just across the channel.
That sounded tempting, so we moved to a mooring closer to Ko Rok Nai, and Katie dinghied ashore for some reconnaissance. This island turned out to be a campground, complete with ranger station, a tsunami warning tower, tiny restaurant, restrooms, lots of tents, a few guest cottages and a sugar sand beach, full of people. There were also, blessedly, a water faucet and and an outdoor shower. After filling a five-gallon water jug and enjoying a drenching in the shower, it was back to the boat to strap on some snorkel gear.
We had a splendid snorkel over the reef, with lots to see. Fish in pastel and neon colors, yellow-and-black striped Moorish idols, parrot fish in a patchwork of pastel blue, green, and lavender, and other fish in dull camouflage patterns. There were lots of big scallop-edged clams in startling shades of blue, purple, and orange wedged in the coral waiting for lunch to swim by. The most unusual thing we saw was an eight-armed bright blue starfish-looking guy, as big as a trash-can lid.
After more than an hour, we swam home against a lively current to find that about six more yachts had arrived, where we once were the only one. As they jockeyed for position near us and dropped their anchors (one of which bounced off of a couple of coral heads!), we opted to escape the crowd, so we returned to our previous mooring, where we were all alone; even the survivors had departed.
We were underway at 0800 the following morning, bound 32 NM north to the Phi Phi group of islands. A little pre-dawn lightning and thunder had accompanied a light rain, giving us a nice boat wash, and the morning was clear and dry. We had a pleasant morning sail, reaching along in a fair wind, until, as usual, the wind petered out at mid-day, with what little remained being right on the nose. We arrived at Phi Phi Le at 1430 and motored into the little lagoon. This beach gained international fame as the site for the filming a few years ago of the movie The Beach, with Leonardo DiCaprio. The beach is still as lovely as it looked in the movie, but it’s no longer a quiet paradise. Hordes of people crowded the beach, and a dozen tour boats bobbed in the water. It looked like Spring Break in Ft. Lauderdale, so we
didn’t even bother to stop, but just turned around and motored out the channel.
Immediately north of Phi Phi Le is Phi Phi Don, with big Ton Sai Bay on the south side, and we headed up there to look for a stopping place. We were surprised to see dozens of boats of every variety zooming to and fro across the water, hauling the tourists out to the reefs or in to the beach. The most amazing were the big ferries, whose multiple decks were so packed with tourists that they looked rather overloaded. We’re sure the US Coast Guard would not have been amused. We threaded our way through the assorted moored dive boats and found a vacant mooring away from the worst of the traffic. We picked it up and sat back to watch the show while we waited to see if anyone came along to kick us off the mooring. By the time the sun fell behind the big limestone cliff beside us, we had been unchallenged, so we decided to head for shore.
Beaching the dinghy well above the wrack line, we walked down a sandy paved beachside path to check out the village. We found ourselves in a maze of little walkways, crammed with bars, souvenir shops, open-front restaurants, dive shops, massage salons, tattoo and piercing parlors, and small markets. There were people everywhere, most of them twenty-something, and everyone looked hippie-casual in camisoles, shorts, sarongs, and bathing suits. It was an amazing tapestry of colors, sights, sounds, and smells. Lots of booze for sale, specialty cocktails everywhere, and it seemed to be a mix of Daytona Bike Week and Key West Fantasy Fest. It was delightful!!
We found a reasonably priced restaurant called Lemongrass serving local food, got a table right at the front, and ordered some Thai cold beers while we watched the carnival of people passing by. Several male diners were shirtless, and no one seemed to care, so Ken followed suit on this hot night (when in Rome….), hanging his shirt on his chair. However, when a quartet of pretty young American girls arrived at the restaurant, he decided to get dressed up for them and put his shirt back on. We had an amazing dinner of fresh whole snapper fried with three-spice seasoning, and an unbelievably good green curry with vegetables, lime, chicken, and a side of rice. It was outstanding, and Ken pronounced it the best curry he’s ever had.
After dinner we strolled the walkways, bought some limes and a mango, and basically people-watched. After half an hour or so, we discovered to our surprise that we had walked across a little isthmus to the beach on the opposite side of the island. Re-tracing our steps, we finally ended up back at the dinghy and headed for home. We hadn’t gotten any tattoos or piercings, but we’d had a great meal and a lot of fun!
The following morning the tour boats and ferries began coming to life at around 0900, and we decided that we’d had enough of the speedboats and tourist shops for a while. We dropped our mooring at noon and motored four miles around to Ao Lo Dalam, the bay on the north side of Phi Phi Don. Here the reef dries out to over 400 meters at low tide, so it’s no-go to take a dinghy ashore, except for a very brief period at high water. We picked up a mooring in a little pocket bay just inside the channel, where there is a small do-able beach, and although there are a few tour boats with snorkelers, it’s way more quiet than Ao Ton Sai (ao means bay). The area is called monkey beach, and indeed, there is a sign on our tiny beach saying Beware Monkeys! After years of being fed by tourists, the little guys can be kind of aggressive.
We dinghied in to the beach, dodging a handful of swimmers and snorkelers, and pulled the boat up under the trees. Everyone here is in swimsuits, and it’s a real treat to be able to go ashore without wearing street clothes. With the heat and humidity, we can go in wearing bathing suits, and just wade into the water when we want to cool off. There were a few dozen people on the beach feeding and photographing a bunch of the ever-present monkeys. As we landed the dinghy, the monkeys had a heated disagreement over some morsel of food, and began screeching and snarling and tumbling together, as the people shouted, Monkey fight!. One of the boat drivers threw sand at them (the monkeys, that is) to break it up, and they scattered as the small crowd of people hurried to get out of the way.
We bought a sandwich and a luscious coffee smoothie from the little juice stand under the trees, and sat in the shade watching the show as tourists snapped photos and fed the monkeys, sometimes from their hands, and the monkeys did amusing monkey things for photo-ops. Occasionally another monkey argument would break out, and folks would yell, monkey fight!, and a local lady with a slingshot would fire little stones at the scufflers. As Thai longtail boats and speedboats arrived and departed with their boatloads of tourists, the scene would repeat itself. All in all, it was great free entertainment.
We finally decided we were monkeyed out, and returned to SD for a shower and a snooze before happy hour. Tomorrow we sail about 23 NM for Ao Chalong, at the southern end of Phuket, where we’ll officially check into Thailand.
Cheers! K and K
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