Jaa and Kelvin kept us well-entertained by taking us to eat at local restaurants, plunking us into local waterfalls, and visiting Jaa’s rubber tree farm.
The next day, we went on a full-day excursion to the coast, local style. Here’s how you do it:
Start with dim sum for breakfast at the tour company headquarters. Get on a small bus with 8-10 other folks and drive about one hour to the shore. Hang out for a while at picnic tables under the tour company shelter with 60 assembled Thai tourists waiting, and waiting, and waiting for your tour boat to finally get its turn to dock at the loading area. Join the mob trying to get on the boat. Enjoy the noisy, fumy ride at a glacial pace to a limestone karst.
Our first stop is Emerald Cave. There are ten large tour boats (with up to 100 passengers each) and numerous smaller boats already crowded around the entrance. We make room for ourselves by bashing our way in between two of the other big boats and join the hundreds of people bobbing in the water. Everyone forms a line by hanging on to the life vest of the person in front of them. Karel doesn’t want to wear a life jacket, so I position myself at the very end of the line, where he can hang on to me if he gets tired. (A little side note: the Thai love the water but generally don’t know how to swim. They don their life jackets when they get anywhere near it.)
Karel, who is already a bit of a celebrity among the Thai due to his resemblance to Happy Buddha, further impresses them by jumping off the back of the boat with a big splash instead of using the ladder. I hand him the camcorder and he delights everyone by taking a picture of the line-up as we get underway. By “get underway,” I mean that our tour guide, who is wearing flippers, has taken up a position at the front and started towing all 60 of us.
The light inside the mouth of the cave is dim, eerie, and beautiful. Then it quickly turns pitch dark, except for the flashes and flickers of flashlights that other tour guides have brought along. It’s crowded and noisy in the tunnel, but overall it’s fine, just a fun, new experience. About 15 minutes later we emerge into sunlight and a tiny lagoon completely encircled by high, verdant cliffs, with a little crescent of beach opposite the mouth of the tunnel. We’ve passed under a mountain to the center of the island. What a little miracle!
There’s an “interpretive sign” in English, but it doesn’t explain how the lagoon was formed or much of anything else. It does say, however, that the surrounding cliffs were once the home of a massive colony of cliff swallows; unfortunately, cliff swallow nests (which are made of bird spit) are considered a delicacy, so the swallows are gone.
After a little interlude to enjoy the scenery, we return through the cave to our boat, then travel a short distance to a trashy island beach for lunch and swimming. Once again, it is positively swarming with Thai tourists and boats. When we leave the beach, we travel a very short distance to a small reef, where the crew takes a half hour or so to find the fixed moorings. While they’re working on that, we learn that the boat used to go to a much larger and more spectacular reef, but the coral there has been destroyed by trampling snorkelers, and it’s no longer a worthwhile destination. Once we’re in the water we discover a strong current, murky water, and not much variety of fish, but at least, this time, we’re one of only two boats in the vicinity.
Our last stop is another snorkeling hot spot; this one is mobbed with boats and life-vest-wearing swimmers all kicking around a very limited area. The fish and coral are abundant, but the water is cloudy, there is garbage floating around, and I spot some jellyfish. Kelvin and Jaa swim beyond the party zone to a marine national park, where they discover some unspoiled beauty, but also a dangerously strong current. I follow in that direction, but when I notice the push of the water I immediately turn back and reluctantly join the melee near the boats. I’m quickly fed up with that and making a beeline for the ladder when a jellyfish stinger gets me right on the lip. Ow!
All is well, however. Karel, Kelvin, and Jaa all return safely to the boat, and a dab of vinegar takes the sting right out. It’s been an interesting day, but I’m glad when the boat turns for home. It seems less crowded now; I wonder if we’ve left a few tourists groping around helplessly in the darkness of the Emerald Cave, or swept out to sea by the currents, or pinned against the rocks by swarms of jellyfish. At least I can be sure they’re wearing life vests.This entry was posted in Honeymoon 2013