Thursday, February 25, 2010

Pirates and James Bond:

Today I got to explore Phang Nga, a huge bay and coastal area that was first home to fierce pirates of the Andaman Sea--and later was used as the setting for the James Bond movie, Man With A Golden Gun.

There must be more weird-shaped islands and caves here than anywhere else in the world. (Great for hiding pirate ships and all their booty.)

There were only 12 of us spending this day together--a couple from England and several from Australia. Have met so many interesting folks on my tours. Traveling alone is not as "lonely" as it might seem. I usually end up getting to know many new people from all over the world.

Stalactites hang down from the outer edges of the fantastically shaped islands.

This rope marks an inner cave where birds' nests can be gathered at a certain time of the year when the swallows nest in them. The nests sell for an astronomical price--100,000 baht per nest.

A multitude of sea caves provided secret hiding places for pirates.

A kayaker's playground.

Approaching James Bond island.

Muslim vendors lined the beach awaiting the arrival of tourists.

Spectacular rock formations provided lots of photo ops for young couples.

Beautiful beach at James Bond Island (probably has another, local name but that's what everyone calls it now.)

This is the famous landmark rock from the movie.

Caves and sea arches surround the island and you can take a boat right through this one.

Our next stop was at a floating village at one of the islands. Originally a Muslim fishing village--and still an active, working one, the women have taken to selling gift items to tourists, as well. The place is quite amazing--all on stilts in the middle of the ocean. Generators supply the only power--and then only for several hours each day because of the expense. Fresh water and kerosene sell for premium prices as these supplies must all be shipped into the village on long tail boats.

We stopped by the school that serves the village, were able to peer into people's open-air homes (little more than shacks), and had lunch at a restaurant on stilts. The guide asked us NOT to take photos of the animals that were offered for that purpose, e.g. endangered gibbons and hawks, because it only encourages the people to go out and catch more of them. (They charge for a photo.)

Approaching the village.

This is a fish trap.

This school on stilts where you can hear the water washing up below was just like any other school in Thailand.

Restaurant where we had lunch

After we left the floating village, we headed for another island with a long sand beach for swimming. En route, we ran into a heavy rain storm. The placid sea kicked up a bit and we had to shelter below deck. It was the first time I've heard thunder here in Thailand.

Peering out at the rain through a window on the lower deck.

After the rain quit, we reached our beach destination.

If you want to sit in one of these beach chairs on this otherwise deserted island, it will cost you 100 baht ($3.00).

Quintessential "beach bar."

When I finally arrived back at the hotel, it was to a spectacular sunset.

The next two days before I return to Bangkok--and then fly out for home, I intend to "take it easy" and enjoy where I am staying. They have two swimming pools--and a beautiful sister resort (far more expensive) up on the hill from here, where we have full privileges.

Think I need to check out the amenities--maybe the spa?

Arrive home in Maui March 1st.

Phuket (Pronounced Poo-ket) Aquarium:

Sea urchin and cup coral.

One reason I picked the hotel I did was because the aquarium is right next door.

They have a nice collection of giant groupers and appear to be raising green sea turtles. Lots of their marine specimens are the "pickled" kind and there was very little "live" coral. Still, I enjoyed perusing the exhibits and trying to find examples of marine life that we don't have in Hawaii.

I understand that their main focus is on research--and I hope that extends to conservation. They had lots of info on that, so I hope it's true!

Shy eel. They had some huge electric eels but I couldn't get a decent photo of them.

Very cool lion fish that didn't want to stay still to get its picture taken! (These have very toxic spines.)

Brown-Banded Bamboo Shark. This unusual species can apparently lie on the bottom like our white tip reef sharks. Not many sharks world-wide can do that; they usually have to swim to be able to breathe. So I found this to be an interesting exhibit.

Groupers swimming in a rather murky tank.

This is a kind of fishing boat with a scoop net that has been banned in some areas because it harms the reef and takes everything on it. Should be banned in many more areas!

A sign said that this is their research vessel. Visitors could not go out on the pier to check it out.

They had at least four huge tanks of young turtles like this at the back of the complex but there was no one in the whole aquarium to explain what they intend to do with them--or explain anything else, either. (They need a good volunteer program like Maui Ocean Center.)

Young green sea turtles scrapping over food.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Phuket Tour:

We started at an overlook that let us see down the rugged coastline ravaged by the great tsunami that did horrendous damage to Phuket. Our guide recounted his own personal experiences. He was supposed to pick up tourists from resorts that were totally destroyed and he arrived after the second of three waves. There are now warning systems in place to let people know when a tsunami is coming. However nothing can save folks from their own folly. Our guide said that the first wave was fairly small and left fish flapping all over as it receded. Both camera-toting tourists and local folks collecting fish went far out onto the ocean floor, where the water had pulled back, and were caught in the next wave that was the BIG one. His stories were very sobering. The coastline has many high places but the resorts are all located on the lovely white sand beaches next to the ocean.

Our guide said he can never forget all of the dead bodies piled up in swimming pools.

We continued on up the coastline to another high point: an elephant shrine in active use. Folks come here to make offerings asking for good luck. When their prayers are answered, they return and leave an image of an elephant. There are big and small images, hundreds of them, that folks have left--and the scenery was beautiful on this high point.

View from the elephant shrine.

Elephant images were everywhere.

Next, we went to a temple and crematorium complex--this one dedicated to three very revered monks. As always, the temple complex had marvelous art works, architecture and Buddhas.

This is probably my last temple visit, which makes me sad--but I also am getting excited to get home again!

Gorgeous lotus blossoms in full bloom flanked the three monks so I couldn't resist a close up.

A stop at a cashew factory was also on the tour. Cashews are one of the most difficult, labor-intensive nuts to produce because each one must be hand-shelled and the fruits they come from are tough to grow.

Women shelling cashew nuts.

Cashew fruit and nuts waiting to be liberated from their shells.

We swung through Phuket Town that looked a lot like Trang and has few tourists. The tourist spots are all along the coastlines. I was happy to get back to Cape Panwa, which has only a few resorts and a sleepy seaside village. My hotel is charming and built into a hillside. (Lots of stairs!) The first room I had was for smokers and lacked the balcony I thought I was getting, but today they moved me to a new room--with balcony and even an ocean view! (But not as good as my own view at home.)

Sunset in front of my hotel.