Wednesday 8th Feb Koh Phanak
The high-pitched whine of mosquitoes disturbed my sleep during the latter part of Tuesday night, and in the end I put the fan on next to the bed to drown out their noise, thus giving them free rein to feast on me. It’s always amazed me that such a tiny insect can create such a loud noise. The result of their attacks on my skin finally led me to get up to apply some calamine lotion to relieve the itchiness. We generally rub deet-based repellent on ourselves in the evening but thought we’d be mosquito free so far from land: apparently not! In the cockpit having coffee later in the morning, we sat looking out at the vista around us. The sea was flat calm and in the distance two men on paddle boards could be seen heading our way. It was quite a surreal sight, especially because from so far away the paddle boards weren’t visible so it looked as though they were floating on the water. Paul was busy working on a computer programme so we stayed put and had a very relaxing day.
Thursday 9th Feb
When it was time to weigh anchor and move on, I got into position to carry out my role as anchor flaker. This involves getting my head and shoulders in the anchor locker to grab the chain as it comes in and then layer it to prevent it from getting tangled, twisted or stacking up too high. Paul washes the mud off (most of it) so it comes down wet, dirty and smelling slightly of fish – rubber gloves are essential! Before heading out to a different part of the bay we motored around the whole of Phanak Island to look at its stunning geography, which seemed almost lunar in places. The geographical features of The Hongs are fascinating to look at even for people not into geology. The whole of the Phang Nga Bay area is ideal for seeing the effect water and nature have on the coastal landscape – the caves, strata, stalactites and stalagmites, on and around the cliff faces create remarkable images, such rocks looking like candlewax which has dripped and hardened into huge lumpy dribbles. The most obvious feature is that of a Hong itself. They were discovered relatively recently by pilots during World War Two who spotted the hollowed out islands from the air. Without going into intricate detail about how it’s formed, a Hong, to quote from the Pharrell Williams song is basically ‘a room without a roof’ – a very tall, often circular, room with beautiful flora and fauna adorning its walls.
Friday 10th Feb
We’d hoped to beat the day tripper boats by setting out in the dinghy at 8am, but one had already pulled up on the beach as we were getting in. A group of about 12 people could be seen wading through the water to access a cave leading to the Hong. ‘I can do that’ I thought. Beaching the dinghy proved easy – we’ve been experimenting with various ways of launching, lifting and carrying it and are growing more competent each time we do it. The captain of the adventure boat advised us to pull it up as far as possible and warned us that it was very dark in the cave. ‘Ok’, I thought, ‘well we have a torch – it’ll be fine.’ The last few people on the tour were guided round the corner, ducking down to avoid the stalactites above their heads (all had helmets on so it seems health and safety operates in some areas). Making sure the dinghy was secure we began to wade into the water and I felt a stirring of misgiving. The water was a bit murky and came almost to the top of my legs. I had my iPhone in a waterproof bag around my neck because since Paul’s got ruined we use mine for photos but I was worried about stumbling and damaging it. As we rounded the corner the water got shallower and I could see the cave and the tunnel ahead. It looked very dark and narrow and there was no sign of the people who’d gone in before us. I had more misgivings. We walked on and I began to feel things sticking to my legs, which in all probability, were leaves or twigs but my imagination turned them into leeches or jellyfish. I bent to bat them off but didn’t want to hold on to the slimy walls to keep my balance, and by now we were having to bend down because the cave roof was low. I couldn’t see an exit ahead, the entrance was getting further behind us, it was dark and I could feel panic setting in. That’s when I knew I couldn’t go any further, especially if I wanted to get out quickly. Paul was enjoying the whole thing and I didn’t want to spoil the experience for him, so after a short ‘discussion’ about what to do we agreed that I should return and he should carry on. I gave my phone to him and hurried back towards the light. Another tour group was making their way in as I exited, so two boats were now parked on the beach when I got back. The crew smiled at me when I told them I didn’t like it. The ten minutes I spent on the tiny beach waiting for Paul were very pleasant. I sat by the dinghy and listened to the guys chatting to each other while they had their breakfast, thinking about what a wuss I’m becoming as I get older. At least I gave it a try. Apparently I only needed to go another 50 yards to have seen the beautiful Hong Paul described in his post but I have no regrets. Below are a few of the shots Paul took.
Our next jaunt in the dinghy, a couple of hours later was much more to my liking. We went slowly round the north coast of Phanak, stopping to take pictures and to take a closer look at the lush vegetation. Always on the lookout for wildlife, I was delighted to see a huge lizard basking in the sun on a ledge high up on the cliff side, and then a solitary monkey who seemed to take an interest in us from its position up in the trees. The light was perfect for this type of trip and I was captivated by the beauty of it all, especially as the dinghy is so comfortable to sit and gaze in. I took lots of pictures in an attempt to capture the picturesque scenes passing before me.
We reached our next destination later that afternoon. Koh Yai proved to be a bit of a tricky place to anchor in because there were lots of shallow parts and during our first attempt, Paul bent over the guard rail to adjust a rope and his last good pair of glasses fell off his T shirt straight into the water. He’s now attached makeshift lanyards to his remaining pairs. At least no caps have been lost overboard this time.
Saturday 11th Feb
Another early start to check out a Hong that promised to be less claustrophobic than the first one. It wasn’t surprising to see a tour boat unloading its passengers into kayaks as we neared the entrance. Kayaks or canoes are ideal for going into the narrow, low-roofed tunnels and we were asked several times if we wanted to hire one as we passed the tour companies. During the tour, the guide sits at the back with two passengers in front of him and relates information about the formation, wildlife and vegetation etc. of the Hong. We hung back and watched intending to wait until all the kayaks had entered before venturing in. Each guide who passed us delivered a warning that was either about the dinghy being too wide, the state of the tide, or the fact that we must wait until after their tour boats had gone in. It might have been all three of those, but as the last one went in he turned and gave us a beaming smile and beckoned us to follow him. I felt more secure in the dinghy despite the fact that the tunnel was narrow and low. I did wonder if we would fit through the narrower parts but by holding on to the (dry) walls and pushing ourselves along we navigated it through to the exit. We emerged into a beautiful lagoon with high sides, covered with lush green foliage and creepers; it was easy to imagine that a roof once covered the top. The tour boats were moving onto a narrower tunnel that was definitely too small for us so we rowed around the lagoon, took a few pictures and prepared to go back, just as a second lot of kayaks came through. One of the rowers looked very concerned when he saw us and gestured that the tide was rising, then another urged us to get going quickly. There followed a bit of a ‘boat jam’ where we tried to keep out of the way of the kayaks entering while pushing back along the walls as fast as we could. Paul thought they were being a bit over cautious and that they wanted us to hire one of their kayaks. The water hadn’t risen to an alarming level but it was good to back in the open anyway. There were lots of birds around and we had the binoculars so spent a bit of time rowing around scanning the trees and cliff sides for other signs of wildlife. The eagles were magnificent – soaring so gracefully above the highest of the treetops. We startled several herons and I recognised swallows but couldn’t name any of the other birds we saw. I’m hoping we’ll see bats in some of the sea caves we visit next week. More pics of the Hong experience below.