Saturday 11th March The Stony Magnificence of Koh Pethra
We weren’t in too much of a hurry to move on from Koh Muk this morning, so it was 10 30 before we weighed anchor and began the journey to Pethra. Not far into the journey, however, Paul noticed the instrument panel wasn’t showing any life so we couldn’t monitor the temperature or the engine revs. We had to stop so that he could do checks on it until he fixed the problem (the sealed fuse was intermittent apparently).
It was midday by the time we motored off and by 2 o’clock we were once again able to have all three sails up and no engine. The next three hours were very chilled. Captain Mainwaring, our trusty autohelm performed well with the steering while we watched out for marine traffic and life (no dolphins at all have been seen yet, although they are around apparently). Pethra from a distance was long and large with high, undulating rocks. We motored around it to locate the most sheltered area. The steep side of the biggest mountain on the island’s eastern side blocked the sunlight and gave us instant relief from its heat and glare.
It was 5 30 by then and we also felt the benefit of a cooling gusty wind. There was only one catamaran in the distance and a couple of longtails moored near a tiny fishing village on the beach further along. The sea swell made it a bit rolly on board but, not unbearably so and it was peaceful enough for an overnight stop. Paul had the rest of his squid for dinner along with some of my homemade veggie burgers. We were able to eat in the cockpit and watch the moon rise.
Pethra’s steep rock faces are home to thousands of sea swallows and it’s a protected island, so it isn’t possible to go ashore. We heard all sorts of different bird calls after the sun had set. With the time, and the silence to actually listen instead of merely ‘hearing’ them in the background, it sounded almost as if they were communicating with each other. It’s nice to think these birds have the island to themselves. Not all the birds of Thailand’s islands have been so lucky. The delicacy known as bird’s nest soup comes from the dried saliva the swallows or swifts use to build their nests and these have been illegally plundered, threatening the birds’ habitat as well as the environment. The nests are mostly commercially produced now but some guide books warn that rangers on protected islands are armed with guns to deter nest thieves.
Sunday 12th March Tarutao National Park
We set off for Tarutao at 8 30 and on the way I read up about it in our out of date (1999) pilot guide. It was described as old, mysterious and primitive with sea turtle nests, a library and a museum. No wonder Paul had told me it would tick all my boxes. The sea was virtually deserted and very calm with diamond-like sparkles on its surface, and watching them was almost hypnotic after a while. At midday Paul pointed out Malaysia coming into view in the form of Langkawi Island and I realised how much I’m looking forward to seeing it again. It was the first place I spent any length of time when I came to Asia last August so it feels a bit like a home environment if that makes sense. Meanwhile, we had western Tarutao to explore. This island was our first port of call back in October when we left Langkawi but we had stopped on the eastern side when the weather had been windy and rainy. This time we picked up a mooring buoy in weather hot and sunny enough to require putting our canopy up for protection.
We pulled up on to the main beach at 4pm so that we could check in at the ranger’s office. Tarutao is a national park so there is a small admission fee (about £5) that goes towards its upkeep. It’s also an eco-tourist destination and is popular with backpackers because the basic accommodation is cheap and tents and sleeping bags can be hired for sleeping on the beach. After a brief chat with the ranger we went for an exploratory walk. The chalet-style accommodation is scattered throughout the wooded area, which also has shower facilities and a restaurant. We came upon the library which contained some intriguing old books, while a few modern paperbacks formed what was probably a book swap facility.
There was what looked like it might have been, or about to be, a games room but was full of dusty table-tennis tables, and abandoned bats and balls. Other buildings that might have once been intended as shops or cafes were in a neglected state. Walking down the centre path we saw some guests outside their chalets painting and meditating and a few people were cycling and jogging. It seemed to be an ideal ‘back to nature’, ‘away from it all’, ‘meditative retreat’ resort, it just doesn’t seem to get the amount of visitors it expected.
On the beach we saw a group of Buddhist monks sat around a couple of rudimentary tents and a little further down a couple of girls sharing one of the camp’s camouflage style tents. These few people had the whole beautiful seafront to themselves. The long white beach was populated only by sand crabs when we walked along it (signs warned of box jellyfish in the water and of monkeys from the forest who like to pilfer belongings). The tide was coming in, creating warm rivers to paddle in and it was blissfully quiet.
As it was almost sunset we bought a couple of drinks from the mini-mart and sat on a bench to watch it. We had intended to eat in the restaurant but I didn’t fancy navigating the dinghy over the rocks in the shallow choppy water in the dark, especially as it had proved tricky enough spotting them in daylight!
Monday 13th March Cruising Through the Mangroves
We had to endure the heat of the hottest part of the day but it was a trip that had to be done! A river wends its way through the lush mangroves and thick forests on Tarutao. We’d seen it when we arrived and knew that it was possible to dinghy through it but the tide needed to be right. 10 o’clock was the best time according to Paul’s research so we slapped on factor 50, donned hats and filled up with fuel for an ‘African Queen’ style trip through the jungle and swamps of Southern Thailand. Ok, that’s a slight exaggeration but as we got further in it did remind me of a jungle heartland. It was fabulous. The pictures show it better than I can describe it, although I can relate that the sounds of birds and monkeys added to the jungle-like atmosphere. I half expected to see crocodiles poking their heads up out of the still, murky water. At times, the tree branches were so low we had to duck but they did at least provide relief from the searing heat of the sun’s rays. We spent two hours enjoying the stunning scenery on that river and we had the whole place to ourselves. Below are quite a few pictures of the trip 🙂
Our next destination was to be Ko Lipe but it would be too long a journey, leaving at 12 as we were, so after slipping our mooring Paul looked for a suitable halfway point. Fifty one islands near to Tarutao form the National Park so there were plenty to choose from. Ko Tanga looked ideal but it turned out to be very deep close to the shore and then went shallow very suddenly so it took a fair bit of negotiating and a few attempts before were secure in 20 metres of water (all good practice). We could see an island called Ko Khai not too far away. This island has an arch which is popular with couples who want to walk under it to prolong their relationship or something. Anyway the island we chose was a lot more peaceful for the lack of any arch (fewer longtails and dinghies racing past).
Tuesday 14th March Koh Lipe (pronounced Lippy)
Both of us were up in time to see the sunrise this morning, but unfortunately it was blocked by clouds when it rose. We set off For Lipe not long after that so that we’d have more chance of picking up a buoy if there were any available. Koh Lipe is a picturesque holiday resort and the bay looked crowded with a variety of vessels as we got nearer to it. Quite a few boats and ferries were already moored or anchored and we took some time to suss out an appropriate spot. We thought we were in luck finally finding a free buoy after we had motored around and decided that it was too deep to anchor in most parts, while some of the free buoys were too near the coral for our boat. The free buoy turned out to be too good to be true because as we were tying to it a guy came over in his dinghy to warn us that it wasn’t safe – his boat had drifted off it the night before. Back to the drawing board then and after one failed attempt to anchor in 23 metres of water, we had just got it set and I was putting the gear into reverse when the gear lever went loose in my hand. I called out this news to Paul, expecting him to say it does that from time to time, and to fix it immediately but when he looked at it he said it was well and truly broken. I wasn’t sure how serious this was and tried not to imagine all kinds of disastrous scenarios. After three hours of investigative work in the midday sun with noisy longtails racing past us, Paul managed to construct a temporary solution in the form of a very rudimentary gearstick made from wire and a bolt! He worked at it in his usual calm, methodical and logical manner. I have to confess that the combination of noise and the sticky heat, as I fetched tools from the cabin and helped to test various parts as he compiled them, stressed me out quite a lot (to put it mildly). A relief then, when just before 5, with all the tools put away, it began to get cooler and we prepared to go ashore.
No surprise to find there were several longtails and daytripper boats near the shore, and as the water got clearer, lots of jagged rocks came into view and had to be negotiated in the dinghy. Our first impressions of Lipe weren’t very positive. The path we took from the beach trying to locate the shops led us onto a dusty and smelly building site, teeming with flying insects. When we eventually came upon walking street though, it was a vibrant and colourful area, full of backpackers and hostels and shops (including a couple selling second hand books :)). There were pubs and restaurants, Thai massage rooms, tattoo parlours and quirky cafe bars where customers can lie on comfy loungers and watch films. Vendors stand outside their establishments beckoning you inside, and all the time motor bikes roar up and down the crowded streets. We bought a few provisions, browsed some of the shops and then went for a much-needed drink and dinner on the beach.