Everyone associates Thailand with paradise, and it’s tough not to when all the guidebooks have the same shot of a long-tailboat docked off the coast of Phi Phi Island. Sadly, it’s likely to lose its charm after another decade of tourism, thanks to the shooting of “The Beach”. You can probably still get a private charter to go out there on low season and have Maya Beach all to yourself, so aim for a trip between end of April and into the start of June.
About a month ago, the country was struck by a series of heavy rain and many small villages suffered from flooding. I almost cancelled because I was worried about the reported mudslides taking place, but a friend reassured me that Phuket was hardly affected and that the weather was likely to change dramatically over the course of 3 weeks… and it did!
I’ve had nothing but sun, since day one. Clear blue skies, hot and humid. There was one night when it rained heavily, but it really just helped to bring down the persistently high temperature. After Phi Phi, I decided to venture Northeast off the coast towards islands of the Andaman Sea. I went to Ta Chai and Surin Islands – the former for its white beach and the latter for snorkeling around the different dive sites. Both were pretty empty and almost completely devoid of tourists when I went. Most of the people I saw on the island were also Thai locals having a vacation.
At Surin Islands, about 7km south of the Burmese border, we met a traditional Mokken sea gypsy village, the same group that currently resides in the Burma Mergui Archipelago. Many of them are still nomadic people and spend most of their lives roaming the sea on small handcrafted wooden boats. We docked near several coral reefs where we saw variations of pipefishes, eels, titan triggerfishes, a black tipped reef shark, and indian sailfin tangs – they were everywhere! I couldn’t believe how clear the water was… it was also shallow enough that you could see the bottom pretty well even when you’re snorkeling. I would’ve loved to stay overnight at the national park, but it probably would’ve cost a small fortune. So we headed off in the late afternoon and I prepped for my cycling tour the next day.
Now I pride myself in being relatively athletic, and generally consider myself as physically fit… but I’m no cyclist. I was told that it would be a long ride crossing Sarasin Bridge and into the Thai Muang region, about 55km (a lot for a beginner), but I wasn’t told about the changing terrains. We were a small group with one guide, but 2 of the participants were professional cyclists, one was an avid surfer that cycled to work everyday, and another was an ex-professional boxer that cycles every weekend. Needless to say, I tended to be at the tail-end of each leg of our tour. We cycled through some beautiful areas though… through pineapple plantations, rubber plantations, a former tin mining village, a sea-side town, a buddhist and a chinese temple, a fish sanctuary, and finished the long ride at a waterfall. I couldn’t believe how difficult it was to cycle over grass, sand, gravel, and uneven rocks. And there were so many hills! I am now, officially, a pro at changing bike gears. Next step: buy my own bike.
The day after, I thought about laying low and just relaxing before my flight back to Sydney, but I discovered a SNUBA dive center in Phuket. After my failed SCUBA diving attempt in Kauai, I thought I’d give myself a second chance and take it a little easier this time around. I have to admit, I’m envious of people who are certified SCUBA divers. After seeing all the coral life I spotted from just snorkeling, I could only imagine what it must be like if I were to descend more than 20 meters. With SNUBA, I didn’t have to worry about wearing the tank and there’s no heavy gear… just a snorkeling mask, a few weights to help neutralize my floatation underwater, and a regulator connected to a raft about 10 meters up. Perfect.
It still took a few minutes to get used to it, but once I was comfortable, it was too easy. I had such a great time! If I were staying longer, I would’ve decided on the spot to register for a SCUBA certification course. And our guides were incredibly informative. It was totally the highlight of my trip. They pointed out so many things underwater like batfish, butterfly fish, clownfish, a school of Barracuda (big ones!), sea cucumbers, scorpion fish (deadly!), triggerfish, moray eels, and lots more… they also shared stories about past dives in Honduras and Borneo. Their passion for diving was so contagious… it made me wish I were living in a place like Thailand.
I’ve got tons of underwater photos from Rachai Yai, but still waiting on it to get developed… I’ll post them as soon as I have them!
Perhaps I can pay Thailand another visit next year…