“A tropical paradise, five wishes and a setback”
(A page from my Travel Journal)
I’m sitting here on Ao Nang beach in Krabi province (southern Thailand) just a few steps from my bungalow at the Krabi Resort. The sea breeze is gorgeous and the view of the Andaman Sea and the amazing limestone outcrops jutting out on the horizon is simply stunning. We (my mum, my sister, my two friends Allan and Nigel and I) arrived here several days ago.
Krabi province is indeed a jewel. Quaint villages dot the countryside, surrounded by small parcels of rubber and palm oil plantations, and limestone hills (some shaped like the back of a dragon) while curly rivers lazily meander to the sea. The coast is just spectacular: pristine white beaches, set against a backdrop of impressive limestone cliffs, are lapped by the clear turquoise-emerald waters of the Andaman Sea while bizarrely-shaped limestone outcrops in the sea add to the mystical atmosphere of this region. On our first day in Ao Nang, we joined the locals on the beach in the late-afternoon to look for shellfish while the tide was out. It was good fun just watching them (and Allan) look for little holes in the sand and dig up the shellfish.
Day trip to Koh Phi Phi
The next day, Allan, Nigel, my sis and I went on a day tour to the surrounding islands. We were treated to spectacular close-ups of the limestone outcrops, blindingly white beaches and stunning lagoons. I must’ve taken photos of almost every rocky outcrop in the sea! Our first stop was Bamboo island – not sure why it’s called that as there were no bamboo trees in sight. The island was quite stunning though and we stopped there for some snorkelling.
Our next stop, Ko Phi Phi Le island was definitely one of the absolute highlights of the trip. From a distance, it looked like a massive limestone wall covered by lush tropical rainforest. As we neared the island, the brilliant colours of its shores came into view. What a magnificent sight: a myriad of blue and green shades, and the water was so clear you could see the coral-covered seabed five meters below. A narrow opening in the cliffs allowed us to explore a secluded lagoon. The emerald lagoon was surrounded on three sides by towering jungle-clad cliffs that were at least a hundred meters high. At the foot of the cliffs were little stalactite covered caves and small coves lined with very private white sandy beaches. A little waterfall and swaying coconut trees completed the picture of this magical tropical paradise. The astounding scenery quite frankly left me somewhat breathless.
I was soon (literally) breathless again as we moved on to a secluded spot in the bay and went snorkelling. As soon as I hit the water, I was surrounded by hundreds of tropical fish whizzing by just millimeters from me – they were so close and enveloped me like a thick cloud, I actually started getting slight pangs of claustrophobia! I got my first taste of the Andaman Sea – it’s not as salty as the Mediterranean (or the Dead Sea for that matter) is all I can say 🙂
We then continued to the much larger and equally impressive Maya Bay. The bay, with similar towering cliffs and crystal clear emerald-coloured water featured a long beach on one end with incredibly soft white sand. The movie, ‘The Beach’ (with Leo ‘Titanic’ Dicaprio), was filmed here – think the film bombed but that doesn’t stop the local tourism authorities from heavily promoting this island as the famed setting of the movie. We stood on the beach for a bit just taking in the view.
We then moved on to Ko Phi Phi Don island, a haven for backpackers. The island is also quite spectacular. It consists of two mountains connected by a narrow sandy strip, with two gorgeous bays on either side. The sandy strip with its myriad of bars, restaurants and hotels was totally wiped out by the tsunami but aside from the tsunami evacuation signs that now line the streets every few meters, there are few clues as to the tragedy that struck several years back. The businesses are up-and-running and the tourists are back in droves. We left Ko Phi Phi Don after lunch and headed out to sea. Halfway between Ko Phi Phi Don and Bamboo island, we stopped at another highlight of the boat trip: a magnificent snorkelling spot in open sea. The water here was incredibly clear (visibility was at least ten meters) and the corals, though not as colourful as those around Lang Tengah island, were beautiful and harboured a large variety of fish – spotted some clown fish, loads of coral-munching parrot fish, large trigger fish and puffer fish.
Last night, we headed for a lovely beachside Italian restaurant called Lo Spuntino (it’s actually a two-in-one restaurant with two kitchens: Thai and Italian; the Thai part is called Sala Bua. We spent the previous evening there and were treated to a fantastic, very authentic (i.e. fabulously spicy) Thai dinner that left me choking (Allan taught me a very good remedy though – when you’ve eaten some very spicy food and you’re choking, tears are streaming down your cheeks and your face is blood red, just drink some warm water. It really helps). We got to the restaurant early, just in time to catch the sunset. It was simply stunning. We sat at our table, leisurely sipping our ice cold mojitos, as the sun dipped under the horizon, colouring the sky with a wild spectrum of red and orange hues.
After dinner, we went for a walk along the beach boulevard and had some ice-cream. Earlier that evening, Allan had bought several paper lanterns from a street vendor. The vendor was still there as we walked by and he called out to us to buy another lantern. Allan explained that these lanterns were used during a certain festival in Thailand. People would write their wishes and prayers on the lanterns, light a small burner inside and release them as the lanterns filled up with hot air. Intrigued by this idea, we bought one and each scribbled our wishes on the lantern. We then walked out to the beach and the vendor helped us attach a paraffine burner to the lantern and light it. We held on to the base of the lantern as hot air accumulated inside it. When it started to get very hot, we let go and the lantern drifted upwards.
Silenced by this magical moment, we huddled together and watched as our paper lantern gently floated away, carrying with it our wishes to the heavens above. We stood there on the beach, transfixed for several minutes, watching until our lantern was so far up that it resembled one of the many stars in the sky. I will never forget this enchanting sight – I don’t think anyone of us will.
When we got back to the hotel, I had this silly idea of exploring the various functions of my camera. I shouldn’t have. In the course of my explorations, I accidentally deleted all my photos!! Huge, huge bummer! In a flash, they were all GONE! Some advice to those photography novices (like me) out there: if you see a function called ‘Format Memory Card’ on your camera, go back, choose cancel… just don’t click OK!! Why can’t Canon build in a warning like “Are you sure you would like to Format the Memory Card? Doing so will result in the PERMANENT LOSS of any unsaved photos!” I should send them an e-mail.
Anyway, a setback indeed and I was furious with myself. Luckily, Nigel’s an avid photographer and he took some great photos. I was so pissed off with myself, I hardly slept all night. I got up this morning still feeling miserable, which brings me back to where I was at the start of this story….. at the beach, typing furiously on my iPod. Gosh, it really is beautiful out here. The spectacular nature, the wonderful food, the laidback pace and the incredibly hospitable Thai make this a great holiday spot. And it’s only a 1hr 15min flight from Kuala Lumpur with Air Asia. Perfect for a relaxing diversion whenever I’m back in KL. 🙂