Koh Phagnan, Koh Tao, Tonsai, and Khao Sok NP
18.11.2013 - 26.11.2013
We're checking in today, this time from Ao Nang, a transit stop along the Andaman coast, waiting to catch a bus to an inland National Park called Khao Sok. Time has been really speeding by, and I have found it hard to keep journaling, or even internalize everything taking place around us. But, I will try my best to recount the last week or so...
After finishing our PADI Open Water Course on Koh Tao, we were greeted by thunderstorms and heavy rain. High hopes of crossing the island for a few days of snorkeling and relaxing in rock seated bungalows overlooking Hin Wong Bay were quickly dashed. Dylan and I decided the only practical response to a poor weather outlook for a few days was to join the mass transit of young, care free travelers to the Full Moon Party on Koh Phagnan. (Julie stayed behind to nurse a cold that at the time would hinder her being able to participate in the Advanced Open Water dive couse a few days later). We were waiting in line to jump on our ferry, watching another dock in the harbor, and wondering if and how we were going to meet up with Cooper and Henry- great college friends and ex housemates who had recently flown into Bangkok. No sooner did my mind drift away from thinking about our inevitable rendezvous, when two cheery, goofy, and clearly bushed Americans walked off the ferry and greeted us with hugs and laughter. Giddy at finally being reuinted in Thailand, Coop and Henry simply turned around and jumped on the ferry with us to Koh Phagnan.
Rough seas were no match for our elation, and pure joy and happiness carried us to Hadd Rin beach where we sang and danced the night away. The night was full of Shenannegans, as always, but some highlights included spontaneous body surfing, long tail boat ride through breaking waves, and dancing to the rising sun. As the morning came, I took a stroll down the beach which was incredibly littered with rubbish, empty food containers, beer bottles, etc... Although it is obvious that the beach is cleaned well after each Full Moon Party, I couldn't help but wonder how much trash is swpet away each month by the tide, into the Gulf of Thailand. The party was a great experience, but I am skeptical about its long term sustainability, and find myself being a bit frustrated by the environmental degradation caused by this monthly event.
In any case, I took an early morning ferry back to koh tao, where Julie picked me up from the pier. After a much needed nap, we were joined later in the day by Henry, Dylan, and Cooper. We shared a delicious sushi dinner together before Cooper broke away to Tonsai, a small town on the Andaman coast, for a bit of climbing... The next day Dylan, Julie, and I began our 2 day Advanced Open Water Course. We were lucky enough to have Natli as our instructor again, as she has beocome more of a friend than a teacher to us. The first day the course included a dive designed to help us practice underwater navigation, which was great practice as the water visibility was very limited, and another dive to master buoyancy control. This was real fun, as buoyancy practice mainly consisted of swimming upside down through objects, and flipping over each other. Henry enjoyed a few "fun dives" that day, and joined us on the boat in between dives. That evening we set out in the dark for a night dive, Henry joined us because diving in the dark is just so darn neat! We had a total blast, diving in the dark is a very different experience than the day time. We enjoyed seeing some nocturnal fish, biolumenesence, and even a green sea turtle on our way to the surface.
After a short night we woke up early the next morning for our deep dive. Again we boated througb rough seas, but had a great dive, going down to 30 meters. After an hour break at the surface to allow nitrogen to leave our body tissues, we had our last dive on an old shipwreck. Back on land the stoke was high, having done 5 dives in less than 24 hours, and feeling great about completing our Advanced Open Water course. After a celebratory lunch, I began to feel very sick, and returned to our room for as much sleep as I could force upon myself. The next 12 hours were a blur due to a mixture of nausea, sleeping medications, and spending the evening upon a leaky wooden boat making its way through the gulf of Thailand. Having had our fill on diving, we took a night ferry from Koh Tao to Surat Thani, and were welcomed back to the mainland by rain.
Later that morning we proceeded to Krabi, and were taken by boat to Railay. After arriving in Railay I was less than thrilled, as it appeared to be just another tourist trap, holding lots of white sand beaches full of tanning bodies. However, towering limestone crags surround the area and almost create a gate around the climbing haven of Tonsai. As it is only accessible by boat or a jungle trek, Tonai has fewer tourists and a much younger crowd. We arrive in Tonsai, meet Coop, and join the madness. Overall, we spent 3 days in Tonsai and had a blast. Our days there were spent doing a bit of rock climbing (only a bit since the weather was mostly rainy), body surfing, lounging in hammocks, swimming through sea caves, and generally having the time of our lives. It felt a bit like summer camp as we met so many incredible people, became like family, and left one another all too quickly. Some of these personalities included Chea, a very mellow gal from the Phillipines who loved laughing and fire dancing. Aron, a quiet but very nice guy from Hungary who is an incredible climber and all around stellar human. And Leo, a young kid from Zimbabwe who worked as an organic chef on a sail boat for the owner of Bailys- yes the liqour we all know and love.
Our time goes by far too fat in Tonsai, and too soon I find mysef giving Coop and Henry hugs goodbye as they hop on a boat and sail into the sunset back towards home. To celebrate our last night Julie, Dylan, Aron, and I rent kayks and boat out to some nearby seastacks for some night time cave exploring and swimming...in doing so we see the most incredible biolumenesence I have ever seen, and a first for Aron.
The next morning we find ourselves boating away from Tonsai, and saying goodbye to our last Thai beaches, how nice it has been...We arrive in Ao Nang and hop a bus to Khao Sok National Park, rumored to be one of the wettest spots in Thailand. We arrive, and I immediately grab a plate of Pad Thai before diving into the rain forest. The jungle is beautiful, and I have a nice 7 km hike along the Sok River, trying to find a waterfall that will never come. No matter! The next day Julie and Dylan accompany me for a 8 km hike to an 11 tiered waterfall. While the waterfall was beautiful and well worth the hike, the 3 of us had to do battle with hundreds of leaches that seemed famished for human blood... I have to say I have never seen julie dislike something as much as leaches, she even developed her own personal leach knife that not only dislodges the leach, but can also cut it into little bits afterward to show it who is boss.
We decided we had lost enough blood and grabbed a bus headed to Surat Thani, where we can transfer to a nignt train headed for Bangkok, and continue north toward Chang Mai... So thats where I will leave you, as we are currently in transit to the north of Thailand!
We will keep you posted as our travels progress, but we have our sights set on a homestay with a Thai family, a hippy village, some bamboo rafting, and maybe even cross paths with an elephant.
Happy Thanksgiving to all our families and friends back home! Wish we could be there to celebrate with you all.
Love and happy travels!
Seth, Julie, and Dylan