Limestone, Lunch and Ladyboys ~ Ao Phang Nga, Thailand

Thai man in hot pink shirt in a hot pink sea kayak.

Amazing colours ~ "Amazing Canoeing" ~ Amazing Thailand

People can be forgiven for thinking that my husband and I are permanently on holidays.

It is not true! It is just that we spend a lot of time living out of suitcases in interesting locations. Last week, for example, we were living in the lap of four-star luxury on the tropical island of Phuket – thanks to a very special deal that a friend of ours had bought and couldn’t use. But, we spent most of that time tied to our computers. Granted, the fact that it was unseasonably windy and wet – even by rainy season standards – made it easier to stay focussed on work.

Still, we made a point of scheduling some “tourist” time. Monday we took the day off as a reward for diligence, and went on a “Big Boat” trip to the limestone islands of Phang Nga Bay. We were incredibly lucky with our timing: the rain was intermittent, rather than incessant, and the seas were calm. For the two to three days following, Phuket was battered by torrential rains and gale-force winds, and we were again pretty much trapped indoors.

Touring in Thailand is much more enjoyable if you prepare for almost anything, turn your brain into neutral, and take what comes. Put your bathers under your clothes, put valuables in waterproof bags and bring your own towels. Don’t be surprised if your transportation is five minutes early or half an hour late. Be ready to hunch up in the front of a van cab, squashed, with your belongings on your lap, between the person at the door and the gear shift, or wedged in the back of a truck with center-facing seating. Stay good humoured when, almost two hours after your stated collection time, you are still faffing about on the pier and your boat is nowhere in sight…

For even on the pier there are people to meet and things to explore.

Portrait: Thai man in skull-and-crossbones headscarf and sunglasses.

The guides are smiling as they chat with each other and joke with us - clearly this "hanging-around-time" is built into the plan!

Yellow tour-shop hut front: motorcycle parked in the doorway.

Off-season quiet: many shops around the Ao Por pier are closed for the day - or for the season.

Two thai ladies in muslim head dress and yellow shirts.

Muslim Thais of ethnic Malay origins are common in the south. I was amused because the woman in the yellow headscarf had an anti-Thaksin sticker on her hat. I asked them if they were "yellow shirts" - one of the warring protest factions in Thailand - and it was their turn to look surprised. It seems someone had put the sticker on her hat as a joke, and they were wearing yellow because, by the Thai colour system, that is the colour for Monday!

Portrait: Muslim Thai woman with a blue water-proof bag.

Wet bags for sale or rent: "Raining today. Sure!"

Portrait: Smiling Muslim Thai woman selling hats.

The hat seller is happy to smile - even though we aren't buying anything.

Bike with wooden sidecar on a pier, in front of a sign in thai and english: Please wear jacket lift"

We are used to unusual road signs, and particularly like the one ahead of speed humps warning about "car jump". This one, exhorting us to "Please wear jacket lift" was new!

Thai man in headscarf and pink shirt with a clipboard.

One of the staff keeps an eye on the large group of international tourists heading for the Big Boat.

Overfull thai bus

We are not allowed to walk to the boat: we must climb into buses which run us to the end of the pier.

Two large Thai tourists boats rafted on a pier.

Other tourist boats rafted and waiting - it's going to be a busy day on the bay.

Yellow Royal Thai flag foreground: misty islands of Phang Nga Bay National Park in the distance.

And we are finally off!

Colourful bottles of fanta and coke in a red basket.

Thailand abounds in "unnatural" colours as well as natural ones: Fanta and Coke at the ready

Thailand truly is an amazing and colourful  place. I’ve visited Ao Phang Nga National Park several times before (always on clear sunny days) and it is unbelievably beautiful. Even in inclement weather, it is impressive. And many of the colours – natural and man-made – still shine through.

Pink tourist boat on a cloudy day.

The pink tour boat is going to beat us to Panak Island - the largest of the many islands in the Phang Nga Bay National Park.

Men in pink shirts resting on a blue boat prow.

Our crew snooze or chat as we make our way to the islands.

Men in pink shirts on inflated pink sea kayaks.

Once we are stopped, the boatmen launch the sea kayaks...

People getting into a pink sea kayak from a blue transom.

... and passengers are assisted in ...

Looking down on an inflatable se kayak with three passengers.

... to be paddled off ...

Sea kayaks look small against the massive cliffs of Kok Panak.

... to the caves of Koh Panak.

Because of the large group, the kayaks went out in two shifts. Once our turn arrived, and we were in our kayak, the winds lifted and the skies opened up. I was very glad my camera was in its water-proof bag, for we looked like drowned rats. My hat went flying into the sea, where I thought it would sink and be lost, but our boatman skilfully brought us around to rescue it, before heading into the dark cave full of bats.

I’ve seen better stalactites, but our boatman was clearly proud of them as he pointed out fancifully-named formations using his head lamp, so we ooh-ed and ah-ed dutifully, snapping bad pictures with our iPhones. At least it was dry, and the bat smell eased off as we paddled further into the cave system.

When we came out, the skies were still gloomy, but the rains had stopped.

Large Thai tourist boats on Phang Nga Bay under grey skies.

The other tourist boats head off before us, across Phang Nga Bay, under continued grey skies.

Rock formations and greenery: Koh Panak

Koh Panak meets the bay.

Three tourists silhouetted against Phang Nga Bay islands

Tourists chat as more Phang Nga Bay islands come into view.

Tourists in a pink sea kayak: Koh Hong, Phang Nga

Even cloudy skys cannot diminish the beauty of Koh Hong (Room Island).

Thai man with a camera, standing in the waters of Koh Hong.

If you see a Thai with a camera, you can be sure you will see your own face on a plate or in a shell frame before the day is finished.

Sea kayaks in the waters of Koh Hong, Phang Nga

Karst mountains ...

Kayaks in Koh Hong sea caves

... and caves.

Portrait: Thai youth in a pink polo shirt.

One of the youngest "boatmen": this paddler is still at school.

Thai woman in a gallery, preparing food.

Meanwhile, in the galley, lunch is being prepared.

Hands with a knife: chopping tomato

Kitchen preparation.

Onion rings on a metal serving tray.

Lunch is ready!

Feet and thongs

Lunch is a casual affair.

Rain on a plastic boat windscreen.

As we head towards Khao Phing Kan and Khao Tapu (otherwise known as James Bond Island) the rains set in again.

Tourists in a cave on Koh Phing Kan in colourful plastic raincoats.

Once on Koh Phing Kan, tourists huddle in the shelter of a cave in plastic raincoats...

Khao Tapu in the rain

... and try to get pictures of the iconic Koh Tapu without getting too wet.

Young woman in a straw hat.

A visitor from Brazil watches the islands go by.

A sky full of Red-backed Sea Eagle against the islands of Phang Nga Bay.

Like something out of a primeval novel, as we sail towards home, countless red-backed sea eagles fill the skies behind us ~

Brahminy Kite - against Phang Nga islands

Eagle-eyed: a Brahminy kite looks for food.

As if to highlight the contrasts that Thailand offers up, the amazing sight of a veritable flock of birds of prey was shortly followed by head-pounding music and the “Ladyboy Show”. It was hard to know quite what to make of the performers as they shimmied the poles of the upper deck and gyrated around the room in outlandish wigs.

Ladyboy performer on a boat

Taupe pantyhose, black and red g-string and a yellow wig ~

Ladyboy performer in purple bikini top and yellow wig.

~ our young worker with the morning clip-board has transformed!

Boat wake on the waters of Phang Nga Bay under tray clouds.

And so, we headed home.

Amazing Thailand.Text: Safe Sailing

Just Amazing.

  • Catherine Wisner - June 8, 2012 - 8:38 am

    Ursula, we have all figured that you and Gabe were on permanent vacation. Admiring from a distance, thinking you have figured out this retirement thing perfectly. Sorry the weather was so dismal but you are just have to be ready for anything that comes your way..glad you enjoyed your time!ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - June 8, 2012 - 8:46 am

      Hi Catherine!
      Glad you could stop by. The weather has indeed been shocking, but it takes more than rain to keep us down. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Guava - June 8, 2012 - 9:11 am

    Fantastic set Ursula. I am missing Phang Nga so much, I must organize a trip!ReplyCancel

  • Lisa - June 8, 2012 - 1:22 pm

    What a fun story. Looks like a great day – weather and all.ReplyCancel

    • Ursula - June 8, 2012 - 1:46 pm

      Hey, Lisa and Guava! Thanks for the visit. It was a great day; Phang Nga is always magnificent. 🙂ReplyCancel

  • Signe - June 15, 2012 - 7:15 am

    what an amazing journey… I think I agree with Catherine, extended holiday with a little work thrown in… thanks for the share!ReplyCancel

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