Friday, 23 March 2012

THE RETURN OF THE BEACH BUM- Andaman Coast, Thailand

Warning: This blog contains many potentially boring, but beautiful beach photos!

Our time in Penang had been wonderful, and busy, and it was time to return to the beach. We crossed back into Thailand, and decided to try a few new (for us) islands. Everyone’s been talking about Ko Muk, so we thought we’d check that out first. After a night in Trang, we joined all the other tourists in a minibus to the pier. Trang is unusual in Thailand for having no cheap songtaews to get around in, only minibuses. We liked the vibe on Muk as soon as we stepped off the ferry. We had decided on a “resort” in the village, on the other side of the island, away from the atrociously named “Farang Beach” (farang meaning foreigner in Thai). Being relatively new to farangs in this village, the people were very friendly, and still a little curious about us. There were some tiny shops and stalls selling food in amongst the few “resorts”, which made for a peaceful atmosphere. We were very active, for us, on the island, walking through the jungle and rubber plantations everyday to the fantastic beaches around the islands and even getting up for a sunrise!! The scenery was really stunning, with the whitest sand being almost blinding, and because it was surprisingly busy, there were plenty of people watching, and chatting. An amazing sign of how things are changing, was the WIFI we had in our room.

Our tent on Ko Muk

A secluded bay we walked to

"Farang" Beach

Farang Beach
Rubber tree

Processed rubber drying

Wanting to avoid the tourist minibus thing, we decided to go for Ko Libong next. We hadn’t heard much about it, which we hoped would mean it was quiet and less busy. We were very pleasantly surprised. The island is huge, close to the mainland, and very easy to get to, with a local bus, then small boat. There are four resorts- all on one side of Libong, and we found the one with the cheapest huts, in a lovely setting right on the beach, which turned out to be extremely cool in the day and cosy at night. The village was a great place to practice our Thai, with the villagers particularly welcoming and open. The village "restaurant" (a small partially covered outdoor affair), had some of the best food we've eaten in Thailand- all coming from one lady and her wok, and that alone was reason enough for us to hang around for a few days!. The children loved waving and shouting at us- something we have of course experienced in other places, but never thought we would see it on the very touristy Thai islands in this area. It is, so far, a very unspoiled place. People were really just going about their business (mostly squid fishing), and weren’t reliant on the tourists for money. So we knew people wanted to talk to us because they were interested and friendly, not just to sell us something, which is how it can feel sometimes in Thailand.

Boogie boards, Ko Libong-style

Squid pots

Ko Libong

Ko Libong

Squid- big industry on the island

Our hut, Ko Libong

Although we had not long come from Ko Fruitopia, we were drawn back by the rumor of a sea gypsy festival. Being the sort of place that it is, many of our friends from December were still hanging about there, and we joined them for a couple more weeks bumming around. The sea gypsy festival is held in the local graveyard every year on the first full moon of March, to pay respects to the ancestors. It was quite a low key day, although many gypsies came from neighboring islands for the spectacle, setting up picnics on the graves. The morning session was full of prayer for their dead, then the traditional drumming, singing and dancing started, with everyone joining in the shuffling-type dance round the "band". The sea gypsies are officially Muslim, but this spiritual ceremony is long established within their community, and we were surprised with introduction of alcohol to the celebrations mid-morning. Apparently for this one day, they allow themselves to become paralytic (men and women) to remember their forebearers! As the day got steadily more rowdy, we left the locals to their fun, which all finished at sunset.

Morning procession

Prayer time

Some of the graves

Traditional music

Things liven up

New friend

Muslim women drinking... never though we'd see that!

The weather became more unpredictable, with what seemed to be the early onset of the monsoon, so we legged it back to Krabi for a few nights of blissful sleep with no ants, mosquitoes or mold growing on our stuff.

Another place that we'd been hearing the odd good thing about over the last few years, is Ko Bulon Lae, so we waited for some better weather, and bussed down to Satun, the closest big town to the island.

We liked this town so much that we nearly didn’t make it to Ko Bulon at all! Its quaint small town feel and river setting charmed us, and ensured a return visit will follow. A sharp contrast, however, was the horribly overcrowded pier area of Pak Bara, the ferry starting point for Ko Bulon. We didn’t realize at the time, but it’s also the ferry terminal for Ko Lipe, the island flavour of the moment in Thailand, and we breathed a sigh of relief when the hundreds of Asian tourists boarded the Lipe boats, and left the terminal with only Richard and I in it! We enjoyed a nearly private speed boat ride to Bulon, sharing the boat with only one other couple!

Satun river

Satun kids

Outside Satun museum

Fish drying, Satun

Pretending we have a private boat- they think I'm weird

The captain

The beauty of Ko Bulon is its small size, and its low-key, pretty beaches and gardens. There are a surprisingly large number of bungalows and restaurants for the dimensions of the place, but it still somehow retains its serenity. This is helped by the demographic of mostly middle-aged visitors, and, when we were there, the fact that it was just coming into the off season. Although we had a great bungalow at low season prices and enjoyed the gorgeous driftwood-strewn beach (the main beach area reminded me of a nice coastal caravan park in Oz), we were actually getting to the stage of being a bit beach-ed out (I know, poor us!), and the extreme mozzie situation was getting out of hand.

Local cops

The view from my shady spot on the beach, Bulon

Ko Bulon beach

Our hut

So, we decided to head back to Songkla for a few days, before heading back to KL, and onto our adventure for April and May.... Sumatra.