25 January 2019
What a fabulous way to end our world adventure! Having been slightly underwhelmed with Phuket to date, any bad feelings disappeared as we spent the day on a boat trip organised by Phuket Sail Tours, under the marvellous supervision of Korn, our wonderful guide for the day.
It was an early start for all of us: up at 06:00 ready for collection at 06:30. I dressed Cornelia while she was still in bed, and she very helpfully lifted herself up in all the right places to assist me, whilst keeping her eyes tightly shut. Once dressed, I reminded her why we were getting up so early – and she remembered that she loves getting up when it’s still dark (which will come in handy when we are home!!), and immediately donned her beautiful bright smile and got out of bed to have her hair and teeth brushed. I carried her down the steep hill and we waited at the bottom for our pick up.
He arrived shortly after 06:30, and on board already were Mike and Dee, a lovely couple from Bristol no less! We chatted amicably with them while our driver braved the rush hour traffic. This is the time all of the workers head off, and we passed truckloads of men and women in blue construction outfits and hats, many of whom were fast asleep on each other. It was already hot and dirty out there!
We arrived at the pier and were invited into their main office where a great breakfast was being prepared. The spiel had said a “light” breakfast but this was far from true! I stuck to my fruit and yoghurt, but Cornelia was given a bowl of chocolate-coated cereal (bleurgh) and some fruit, which she scoffed quite happily. They were cooking too and there was toast available – really like a small hotel breakfast – and it was all dished up by super friendly staff.
Korn, our tour guide, introduced himself and using a chart on the wall, showed us our route for the day, which would vary depending on how busy certain places were. Ian and I had deliberately chosen Phuket Sail Tours, as they did not take big groups and avoided the mos touristy spots. For example, although we would swing by James Bond Island (of Man with the Golden Gun), we would not go ashore, because it would be so busy. That was completely fine by us!
Shortly after 09:00, we walked down to the jetty and were taxied to the end of it, where we boarded our boat. It was bigger than Ian and I had thought (it carries about twenty passengers but there were only thirteen of us) so we had plenty of room to spread out. We knew Mike and Dee, of course, but the rest of the group we had only seen at breakfast.
The boat had twin 250hp outboards (so Ian told me excitedly…); enough to speed us rapidly across Phang Nga Bay. The boat was quite bouncy and Cornelia enjoyed it very much, but we were glad to be sitting near the stern and in the shade.
Our first stop was Patak Island, where we waded ashore to visit a cave. Cornelia was quite happy to be carried off the boat, and then walk barefoot over the crunchy shell-y sand, but the rest of us donned sandals of some description to avoid the mega-exfoliation we would have otherwise received! Somehow, we missed out on the torches and had to rely on the light of ten others as we ducked down low (yes, even I had to duck down once or twice!) and headed through the watery cave (knee-deep for us, but flooded at high tide), emerging into a mangrove lagoon ringed by towering limestone cliffs. The cave was the only access point. Somewhat disconcertingly, Korn stopped halfway through the wet, dark passage to recount the ‘local view’ of the cave rescue of the Thai schoolboys last year, and we spent some considerable time imagining how utterly awful it must have been for them, and what a complete miracle it was that all of the boys and their teacher were safely rescued.
Once in the muddy lagoon, Cornelia was whisked off by Korn to watch a family of long-tailed macaques play, marvel at the mudskippers (amphibious fish) and hunt out some of the thousands of tiny one-clawed crabs scurrying around (one of which Cornelia held). The scenery was stunning and quite special – it felt as if we had stumbled upon something for the very first time.
We scrambled back through the cave and onto the boat, and sped on to Hong Island, where we boarded an inflatable sea canoe, paddled by a local. Again, the submerged karst scenery was quite beautiful and majestic. Our paddler pointed out different shapes that had formed in the limestone (jellyfish, faces etc), whilst taking us through caves into azure lagoons, where the heart-shaped tree branches hung over us. Although the water was filled with other such canoes, everyone was remarkably quiet and it was quite a peaceful experience. We jumped out at a small spit of sand, across which the boat was dragged, providing a short-cut back to the tour boat. Cornelia took advantage of the opportunity to go exploring with Mike, who managed to find a lizard for her, and she sharpened a reed she had found on the oyster-shell-covered rocks.
Once back on the boat, we swung by past Tapu – or James Bond Island. Close enough to take cheesy pictures with a (plastic) golden gun. And to see the teeming mass of tourists ashore. Not stopping here was definitely a sensible idea!
We were then ferried to Koh Panyee, a Muslim village, and an extraordinary feat of informal construction. The village boasted a marvellous, gold-domed mosque, built on a small piece of land adjacent to the island. Otherwise, all of the hundreds of houses (or shacks), a school, market and restaurants were built on stilts in the shallow sea, providing a home for around 3,000 people. They even have a football pitch, with the local team’s nickname being ‘Pride of the Sea’. After meandering through the village, browsing the numerous souvenir huts casually but, unfortunately, with no intention to buy, we sat at a table in one of the restaurants with great views of the surrounding sea, where we were served a variety of local dishes, plus (luckily) some chips and fried chicken, which Cornelia homed in on.
Our boat was moved around to the side of our restaurant, so we didn’t walk back through the village, instead boarding from the small pontoon. Off we went again, speeding over the seas, pausing to look at some Lascaux-style cave paintings at another island – apparently several thousand years old although (atypically) Korn didn’t have much to say about them, other than to offer that they were there “before history began”, which must mean they are REALLY old!
Korn enjoyed a little nap on board, as our skipper whizzed us south, and the rocking of the boat was enough to send Bugsy to sleep too. She had a slightly comfier position, lying on the padded bench with Ian holding her to make sure she didn’t drop off! She woke up with perfect timing, as we entered a hidden bay where we dived off the boat and enjoyed watching large schools of fish eating bananas thrown from the boat. We tried snorkelling, but the water was too murky, but it was worth having a swim, just to see the fish that close to your face! Cornelia amazed everyone by jumping off the boat into the sea, although she was soon clinging on to me, slightly nervous of the fish, so I was glad that the watchful Korn had thrown in a life jacket, which Cornelia then used as a float, meaning I was no longer in danger of being drowned by own child….!
We had a further swim at another lagoon, where we also lazed on the small beach for a while. Cornelia was put off swimming there however, by Ian mentioning “sea lice” again, at which point she screamed to get out of the water, content with just lying on the mat, being chewed by sandflies or something similar, instead! Meanwhile, Korn sat quietly by himself, and just as I was about to ask him what he was up to, he presented Cornelia with a rose made out of reeds! She was suitably impressed and grateful, and he secured his position as her favourite person in Thailand.
Shortly after embarking again, Korn pointed out a cave, high on another island, occupied by a licensed collector of birds’ nests. These are sold to the Chinese market for around £3,500 per kilo. They are essentially small shelves, a bit like a half-finished housemarten’s nest, but made primarily from swallow saliva. As with other, unappetising excrescences and appendages (e.g. bear bile and tiger willies) they are thought to have health-giving properties. Fecundity, in particular. The current occupant (they do shifts) was at home, and gave us a friendly wave from his perch, as we passed by. We asked Korn what the soup actually tasted like. He looked around, covered his mouth and whispered “Sperm”. And we all burst out laughing, grateful that none of us was rich enough to have ever ordered it….!
We had one more stop at a fabulous spit of beach, where Ian took a final dip, while Korn spent almost his entire time on his hands and knees digging into the crab holes, and throwing them out on the sand, making Cornelia shriek with delight. She increased her animal-touching experiences by prodding a dead jellyfish, but didn’t fancy picking up the larger two-clawed crabs!
And so our wonderful day out on the boat drew to an end. We were returned to our original starting point, and taxied back to the office, having purchased one of our “official” photographs of the day, which had already been printed and was in a shell frame. Worth every one of the 200 baht we paid for it!
It was a long drive back to our hotel, due to the heavy traffic and although we had expected to be back by 18:00, as the hour ticked by, I rang EAT to put back our dinner reservation by fifteen minutes. Even that seemed like it wouldn’t be enough, as the sun started to set… We said our farewells to Mike and Dee who had been such excellent company for the day, and I pegged it up the hill (the driver couldn’t get his vehicle up it – or wouldn’t…!) with Cornelia on my back, did a two minute change of clothes, and raced back down the hill and along the road to EAT, where they were waiting patiently for us. I was sweating profusely and looked anything ready for a meal, but Cornelia was on good form and made up for my dishevelled appearance! In the meantime, Ian had been to reception to check us out and organise a taxi to the airport in the morning. The restaurant staff recognised Cornelia and remembered Cowbat too, so MaiMai entertained her by making Cowbat squeak (and making Cornelia giggle joyfully), and generally looking after her brilliantly. She had spaghetti bolognese again, Ian had the chateaubriand again, and I opted for the New Zealand lamb. It was all quite wonderful and delicious, although I’d have preferred my lamb a little pinker. As it was the last night of our World Adventure, Cornelia was allowed a chocolate ice cream, and I tried the chocolate mousse, which I didn’t like enough to keep for myself, so passed it over to Ian to polish off!
We were done by about 20:00, so it was back up the hill for us (Cornelia on my back again – at least I’m getting some hardcore hillwork in!), and I rinsed the day’s excitement off me and Cornelia. She was exhausted and fell over while she was being a bit silly, but when she asked Daddy for help getting up, he got disproportionately cross with her and yelled at her that she was four years old and she could pick herself up. I’m afraid I couldn’t help myself and told her that if she fell, I’d pick her up, even if she was 44. She went to bed without argument, very excited that she only had one more sleep left before we head home and only two sleeps until we see Grannie Annie!
And so, that was the end of our final full day of our world travels. A day of travelling home awaits us tomorrow…