Wednesday, tour day! A minibus collected us from the resort at 8.30am for the drive across to Ao Phang Nga. We were taking the “James Bond Island” tour. The film “The Man with the Golden Gun” featured Ko Phing Kan as the lair of Scaramanga, the villain. I’ll get to more about the island eventually….
The drive across was rather lovely. The bus wound its way through small villages and lushly covered hills, with rubber tree plantations lining the roads. Each tree has a little black pot attached to the trunk where the latex is tapped. According to this article Thailand is the world’s biggest rubber producer. I had no idea! Wikipedia has a nice summary of the natural rubber production process here.
Once at Surakun Pier we hopped onto a longtail boat. Our Melbourne friends were also on the tour, so each of my girls was pretty happy to have a friend to talk to. Clare and Stella have generally been terrific with one another this trip, with a relatively small amount of niggling and pestering, but it has still been nice for them to have others to spend some time with. The longtail boat took us past numerous karst formations. The bay contains more than forty islands. We also passed some old cave paintings, only a few metres above the water line.
The boat made its way to a floating platform surrounded by sea canoes. Before we knew it we were all being paddled through archways into small bays, around all sorts of rock formations and close to mangroves and other vegetation. Our paddler was angling for tips the whole trip, which I found really annoying (“you happy madam?”) but you can’t blame them for trying to maximise their income. The minimum wage in Thailand has been set at 300 baht per day, which translates to around A$10 per day. Not much. However, there are also plenty of extremely wealthy Thai – as evidenced back in Bangkok when we visited Siam Paragon. There are conflicting figures when it comes to income distribution and purchasing power, but overall the gap between the wealthy and the poor is much wider here than it is in the west. Additionally, there are groups of people working in Thailand who are not Thai nationals and are paid well below minimum rates.
There were loads of people following pretty much the same itinerary. This was particularly evident when we got back onto our longtail boat and headed for Ko Phing Kan – more commonly known as James Bond Island. The island is within the National Park, but still has numerous small shops and stalls, and had longtail boats landing on two small beaches every few minutes. It was full of people – and this is low season! I’d hate to imagine what it would be like in high season. I’m going to have to search out The Man with the Golden Gun when we get home and see what looks familiar.
We couldn’t wait to get off the island, and all the people on our tour appeared to feel the same way. We had the added impetus of an approaching storm to get us back into the boat. We needed to get to our lunch destination before it poured! Although many of the rainstorms pass quickly, they are heavy deluges.
Lunch was held at Ko Panyi, a fishing village built on stilts. According to Wikipedia the population of the village is 1,685 people, all descended from Muslim fishermen from Java. The village was originally built on stilts over the water because at the time it was established only Thai nationals could own land. This is no longer the case, and the well, mosque and school are built on the adjacent island. There is even a floating football pitch attached to the village. Fishing is still the major industry for the island, but there are also now plenty of seafood restaurants for the tourists that visit, and plenty of market stalls to sell yet more clothes/”pearls”/seashells/jewellery/trinkets to tourists. I’d hate to think of what conditions would be like during a storm on the village. Many of those structures look rather rickety to me.
Once back on the mainland the last stop on the tour was Wat Suwan Kuha. a temple built into a cave. There are many caves in the area, and this is just one of them. The reclining Buddha is 15 metres long, and there are a number of other images,shrines and a large chedi inside.
You can walk through the cave to the jungle on the other side. There is another cave off to the side, which is known as the “dark” cave. It smelled strongly of damp and mould and who knows what else. We could walk a little way into the cave, but there wasn’t much light and it was quite wet. On the rocks at the entrance were a statue of a seated man, presumably a hermit monk who had lived in the cave at some stage. Who knows! Rudimentary googling hasn’t helped me to find out much more information about the cave. What did amuse me was that visiting kings and members of the royal family have carved their initials into the rocks when they have visited over the years. There is even a plaque in Thai and English explaining whose initials are whose. But check out the opposite wall (the third photo).
Outside were monkeys. Lots of monkeys. None were in the temple, but there were plenty out the front. We had been warned not to take bags or food to the temple, but of course there were vendors selling fruit and peanuts to be fed to the monkeys. Unsurprisingly, this makes the monkeys become aggressive in their quest to be fed. One monkey grabbed my skirt before I shook it off, and another couple of monkeys had a loud fight with one another then ran straight towards us, giving everyone a big fright. I was glad to get back on the minibus. The kids were even gladder. The monkeys are actually long-tailed macaques. There are plenty of them living in the fields and jungles as well as hanging around temples. You can hear them from the resort too.
We were back at the resort in time for the kids to watch a wedding that was taking place in the garden overlooking the ocean. Neither of my kids has been to a wedding, and both really enjoyed watching the ceremony from a short distance. As Stella said “they kissed! More than three times”! The wedding party was also very lucky – shortly after the ceremony and photos a storm swept in, pelting the resort with rain. The kids stayed in the pool and I sat by the bar enjoying a Mojito. And then a Pina Colada. The kids were excited to sit at the swim up bar to share a watermelon shake. Dan was having a little rest in the room and appeared just in time for a Mai Tai before the bar closed. We’ve been enjoying chatting to other guests. There are lots of relaxed people here, and plenty of other kids for our girls to swim with. It was room service for dinner and an early night – but I finally managed to find time to start reading a novel!