Thursday, April 9, 2009

koh tao

My journey to tropical island paradise began at 10 p.m. on Friday evening boarding an ornate, curtained, double-decker bus at the Bangkok train station. My seatmate was a lovely environmental engineer from the Netherlands. In between intermittent bouts of paying attention to the bizarre post-apocalyptic sci-fi action movie dubbed inexpertly into Thai and inexplicably starring Sir Ian Mckellen, we talked through the night about environmental sustainability, human trafficking, and travel in South East Asia.

In the photos below you’ll no doubt be struck by the incredible beauty of the port of Chumphon, the bus’s destination, in the early morning light. Sadly, I am unable to tell you anything much about the loveliness that seems to have been. Erika took the photos. I spent almost the entirety of my day-lit time in Chumphon asleep on the ferry floor in a puddle of dirty water. I wasn’t in the puddle when I fell asleep – the puddle shifted when the boat started moving. I was so tired that at first I didn’t realise that damp had become definitively wet and once I did, I didn’t care.

My first impressions of Koh Tao, aka Turtle Island, are somewhat fogged by a dearth of sleep and a wealth of sweet-starchy green mango dipped in chilli and salt (which is good at any time, and more delicious than you can imagine at a 1 a.m. pit stop). The boat pulled up to the dock just as the skies began their daily warm-ups for the coming monsoon season. I got soaked to the skin wading up to my ankles across the main street. But of course, the clouds then parted and passed. The sun appeared, the water became brilliant turquoise, and as I spread my sweatshirt out on the sand to steam if not dry, I thought . . . wow. This is pretty nice. The island is ringed alternately with gleaming white beaches and magnificent tumbles of boulders. In the centre a series of mini-mountains jostle one another, rumpling their drapery of palms, ferns, banana trees.

Resting in the Gulf of Thailand on the Eastern side of Thailands isthimus connection to Malaysia, Koh Tao is a reef island. Wade about 15 meters off the beach and you hit coral. Much of the coral immediately accessible to the most populus areas is unsurprisingly less-than healthy, but a community environmental group is rising to the challenge and the next few years will hopefully see positive changes for marina life. The beach off of which we took ourselves snorkelling is crowded with busy, beautiful, happy fishes: schools of tiny blue fish that glow electric blue, two-foot long skinny needle-like fish with Dr. Seuss noses, yellow fish with spots, a big fish striped orange and white hiding coyly under a coral shelf, an iridescent rainbow fish the size of a salad plate receiving a thorough scouring from two industrious cleaning fish no bigger than salt shakers . . . we even saw tiny stonefish (too small to be scary) and what might have been a lion fish (chose not to get close enough to be sure). I chased a school of five baby sharks as they meandered around the bay, eventually losing them because I got tired right around the same time they got tired of me and picked up the pace.

Our time in Koh Tao was brief and magical. So far removed from the mass and noise Bangkok, it was an excellent reminder of the incredible diversity this relatively small country actually supports. Wherever you may be, it’s all too easy to slip into a routine and forget to explore. Koh Tao is an excellent antidote to such complacency, its beauty at once restful and inspiring.

1 comment:

Lisa Nonken said...

um, the photos are all skewed 90 deg... or maybe that's just on my computer.