Sunday, 29 January 2012

Christmas & New Year Thailand Style

It was time for a change of scenery...I know the following I am about to say, sounds unthinkable, perhaps to some people unforgivable when you consider cold, miserable England, but, we were a little tired of the whole beach culture. We had spent over two weeks on the beaches that belong to the beautiful ko Samui archipelago and It was time for a change of pace, slow it down a bit before the madness of Christmas and New Year. We had already booked our accommodation for Christmas on the island of Ko Phi Phi situated on the west side of Thailand and we were also looking to spend New Year somewhere in the Krabi area. Therefore we decided on a trip to the jungle, in the centre of Thailand as something  completely different. We would spend a week in the jungles of Khao Sok and believe me it fed our appetites again for a little more of creamy sand and crystal blue sea. 

Khao Sok National park in Southern Thailand is an amazing place. It is covered by the oldest evergreen rain forest in the world, huge lime stone mountains shooting straight up in the air, the remains of an ancient coral reef that was five times as big as the Great Barrier Reef. Deep valleys penetrate the landscape, breathtaking lakes and caves are waiting to be explored are vast and remote; wild animals, insects and strange exotic noises creates a feeling of being totally free but at the same time a sense of complete loneliness as though one has stepped back in the wilderness of the Jurassic age. We spent a week in a remote part of the jungle, sleeping in small wooden jungle huts listening to some of the most primal noises of a night and being woken up every morning by troops of monkeys swinging on to the roof. We went on two jungle treks, visited waterfalls and ate beautifully prepared Thai food, my favorite being Bamboo Curry. It was a great experience but I was ready for the beach again after being out in the sticks for five days...I was also in need of a good hot shower.

The view from our jungle hut
Morning in the Jungle 

Taking a well earned rest during one of our jungle treks
We arrived on the island of Koh Phi Phi on the 23rd December and the first thing I done was book on two early morning dives for the following day; Christmas Eve. I usually spend this day stressed out, running around town doing last minute shopping trying to decide what perfume my Mum would like this year. There was nothing better than being on that boat at 7am on Christmas Eve, sun out and a cool sea breeze blowing in my face traveling to one of the best dive sites in the world with the potential to see an abundance of marine life including some reef sharks. We dived two sites just off the famous Ko Phi Phi Lay; this is where the cult  movie 'The Beach' starring Leonardo DiCaprio was filmed. The first dive site was called  Hin Bida, and we dived a coral shelf with a maximum depth of 18m; the highlight  was swimming close to a shy  but curious Leopard Shark, a Blue Spotted Ray and a very inquisitive Hawksbill Turtle.  When you dive, it is probably a similar feeling to being in space; the freedom and weightlessness sensation, a feeling of being in another world...their world. I remember on both dives floating with the currant, and being surrounded by thousands of fish all brightly coloured, tightly packed, the perfect defensive tactic, a massive shoal of fish, individual but all working together like one singular entity, a force that is mesmerising to behold like a muscle contracting and extending effortlessly and poetically, sensitive to every motion in the sea. If you swim to close,  or put your hand out the whole shoal moves together changing its shape, contracting,  but  somehow keeping its order, its shape as though this entity is simply breathing in and out. I could stay there and watch this display of safety in numbers the whole dive, it is simply one of natures beautifully engrossing sites. My final dive was on a site called Bida Nok with a depth of around 20m.  We spent 40 minutes searching for the shy and elusive Black Tip Reef Shark.  Near the end  of our dive, our dive master took us to coral wall and we dived to about 16m and waited at a particularity good feeding ground for one last chance of a sighting. With only 60 bar of air left, and time running out, there it was, out of the blue the greatest hunting machine the world has known; skills homed and refined over millions of years of evolution prowling past me like poetry in motion; slick, graceful, elegant. I was in awe, in front of me swimming was the ultimate predator...the Shark and within in seconds... it was gone. What an unforgettable encounter.

Christmas is not the same when you are abroad in my opinion, there is nothing like being at home with all your family eating your Turkey and Stuffing. It did not feel like Christmas this year but it was still a lot of fun. This year I had a BBQ all you can eat for dinner, which was a change. Boxing day on Phi Phi was a quiet and somber occasion. All excursions, dive and water sports were cancelled as a sign of respect for the hundreds of people who lost there lives in the 2004 Tsunami disaster. It was the seven year anniversary of when the Tsunami destroyed this island and you can still evidence of the disaster.  We walked up to the view point to remember the victims and to pay our respects. The tourist part of Phi Phi were the majority of hotels and restaurants are situated lies on a thin stretch of land. This is were the waves hit hardest; it really drives home the reality of just how vulnerable the victims were seven years ago.  

Happy Christmas

Koh Phi Phi

A poignant view of Phi on the anniversary of the 2004 Tsunami

You can notice Phi Phi Lay just under my chin where the cult movie 'The Beach' was filmed
Railay is one of Thailand's most sought after beach areas, a rocky headland and accessible only by boat, presents itself as a tranquil and extraordinary little world. In just one small peninsula you'll find gorgeous white sand beaches, soaring limestone cliffs, viewpoints, caves and lagoons hidden inside the cliffs, shaped and fed by the changing tides.  What a place to bring in the New Year. The vibe here is layed back and chilled out, with reggae music drifting harmoniously across the beach, basking in sun shine watching climbers from all over the world scale irresistible and very challenging cliffs and crags. However, we almost had to leave before we even settled in. 

We arrived on the peninsula late in the afternoon of the 28th December and decided not to book anywhere, as we have found from experience that it's usually cheaper to find a place when you arrive at your destination. Within minutes of arriving by long boat, however, we quickly realised that the entire place was fully booked out. With night fall fast approaching, me and Laura laid en with heavy rucksacks and wary from travelling all day were faced with the reality of sleeping on the beach, or if we are lucky in a bar somewhere. We walked the entire island for over two hours and everywhere was full. My heart sank. The closet place to go from here was by boat  and it was over an hour a way and we would defiantly be ripped off. In our hour of need and with the last throw of the dice I sat our bags down and ran up 'last chance saloon' jungle road, a stretch of beating track that leads up into the mountains. By now it was dark, I was tired and I new if I can't manage to convince someone to put us up for the night we were defiantly sleeping on a strip of sand somewhere. I called into three small guest houses, full, no vacancies. I then arrived at the last guest house up on the hill and pleaded with the guy 'We'll sleep anywhere'. The guy looked at me and told me that he did have one room, but it had no door, 'do you want a look'? I ran up with a joyful heart. He was right about the door, but it also had no windows, no bed no nothing, just a bear room with a ripped mosquito net and dirty mattress. But, beggars can't be choosers, and in a situation like this it looked more to me like the 'Hilton' to me. I think my words were  in a high voice 'we'll take it'!!!.

The Hilton
The motto of Rilay is a simple but effective way of making decisions quickly without thought or responsibility of any direct or indirect consequence that may follow due to your answer. Let me try to explain using the following questions. Do you want to climb tomorrow? Why not? Do you want to sunbathe? Why not? Shall we go swimming later? Why not? Do you want a ice cold beer? Why Not? Do you want to play the next song on the bass? Why not? Did you order a large pinnacallada?...its half seven in the morning I am not an alcoholic...Why not? I think you get the general gist. This simple quick witted two letter word is the answer to almost all questions on this liberal little island. It provides a platform for a no nonsense, no thought involved, uncompromising gut approach without a second thought for consequence or responsibility. Great!!! It's the decision making process the Tories having been using for years in England to discuss, manage and implement government policy on a number of greatly pressing issues. Imagine the setting; David Cameron addressing his cabinet including the one and only Nick Clegg. The issue  for discussion is on  debt reduction in the UK. David Cameron; "Shall we cut and slash Government spending to an all time low, and rip apart the entire social fabric of society in the process?" Cabinet with an indifferent glare and a shake of the heads...Why Not?

I usually think New Year is a big let down, and anti climax to the festive period, but, this year was different. I spent the night on the beach, watching fire work displays, mixing with people from all around the world and listening to the best upbeat positive genres of music...Reggae. The highlight was getting up with one of the local Rasta bands and jamming on the bass some legendary Bob Marley songs. I then had the pleasure to watch one of the best Reggae bands in Thailand bring the New Year in, and stand in awe listening to the funkiest soul-iest  bass player I have ever had the pleasure and honor to behold...he made the bass sing. What an end to a great year...roll on 2012.
Rilay Beach

Jammin', I wanna Jam it wid you!!!
Bringing in the New Year

The man. The best bass player I have ever seen; the man is soul

Happy New Year 2012

'Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery
None but ourselves can free our minds'
                         -Bob Marley

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