Part 9 (Final) – Lobsters, Tides & New Islands

On the subject of lobsters… Throughout our travels, we found out that lobsters could be very different. And vary not only in weight or size, but in appearance as well. In the floating Muslim village we happened upon a specimen that looked like an old WW1 German military helmet sprouting a bunch of tiny tentacle-looking legs underneath. The thing and its mates were swimming in dim waters of a fish tank, displayed in front of a restaurant, and were supposed to attract customers. The anthropoids looked like prehistoric centipedes covered with a piss pot, and could inspire culinary urges only in perverts.

The “German helmet” lobsters in the floating village

However, if anybody thought that it could not get worse than that – it totally could. And did! Right on the following day. In the evening, we decided to celebrate the departure from the quiet and green island of Ko Yao with a dinner in a restaurant on the beach. The place attracted our attention the previous evening by a rich seafood display decorated with two bottles of wine at the entrance. To add to the charms, the tables were standing right on the beach, colorful lights were hanging over them from the branches of nearby trees, and the ocean waves were whispering some silly nonsense right into your ear – a perfect setting for a romantic evening!…

Our now inseparable foursome took the last free table, and immediately made an impression by ordering a bottle of wine. The owner materialized from nowhere and started helping with the choice of fish, and methods of its cooking. Seeing that the ladies were not very much inspired by the fish choices, he gave us a conspiratorial wink, and let us in on a secret: just this morning he got the tastiest and freshest delicacy, juicy and tender, and bound to make us happy. He could not quite come up with the name for the delicacy, but was eager to show it. Inspired by advertisement, Irina and I eagerly rushed away from our table to take a look. On second thought – we would have been better off having restrained our curiosity. The fish tank, that the owner of the restaurant was proudly and lovingly pointing at, contained giant prehistoric penises. With legs. Splashing about. Seeing pure horror on our faces, the owner surpassed himself, but remembered that the penises were called “rock lobsters”, and continued to advertise said specimens, praising their unrivaled culinary qualities. The creatures looked absolutely disgusting – dimly-colored penises a good half an arm length each, with vibrating tentacle legs and no sign of claws, tails, or other essential lobster attributes… Good enough for scaring little kids! We proudly refused to have anything to do with the sea penises, and to the owner’s disappointment ordered shrimp.

Luckily, the restaurant got remembered not only due to prehistoric monsters in the fish tank. The tables on the beach were lovely, but in about an hour after we sat down, the tide started crawling in. In the end we had to move together with chairs, table, and everything on it at least three times, moving away from the waves, which only added to the exotic feel of the evening. One bottle of wine for four did not last long, but when we asked for another one, the owner honestly informed us, that he does have another one, but only white. We responsibly decided not to mix, and humbly refused, realizing that we have just consumed the red wine reserves of the island… The evening ended with our feet in the ocean tide waters, other patrons left, and the owner sat down at our table, sharing with us left over shrimps and vegetables from the grill. Despite the rock anthropoids, the evening was fantastic!

The next morning we got into a chartered longboat (yes, our familiarity with local customs and traditions went as far as chartering boats!), and said our good byes to Ko Yao. The boat took us South, in the direction of the next island, that planned to be the last on our agenda. The name of the island was Ko Jum, but for everybody’s convenience it also had a second name, Ko Pu. This complicated our negotiations with the boat captain, but the itinerary was clarified on the way. In contrast to Ko Yao, the island was supposed to have beaches – the fact that we verified before arrival with the help of the Internet.

On the way to new adventures

The better part of an almost 3-hour journey to Ko Jum went through the open waters of the Indian Ocean. Sitting in a small wooden vessel powered by an engine of a small sedan, we could feel the might and power of the ocean at full swing. The waves were beating into the sides of the boat, throwing salty water into our faces, the wind was singing in our ears, and gigantic pink jellyfish were floating gracefully alongside the boat. We were overwhelmed by all the audio- and video aspects of the journey, and enjoyed every minute of it till the boat stopped at an idyllic-looking white sandy beach and palms covering the horizon, and we realized that we finally arrived at the place we’ve always dreamed about. Considering the heavenly interface of the island, our intentions to stay were serious, especially in view of the fact that our chartered boat said its good-byes, and sailed off to the horizon.

After that, we followed the usual scenario: Irina, me and the suitcases sat down in a beach bar, enjoying the scenery and fresh coconuts, and the gentlemen embarked on an accommodation-finding expedition. This time, the search took longer, and the boys came back to the beach bar only two and a half hours later. As it turned out – not due to the gigantic size of the island, or it being particularly overcrowded with tourists – they simply forgot where exactly they left us…

The misunderstanding was cleared and apologies provided – actually, we did not have any problems with the wait – the sun was shining, the ocean waves were caressing the white sands of the beach, and the coconuts were being brought to us without delay. The gentlemen proudly reported having found and rented accommodations in the form of bungalows (aka huts on the beach) in the most picturesque spot on the northern tip of the island – beautiful, but not easily accessible. After a half an hour ride hugging our suitcases on two scooters powered by hairdryer engines, we reached our new lodgings. This motocross through rugged terrain with only a vague hint at a road, peppered with sandy dunes, definitely added grey hairs to my still thick, but gradually loosing color hair. This said, the destination was definitely worth it: our newly-rented digs were two luxury huts (does not matter that the expression “luxury hut” is an oxymoron in itself – after three weeks in Asia it takes way more than an oxymoron to surprise us!) with an ocean view in a place called “Freedom Huts“.

Neither our bungalow, nor the neighboring ones had locks on the doors, and when we asked the management about them, we were assured that everything here was safe and honest, and no locks were needed. Just a couple of hours in the “Freedom Huts” absolutely confirmed this statement, we joined the safe and honest crowd, and never posed any more inappropriate questions.

Seaside bungalows at “Freedom Huts”

Ko Jum turned out to be an ideal place to finish our journey at – peace and quiet, paired with the holiday-appropriate color scheme (blue ocean, green palms, yellow sun and white sand), worked wonders in establishing and cultivating a relaxed holiday mood. The story of our lives – the vacation was unfolding in full swing right when it was about to finish!…

Despite the peace and quiet (or, maybe, because of it), we found entertainment on the island, to keep us in shape. The adventures were predominantly peaceful, and consisted of riding around the island – with the total area of 30 square meters and presence of only one and a half roads this was not too time-consuming. Even though the full road definitely had visible gaps in its topography, it could still be visualized on terrain. The second road can hardly be called even a half, and took serious efforts on our part to localize and even more serious ones (bordering on manic obsession) to experience. As a result, the art of conquering goat paths on a moped was added to our already extensive list of life experiences. Although, in all honestly, “goat path” is too big a word for the trail we had to search for through the jungle. How THAT appeared on a map, is beyond me, and can probably be explained only by that unknown and definitely not very sober topographer, who drew this barely visible hedgehog path on the island map. Difficulties in visibility obviously caused difficulties in finding and conquering the latter. We were not from among the faint-hearted, though, and the miles we circled around the island’s jungle, hills and rocks, should definitely be added to the annals of motocross.

Everything good (just like everything bad) has its end, and at some point another boat took us from the paradise island in the direction of mainland, where a big white airplane was waiting to take us home…

Part 8 – Ko Yao Noi

Despite the birthday celebrations and alcoholic excesses with bikers, we actually managed to figure out our further plans, setting our eyes on a Northern island called Ko Yao Noi. According to all guidebooks the island was supposed to be beautiful, quiet, and relatively non-polluted by tourists. The tranquility and absence of hoards of travelers were all true. Beauty is a relative term, so the guidebooks can be excused. What they shyly forgot to mention, was that the island had no beaches whatsoever. Which explained its quiet nature and lack of tourists. This, however, was verified only upon arrival.

For a change, we did not reach the island by ferry, all tickets to which were sold out by the time we showed up, but instead arrived in style on a speed boat. Generally, we liked the boat much better – it moved quicker, did not make any unnecessary stops, and connected in open waters with all sorts of vessels from fishing boats to ferries, letting passengers cheerfully jump and throw their luggage over.

Ko Yao was green, quiet, and not overburdened by the signs of civilization. The total population – 4.5 thousand people (I had to look this up in Wikipedia – personally, I would not have given it more than a couple hundred), most of them Muslim. So the general friendliness of people, as well as accessibility of alcohol were limited. In general, booze could be found only in one restaurant and in a Rastafarian bar on the beach. And it’s not that alcohol should be an essential part of any vacation… But in cases of any limitations, especially in this area, the stubborn nature gets appalled, and immediately starts demanding exactly the thing missing on the menu…

The low tide during the day turned the perimeter of the island into a swamp, and ocean waters could be seen by the banks only at night and early in the morning. Even though the high tide at night covered up the swamp, the memories of the slimy grime the bottom was made of, stopped any calls for swimming. The three days we spent on the island were literally and figuratively the driest of our Asian vacation. Since Ko Yao itself was not much to write home about, it got remembered due to some completely irrelevant and totally concomitant reasons. Like cows and egrets. The cows were not too numerous, and were randomly placed around the island. Each came in a package with an egret or two. The birds either eat the mosquitoes buzzing around the cows, or fed on frogs in the grass disturbed by them, but the symbiosis apparently worked, for not a single cow was spotted without an egret companion.

The beaches of Ko Yao Noi during low tide

Another memorable representative of local fauna was an iguana that happened to be crossing the road while we were scouting out the surroundings. With about 2 meters in length it called for attention, and made us break to the best of our abilities in order not to run over this beauty. The meeting was of a chance nature, and did not leave enough time for commemorating it on a photo, but it left some warm memories.

The island’s Rastafarian business on the beach was a shaky hut made of bamboo and palm leaves, had coconuts and beer on the menu, as well as some other interesting things off it. The owner had the widest smile I have ever seen (either due to absence of any Muslim inclinations, or thanks to the quality of the weed he was smoking), randomly positioned teeth, and a huge collection of wigs (although, maybe those were the scalps of enemies) – from waist-long dreadlocks to an Afro-Boni-M piece, blocking the horizon. At 2-meter’s height, the Rastafarian looked impressive and attracted us from the first minute of making his acquaintance, which we continued throughout our stay on the island.

It was on Ko Yao that purely by accident we met wonderful companions for the remaining two weeks of our vacation. Unloading ourselves and luggage from the speed boat, and arguing with local cab drivers attempting to explain to them which part of the island we needed the transfer to, we ended up in the back of a pickup truck next to a couple with very similar predispositions. They asked where we were planning to land, we cheerfully replied that we had absolutely no idea, they fully supported the sentiment, and the contact was established! While shaking in the truck going through the un-populated jungle, we learned that the couple was of English residence, the guy’s name was Jamie, the girl was called Irina, and neither their looks, worldviews or lifestyles fitted any cultural stereotypes. Jamie spent all his life at sea, first as a mechanic on ships, and later as an engineer for some complicated deep water drilling equipment for the oil industry. 25 years ago he met Irina when his ship docked in the port town of Yalta on the Black Sea, married her to take her out of the then very Soviet Union, and since then they have been traveling the world together.

New friends and travel companions

The pickup truck unloaded us at the beach, Irina and I sat down with our luggage in a friendly-looking bar, the boys hired two scooters, and went on a scouting mission around the island in search of accommodation. The situation was complicated by the upcoming New Year’s Eve, so everybody who planned celebrating it on the island already settled there, limiting our options. Having spent half an hour over cups of tea in the beach bar, we felt mutual sympathy with Irina, despite common birth roots.

Here, by the way, is another curious fact I noticed during the years of travel. Citizens of most countries are usually happy to meet compatriots away from home, and start cheerfully socializing, feeling mutual attraction. In stark contrast to that, most Russian tourists and travelers are normally suspicious of each other and rarely own up to their origins. If the meeting does happen, some magneto-cosmic force drags the parties apart into the opposite corners of the room, from where they stare at each other without the slightest sign of affection. No socialization, cheering, swapping of jokes, or joint consumption of national alcohols take place… Meeting fellow countrymen “in the big wide open” mostly makes one wary of possible inadequacies in behavior and general “weirdness”. This gives one a very strange and unsettling feeling, similar to the one you get when visiting the primate area of a Zoo. With the logical side of your brain you understand, that on a global scale of the Universe you have common ancestors, which makes you ashamed that you are here, and they are there; but at the same time you feel equally embarrassed for these universal relatives, and want to distance yourself from them by all possible means.

But back to the trip. On the following morning after arriving on Ko Yao, thanks to Irina’s relentless energy and organizing skills we left it for the whole day, embarking on a long trip of surrounding waters and islands. As a result, we had a chance to visit the following sights:

  • A giant tree on the Southern tip of the island, growing up into the skies.
The Big Tree
  • A deserted island with a blue lagoon and breath-taking cliffs.
The blue lagoon of the deserted island
  • A floating village – everything on pontoons, tucked around a big rock, sticking out of the ocean. The village’s fully Muslim population greeted the tourists with wary stares. Interestingly, there were only women, resentfully selling souvenirs – the male population was hiding away from the prying eyes.
The Floating Village of Koh Panyee
  • Khao Phing Kan – the island with a lonely picturesque rock, commemorated in the timeless creation of Metro Goldwyn Meier “The Man With A Golden Gun“. Isn’t it ironic, how 5 minutes of screen time turned the unknown and hard-to-reach piece of stone into a worldwide attraction?… The same was done to a Thai islands of Phi-Phi by “The Beach“, as a result of which the place was practically overrun by tourists. Speak about sad after-effects of fame…
  • A cave with giant stalactites and stalagmites (I could never remember which one is which) on one more island without a name. This time everything went well – no crawling into rat holes was required, and consequently the cave left only positive impressions.

On our way back to Ko Yao, we had another adventure in the form of a boat break down.
Technically, it was not the boat that broke download, but its engine. Which, however, did not simplify the situation. We were doing our sightseeing not in the crowds of other visitors herded into big tourist ferries, but in a rather authentic manner, on a real Thai longboat. The boat was flat, elegant, with a nose decorated with colorful ribbons, and was powered by a car engine on a long pole, welded to its rear. Depending on size and age, longboats were equipped with engines of varied calibers – from an appliance of a lawn mower to the device that in its pre-maritime period powered a German-made mini-van. Our vessel had a mini-bus engine, and was steered by the son and father crew, with the son doubling up as a guide and translator. Both had unpronounceable names, wide smiles, and throughout the day spent together, showed themselves to be exceptionally nice company. When the boat engine broke down, we were truly and genuinely sorry for them. However, in addition to the boat, the father and son also had a mobile phone, with the help of which they called for help. It arrived in a form of a toothless grandpa in a run-down boat, who escorted us on a rope to the peer.

Towed to the pier

The quiet island brought more impressions, but these will follow later.