Bangkok from Above

Sachie and I recently spent a long weekend in Phuket. I got a window seat at the back of the plane and, being a daytime flight, a pretty good view.

We had stayed at Miss Sachie’s resort, Marriott Mai Khao Beach Club, and had a lovely time. You can’t quite see it in the photo below but you can see Marriott Phuket Beach Club if you know where to look.

Enough Phuket, we are now approaching Bangkok. This flight was to Don Mueang so we got a good look at the city.

Central Bangkok and the Chao Praya.
Koh Kret.
Another look at Koh Kret.

Here’s a look at the world’s largest ‘Buddhist’ temple, Wat Dhammakaya. It’s the home of a megachurch-style sect that apparently exists to solicit donations and build enormous monuments.

And as our wheels touch down that’s the end of another trip. Now it’s time to collect our bags and line up for a ride in a 20-year old, clapped out Corolla at the taxi queue. Back in Bangkok indeed.

Dan Went down to Georgia: Day II

Day two and we are checking out of the hotel and in the car to Telavi. A quick word about getting around in Georgia: Bolt. There’s taxis and busses and trains and so on, even a subway, but Bolt is cheap and good. We took one from Tbilisi to Telavi, a two-hour drive, for 133 Lari (or “Larrys” as I called them) or about 50 bucks. I guess there’s a bus that’s cheaper but we’re only around for a week so no time to lose and the ride was spectacular.

I’m afraid you can’t see the sign very well but it was raining and the car was going fast but that’s the sign for George Bush Boulevard. He was a popular chap in Georgia at one time, helping them get a bit closer to NATO membership or something. Didn’t do them much good when Russia invaded though.

The countryside reminded me of my native country Victoria, rolling green pastureland. The difference is that they don’t have paddocks or fences, I guess the sheep just go wherever. Our driver took the ‘windy’ route. That is, it’s a twisty road (and was windy too) and ascended over a pass, quite a high one. We did stop at the top, which was high enough for my ears to pop but I don’t have any photos as we were in the clouds.

Telavi is a nice regional centre in the wine country. We stayed at the Holiday Inn, here’s the view from our room:

The hotel came with a dog, which was nice. Note the ear tag to show this chap hasn’t got rabies.

Telavi comes with its own castle ruin. There’s a statue of the local lord on a horse and bunch of walls.

Georgia is in a part of the world where you need stout fortifications. According to Wikipedia, Telavi boasts fortifications from four distinct periods, we only saw this one.

Here’s the chap on his horse.
Here is his house.
Looks like the local youth have political stirrings, but I don’t think that’s the Banksy we know. Is it important that the graffiti is in English? Perhaps, but it doesn’t look like much fun doing graffiti in Georgian script.

The trouble is that, Telavi is a bit shit. We checked out the market and it puts me in the mind of Cambodia. Luckily there was a couple of fancy restaurants next door to the hotel. Cue Sachie’s introduction to Cha Cha.

Yep, Georgia may be the home of wine but they make ‘cha cha’ with the leftovers. It can be most closely related to grappa and is the firewater that’s made from the leavings from winemaking. Needless to say, we slept well.

Next day was sunny.

Telavi may have a great nightlife but I wouldn’t know because we had an early start the next day — winery tour. We hired a driver by the name of Mamuka a couple of years ago but the trip got postponed due to covid. Now we had him behind the wheel for the whole day, ferrying us from winery to winery. But first, culture.

Alexander Chavchavadze's house

Alexander Chavchavadze used to live here. He was an imperial official and an admired poet, so they gave him this nice house. Not sure why it’s out here in the middle of nowhere, many hours from the city but it is set in lovely grounds. Inside is well preserved but I can’t show you as you’re not allowed to take photographs.

Nothing to stop you peeking in the windows though.

The house is a fine example of Caucasian/Russian imperial architecture and they have a scriptorium that has stunning, very old manuscripts on display. But this isn’t a history tour and the only culture we were interested in is yeast in a wine vat.

No more fucking about.

Do you about traditional Georgian wine? No? Well listen carefully, pleb. The Georgians claim that they’ve been fermenting grapes for 8,000 years. They sold wine to the Romans and everyone else before and since. Their method is unique: they bury massive clay pots up to the neck in soil, crush up the grapes and toss it all in, seal it up and wait a few months. Then it’s tapping time and they use a big dipper to get the wine out. Wine may be moved to other pots above or below ground for maturation but the basic method is: hole + grapes + time = wine.

After you get the wine out you send your cousin into the pot to clean it out, and to make the afore-mentioned cha-cha. The chap in the pot is asked to sing while he works so you can tell when he passes out from the fumes. Maybe the tie a rope around his waist as well?

Snacks, no drinking on an empty stomach.

So the first winery sat us in the garden and started pulling corks. This winery, like most in Georgia, produce wine using traditional methods as well as what they call the ‘European method’. The traditional method retains skins, stems, dirt, old bottle tops and someone’s glasses that they’re probably looking for throughout the fermentation process, proper tough-guy wine. Whereas under the poofy ‘European method’ they take that stuff out at some point. The result is that traditional wines are heavy with tannins and rich, complex flavours (turpentine? paint stripper?) and the stainless-steel vat club are lighter and closer to what’s expected by the international palate. The good news is that Georgia takes an innovative approach to both, helped along by their massive menu of grape varieties. Have a look at the awards plastering the walls of this second winery.

They use the minor ones as toilet paper in the bathrooms, now that’s class!

We did buy bottles at each winery, in this one we picked up one of ‘orange’ wine. Yep, there’s white, red and orange in Georgia and it really does have an orange hue. I really wanted the orange one we tasted as it is an excellent example of stony or flinty flavours in a wine that we so rarely see in our new-world wines.

See? Orange.

They also have a fine cha-cha, 99% guaranteed not to make you blind or spontaneously combust. I believe these are bohemian glasses but I don’t really care.

I assume that by this time we were due lunch but for the life of me I can’t remember eating anything or where it was. Miss Sachie informs me that we did in fact dine at a winery at which we were the only guests and was mostly under construction. Oh well.

Our next stop was the party house, also known as the Numisi Cellar Museum. Here’s the cellar:

Let’s get this out of the way.

The museum part refers to the sizable collection of soviet-era appliances, like radios, TVs and so on. Some fantastic typewriters.

People born after 1970 won’t know what this is. But back in the day you would be the most popular family in the neighbourhood.
This is where you get the horn.

It was at this place that we first got a good look at the Qvevris, the earthenware pots in which the wine is made:

The fun is inside.

I’m not sure of these were in use at the time but I don’t think so. After a look around we were invited to a vaulted and semi-sunken hall with a fine fireplace at one end. On the table we found a jug of wine, plenty of cha-cha and some salty bread and cheese.

Miss Sachie and I are big drinkers and lovers of cheese. Perfect! The Georgian cheese is salty and full of bubbles so with salty bread they demand a whistle-wetter. Oh dear, the red is a bit sweet, better try the cha-cha.

Well, that was enough for me. The kerosine cha-cha sat in my stomach like an old truck-tyre and put me off the idea of putting anything else in there. The museum would be magnificent with a tour bus full of people, all necking sweet wine and cheap moonshine next to a roaring fire, they even have a duck pond outside to vomit into. Sadly, it was just the two of us, but we did our best to get into the spirit.

Get hammered and play dressups.

This rather finished us for the day and we were unable to enjoy drinks at the next stop, which was a shame because this was the place where you can drink right out of the Qvevri, with a dipper of course.

You can drink out of this too, if you are insane.

It was a shame as this was a very nice, small winery that looked great in the late-afternoon sunlight. They were even making some of Georgia’s favourite treat:

No, it’s not poo on a string, that’s churchkela, nuts covered in grape juice thickened with flour. The string is dipped in the mix, left to dry and dipped again like you’re making a candle. The result is delicious and cheap. We didn’t get any at this stop but stocked up back in Tbilisi.

By now Mamuka was warming to us a bit. He normally drives around tourists and his English is pretty good but Covid had done its work on the Georgian tourism market and he was topping up his business by taking on some side work by collecting coins from charitable donation boxes around the countryside. He is concerned that he’s carrying around a lot of money and the company won’t give him a gun to protect himself from bandits. I worked out that he’d be carrying at most around $500 so if he needs a gun to stop people hijacking him on the road things must be a bit grim in country Georgia. Not sure how that compares to US-Georgia but I expect someone may shoot you for $500 in change there too.

Now the sun was getting low and we couldn’t drink any more. But no! There was the mountain village of Sighaghi, a charming hamlet of hills and steep driveways. It has a wall.

There’s a wonderful view of the snow-capped Caucus mountains there and it really is a beautiful part of the world. Really lets you know that you’re in Europe. Being a lad from country Victoria we don’t have old castles or interesting ruins, although to be fair I’ve seen cave paintings tens of thousands of years old there, but it’s not the same.

Being Covid-times the place was very quiet but there are signs that this was once a bustling backpacker-colony.

See that shop through the gate? They sell tourist nick-nacks and socks. Wonderful socks displayed up and down the wall. I bought some off the old lady knitting in the doorway next to the shop and she sold me the scratchiest, itchiest, hardest woollen socks have have ever worn in my life. Turns out she lives next to the shop and has nothing to do with it. Down the road is carpet-mart.

Those ones at the top don’t look local.

It’s a beautiful and ancient town and I’m so glad that we could visit, I’d like to go and stay there one day.

Fucking awesome.

Time to go home. It was proper dark now and the roads were windy and long. It was about now that Mamuka regaled us with tales of countryside living, of drinking Cha-Cha in winter but mostly about his recent divorce and how much he misses his daughter. The newly divorced man is prone to explaining, in excruciating detail, the circumstances of his breakup. I know this because I have been that man. Can’t blame the chap, we’re all prone to it but as I have my current main squeeze in the back passenger seat with me so I can’t top his story or tell him to take a teaspoon of cement and harden the fuck up.

We’d brought some gifts from Thailand for him, being decent folk (well Sachie is). Somehow we gave them to him before getting dropped off and he stopped where his daughter lives so he could give them to her. He’s a very decent bloke and a generous one as well. I wish him all the best and hope to see him next time we visit.

Mamuka dropped us off at the Holiday Inn and we were completely rooted and went to bed. Thus ends part II.

Dan Went down to Georgia: Day I

Back in May, the lady and I went to Georgia. No, not the Peach State, in the US of A. The one in the Caucasus, next to Russia. Of course, May being close to February, the war in Ukraine was fresh in most minds and my mother was very concerned that we would be in danger. So it was easy to assure her that we’d be quite safe from the Russian army as they had already invaded Georgia, back in 2008, and they were now busy further north.

Georgia is a small country, there are only about four million Georgians, but they have a long history. They have their own wacky language and even wackier alphabet, a strong literary tradition, a fierce sense of independence and an 8,000-year long wine tradition. We, of course, went for the wine.

They have a zillion varieties of grape that nobody has ever heard of as well.

The flight is done and we have been picked up by the hotel. Let’s check in.

Class hey? This flophouse started as the Hotel Majestic, back in 1915, and has played host to the famous and infamous over its life, also serving as WWI hospital, union hall and a cinema. There is a parade of notables who have stayed here but the only one I remember is Margret Thatcher who must have come for a dirty weekend or something. Speaking of which…

The room was very nice, a classic. I love old apartments, hotels and so on, but what’s with the big, hemispherical mirror on the bedhead? I puzzled over this for many minutes before concluding that it’s so the people operating the camera behind it can get a better angle. Nice. Let’s go get breakfast.

Ahhh, nothing like a champagne breakfast. Sorry it’s a bit blurry but we’re never our best first thing in the morning. Luckily there’s a healthy alternative.

Yes, that’s one’s blurry too. They do actually serve food and it was good. Not good enough to photograph but good. One welcome surprise was a big bowl of fresh strawberries. In Bangkok they’re big and tasteless but these were small, sweet and plentiful everywhere we went.

Most of day #1 was taken up with the walking tour. It’s free, leaves from Freedom Square at 10am and is conducted by a young Georgian lady. She gave us a quick rundown on Georgian history, which is basically that it keeps getting invaded by the Russians, who are a pack of shitbags.

Our Guide
Our Guide

The tour takes in the old part of town, which is narrow streets and old houses. Much of it is in poor repair as the place is prone to earthquakes although some neighbourhoods have been renovated and done up nicely.

This one isn’t renovated. It’s an old Armenian merchant’s place (the house is old, 140 years or so, not the merchant, although I guess he would be pretty old if he was still about) that was seized and chopped up into apartments by the Bolsheviks.

For a tourist the city is very walkable with a park/museum street, shopping area, the old town and then the hot springs all topped off by the fortress on the hill. These all join up so one need not negotiate the subway system or taxis. There’s this funky footbridge that joins up some of the tourist zones.

The city seems to be pretty safe, there’s a few pushy touts about but you get them everywhere. However, there are these enormous hunting dogs all over.

These are strays but that doesn’t mean they’re not looked after. The city vaccinates them and puts a plastic tag through their ear. They’re friendly and like to follow you about. We had a lovely one for our walking tour.

Another other tourist notable is the clocktower.

Tbilisi Clocktower

In an afternoon of the tourguide quizzing us on the age of various buildings and artifacts around the old town (why do they do that? Isn’t it their job to know?) I was relived to find that the clocktower is a recent addition, going up in 2011 and has a puppet theatre in its base. It also has figures that come out and ring the bell upon the hour.

The old town is great for wandering about and trying out little bars and restaurants. All tight streets and old buildings.

Face on stone wall

Another big tourist draw is the chance to see the city from the air. You could take the gas balloon:

Tbilisi gas balloon

It’s on a tether and apparently gives a fine view of the town. We didn’t try it out as there’s a superior, cheaper option.

Yeah, you can take a cablecar to the top of the mountain. It’s amazing. Not just from the gondola but walking around town there would be the occasional shadow of the car moving overhead. Oh, the view from the car is great too. Best thing is, it’s part of the public transport system so you just need a local PT card. Very cheap and worth many rides.

View of Tbilisi

That’s the view from the top and it is not bad. At the top of the hill is the fortress, which is my first in-person encounter with medieval fortifications that have seen actual assaults. Looking at the walls and slope, I’d prefer to be on defence.

Tbilisi citadel
Try climbing up there under arrow-fire.

Here it is in photosphere.

You’ll find this lady up there too:

Mother of Georgia

That’s the sword-wielding Mother of Georgia, a big silver statue on a hill that’s hard to photograph from up close. There’s a sharp drop in front of her, as you can see here:

One can get a photo of her from the front but not close up.

Mother of Georgia
That’s on film, by the way. That’s why it’s grainy, the colours aren’t right and the exposure is off.
Tbilisi cable car
There’s one of those cable cars again.

Here’s another view from the top, some chap’s critique on religion I expect, but to be honest, there’s so much graffiti in Georgia that I want to invest in spraypaint imports.

Tbilisi does seem to be caked in grafitti, but some of it is pretty cool.

These chaps are all over the city at construction sites and other handy surfaces. It gives the city a vibrancy to see these ultimately public artworks on an ultimately banal hoarding. Here’s some more:

I mean, it’s pretty cool.
You can see this fucker’s stickers all over Asia as well.

It seems that we’re looking at colour digital photos now so let’s look at some of the more interesting ones, like this one:

So, nice old building? Bit boring, but it is in this former seminary one Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili, Georgia’s most famous son who once studied for the priesthood within these very walls. Did I say famous? Perhaps infamous is a better word, he’d later go by Joseph Stalin. It was in this building that the young ‘Kuba’ was radicalised by a forbidden book club. The rest, as they say, is history. Horrible, blood-soaked, paranoid history. Let’s look a the Bridge of Peace instead.

Bridge of Peace
Cable car gondola
There’s that cable car again.
View from cable car
And here’s the view from the same.

Georgia is all about wine, they’re very proud of it. Here in the old town there are grape vines on the houses.

Arty old town.

One of the other main tourist bits is the hot springs. These are very old, like, from Ottoman times and before. Indeed, the city gets its name, ‘warm place’, from the springs.

See that one that looks like a mosque?

This one.

That’s the one Miss Sachie went to. It certainly looks fancy but it’s cheaper than the other ones we looked at. They’re the more traditional domed structures.

Like this.
Or this.

I confess that I didn’t partake of steam baths or massage as I need to be very drunk indeed to take off my clothes in public.

Speaking of which, it was a nice sunny day in a charming old city — far too nice to spend walking about doing tourist stuff, let’s get a nice cold beer.

Even the view from the little café is of old houses stuffed with charm.

So Day One was a lot of walking and seeing new stuff. In the evening we went out with our friend Will, who lives in Tbilisi, to a fancy wine bar but it was a bit naff as it was the sommelier’s night off. We’ll catch up with Will later in the trip though, so look out for Day II!

I Need to go Phi Phi: Part III

It’s time to wrap up this travel trilogy. We were there in November 2020 and it’s March now. There’s other things to write up, new adventures to be had and other tales to be told.

Other Stuff

Koh Phi Phi is an island, the clue is in the name (Koh means island in Thai), and of course that means stunning beaches, blue waters, palm trees and so on. But there’s other things for the intrepid traveller to do off and out of the water. Just ask these guys:

In normal times, non-aquatic activities apparently extend to beer-pong, exploring, excess and unconsciousness. I guess the last two are still on the cards, but drinking yourself under the table isn’t a good look, so let’s find another way to spend our daylight hours. Time to do some research.

Mostly to scale, except the boats.

How about some shopping in town?

Shopping in town isn’t as much fun as it should be. Mostly everything is shut and the shops that are open are all selling the same tat. We bought a couple of fridge magnets for the collection and moved on. Walk along the beach?

Well, I got the photo I came for, wish it was sunny. What now? Surprisingly, there’s a jungly and mountainous interior to the island and rumour of a lookout point worth looking from. Miss Sachie and I prepared for a tough hike by donning flip-flops, discarding water bottles and scraping off sunscreen. Time to hit the trail.

There’s a surprising amount of inland on this island. We were staying in spitting distance of the beach (well, I could spit on the beach but Miss Sachie says such pursuits are adolescent) and this walk showed just how much development there is there. Check out the sailfish on these lightpoles –beautiful. The town slowly petered out and patches of green peeked from the side of the very steep road. The road leads to the other town on Phi Phi, where the locals live. You could say this is the new town. After the 2014 tsunami wiped the low-lying beachside town off the map, the natives rebuilt up the hill, which is understandable. It’s served by a real road that has actual cars! Well, pickup trucks. How do they get them on the road? It’s not like there’s a route from the pier.

We met a dog by the side of the road. The dog showed some interest in us and started walking up a side path, stopping to see if we followed. Intrigued and credulous, we did. Maybe a child was stuck in a well? Along winding footpaths and up rugged stairs we followed our pooch past cheap guesthouses, dilapidated bars and a completely rusted-out, open-air gym. As we walked I reflected on the ghosted patrons of these businesses, all deserted now. I suppose these are the cheap seats, for folks who can only afford a sea view from a distance and are satisfied with a slower, more languid pace of life. Dope smokers. After a time, our guide had apparently reached his destination and settled down to lick his testicles. I’d been hoping that he would take us to a bent-backed old man who would serve us yaa-dong and tell us stories of the spirits that inhabit the nearby bungalows and bars but it was not to be. Instead…

It’s the reservoir that serves the island. Typically, Phi Phi suffers from a lack of fresh water but this one is right up to the spillway. I guess it’s a nice view but I don’t know why the dog brought us here, time to press on.

We later found that our route was the dumb one. Longer, hotter and steeper. But it did afford us proper jungle trekking, especially when it became dirt, then clay, then holes. A roadsign warned of crossing monkeys, so I looked around and picked up a sturdy monkey-stick. Cresting one ridge, we came face-to-face with a foul roadblock.

Sorry for the poor photo, but I had other things on my mind.

Legend has it that the Romans used geese as sentries due to their alertness, noise and general bad attitude. I’ve rumbled with geese before but these guys had a turkey in the gang. No thanks! Luckily, they were being kept under supervision by this chap:

The Phi Phi Chicken dog.

After much huffing, puffing and complaining, we arrived at Phi Phi viewpoint #3. Apparently we took the back way.

I can see my house from here.

It’s quite a view. There’s a little shop open and a big cafe that isn’t. They don’t sell beer (dang it) and there’s a strict no-alcohol policy, which is probably a good thing as that platform you can see in the panorama above has no railing. I got a WhatsApp message from my mum and thought it a good time to give her a video call so she could enjoy the magnificent view and the spectacle of a monkey being chased away from the bins.

Under the viewpoint there’s a kind of park, with the mandated giant painted concrete fruits. I expect that it is quite striking when on mushrooms.

Here’s a rare photo of Miss Sachie and your author.

Following the path downhill we visited lookouts #2 and #1 and discovered that the staircase to these lookouts ends basically next to our hotel, so we definitely took the long way.

Island of Cats

They say that cats were domesticated about 7,500 years ago, probably in Egypt. Egypt would be a good candidate due to the vast quantities of sand in which to dispose of their leavings. I have some experience in this area, currently caring for seven of the fluffy little shitbags at home.

Phi Phi town is infested with Felis catus, they’re all over the place — in doorways, up trees, on the path, off the path, everywhere. In stunning numbers too, I counted more than 20 on one walk through town.

This cat has a t-shirt. He’s the one that gave me a scare in the pool on the first day. A large mammal wearing clothes, glanced from the corner of my eye had me scrambling to see if a monkey had stolen my sunglasses.

Bar cat here is one of the finer examples and in very good condition. In fact, I didn’t see any cats looking scratched up or diseased. Most looked quite well taken care of. They say (the same they as above) that cats are considered special under Islam because Mohammad was a cat man (that is, he fancied cats, not that he was some strange man/cat hybrid. The last thing I need is ISIS on my case!) He certainly wasn’t a dog person. So the cats get a pretty easy go of things. Indeed, some locals were putting out collections to buy food for them. I must confess I didn’t donate. I have mixed feelings about cats.

I had pet cats until I left home and I have them now. Unfortunately, I have learned the hard way that, left to their own devices, they will breed and breed and breed until they dominate their ecological niche — in this case my living room. Now I, like apparently everyone else on the internet, am entranced by their soft coat, graceful curves and languid, sultry attitude. They remind me of the bad-yet-hot girlfriend we all had shortly after high school. But in my native Australia, feral or stray cats are little murder machines that devastate the local population of small animals. I expect the same is true in Phi Phi town. I didn’t see a single gecko, but I didn’t see any cockroaches either.

I don’t like to judge other peoples but I’m going to anyway, an uncontrolled cat population on a tropical island just can’t be a good thing. Luckily, some things are being done with this Quora post saying that 800 (!) had been vaccinated in 10 days. Hopefully they spayed a few as well.

On the whole, the cats aren’t a problem for the visitor. I saw very little cat poo and the whole place did not reek of cat piss, unlike my living room. Unfortunately the island has a reputation for reeking of human piss during normal times, probably due to overtaxed septic tanks. Anyway, let’s get me on the front page of Google by posting a bunch of cat pictures.

Many shops have cat pit-stops like this. I would guess that each place has it’s favourites that make their range in these shopfronts.
Is this cat prostituting itself? Ha ha. I’ve always liked black cats but never owned one, although the neighbour has one that has basically adopted me.
I think it was this one that jumped in my lap and tried to eat the calamari off my plate at dinner one night.
Temple cat? No, it’s a rustic bar.

And that’s enough about cats. They are definitely a feature of staying on Phi Phi and must be remarked upon. There’s just so many of them.

And that’s pretty much it. We travelled to Phi Phi as I had very much enjoyed it back in the early 2000s and we would never be able to afford the place in normal times. I can say that I enjoyed it on this visit too. For the future? I would hope that the island uses this slow period as a reset point and has a good think about what they want their island to be in the future. I can’t get behind the party-central plan of the past — it’s a cheap (actually not, kind of expensive) and ugly commercial saturation. I’m sure many folks made a lot of money while the sun was shining but… Does this place really need a McDonalds? That said, I don’t condone making it a enclave of expensive, hi-so resorts. Some restraints on development, some planning and a unified goal of what the destination wants to deliver would go a long way to making the island a more sustainable and pleasant place to visit. The island has been devastated by the pandemic but there’s the kernel of opportunity to remake this place as a better, matured, island destination.

I Need to go Phi Phi: Part II

We’re back on Koh Phi Phi for the tale of the November 2020 visit by and Miss Sachie and me. Are you comfortably seated and properly hydrated? Good, let us begin.

Killing Time & Recreation

So, you’ve got your bed and a belly full of fried rice and are looking for something to do before you can crack a beer with a clear conscience. Let’s go for a swim.

It’s a damn nice beach. It’s taken a bashing over the years but is still lovely and, at the moment, it’s all yours. The bay is very shallow and low tide means a long walk. There’s some rocks and coral offshore so it’s time to strap on a snorkel and get the soles of your feet sunburnt.

Don’t tread on me.
Or us.

There’s a ton of these offshore that had Miss Sachie smacking her lips. There’s not loads of fish but we saw a few parrot fish and lots of little ones.

The astute reader will notice that I was taking photographs underwater. No, I didn’t get my phone wet and I didn’t take some large-format bellows camera down with me, Miss Sachie bought a waterproof digital camera when she went to the Red Sea. I immediately relieved her of this — as a photographer I am immensely more qualified than her to take poorly composed, mediocre stills and shaky video. Here’s an example:

This one makes me look like Stanley Kubrik compared to most of what I shot. That is, most of it is me forgetting to stop the recording so there’s lots of footage of water, sky and that sort of thing. Kind of like how your dad mostly took video of his feet with his first video camera.

This little fish could see his reflection in my diving mask and, thinking it another fish, moved in to attack. Ha ha, stupid fish!

Here’s a seahorse.

I’ve never seen one in the wild before and it really made the trip for me. Probably the best bit was that, while we were heading for the rocks on the side of the bay to look for something interesting I noticed a dark patch of water, indicating more rocks. Swimming over we discovered it was a huge shoal of tiny fish that swirled around us. Thousands of them. Magic. But that’s nothing compared to when we finally gave in and got a boat.

On the Boat

The thing to do if you’re on Phi Phi is drink until you vomit out of your nose take a boat trip around Phi Phi Ley. The other Koh Phi Phi. The little one. The very, very nice one. Lots of people from Phuket and Krabi take day trips to stare, slack-jawed, at the immense limestone karsts erupting from the crystal waters and to dive in said waters, to gaze, slack-jawed at the schools of colourful fish and jewelled corals beneath. It’s really something and I can’t recommend it enough. If you want to go on a boat trip I recommend talking to this chap:

This is Bo and his boat is the Ning Il Ham.

This isn’t it.
This isn’t it either.

It turns out I don’t have a photo of the boat, or it’s on my film camera, so you’ll have to wait. It’s a longtail and it’s not made of ham, sorry. Walking on the beach and in the town one gets touted for boat trips a lot. At the moment it’s about Bt1,000 an hour but one can get a three hour trip for Bt1,500 with a bit of bargaining. We paid Bt2,000. The deal is that you put-put out on a longtail on a sunny day and your skipper will pull up at certain spots and let you have a swim. We thought we’d have each to ourselves but even in these benighted times we had to share the snorkelling sites with other visitors. Here’s the trip out:

Sorry about the poor streaming but this whole site is about cheap hosting.

Here’s the view to the stern:

Here’s what happens if you take a panorama from a moving vehicle:

Which I think is cool. As I mentioned earlier, the island is a series of karsts poking out of the sea. Apparently it’s part of an old coral reef that extends through here and Krabi, and further into the middle of Thailand and up and out of Vietnam. Big reef. Old reef. A rock-climber’s wet dream.

Rock-climbers are a special breed, very enthusiastic with an almost erotic relationship to rockfaces and are very enamoured of ropes, big shiny shackles, harnesses and other instruments of bondage. Consider the following as rock-pornography:

Right. Hope you enjoyed that. Feeling relaxed? A bit sweaty? Need to tidy up a little before the girlfriend gets back from work? Good, we will proceed. Here’s the first stop, Viking Cave.

No, there’s no Vikings here, no even the modern Nordic families who come to Thailand on their three-month annual-leave vacations. But the sea floor is littered with horned helmets and longboats. Ha ha, not really. This is the home of the swallow-like swift, an industrious small bird who builds its nests from its own spit.

Now, pause to look around you. You are probably in your own residence. Perhaps you even built your own log cabin in the remote wilderness of, I don’t know, Arizona or something. Now imagine making everything out of your own saliva. Walls, floors, doors, the lot (and don’t even think about what the neighbours may say!) But that’s what these little birds do, through hard work, persistence, and spit. But why did we stop here? Because this is a historic locus of human industry, where brave men would hang from ropes or climb flimsy ladders to gather said bird nests so that all of us can enjoy the delicate dish of bird’s nest soup. Gross, hey?

These days it’s a more of a tourist-trap than an operating swift-spit mine as they (people) now build massive concrete towers on the coast (on the way to Hua Hin, a trip which I must write up sometime) and play birdsong to attract swifts to nest and make the gathering of their nests a lucrative pursuit. But I digress. Let’s get wet.

In we go.

As soon as the boat pulls up it’s surrounded by fish. I expect our scaly friends are used to boats dropping anchor here as they swarm around the hull and are welcome companions on our dive.

That’s nothing! There’s normally scores of them around you.

I have no idea what these hand-sized and striped fish are called, but they are very friendly.

I was completely charmed, until near the end of the swim when they started taking nips from me. Maybe that’s why they swarm the boat.

Now, I’ve seen more and better fish and more and better coral. Years of mass tourism has bashed it up a bit but it’s still a lovely sight in a lovely part of the world.

Stripy fish.
Still stripy, but different.

Now who are these guys? Is it Nemo and his dad?

Maybe not.

OK, let’s move along to Pileh Lagoon. What’s that? Well let’s step inside.

Looks like there’s a few more boats here, must be a popular place.

Oh I say! This is a nice part of the world. The lagoon is like something out of… well I really don’t really know how to describe it. A shallow bay with a tight entrance and a shallow bottom and shockingly-clear waters.

It’s pretty nice. It’s really nice! It’s probably the most beautiful sight I have seen. Bury me here. Here’s a video.

Let’s go for a swim.

Yum Yum. Coral!
Spots, not stripes.
Not a rubber children’s toy, or is it?
That’s a pufferfish puffing. It wasn’t me that startled it, I think. Pretty cool though.
Out of my way fish!
On the way out I saw a barracuda.

OK, that’s enough of our fishy friends, out we go.

Now we’re off to Maya Bay, shooting location of The Beach.

Maya Bay, along with James Bond Island (the shooting location for the final scenes of The Man with the Golden Gun), is one of the most popular places to visit on the Andaman coast, or even Thailand itself. As far as The Beach goes, I read the book before the movie was made and I recall during production there was criticism of damage done to the foreshore, but that was nothing compared to what came after. The movie was popular and every shallow asshole in the world came to Haad Maya to leave litter and otherwise screw up the beach. These days the national parks service won’t let you land on the beach and you have to pay a fee (Bt400 for us Farangs) to have a swim. Here it is:

There was one corner of the bay we could have a swim in deep water and shallows. Remember the barracuda I saw earlier, there’s a ton here.

I also saw a school of squid swimming about, which is a first for me. Bo was very excited when I told him but seemed a bit disappointed there were only six. Now, remember these guys?

Well, it turns out that they bite. The little buggers became bold and started taking nips at me. I guess they’re some kind of cleaner fish that nibble dead skin or scabs off you. An essential service if you’re some kind of big fish, especially if afflicted by parasites, but the only parasites on me are likely up my ass so I warned them to keep their distance. Time to go.

After rounding this… peak? Bo asked “Do you want to see the monkey?” I was about to say that we were very flattered but didn’t want to see his monkey when I recalled that the last stop on this trip is Monkey Island. Monkey Beach or something like that. We consented and were exposed to the monkeys.

Well, macaques.

It’s my understanding that these are crabeater macaques, which are much beloved by the scientific community for their utility in experimentation. They’re a tough and adaptable primate that will accept all sorts of abuses without immediately perishing. My experiment was to see if they’d eat my apple core.

Now it was back to shore for a well deserved cold beer after doing our bit to prop up tourism in these challenging times. I’ve been a bit slow writing this chapter, will try harder for part three, coming soon!