Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Brush With Paradise

Arlen and Sandy arrived late afternoon due to a delay in their flight from Hong Kong to Phuket, due to carrying all the luggage with items for Slow Dance! Thank you and so sorry it caused such a huge delay!. We nestled them into their cabins and first thing in the morning Slow Dance cast off out of Yacht Haven Marina for an adventure, to see if paradise was out there waiting for us. 
Arlen, Ron, Sandy,Me, Vanessa, and captain Tim.

The Similan group of Islands is a National Marine Park, consisting of rocks and islands, nine in total; the name is derived from the Malay ‘sembilan’ meaning nine.  The islands all have names from #1 to #9, running south to north. But even the local fisherman could not tell you the names.  Koh Similan is the largest in the group and the surrounding waters are teeming with tropical fish.  We anchored for the night on the second largest island, just in front of the main beach and immediately jumped in for a swim. There were huge granite boulders that not only litter the shorelines, but also lie in jumbled heaps beneath the waves to a depth of over 35 meters. On the surface the boulders together with the lush rain forest, and white sand beaches, provide a peaceful refuge.  Following the path into the forest from the beach, we found a surprise. Rows of camping tents for rent lined up under the trees, along with quint bungalows, a small store, and a very good little restaurant serving up nice Thai dishes.  Oh yes, and nice cold beer!

Beach at Similan islands

Sandy and Cookie take a swim

Croissant breakfast with fresh fruit and brie. Yummy!

Sandy found the best spot!

Ron snorkeling. The water was so clear.

The islands and rocks to the north are now recognized on the world diving map. We were all in agreement that the  delicious blue waters lapping up on white sand beaches was some of the most beautiful  we had ever seen. The guide books all speak of colorful coral, but we didn’t stay long enough to check it out, as we were anxious to sail on to the Surin group.  The Similan’s are a popular day trip from Thailand’s mainland, and the speed boat traffic basically ruins the serenity of the main islands.  Before 10 am and after 5 PM there is peace and quiet. Tim and Sandy did not have the opportunity to dive as the tanks on board needed filling.  However, Tim found one of the commercial dive boats willing to fill our tanks for a small fee.  So they are all set to dive in the Surin group. 
Sandy resting up

The wind came up and the sail covers came off.

Ron catches a few ZZZ
We untied from the mooring and were on our way at first light. The Surin group was a good seven hours away, and after a hardy breakfast of walnut pancakes and fruit, we decided to try fishing. Arlen and Sandy brought some new lures that, so the poles were dusted off and set out for the first time since the South Pacific. The waters around Phuket are very fished out but we were now in the Andaman Sea, far from the mainland. To our delight we caught several Tuna, a mackerel, and a very large Mahi Mahi!  The legendary Black Marlin is rumored to swim in these waters but we were happy not to hook one.
Tim coached Sandy on the art of filleting a fish and being a skilled doctor of surgery, Sandy did a fine job, but joked that the patient didn’t survive.  The Mahi Mahi was exceptionally delicious. It doesn’t get any fresher than that.

Thai restaurant on the island. The food was very good.
Cute Arlen
Arlen and Sandy with the awesome Mahi Mahi
Ron with the Mackerel.

Holy Mackerel! YMMMM

Mahi Mahi
Mahi Mahi grilled with chili, cumin, garlic, and lime

Sandy filets the the tuna

Well done sandy!

The five gorgeous islands that make up the Surin National Marine Park are just 5km from the Thai-Burma marine boarder and are breathtaking. It was one of the most beautiful places any of us had visited.  Healthy rainforest, pure white sand beaches in sheltered bays, and vibrant living coral. We anchored just off the reef near the Moken village and had the entire place to ourselves except for the occasional sleep aboard dive boat. The Surin islands are uninhabited but for a few park rangers, and the Sing (for Lion) tribe of Chao Lay (Sea Gypsies). The ranger station also offers camping facilities. They are much further from the mainland and therefore not visited by the annoying touristy speed boats. It was absolute heaven.  The shallow channel between the two principal islands has the most remarkable panoplies of coral reef to be found anywhere! The snorkeling was the best I have ever experienced with underwater visibility of up to 35m! Egg shell blue coral heads wiggling with life, large schools of clown fish, parrot fish, some puffer fish, sea snakes, big fish, small fish, star fish; my gosh, it was hard to get out of the water!

Camping on the beach for the adventuresome.
Captain Tim and Sandy did at least three dives during our four day stay. The dive equipment on Slow Dance had not been used for a while, so there were some challenges. Tim is a certified dive master so he was able to get things working sufficiently, but as soon as we return to Phuket the plan is to upgrade the equipment, now that there are divers aboard. 

We were anchored near Bon Moken, on the south island just near the village. The Moken are sea Gypsies, that Post-tsunami, have settled in this one sheltered bay. They have their own language that has over 100 words for the color of water and no word for goodbye. They do not write down words or keep their knowledge in any written form. Their customs and culture are past down to generations by communication only.  The Moken survived the 2004 tsunami by climbing to higher ground. Their ancient stories told of great waves overtaking the land when the ocean recedes from the shore and to this they owe their lives. We visited the village which was very primitive. The Thai government has erected a small school for the children under the kings outreach program to bring education to all remote areas of Thailand. The children were learning their Thai alphabet when we arrived and the younger children were at recess. Many of the Moken have been integrated into Thai society but this village still held onto the traditions. The Moken carve wooden totems that represent the spirit of their departed ancestors and are very sacred. 

Tim found a good view point

The Doctor was In

The Classroom

King Arlen

View from on top of the rocks, Similan

It was time to head back so we raised the anchor and finally had enough wind to put up the main and Genoa sail. Everyone lent a hand and it was exciting to turn off the engine and travel with only the wind. Sandy hosted the main with Tim and Arlen trimmed the Genoa.
We opted to spend the night back in the Similan Islands, and decided on a mooring in front of the main beach on the big island of Koh Similan.  Tim, Arlen, Vanessa, and Sandy, hiked up to some huge interesting rock formations on the hill top, while Ron and I opted for a swim off the boat.  Visibility was 100 feet down; that’s how clear the water is!
Tim and Vanessa did some paddle boarding and Sandy decided to give it a try. After falling off a few times he had it down and looked like a pro.  A large sea turtle appeared and spent some time swimming around the boat and then just in front of Sandy’s board, came up for some air. He was lovely.

Vanessa on her paddle board. She is becoming a pre

Sandy started out on his knees but quickly got the hang of it and looked as if he had been doing it for awhile.

Monitor lizard the group saw on the jungle hike. he was really a big fellow

At first light we untied from the mooring and headed to Nai Yang, our last stop before Sandy and Arlen depart. But before they leave we are taking them on land to our favorite restaurant over the bridge to the mainland. The food is awesome and the beach is quiet. Then to the hot springs for a relaxing soak before heading to the airport.

It has been a great adventure and the crew worked hard to insure Captain Ron's guest were well cared for. Appreciation and gratitude are important components to a good life and what all great people possess. Thank you Ron for taking care of  your crew, including Cookie, and compensating accordingly. We appreciate that you rewarded us and are sorry that your guests somehow felt we fell short, judging by their gratuity. Wrapping it up was a perfect night spent at Wat's bar with Wat himself!