Friday, January 28, 2005
We woke up in the morning and confirmed that our trip to Phang Nga bay was going to happen. Amanpuri usually does a tour of the bay on Fridays on their large yacht with a buffet lunch, but a minimum of four people must sign up. Since only the two of us had expressed interest in the tour, they put us on one of their smaller speed boats with a pilot, a cooler full of drinks, and some sandwiches and fruit.
Phang Nga bay is a bay in between the Thai mainland and the island of Phuket. It contains hundreds, if not thousands, of islands that are uninhabited by humans (except for one). The interesting thing about these islands is that they are not volcanic. They are basically large limestone formations in the water. Phang Nga bay is also one of the settings in the James Bond movie "The Man With The Golden Gun." The specific island where they filmed the movie is affectionately called James Bond Island.
We rode from the resort to the Phuket marina on the northeast part of the island. Fortunately for all the boat owners, the marina's location ensured that none of the boats were damaged during the tsunamis. The marina is near the single bridge that connections Phuket to the Thai mainland. After leaving the marina, we headed southeast to go around an appendage of the mainland, then headed northeast to enter Phang Nga bay. As soon as we started heading northeast, we could see the many rock formations jutting straight out of the water. It was amazing.
The first island we stopped at was Koh Phanak. (Koh is the Thai word for island.) Koh Phanak is inhabited only by monkeys and birds. There is a small cave that leads to a lagoon in the middle of the island. Our boat was far too big to maneuver into the cave, but we could see many canoers on their way to the cave. We noticed there were many stalactites on the lower portions of the island. We were also amazed at the amount of vegetation on the island, since it is pure limestone, with almost no soil whatsoever. It made Justin feel bad for all the plants he's accidentally killed at home, whereas plants were thriving on the middle of a big rock in the ocean. Oh well.
We got back up to speed at went from Phanak to Hong island. Hong had a nice little inlet with a tiny beach – seemed like a nice place to get stranded. Hong one upped Phanak – here trees were growing sideways out of the side of the mountain.
The next stop was in a group of small islands that included one island with a cove that we carefully traversed our way into. Luckily we were in the small boat; no way the big boat gets into this cove. We fit in by about a foot – not sure if it was high tide or low tide. Once in the cove the driver shut the engine off, and all we could hear was the water lapping up against the limestone. Again, seemed like a decent enough place to get stranded at. One of the small islands right near the cove inlet was an island that looked like a gum drop. Crystal really liked the look of this island, and later on we saw some promotional literature for bay trips that had a picture of this island on the front.
The next stop was "James Bond" island, which actually had some people on it. They were all hawkers trying to sell stuff, and it really annoyed us – totally killed the serenity. We kept trying to figure out why this island, of the hundreds in the area, was picked for the movie. We frankly weren't certain. It had a lot more sand than some of the other islands, but we couldn't tell how nice the sand looked because most of it was covered with the hawker stands. There was a really cool sheared rock formation several stories high, but we didn't remember that from the movie. Near the sheared rock was another cave, and it had a bunch of bats in it that freaked out Crystal.
We left the island, then boated around the other side to get another look (looked pretty much the same, but backwards), before heading off to the north again. We went by the Muslim fishing village (it seems that all of the tour groups stop there for lunch – not us), and it looked like, well, a fishing village. It did have a pretty nice looking mosque on the little bit of the island that was inhabited. Some parts of the village were on the island, but most of it was on piers out over the ocean. As far as we could tell, this village would have been annihilated by the tsunami, but it was just far enough north that it got protected by the Thai mainland. We're pretty sure that some of the southern islands in the bay got messed up.
North of the fishing village there started to be a lot of mangroves, and we found ourselves sweeping left and right on a "track" lined by mangroves on both sides. After a couple of minutes (and no other boats around, not that there were that many in the other places), we arrived at another island with another cove. This time the headroom was a little bit more than the last time, and the cave was longer, so we got some good pictures showing the stalactites hanging from the roof. After leaving the cove, we got to eat. We had some ham sandwiches, fresh fruit, and cold water and soda. Actually, our seat for the day was the cooler, covered with some towels.
After lunch we started heading back, more or less backtracking. We saw the other side of the fishing village, saw the back side of the islands we saw earlier, but nothing really new. By this point in time, however, we had sensory overload, and it would have taken something really impressive to get our attention. When we got back, we realized that both of us (but especially Justin) were a little red. His head, neck, face were all fine, but interestingly his thighs and forearms were red. He hadn't thought to put any sun tan lotion on either since they were always in the sun. But sitting in the same position, with forearms and thighs pointed directly towards the sun – it was bad.
We got back to the room and put on aloe vera to keep the burning to a minimum. We were both tired from the sun, so Crystal took a nap and Justin caught up on our diary. After a little bit, Justin decided he wanted to play tennis. He hadn't played in almost ten years, so he wasn't sure what to expect, with the exception he knew he was in horrible shape. While that was true, his actual shot-making was actually pretty good. His backhand was solid, and the forehand was inconsistent but mostly okay. He was pleasantly surprised, and decided to start up again once returning home. Crystal witnessed this and concurred – that Justin was out of shape.
To cool off, we went to the pool for a bit. We went back to the room, and Justin grabbed the camera to test out some of its features while taking shots of the sun going down. He fiddled around with the white balance and some of the exposure settings to try to manipulate the already impressive sunset to make it look better. He can't remember what was altered and what was real, however, so we'll just have to assume that they all represent what the sunset actually looked like.
For dinner we ate at the Italian restaurant (Amanpuri has a Thai and an Italian restaurant). The food was very good, but not as good as the Italian food at The Cove at the Banyan Tree Resort. Crystal really liked her drink, which was similar to a Gimlet, but somehow sweeter. We can't remember the name for sure, but we think it was called a "Koriascu" or something like that. While looking out at some of the pavillions at dinner, we began to wonder why two of them (Pavillions 103 and 105) were singled out, separate from all the other pavillion rooms. They looked closer to the ocean, but otherwise the same.
So when we got back to the room, we decided to check how much more these rooms cost than the other rooms. To our surprise, we found out these rooms cost about twice as much as the other pavillions, because of their superior views. But even more to our surprise, we found a note on the Amanpuri web page stating that, effective immediately, all the rooms at Amanpuri were half off. As stated above, the tourism industry in Phuket is really hurting, and apparently this was Amanpuri's way of trying to jump start the recovery. We were of course very glad to see this. We fell asleep pretty quick because of all the sun, exercise, and drinks.
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