The Diplomat and I took a few days off to celebrate the arrival of Bikini-Nana who was with us for a ten day holiday to Bangkok. What better than to find an idyllic beach away from the usual tourist youth traps and spend a long weekend lazing on a white stretch of sands, clear blue seas, sunshine, plenty of wine and cocktails, good food, and pleasant relaxation?
A quickish two hour Ford Everest ride south east on Highways 7, 36, and 3 got us to the Pier for the Ao Phrao (Coconut Beach) where our bags were taken ahead and we boarded a ten seater speed boat for a 15 minute ride out to the island.
Now, I don’t tend to go on many speed boats and this was Isla’s first so we were pretty excited I can tell you. We were hopping from one foot another in boyish and babyish enthusiasm. The Diplomat and Mom patiently bore out our respective father-daughter rapid-fire squawks of delight and cooings at antiquated working fishing boats, stone jetties, painted blue seas, distant lands until we arrived at an idyllic beach, the sun warming us, surf lapping gently on the shore which was a 200m strip of golden sand about 10m wide with approximately ten people on it.
The beach strip comprises three resorts. The end ones are owned by the same company with a Lima Coco in the middle which (by its look) must be a lower star rating than the rest. On the other side of the island (which is open to the vagaries of the weather in the Gulf of Thailand as our second night proved) the accommodation is noticeably more geared to the backpacker or budget traveller with its ramshackle “town”, muddy roads, broken backyards, litter, and forlorn houses trying to hide amongst palm trees. The beach itself is rated 3 stars out of 5, yet we found the waters clear (not crystal), and clean. The beach was immaculate, the sand slightly soft to walk on, the odd lounger almost new. A couple of swings hung from the trees that grew there. They have an infinity pool, the effects of which are slightly spoiled by the hotel’s insistence on putting a row of deck chairs in front of it,onto which Europeans sadly inflate their walrus corpulence. I think there were only five other families there (not a single teenager) which lent to the air of amicable fun, but, in true holidaying style few people conversed. It was a case of suntans topping, kindle, drinks, massages and general contemplation of all things Thai.
On the second day I decided to fork out 9000Baht (about £165) to hire a speedboat with a Thai snorkeling “companion” to go over to two smaller islands where it was claimed you could snorkel the coral reefs. As it was just me we left at 11am and roared our way at speed across the water to a distant speck. About 30mins later we got to a point where an outcrop of rock had a an arch, created by water erosion; unfortunately, I was told that the waves were too choppy for good snorkeling so we swung round to the other side of the island. There we saw about ten other speed boats and a small beach, perhaps 50m long, a treeline rearing up behind it in sharp acclivity. Everyone else had beached and a few people were snorkeling in a rope and buoy area. Ensuring we stayed outside this I donned my mask and blowhole with a pair of flippers and back somersaulted off the roof of the speedboat to enter the water with scarcely a murmur. Free Willy, I kid you not, could have done no better.
It was amazing.
What I don’t appreciate from the boat was the fact the waters teemed with marine life. I find myself surrounded by a million brightly coloured fish. All the sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters of Nemo, Marlin, Dory, Tad, Gill, Bubbles, and Deb. Those lot have been very busy on their trip back from Sydney, spawning an infinite generation of lookalikes. A lazy kick of a fin and I move from one shoal to the next. At first the pale sea green is a messy palette of sandy yellows and glinting golds, at times sharply edged in HD, then with the fuzziness of a nineteenth century gas lamp. I hover over a shoal of fish, each no bigger than my thumb, almost translucent, all moving in perfect symbiosis. Beneath them the rocks reach silently upwards, straining to be clear of the sucking silt, harnessed by living coral that moves ever so slightly. Limpet shells cling easily in the bare eddies of the undersea current, starfish seemingly sleep. My Thai companion lifts carefully some huge mollusc shells, like tennis balls; I hold and gaze at them through my visor before he gently returns them from whence they came. The coral is grey in places, but mainly a washed out blue colour. Visibility is ten metres or so, beneath that the rocks fall away from the shore into a dark chasm. It is a marine world where the mysteries of luminous innocence stares back at us in the face of our waning virtues and finds us unappealing visitors. I feel I can reach out and touch these silent denizens of the deep. I try to do so, but they avoid me easily each and every time.
I hung there in the waters for what must have been fifteen, twenty minutes. It felt like hours. I floated over this world like an intruding watcher, powerless in its lullaby of bobbing waves, deaf to everything, visually seeing what our IMAX and 3D yearn to show us. It was like the time I went to Brooklands, UK onto the Concorde simulator. The people there claim you can have an experience just like the real thing. Lies, I tell you. It’s nothing like the real thing. No simulator can prepare you for Mach 2+, no simulator can thrust you backwards as you take off, nor make you vibrate to the sounds of the engines. You have to do it (whatever it is) to truly understand and appreciate. Such moments may bring an epiphany, or perhaps a sense of benediction, or an acute sense of being alive. The commonality of all these experiences is that your senses open for a while, forget the dulling of daily monotony, and remind us what it is like to feel as nature intends us to do.
Three hours later I returned to the Diplomat and Bikini Nana who were experiencing their own nirvana at the hands of a Thai masseuse. We spent the rest of the day in carefree abandonment – though not quite as The Beach portrays a Thai island – and then stayed awake through a monumental thunderstorm which passed overhead in a three hour lightning show. Hopping into a green island “taxi” the next morning we went over to Sai Kaew Bay where a 7-Eleven was – ostensibly to grab a chocolate bar and Isla some diapers – finding our trip one not so much as on a road but a mountain biker’s muddy paradise. Traditional Thai houses littered the hillside, there was little effort given over to cultivation or herbaceous borders. The place was sodden from the previous night’s rain, a humid seeping ooze that dragged on our wheels, that drove rotting vegetation into our nostrils. The air was thick, the kind of heaviness you can almost taste, and everything dripped water. When we got there after ten minutes slalom the centre of the town was a vast lake and dozens of bewildered backpackers were on the road to nowhere. It was walking for the sake of doing something. The ants we found had more purpose. Don’t get me wrong, it was fascinating, a step away from the polish and politeness of our trending vacations in Thailand, but it was a place I’d’ve gone to fifteen years ago, and not with a child.
We returned to our cove paradise and spent the next two days doing much of the same relaxation. There was one other notable event (other than watching four Thai “technicians” dithering over how to get a multi-plug to work the DVD, TV and fridge. Something eventually fixed by the Diplomat whose patience had run out with this unintended comedy show) so I’ll leave you with a two minute video of the fantastic fire dancers on the beach…
Is this what diplomacy is all about?