Adventure on the Andaman and South China Seas – Asia
Stress level – tick up
I tried to hide it from my wife, but my stress level spiked while we were eating noodle soup in the Singapore airport, waiting for our connecting flight to Thailand. I’d just noticed this little line in our itinerary: “If you want transportation to the resort, please contact us in advance.”
Our one and a half hour flight to Krabi was scheduled to leave in seventy minutes. I’d missed that little tidbit two months ago when I made the reservations. Suddenly I didn’t have much of an appetite. I walked away from my wife and 7-year-old to see if I could get this fixed.
Fortunately, Singapore was a British colony until 1959. Almost everyone speaks fluent English. A very nice young lady in a booth selling cell phones kindly looked up the phone number to the resort on the internet, then allowed me to use her phone to call (for a fee of around a dollar). Unfortunately, it was too late to make arrangements for the resort to pick us up, but our room reservation was confirmed, and the clerk assured me that it wasn’t difficult to get there. You just take a taxi from the airport, and then a longtail boat to the resort.
What’s a longtail boat?” I asked, but his English wasn’t sufficient to explain further. Sa-wat-dee, hello, was all the Thai I knew at that time.
Anxiety level – up another notch
The second thing that raised my anxiety level was when the pilot came onto the crackly loudspeaker and announced in broken English, “We’re beginning our descent to Krabi. Please pray for me; we’ll be experiencing mild to moderate turbulence.” I started to turn to my wife to ask if she’d heard the same message, but then my brain kicked in and reminded me that turbulence terrifies her. Luckily she had her headphones on.
My apprehension went up another notch. I tapped Michele on the shoulder and said, "Look outside.”
“We still have to get on a boat to get to where we're staying,” I reminded her.
This earned me the first dirty look of the night.
Michele likes calm and pleasant vacations on nice beaches. She doesn’t mind crowds of tourists. I prefer more out of the way places, the adventure of travel. On our last trip it was her turn to do the planning; we spent two weeks relaxing at our timeshare in Cabo. I made the preparations this time. I had booked this leg of our Asian vacation in early August, when it was still light at 6:45 p.m. Now, in late October, with an overcast sky, it was nearly pitch black.
She asked, “But it’s a big boat, with lights, right?”
Up to that point our vacation had been progressing well, considering that I’d made the arrangements while half-way around the world; most of it done through emails. What a wonderful age we live in.
Our first destination was a Malaysian island in the South China Sea called Pulau Tioman, (Tioman Island) where we stayed in a tree house for three nights at the Melina Beach Resort. To reach the island, we flew over twenty hours before landing in Singapore at midnight. Our taxi was waiting at 7:00 in the morning. For $40.00 we were driven to Mersing, Malaysia where we caught a ferry for Tioman. Along the way we had to transfer from one taxi to another, because Singapore and Malaysia have obscure rules about allowing taxis to travel in each other’s country. However, the main driver recommended by our resort had handled everything. Since both drivers had been working together for over 12 years, they were right on time and pleasant.
Arriving at the Melina Beach Resort was like coming home to our own private island. There were only two other Swiss families staying there at the time, both of whom kept pretty much to themselves except for their young children, who quickly made excellent playmates for our son. I regret we only stayed there three nights.
I booked the tree house primarily for our seven-year-old, but it was a wonderful experience for all of us, especially when the tide came in and the waves crashed nearly at the foot of Beach Almond, where we were perched. It was spacious and tastefully built, with several different kinds of hardwood. It had its own toilet and shower, though rain – and insects – tended to leak in due to the natural way the tree limbs snake through.
The water was beautiful, varying from deep blue to turquoise against the white sand, so calm and warm that we took our son skin diving for the first time. He fought with the mask and snorkel at first, but then started counting fish (we saw 205, he said). We nearly missed dinner the second day (you have to order in advance by 2:00 p.m); we found the food decent, not spectacular. The owner, a German named Peter, was kind and helpful.
We thought we’d brought plenty of cash. There aren’t any credit card facilities at the resort, so we were startled when we got our check for dinner and activities at the end of each day, which averaged about $164MYR. It was only a short walk through the jungle to Salang, where we saved some of our cash by shopping at a little market and eating at a restaurant that accepted plastic. We shouldn’t have worried though, because after converting to U.S. dollars, for three nights and four days, we’d spent only about $550.00 for several mask and fin rentals, a little time on the internet, and our room, food and drinks. If I hadn’t been so set on the tree house, we could have saved even more by staying in one of the less expensive, clean and very decent rooms.
After this pleasant stay, I was way too relaxed for the anxiety to follow. The overcast had lifted a little by the time we passed customs in Thailand. It wasn’t pitch black any longer, but still very dark. We needed to get safely through a country I didn’t know, to a resort that’s surrounded by limestone cliffs, making it accessible only by boat.
We caught a taxi which dropped us off under a streetlight at the “harbor", little more than a crumbling cement arch at the end of a run down street. Three Thai and one Chinese man in festival garb sat on cement benches watching us in the dim light through the drifting smoke of their cigarettes.
“Can you take us to Railay Beach?” I asked.
“Sure sure. But we wait. Wait for more people.”
So we waited, and waited, trying to pretend that we do this all the time, no worries. No doubt this façade was less effective than I wished, mainly due to the steely looks I got from Michele. Finally, one man said that if we paid 500 Baht they’d take us right away. The taxi driver had told us it normally costs 400 Baht; however, I quickly calculated that this was a difference of only three U.S. dollars, and swiftly accepted their offer.
Things got worse. The most pleasant looking Thai man, short and wiry with a great big, charismatic grin, picked up our biggest piece of baggage and a can of gasoline.
“You have lights on the boat?” Michele asked?
“Oh yes,” he said, and pulled a small flashlight out of his pocket.
He laughed, as did the other men. We couldn’t help but give our own gallows chortle.
“Follow me,” he said.
We walked and walked for at least a quarter mile over muddy, uneven ground and slippery, broken concrete, until we finally came to his boat, anchored 12 feet offshore. He set down our baggage and went out into the water, only calf deep. This earned me another look from Michele, who told me under her breath, “You so owe me!”
After everything was put into the boat, we climbed in. Michele noticed another boat next to ours.
“That one has life vests,” she said. “How come ours doesn’t?”
Actually, the trip to Railay Beach was pleasant. I don’t know if the Andaman Sea has its times when it can be rough, but throughout our eight-day stay, the swells were never larger than what you would experience on a mid sized lake. Unfortunately, it was low tide. The driver had to anchor about 100 yards offshore. Once again, we climbed out of the boat and carried our baggage through small waves in calf deep water to the sandy beach – in the dark.
Over time, we came to like these wooden longtail boats, so called because of the long pipe to the propeller on the end. They appeared to be a hundred years old; we never asked. Some had lawn mower engines, others car engines, none had mufflers.
We also came to love Railay. It has one of the top 10 beaches in the world and it is a popular destination for rock climbing. Its people are most friendly. By the end of our stay, nearly everyone on the peninsula came to know our son. We couldn’t walk more than a short distance without someone calling out his name.
It’s easy to see we were never in any real danger. The only thing to fear, as the familiar saying goes, is fear itself. I have to applaud my wife. Of our entire trip, this is the story she likes repeating.
For more photos, go to Nice Exposure Photography.