After a surprisingly fun night in Satun drinking Thai Whiskey with a local family, we hopped a boat (a large modern speedboat!) headed for the nearby islands of Ko Turatao National Marine park.
The ride took us past dramatic limestone and granite bluffs rising defiantly from the ocean. The park comprises over 50 densely forested islands. White sand beaches meet clear turquoise water and fringing coral reefs. In short it’s paradise. Sadly though, corruption and development threaten these islands and the waters surrounding them. Thailand sees over 13 million visitors a year, and the pressure is beginning to leak into this last bastion of island solitude. For our part, we avoided all private development (which is illegal, but money talks) and spent our dollars directly with the National Park system who’s rangers and personnel are earnestly fighting to keep their park wild.
We found our own quiet island and stayed in a National Park long house. No bars, no crowds, no drama – just one restaurant and 100 yards of beach between you and your nearest sun bathing neighbor, we wondered if we’d ever be able to leave.
Right away we met four great characters. Ian, an English carpenter who trots the globe and does volunteer disaster relief when not recharging his wallet in the UK. Conrad a dashing 20 year old German with an infectious smile. Luisa, a Russian who’s thin frame betrayed her female-solo-traveller hardiness. And finally “Two”, a quiet Malaysian high rise building estimator. We naturally became friends within just hours of landing. We cemented our fraternity by hiking to the top of a thousand food cliff to watch the sun fade over Indian Ocean, getting to know each other along the way.
The next day we went on a Snorkeling trip to nearby reefs and points of interest. We were joined by two Polish trouble makers who rounded out the group perfectly. We joked with hoisting our own flag and plundering the other long tail boats for booty an eternal glory, but the reefs were too gorgeous too ignore and our fellow boaters escaped harm. Each beach had it’s own unique charm, especially one with a custom built Valerie Orosco Obstacle Course – watch for this new event at the next summer games. 7 hours later we returned to our beach and enjoyed Polish Vodka well into the night.
Nursing terrible sunburns, the next two days were mellow. We watched Hornbills (SE Asia’s answer to the Toucan), lizards, hermit crabs, monkeys, and other abundant wildlife from the shade of Casuarina trees. A definite highlight was “baking” Conrad his 21st birthday cake, which amounted to a neatly arranged pile of Oreo cookies with an oversized candle in the middle. We celebrated with a hilariously pathetic game of beach volleyball, and “Rice Feast 2010” which saw six of us eat an entire bucket of fried rice and another bucket of spicy lemongrass soup. YUM!
Sadly our friends left one by one day by day. Leaving Val and I essentially alone to absorb the rays. In the following days we saw tree vipers, bats, a gathering of over 300 hermit crabs, waterfalls, and sunsets that brought tears to our eyes. We found that the best Snorkelling for miles was in our own back yard and we free dived the reefs for hours a day, seeing all the usual suspects and more giant clams than you can imagine.
Eventually, as are friends before us, we too had to leave after 9 wonderful days. I can speak for both of us when I say I hope it’s not our last visit and that change can wait a little longer before settling down on this perfect oasis.