Andaman Coast: Quest for the Perfect Beach

We have talked plenty about the tourism boom and overdevelopment in Thailand, but let’s be honest, there’s a reason why everyone wants to come here. And even though it can get a little crazy, we have managed to find relaxation on some of Thailand’s most beautiful beaches.

Some scenes in the video are well known destinations while others are isolated beaches we discovered while water-hiking. It’s all part of our ongoing quest to find the perfect beach.

Fun with Locals

Although Tony mentioned growing conservatism among Muslim minorities in Southern Thailand in Burkas and the Art of Roti Canai, there’s obviously another side to the story. Young girls are still young girls, with or without headscarves. These girls were especially outgoing, stopping us to take our picture on Koh Tarutao. When we asked to take their photo, the girls struck a pose. Let’s just say there was a lot of giggling, and not just from us. đŸ˜‰

Cleaning up Thailand

On our previous visit to Koh Adang, Tony came across a beautiful stretch of white-sand beach while water-hiking. (Clearly, he was ignoring rule No. 2 in our last post.) He couldn’t wait to go back and show me his discovery. Twenty minutes of walking and twenty five minutes of swimming took us to what he had perceived as paradise. As we climbed out of the water onto the beach, we found ourselves standing on a once stunning stretch of white-powder sand covered in garbage. How could this be? Continue…

Water-Hiking

It’s no secret that we love nature. And if you haven’t figured it out by now, we aren’t huge fans of crowds of tourists lying on our beaches. (We’ve said it before, we’re beach snobs.)

But our pictorials and videos from Goa to Palawan often show stunning, empty beaches completely devoid of much of the overdevelopment we complain about ad nauseum. Where are we getting these pictures?

On occasion, we are able to rent sea kayaks to get off the beaten track. But more commonly, we must resort to what we have come to call “water-hiking.” We often pack our beach sarongs and our smaller camera into a lightweight, good-quality Sea to Summit waterproof bag and put that into one of the low-cost, heavier Asian knock-off waterproof bags available everywhere and start exploring the coasts.

Walking through dense jungle without a good trail system is painful; thorns, vines, leeches, and pterodactyl-sized bugs don’t make it easy. This creates nice barriers between more populated beaches and small isolated beaches situated along undeveloped coastal areas. So if jungle trails start to disappear and rocky coasts become impassable Continue…

Sunda Flying Lemurs

Well, they’re not lemurs and they can’t really fly, but they definitely are awesome! After almost two years in Southeast Asia, we’ve finally spotted two – count ’em two – Sunda flying lemurs here on Koh Adang. The amazing gliding mammals swooped down in front of us and landed on a tree not far from our bungalow. Their highly unusual gliding skills are a site to behold – almost worth the two-year wait.

We know the brainiacs who visit our site need more info on these unusual creatures, so here is a link to the appropriate Wikipedia article as well as a short BBC clip below. Watch them fly – it’s weird and wonderful!

Click play to watch video

That’s Nature for You

After braving the mass tourism and overdevelopment further north, we finally decided to retreat to Koh Tarutao National Park, our island hideaway in Satun Province.

This time, we went to Koh Adang, an island we explored on our previous visit, but didn’t write about. One of the island’s most intriguing features WAS a beautiful sandspit that had formed near the park’s visitor center. This amazing formation not only created an idyllic, protected pool of turquoise water, but the sand was so steep that you could literally jump off the beach into several meters of water. Fantastic.

I wrote “WAS” because the sandspit has been destroyed by the storms and rough seas that swept across Thailand over the last couple of months. BUMMER. Well, that’s nature for you. I guess we’ll have to content ourselves with beautiful beaches, lush jungle, and technicolor sunsets, instead.

For visitors thinking of going to Koh Adang now, this visit took place before the park closed on May 15, 2011. Koh Tarutao National Park will reopen after the rainy season in November.

Burkas and the Art of Roti Canai

Twenty years ago, the markets of southern Thailand and Malaysia were visually stunning events marked by the colorful silk robes and wispy conical headscarves worn by ethnic Malay women. Eye-popping floral prints and soothing pastels greeted visitors as did the hospitable smiles of chatty sales women. But not-so-subtle changes reveal the allure and the sway of more fundamental Arab influences on the once moderate Islam of Southeast Asia.

Increasingly, we are seeing fully veiled women, and much of the colorful clothing has been replaced with solemn shades of black and grey. Equally noticeable is the more conservative behavior of these women. Interestingly, outside of conservative Aceh in northern Sumatra, this kind of clothing was virtually absent the first time I came to Southeast Asia in 1990. The visible shift in style along with references such as this disturbing menu in Penang can leave visitors somewhat uneasy.

For Thomas and me, these shifts can be unsettling for various reasons, most importantly some residual fears after being caught up in the attack on Mumbai. More severe Islamic clothing still sends a shiver down my spine, whether it’s fair or not. Muslim friends we meet along the way assure us that clothes are  just clothes. On several occasions, I have heard Muslim men swoon with memories of their veiled mothers cooking delicious meals for them as a child. These recollections have been completely incomprehensible to me… until now Continue…

Heaven and Hell

I love Buddhist hell. Well, at least from an outsider’s perspective. Depictions of people being tortured in the afterlife are goriest, sickest and most twisted in the Buddhist faith. You do have to wonder what convoluted minds come up with this stuff.

While in Phang Nga town, we visited Tapan Cave (also called Heaven and Hell Cave) and the associated Wat Tapan. Expecting a golden Thai temple, we quickly found ourselves amidst life-size demons savagely punishing Buddhist wrong-doers. We had obviously arrived in Continue…

James Bond Island and Phang Nga Bay

I fell in love with Phang Nga Bay, and karst landscapes in general, when I first set eyes on Koh Ping Kan in the wonderfully cheesy ’70s James Bond flick The Man with the Golden Gun.

Now more commonly known as James Bond Island, the stunning piece of karst eye candy is the withering centerpiece of struggling Phang Nga National Park.

Yes, little James Bond Island just might be the worst tourist trap in all of Thailand these days, but it wasn’t always so. When I first visited in 1990, it was a beautiful island with visions of Britt Ekland running barefoot across the sands. I liked it so much, I returned in 1991 for a second visit.

But almost exactly twenty years after my second visit, James Bond Island is clearly Continue…

Khao Sok National Park

After several days in the stunning Khao Sok National Park, we’ve put together a short video. Follow along as we hike trough Khao Sok’s jungle and explore the shores of Chiaw Lan Lake in search for hidden waterfalls and caves. While staying in a floating lodge on the lake was certainly a novelty, the actual focus of the trip was looking for gibbons. Although I didn’t see any and Tony only caught a glimpse of a gibbon’s butt in the distance, we could hear their wailing calls quite often. Eerie and totally awesome!