Got up today on time and was ready to leave for my tour through Phang Nga Bay at 08:00 (due to the nature of this tour, I utilized my Canon Powershot instead of my much more expensive Canon DSLR, so teh attached pictures are of lesser quality). While waiting outside, the hotel manager came out to ensure I boarded the correct minivan transport to take me to the pier. Three minivans, same make and similar look, stopped by to collect passengers for other tours in Phang Nga Bay and based on what I saw on my tour, the itineraries for each are very similar if not exactly the same. Then the correct minivan came for me and luckily my receipt number, hotel, and room number were on the driver’s list because my name was no where close to being accurate. I was the last passenger to be picked up and then we all drove to a waiting area near Ao Por Pier; our van and the swarms of other minivans all dropped their passengers off at the waiting area where we were given stickers with a number or letter written on it designating which boat we were assigned to. After about an hour of waiting around, we were then directed to walk to the pier and our respective boats. While walking on the pier, a rain storm quickly approached from the south and soon overtook us; I got soaked before making it to the boat. In time, the rest of the passengers came on board and we then finally left and the skipper set engines to Panak Island (the first stop on our itinerary, located in Ao Phang Nga National Park). Meanwhile, the rain was not letting up and the view was obscured by storm. On board, we had free water, Coca-Cola, coffee, and rambutans (I had a couple rambutans and a cup of coffee).
After traveling for some time, we reached Panak Island; at this point, it was still raining, but not as hard as before, nonetheless, I took my shirt off to keep it somewhat dry. The red and yellow inflatable sea canoes on board the boat were launched, and each one had a local man to paddle and take the tourists along an established route through “Mut Cave” and the lagoons hidden inside the island. It felt silly to me to have a man paddle me around when I’m quite capable of doing it myself, so I requested a paddle so that I may at least assist my guide and I was given one, though the tour operators thought it was humorous and strange for a tourist to paddle along as well. We then made our way through the dark cave with lovely stalactites and stalagmites and then came out the other end in to a small lagoon (about five feet deep) with a few tall mangroves in the water and other plants and trees on the sides of the limestone cliffs. We made a circuit of the lagoon and then went back through the cave and back to our boat.
Once everyone was back on the boat, we headed to our next destination: Koh Hong Island. During the boat ride to Koh Hong, the rain let up and clouds began to make way for the sun, though it continued to remain obscured at this point. Once at the island, the sea canoes were launched again and we were given the same paddlers/guides as before; my guide was smart and made sure an additional paddle was waiting for me in the canoe (they work on tips). We then set out for a short cave passage which took us through the limestone and in to another small lagoon in the island. From this lagoon, we entered another lagoon via a very small and short cave. After paddling around this second lagoon, we then exited and reentered the first lagoon before taking a different, narrower cave to exit the island altogether and to board the boat again. Since this was the last part of the tour for our paddlers/guides, I bade farewell and gave him a tip. Then I jumped into the water to swim for a short while as the other tourists came back from their trip through the waters of Koh Hong.
Once we were all on board we then set engines again to our third destination: Khao Phing Kan (“hills leaning against each other”) Island, which is the most famous island on our tour itinerary; both it and the nearby twenty-meter tall Koh Tapu Island were featured in the 1974 film, ‘The Man with the Golden Gun’; in the movie, the island stands in for a fictional island in the South China Sea that serves as the antagonist’s hideout, fun house, resort, and fusion research center; also, because of the movie, the island is known as “James Bond Island”. During the ride to the island, lunch was served and I had fried rice, stir-fried chicken and noodles, and stir-fried chicken and vegetables; the food was actually quite tasty and I ate my meal at the bow of the boat to watch our approach to Khao Phing Kan. Soon after finishing lunch, we reached the island. We were then all taxied to the dock on the island by long-tail boats. Sadly, Scaramanga’s island is now overtaken by souvenir vendors selling all sorts of little nick-nacks; it was also packed full of tourists, making me wish I could’ve visited the island before 1974 (I probably would’ve had a very tranquil time, free of people). I passed the souvenir vendors and walked by the leaning-rock before getting a view of Koh Tapu. I took numerous photos of the slim, tall island and then walked up some stone steps and through some untouched nature; I then reached a small beach with some tables and seats for people to rest at under the overhanging limestone (this is the location we are first introduced to Scaramanga in the movie, as Christopher Lee and Maud Adams are relaxing on the beach). Then, due to not having much time at all on the island, I made my way back to the dock to be taxied back to our boat (we were given only thirty minutes to explore the island, which is enough time, but it would be nice to take a little more time to enjoy it). When all the passengers were at the dock, we were ferried back to our boat. From there we set our course southward. We stopped at the edge of another island (it may have been Panak Island again, at another spot, but I’m not sure) where we were given thirty minutes to swim and/or sea-canoe. I chose to travel by sea canoe again; I boarded my rubber vessel and explored some of the overhanging limestone before heading to a very small beach, from which point I waded in the water for a a while. It was at this point that I noticed my skin was redder than it should be, so I headed back to the boat and sought shade quickly. Shortly after I had boarded, the other passengers were called in, and we were then off, heading back to Ao Por Pier.
Once we arrived back at the pier, I walked back to the waiting area we were all at before and found my driver. When the other passengers arrived, we drove off, back to Patong. We then arrived at my stop, I exited, and went back to my hotel room to assess the damage. I was red alright, on my shoulders and upper arms, and my lower thighs. I showered and immediately applied aloe moisturizer to soothe my burn. I then relaxed in my hotel room and waited for the late hours to come before venturing out again.
Then, at about 23:30, I left my room and walked south to Bangla Street. During the walk over there, I watched a few sky lanterns, that had been lit and released on Patong Beach, ascend far up in to the night sky; also, during my walk, I noticed many shops were closed and the streets were relatively empty; though when I reached Bangla, it was as busy as ever – perhaps more so. There were many drunk Europeans, Australians, and Americans. One guy was sitting in the street, waiting until the urge to vomit had passed. There were also (of course) many lady boys (or “katoeys”) in the streets, dressed rather garishly for tourists to take photos with them (for a price). The Go-Go bars had many touts trying to lure in customers and some had scantily clad ladies (I think they were ladies) dancing in glass booths on the second floor of these clubs. Ahh, sex and alcohol, the primary staples for many people’s vacations. Surprisingly, I saw many parents with their children on Bangla Street, even after midnight; I suppose most of the children were under six, so they wouldn’t quite understand all that was happening around them, but this night probably will come back to haunt their dreams. After walking up and down the street, I then entered a Go-Go bar to watch the performers on stage and (in some ways more entertaining then the women) the drunks surrounding them . . . No! Not that type of performance! No shows involving ping pong balls, blow darts, frogs, goldfish, coke bottles, or strings with razors attached were found in this club. It was actually pretty tame and no different then gentleman’s clubs in the States with the noticeable exception of this club having foam bats with clappers (which make a loud crack, though are rather soft) to hit and be hit with – it was all in good fun and many drunk Brits were having a great time smacking asses with the foam bats and then being smacked on their backside by all the girls. I ended up staying out much later than I would’ve liked and decided to close the bar down before leaving and walking back to my hotel (all I had was four bottles of beer, so I was far from drunk, but I did have to urinate badly during my walk). I made it back to my room, showered, watched some of ‘Pineapple Express’ of Macau’s movie channel (I’ve had access to this channel in pretty much every room I stayed in with a television since I was in Jakarta, and it usually always shows excellent Hollywood films). I then finally went to sleep as night began to change to day (does this entire paragraph still count as part of my journal entry for August 16, 2014?).