Safe and sound in Phuket after our crazy night boat (see the last post if you have not already read it), we had one afternoon to recoup before we set out on the next item on the docket: sea kayaking among the Phang Nga Bay hongs. A lot like Halong Bay in Vietnam, Phang Nga Bay is filled with karsts which are essentially limestone islands that jut up out of the water like sheer cliffs. They are stunning. It is like seeing the tips of a whole underwater mountain range. Overtime, the water and waves have carved out intricate caves into many of these floating islands. A few of these caves have since had their roofs collapse creating a hong, or a roofless cave. These hongs fill with water during high tide and are only accessible through one entry and exit portal. To reach the lagoons in the middle of the islands, you must go through these narrow cave channels. At first we were pretty disappointed that we would not be able to self paddle, but once we were on sight it all became much clearer as to why not. There are several points in these different cave systems which require you to lay down completely in your kayak. Even then, the roof and walls are only inches from your body.
Once you pop out inside of the lagoon, you are greeted with one of the most beautiful sights on Earth. Completely silent and sheltered from the ocean outside, sheer cliffs tower above you, lush vegetation grows around you, crystal clear water sits beneath you. It was amazing. In one of the hongs, there was a patch of young mangrove trees growing, roots coming straight up and out of the water. On a handful of the roots sat little mudskipper fish, or fish that can breathe both in and out of the water. Weird! The variety was incredible. Some of the hongs were huge while others were much more intimate. Some of the entrance caves were taller and others so narrow you felt you had to hold your breath. A couple of the caves were over 400 feet long before you emerged in the hongs themselves.
Our last hong of the day we explored after dark since we opted for the “starlight” tour to avoid the crowds. The cave on the way inside was covered with thousands of bats, so much so that I even got a little knot in my stomach. (This was a much taller portion of the cave.) Inside of the hong with the night sky sparkling above us, we released our Loi Krathong floating lantern that we had constructed on the boat during dinner. Loi Krathong is a Thai Buddhist ceremony celebrating the water god in which you release a floating candle made of banana leaves and gorgeous flowers letting go of the bad in your life while making a wish for the future. I had my doubts as to how silly and touristy this was going to be, but honestly, it was beautiful. On our way back through the cave system, all of the headlights were turned off. This particular cave was filled with bio luminescence! When you splash the water, it appears that there are fireflies or sparks flying everywhere. Just mesmerizing This phenomenon is due to the reaction a certain type of plankton has when it gets excited. No matter what the science is behind it though, it was fabulously beautiful. Another magical moment for certain.
Chancing it on night time transportation yet again, we had one last day in the islands before heading to Bangkok on the night bus. For a country that is known worldwide for its beautiful beaches, we were a little disappointed that we had yet to log one real beach day. Today was the day! We grabbed our sunscreen, swim suits, and towns and made our way to the sandy shores of Karon Beach. Had we planned this a little better, we might have found a better, more remote, peaceful beach seeing as Karon Beach is a hot bed for tourists who seem to be determined to wear much too revealing bathing suits several sizes too small all in the name of a good crispy sunburn. So yeah, Karon Beach is a little overrun, but it got the job done! Beach day…check! (Next time, a little more beach research would be advised.)
With the exception of the one passenger who brought a live rooster on the bus with him, we had a very easy night bus ride into Bangkok. (Keep in mind that this bus was very nice. Much better than any Greyhound bus you would find in the US. That truly made the rooster’s presence all the funnier.) It was slightly overwhelming to get out and face the chaos that is the Bangkok bus station before the sunrises, but in time we made our way to the old city where all of the backpackers stay. (And judging from the signs – stick figure illustrations and all – posted everywhere, apparently this is a hot spot for prostitutes as well. In fact, many of the hotels in this explicit area don’t even allow Thai guests for fear that they might be associated with the prostitution industry.) Fortunately, arriving at the crack of dawn has its perks and we were able to find a room in an otherwise fully booked area of town. We came to find out that we arrived in Bangkok during a national holiday resulting in many people traveling and using their vacation time to get away. Subsequently, Bangkok was hopping. Phew! Saved by the night bus!
We spent our first two days in Bangkok sauntering through the Chatuchak Weekend Market. This market expands for acres and acres. There are people selling everything from doggie outfits to glass wear, from sculptures to table clothes, and the list goes on and on and on. It is altogether way too easy to get lost in the rows and rows of vendors and before you know it, the sun is setting and the day is drawing to a close. Both days, we were completely spent (just physically, not financially) after the over stimulation we exposed ourselves to at this massive market.
The real highlight of Thailand’s largest city was that of FIGHT NIGHT! After three weeks in Thailand, it is impossible not to hear about Muay Thai and the sport’s crazy fight nights. We decided that it would be a shame to have been in Bangkok and have missed out on this experience so we ponied up and got ourselves some ringside seats. Muay Thai is sort of a mix between traditional boxing and martial arts. From what we understand, you are allowed to use any part of your body, with the exception of your head. Other than that we don’t know much of what the rules are, but we do know that it was highly entertaining and that these athletes can pack a punch. When the very first match ended in a knock out and stretcher exit, we were convinced we made the right choice by making fight night a Bangkok priority. Sitting ringside, we were up close and personal as the sweat sprayed and the high kicks went flying. It was bonkers! Because we sat ringside, we were considered VIP’s and got to take our photo with the champion of the night’s featured match. Silly, but so fun! By the end of the night, there were a total of three knock outs, one bloody eye, and countless knee jabs and roundhouse kicks to the body. It was equal parts amazingly fun and utterly painful to watch.
One thing you should know about fight night though, is that part of the fun is the wild gambling that goes on in stands. We were not too keen on losing any money, but we did want to partake in some of the fun so we opted to make our own little wager. The winner got a professional Thai massage while the loser had to write the remaining blog posts. Double whammy! Out of the nine rounds, you had to pick the winner correctly five times to win the bet. Let’s just say that things got heated as we both cheered for our picks and jeered for the opponent along with the booming echo of other fans. In the end, I have that little bet I concocted to blame for me sitting and writing blog posts while my victorious husband is out enjoying his Thai massage. Bets always seem like a much better idea before you lose 🙂 On the bright side, replaying and reflecting on the last few days has been its own sort of reward…but it is no Thai massage.
Our time in Bangkok thus far as been good fun, but it’s not over yet! This afternoon we are planning on checking out the Grand Palace. While the royal family no longer lives here, it is still used for ceremonial purposes and is billed to be quite the spectacle. We shall see! Later on we plan to meet up with our friends from London, Glenn and Claire, who are in Thailand for their honeymoon! Again, who does not love the small, small world we live in?
Tomorrow morning we bid adieu to Thailand as we cross into Cambodia. To be honest, we are ready to move on from Thailand. For being dubbed the Land of the Eternal Smile and the Friendliest Country on Earth, we have not found that to necessarily be the case. In fact, we have encountered quite the opposite with very rude, short tempered, and angry people. Between the vendors who blatantly try and scam you and the taxi driver who kicked us out because he would make more money taking someone else to the airport, just to name a few, we have not been all that impressed. Perhaps we are jaded after the intense kindness we experienced in Vietnam or maybe we are just in a little shock after returning to the tourist track a little bit. Frankly, it very well could just be the luck of the draw and the people we have happened upon while in Thailand, but whatever the reason, it is time to move on from this beautiful country. There is no doubt that we have had some unforgettable experiences here and some life list highlights that we will cherish forever and we most certainly thank Thailand for that. On to the next adventure!