Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Farewell to Thailand - for now

Suddenly our time in Thailand is at an end and it's time to check out with immigration and start to head slowly South. We've spent the past couple of weeks revisiting some favourite islands - Ko Hong, Ko Phanak, Ko Roi - and relaxing in the delightful Racha and Railay. Every beach and anchorage has its own charms - craggy limestone cliffs or flocks of sea eagles, a hidden hong or a fisherman coming to sell us a bowl of newly-caught prawns.

Thailand has been very different to the other countries we've visited in that it is choc-full of tourists - elbow room only on many beaches, mainly Russians and Germans. The Thais have been quick on the uptake - most beaches come with cafes, beach umbrellas, beach hawkers, massage huts. There's fake everything for sale and a wide range of designer junk, amongst the carved elephants and buddhas. There are beautiful lady-boys working in every restaurant and massage shop, their five-o'clock shadow sometimes giving away their genetic history. Underneath all of this activity and commerce, the Thais are kind, good-humoured, tolerant and spirited people - we would love to spend more time with them. We've managed to get away and find islands where there are fewer people and only small resorts and another time would love to do some land travel.

The last week, we've had Scott's dad Kev and his wife Paddy here staying with us. We had a lovely time together and the boys loved having their grandpa to wrestle with!

The photo of the boat was taken in a hong called Ko Kudu Yai. I was unsure about squeezing Anui into it but Scott was determined that we should do it and so we waited for high tide and in we went. I had to agree that the photos were worth it. The other shot of the boat was taken when we were sitting on the beach at sunset whilst some local elephant trainers were taking their big mates for an evening swim. Magical.

Terrible news from New Zealand today. Mother nature is testing her might, yet again.

We will take a few days to sail down to Langkawi, stopping at some island groups on the way- the Butang islands and Ko Muk look good. We're in a routine of doing school work every morning, with both boys working hard (most of the time....). Finn has a box in which to collect all the words that he has learnt. The collection is slowly growing.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Just honging around

We've been in Thailand for almost two months now and are spending our time sailing between groups of islands in search of interesting places and hongs. There are many of these in the craggy limestone isles around the Phuket/ Krabi/ Phang Nga areas and we have been exploring them by dinghy, kayak and if necessary by swimming through tunnels to find the hong within. Scott has become a little hong-obsessed and we are on constant search for these beautiful, hidden spaces. Of course, we're not the only ones, with the ubiquitous long-tail boats ferrying hoards of tourists and stacks of kayaks to the hongs each day. We try to get there early morning or late afternoon, when all the tourists have gone home, and often get the place to ourselves.

We are currently anchored at lovely Ko Lanta, on the coast South of Phuket. The bay is calm and the beach is full of small bars and resorts. We are currently alone and friendless, since most of our mates have headed off in various directions. Fortunately, however, that has coincided with the start of school for the year, so we've had plenty of chance to get stuck in. Seth has entered his last year of primary school (Year 6!) and Finn has started in kindegarten for his very first year of school. Here is a picture of him on his first day. The boys have both been working really hard, bless them – their Grandpa and Paddy are coming out to see us in the middle of the month and they want to earn some days off by then.

Scott has decided to teach himself Thai so spends an hour a day in the cockpit making noises similar to a cat being strangled. Thai is notoriously difficult to master and has many different rising and falling tones, without which the speaker cannot be understood. He can now ask for prices in the market and in shops, which comes in very handy. We've had the chance to buy crabs and prawns from local fisherman and they are always surprised when Scott barters in Thai.

We spent a few days in beautiful Railee, a series of beaches accessible only by boat due to the high cliffs surrounding them. Seth was able to do a rock-climbing course there, which he loved. There were great caves there for Scott and the boys to climb through and walking tracks all over the place for me to run through. There were little bars in the hills and very relaxed looking back-packers lying around on cushions. The water is clear and cool here and after the school work is done it's good to jump in. We only have another few weeks in Thailand before it's time to head South back into Malaysia. We'll certainly be back.

The temperature in this, the dry season, is absolutely perfect - around 27 degrees and not too humid. We're in the area shattered by the 2004 tsunami and it is hard to imagine the devastation of that wave in these peaceful islands. There are reminders everywhere - wooden boats rotting high in the bush above a quiet bay, memorials to those lost, broken buildings abandoned. The trees and shrubs grow back and cover much but we are always aware of the recent history of where we are.