A week in heaven on a deserted beach, Phuket – the madness of mass tourism, the stories of an old captain

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26.01

Today we decide to head to the next beach. South Thailand is a thin strip of land not wider than 100 km. and 1000 km long. On the east side is the Thai Gulf on which we were up to now and on the west is Andaman Sea, part of the Indian Ocean. The beaches at this sea are famous for their beauty and the transparent waters. So we are very eager to go on the other side. We pack our bags. We are bitten everywhere by some horrible small flies that you don’t feel when they bite you but then you see red marks on your skin that itches you a lot for some days and at the end there is even a scar left.

We are taken by a man with a truck that drives some seafood which smells terrible and we barely manage to not vomit while driving the 20 km. to the highway. We pass by Arunothai Beach, which is covered by garbage after the storm. There are many houses and restaurants on the road next to the beach so it doesn’t seem very attractive to us. The driver leaves us at a crossroad where we see a big local market so we go there and buy food for the next few days.

Then a family with kids take us to the fork we want to take and we continue west over a hilly region to the west coast. Then a very nice man takes us for 40 km to Phato Town located in the mountains. We stop some kilometres before Phato at his working place that to my surprise turns out to be a camp of entomologists who collect data for the malarial mosquito.

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At the camp of the entomologists

We see a huge shelter under which there are 6-7 tents pitched where the team rests before the night expedition. I am a zoologist so we decide to stay here for a night. They are very kind and offer us to pitch our tent next to theirs. We do it hurriedly because they start work at 6 p.m.

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Ready to hunt mosquitoes

We hop on a jeep and go to a small village in the mountain. We split in two teams and each goes in a different house next to the river. We have to trap mosquitoes and the bait are our own naked legs. We go back at 10 p.m. and they stay till midnight. On the next day the mosquitoes kept in test tubes are sent to Bangkok and are studied in order to see if they carry the malarial plasmodium.

27.01

 In the morning people from the camp cook very tasty breakfast.

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The breakfast – pasta, fresh vegetables and curries with coco-nut

Then we wait for their meeting with some other people to be over and we start identifying. I learn to recognize quite a lot of different mosquitoes so this experience is very useful for me. After lunch we continue to Andaman Sea.

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On the road

We reach the next beach quite fast – it is called Hat Praphat and is part of Leam Son National Park. We see many signs on the road giving directions to the beach and we start worrying that there will be many people or that the entrance to the national park will have entrance fee. But to our utmost surprise we see a long, beautiful beach surrounded by a Casuarina (exotic tree) forest. At the entrance there are toilets and bathrooms and the office of the rangers of the park and a few pavilions inside the forest. We see several islands in the distance and the beach is totally empty. We can’t believe that we find ourselves at such a beautiful place.

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Welcome to the twenty kilometre long beach Hat Praphat

We walk for a hundred meters and decide to enter the ocean. Then we just stay at this place. The only thing we don’t like so much is that behind the trees there is a small asphalt road and many motorbikes are passing on it. The locals obviously don’t see many tourists so they gaze at us. The region is populated mainly by Muslims and I feel a little bit uncomfortable in my bathing suit. But we are in Thailand so I decide to stay like this while bathing in the sea.

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Thai Muslim woman who came to chat with us

Phuket, the most famous resort in Thailand, is just 200 km. from here so I suppose they have seen tourists. People here seem a little bit different. We often see young boys with curled hair. Most are fishermen but there are also coco-nut plantation owners. We notice they use trained monkeys to take the coco-nuts down.

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Short-tailed macaque trained to pick up and take down coco-nuts

The night is awesome with millions of stars. We fall asleep next to the fire unnoteceably.

28.01 – 05.02

A week in heaven

We decide to move to some other place in the morning because we don’t like the fact that the road passes so close to our tent and the motor bikers, most of them Muslims, stare all the time at us. First we leave our rucksack at the office and go for a walk on the beach. After a while we reach a small river where some locals are fishing. On our way back we pass through the forest and we are surprised to see a small fishermen village with around 20 houses. We ask for water in one of them and the people insist we take a bread too. They are making some huge traps for fish. To our opinion fishing is their only means of living.

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Fish traps

In the village we see a memorial ark for the victims of the tsunami in 2004. It happened after the earthquake near Sumatra, one of the most destructive catastrophes in human history. The earthquake was 9 by Richer scale and the hipo-center was in the ocean a 100 km. away from the north part of Sumatra. It caused a huge tsunami wave that hit Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Myanmar and Bangladesh and reached very far to India and Sri Lanka. The effects were devastating and after some hours it even reached the east African coast. The victims were 240 000 people.

Back then no one expected a tsunami in the Indian Ocean (90 % happen in the Pacific) and respectively there were no stations or satellites watching and as a result no one was warned. The wave showed unexpectedly and was 30 meters high. Some aboriginal tribes on different islands survived because they ran up high when they felt the earthquake – action based on advices in their oral legends and fairy-tales.

After this the whole Earth changed slightly its form and now it rotates faster and the year since then is 2 seconds shorter. There is an interesting story of a British girl walking on a beach in Thailand who saw the water going back. She remembered the lesson she learned about tsunamis at school and warned her parents. As a result the whole beach was evacuated and everyone was saved. That year 500 Swedish people died in Thailand which is the largest numbers of Swedish people who died in one day after a fight in 1700 and later this fact had negative effects on the reputation of the authorities there.

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Ruins after the tsunami

In the late afternoon we go back to the office, fill our bottles with water and head to the next bay direction south. In order to reach it we have to cross some rocks. When we get there we find ourselves on a deserted wild beach surrounded by a thick forest. The beach is at least 5 km of pure white sands and calm sea. We are in heaven.

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Sunset at the casuarina tree forest

On the next day we notice that there is a dirt road inside the forest but not many people use it. We engage in beach activities – swimming, snorkelling, cooking on the fire, reading, walking in the jungle, sleeping under the thick shadows of the casuarina trees.

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Our bivouac on the beach

Next to us there is a small pool inhabited by one-meter-long dragons which we go to see from time to time. The forest teems with life – colorful birds, squirrels and many other animals. One of the rangers passes often by us with his motor bike. Later in the day I walk on the beach to its central part where I find a wooden building with a bar, kitchen and a bathroom. It looks a little shabby but obviously someone uses it.

Inside it I see the ranger who offers us to move inside for free. The place is heavenly so we move the next day. We didn’t know that such a thing as free tourist bungalows exited. On the second floor there is a room with a bed. The only way to go there was to put two chairs one on top of the other because the wooden ladder had been long broken off. The feeling inside it is as if you are dwelling in a tree house :).

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The room on the second floor

Inside the kitchen there are all kinds of utensils, plates and the most important thing – running water. At the yard there are cashew trees and fragrant frangipani trees. There is also a table as well as several pavilions.

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The fruit of the cashew tree – the kernel is at the bottom

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The kernel with its shell

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We have our own bar

The beach with the pine tree forest is 10 meters away from the house. We are surrounded by jungle and eternal calmness. Again it comes to our attention that obviously here people don’t steal. Inside the house there are many things left – wooden deck-chairs, sauce-pans, pillows, cups, spices and so on. We think this is the best place ever and decide to stay at least a few more days.

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The view from the house

We leave our rucksacks on the second floor and head to Suk Samaran hitchhiking in order to buy food. First we have to reach the beach on Praphat and then we have 3-4 km to the village. We exit on the asphalt road and a motor bike stops to take us without us even waving at the driver.

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Mangrove forest on the road

We buy what we need and then go to an Internet cafe waiting for the weather to cool a little bit. Then we head to the beach and another motor biker takes us immediately again without hitchhiking.

In the evening the yard turns into a scene from Star Wars. Huge hermit-crabs crawl out under the rocks making funny sounds and attack the garbage bins behind the house as well as even the smallest bread crumbs. One has to walk carefully in order to not step on the crabs. We are watching their mutual relations often turning into fights.

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Our favourite pets – the hermit-crabs

This kind of animals are living only on land and do drown in water, though their larva live in the ocean. They are purple in colour and some are 10 cm. long with the shell. Besides the crabs there are many kinds of frogs – tree frogs and toads, geckos and small tarantulas. There are hives of giant black wasps too. At night life teems and we are surrounded by various birds and animals. We hear trots and different sounds produced by the night birds. Good that we have cupboards to put our food in.

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Wasps-guardians

The next days are interesting and pass by unnoticeably. Every day we make expeditions in the jungle, dive in the bay, cook elaborate meals.

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Fried batters and pumpkin soup

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Flat fried batters and baked sweet potatoes

 

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Pan-cakes

We spend the hot afternoons sleeping and reading under the shadow in the deck-chairs. Sometimes the ranger comes to see us and brings us breakfast. He has several cows and goats in a small farm close-by and brings the animals to pasture here.

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The cows visit us

Besides him there are almost no people coming here. From time to time fishermen come to set their nets in the ocean and a strange guy who gathers some special grass from the forest. One day came one lonely fisherman who had some slight form of autism and is living alone in a bungalow inside the forest. He came just for a shower and then left. These were all our social contacts. One morning we went to Suk Samaran to use the Internet because we had to speak to a friend who was visiting Thailand and whom we wanted to see. The ranger offered to take us with his jeep. He then proposed us to visit his house which to our surprise turned out to be 15 km away from Suk Samaran.

His house is far from the main road, very poor and with no paint. Inside his two sons are watching some football game on an old TV. When they see us they get up and start bringing coke, juice and coffee. When they hear we are from Bulgaria they both exclaim “Berbatov” (a famous Bulgarian football player). Later they serve us some bitter drink made of mashed leaves which they mixed with coca-cola and drink it in somewhat ritual way.

Mr. Shushtari tried it and the said he couldn’t sleep all night. We are just wondering how we will go back on the broken road when some people offer us to take their motor bike. Upon leaving they give us a whole bag of eggs which we barely manage to convince them to pay for. After a few hours at the Internet cafe we find and print out tons of information about the local fauna. While we are coming back the motor bike slips and we almost break all eggs, but luckily we smash just one of them.

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The beach

It is already dark when we come back to the house – and there a surprise awaits us: the lights are on. Up to now we didn’t even suspect that there is electricity here so we used candles and head lights. Some people were obviously visiting because the table was full of empty glasses, bottles and food leftovers. We felt like Snow White and the seven dwarfs: “who ate from my plate… who drank from my cup…” We wonder if they will come back leaving such a mess and the lights on, but nobody came back so we start cleaning.

On the next day a jeep full of rangers comes and they start looking around bringing plans of something and discussing. They don’t pay us much attention, just ask us if we have enough food. The next few days pass calmly with just the crazy fisherman coming for coffee. We continue exploring the sea and forest life. Usually we go out in the evening and enter the bushes hoping to see some big animal, but except the dragons and the monkeys we don’t see anything else.

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On the way to the jungle

The problem is we don’t have other shoes than the sandals and walking with sandals into the jungle is not recommended at all. All the locals put high boots when they enter the jungle. So we make a lot of noise to scare the snakes but like this we scare the other animals we want to see too. We don’t have binoculars either so it is even more complicated. Nevertheless every expedition is very interesting. We see some really strange plants and other wonders of the Nature.

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You slip and you hold yourself on…

Our last walk takes an unexpected turn. We are tired and decide to not go far. We go to the pool with the dragons but we see not even one. Then we notice a narrow path going alongside the river entering the tropical forest. We decide to enter 10-20 meters inside but it gets really interesting so we go deeper.

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The jungle

We are unprepared this time because we want to just see the dragons and go back. We don’t have mosquito repellent on us and we wear short pants. There are lianas and ferns everywhere. On every step we hear animals moving on the ground. We scare a flock of birds and they fly away making loud noises. It is very wet and the mosquitoes keep biting us. After twenty minutes we reach the top of a hill and then the pathway dwindles and disappears. The camera stops working while we are trying to make some pics of the bushes we are into.

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The last photo before our loyal friend the camera stopped working for good

Then we see a trap hanging from a tree – good that the bait was eaten. It seems that it is for some large animal. We are really disappointed that in all the national parks at Thailand there are many poachers and they hunt endangered species undisturbed. In every park we have been so far here there are hunter’s paths covered with empty red bull cans and traps. It is so sad and horrible!

I kick the trap down. The heavy metal falls down with a loud clank. We turn to go back when Mr. Shushtari starts screaming. He puts his hands on his neck and starts jumping and screaming. The next moment I see 5-6 evil black hornets 6-7 cm. long circling above our heads.

I shout “run” and we start sprinting without even looking where we step and with no direction. After we find ourselves at a nice distance I take a look at the bite. It is next to his artery and already there is a big bulge. I try to suck the wound in order to take away any toxins if there are some. The worst case scenario is if he gets allergic shock. We go down the pathway as fast as we can.

We are hurrying so much that Mr. Shushtari almost hits a 20 cm. spider with his face. Luckily we reach the main road in no time and then we go home. The swelling gets a little bit bigger but there are no signs of allergic reaction. Mr. Shushtari describes the feeling as if receiving an electroshock and says the pain is much stronger than a wasp bite. Good that while we were living in south Spain we were bitten very often by wasps and maybe we have developed immunity to such bites. The evening he is OK except feeling slight fever and tiredness. On the next day there is not even a sign of the bite except a small red dot.

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Frangipani

06.02

It is time we leave the heavenly beach. We stayed here whole ten days which is one of the longest stopovers at one place. Before this we stayed 11 days at Rishikesh to explore and study the local spiritual yoga practices from the Indian Sadhus and a week in Kolkata where we waited for our visas for Myanmar. Except these three cases we have never stayed more than 2-3 days at one place.

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Our favourite beach

We hop on the motor bike, return it to the ranger and start hitchhiking. This is one of the few times we feel sad leaving a place – we got attached to this heavenly beach. Our next destination is also something that doesn’t stimulate us to leave – Phuket, the biggest resort in Thailand. But our friend is staying in a hotel there so we must go there. Phuket is 200 km. south and is in our direction. The city itself is located on an island and is connected with a bridge to the mainland. The whole island is ruined by mass tourism.

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The ancestor of the amphibian – jumping fish (Periophthalmus spp)

We start hitchhiking at 2 p.m. but we hope we will manage to reach the island while there is still daylight. Several cars later we are there. The last driver who takes us is a luxury taxi and the man says there are some clients he has to pick up from the airport so he can take us there. He leaves us 20 km. away from the city and heads to the airport. Then a heavy rain starts. We hide under a shelter and make some sandwiches. It gets dark in the meantime and the rain keeps pouring.

After a while it almost stops, we go out and start hitchhiking. A very nice family takes us. We enter the car and it starts raining cats and dogs again. We have to go to the most commercial place ever – Patong Beach, which is 15 km. away from Phuket itself. Our friends are going to Phuket but they say they just want to buy something and then will go back to Patong Beach and can leave us there. This is great because I don’t know how we would have been able to walk 10 km. in the rain.

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Crab-hermit  (Coenobita spp)

They leave us in front of the hotel of our friend who was out so we wait for him at the lobby. Phuket seems like a normal city but Patong Beach is something terrible. Chinese and western tourist clog the streets and the hotels which are numerous here. I think that if there are such places where people go “on vacation” then this is the kind of places they want to go to. Not secluded beaches and jungles of which there are many in Thailand, but concrete cities and madness. This place is very different from the rest of Thailand and the people who come here leave with totally wrong impressions of what Thailand really is.

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Our friend is back, we leave our rucksacks at his room and go out. We find a bench on the beach and sit on it. We spend the whole night there talking. Our friend is a Bulgarian who lives now in Norway. He is an old sea wolf who crossed the Atlantic Ocean 4-5 times already and sailed near South America, the Caribbean, the Bermuda Triangle and so on. We talk about yachts, boats, storms, whales and incredible sea adventures. We are so excited by his stories that we are very eager to start sailing around the islands in Indonesia. Here is one of the most interesting stories he told us:

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The yacht named “Turpon”

He was staying with his boat at one of the marines of the Canary islands getting ready for his journey. Then suddenly a black yacht started approaching the marina – it looked really strange, a vessel that no one had ever seen. The sails were black, made of sackcloth and the wind was passing through them. The yacht itself was made of rusty iron rods and scraps and the portholes were covered with wooden tablets. It looked as if it couldn’t sail even a mile.

The yacht entered the marina and from inside came out three men covered in black with huge beards and hairs. To our friend’s surprise the three men were from Bulgaria. The yacht’s name was “Turpon”. These were three enthusiasts who made their boat with whatever materials they could find and left with only a compass and a map. Our friend added that the map was like “those they put inside the pupils textbooks” – very rough and on a large scale.

They told him that it took them three months to cross the Mediterranean (usually it takes 20 days, well with the proper navigation and instruments). The portholes were made of plastic and broke during the very first storm so they put wood. They used a bucket to cook and gasoline to light fire so that was the reason they were all covered in black soot.

Some time after that our friend heard they had reached Florida in four months (instead of the usual 30-40 days) and started working there illegally. Again I think that if one wants to fulfil one’s dreams all one needs is a desire and enthusiasm. If we were to ever see “Turpon” yacht we would not hesitate even for a second to jump on-board. It is so nice that there are people with such a strong spirit!

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Before dawn we go back to his luxury hotel room, sleep for a while and head south in the morning.

 

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