24 December 2002, Ao Phang Nga
At 5:00 the next morning the village roosters began to crow. Approximately 15 minutes later the mosque began to broadcast a chant that I assume was a call to prayer, and it was at that point that I decided I wasn’t going to be able to sleep any longer. I got up and went to the railing outside our bungalow and watched as the village fishermen started up their boats and headed out into the waterways. Shortly after 6:00 the sun rose, and the rest of our group began to stir. Breakfast was served at 7:00 and consisted of a pastry, a pancake folded in half with coconut and sugar inside, and tea, coffee, or hot chocolate. At 8:00 the boat came to pick us up.
We first headed back to the pier to drop off Carmen and the French/Thai couple and pick up the 8:00 tour people—a Czech couple with their son and another couple, who judging by their excessive displays of affection (read “face sucking”), were either on their honeymoon or just incredibly horny.
Our tour around Ao Phang Nga started off with a trip through the narrow waterways in the north of the bay, and we passed beneath the first of a number of rock arches. The arches bristled with huge stalactites like teeth. Our first stop was Naga Cave, a great wide-open cave that led up from the water’s edge and opened up into the forest further up the hill. There was also another large opening that offered a fantastic view out over the forest.
We continued on through the waterways and eventually made our way south into the more open bay area. Our second cave stop was one that was cut into the side of an island and led back a little way to a small opening at a lagoon. We also wove our way through a number of islands, most of them consisting of sheer cliffs that rose straight out of the water. The cliffs were stained red, as if they were streaked with rust.
For lunch we stopped on a beach, where we had the typical picnic lunch of fried rice and fruit. After eating we rested on the beach a little and then went swimming right off the beach. There was a sea cave cut into the rock that I explored a bit, but it was filled with mosquitoes. The great waves coming in from the bay also made for an interesting time.
The last cave we stopped in was a deep one and completely dark, so we had to use our flashlights. There were some beautiful formations that glittered like diamonds in the light of our flashlights. The stalactites also apparently have interesting sonic properties, as they made a sound like a tuning fork when our guide struck them. This in itself made me wince—conservation of the environment is somewhat of a new concept here, and I could see where previous visitors had already broken off many of the stalactites. The Hungarian couple was saying how it was such an amazing experience, since you weren’t allowed to touch anything in caves in Europe or the United States. That may be true, but there is a reason you’re not allowed to touch anything—so there will be something left for future visitors. As far as the caves in Ao Phang Nga go, there will soon come a day when you will not be able to find a formation that hasn’t been broken off or had someone’s name carved into it. I really did enjoy visiting the caves, but I couldn’t help thinking of how our actions would mar the experience for future visitors—and how previous visitors had already marred my experience.
The final stop on our tour was supposed to be the highlight, I guess— James Bond Island (the island filmed in The Man with the Golden Gun). I didn’t care too much for it, though, as it was overrun with tourist groups and marketplace had been set up on the island selling various crafts. If James Bond Island had really been the highlight of the tour I would have been very disappointed, but there were so many other things to see and experience that I didn’t mind. Overall, I think the 24-hour tour was well worth what we paid.