I always get sunburn when I go to the tropics. It’s stupid, I know, as sunburn is almost entirely preventable. My problem is twofold. I’m swarthy enough that I rarely get sunburn in the States, with the exception of Florida summers, and I strongly dislike the way that creams and lotions feel on my skin. Because of this, I frequently decide it’s worth the risk not to apply sunscreen, if I don’t forget entirely. A day on a boat in the tropics with no sunscreen will result in sunburn nine times out of ten, and I just need to get that through my thick skull.
The boat in question took us out into Phang Nga Bay, home to some of the most iconic and spectacular examples of karst landscapes in our world. Karst is formed when softer, soluble rocks are dissolved around deposits of, well, any less soluble rock. The results are dramatic and can be found all over the world.
I happen to be in Thailand, so I couldn’t resist the opportunity to see where The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed, popularly called “James Bond Island.” It has a proper Thai name, too, but hunting that down is harder than Christopher Lee’s quarry in the movie (people). Our trip had three other stops as well: one at a cave where bats roost, one at an incredibly romantic lagoon, one at JB Island, and one at a beach where there’s usually monkeys.
It’s hard to be unhappy on a boat in the shade, moving along quickly enough for a persistent breeze, bouncing easily over waves. It’s foreign to me not to have a road or path to follow, so it just looks a bit to me like asphalt stretching from horizon to horizon. Ao Phang Bay, however, doesn’t stretch that far, with karst islands’ stark walls shooting from the water with no apparent warning.
The bat cave looked like nothing more than a tiny hole at water level in a sheer cliff face from the boat, but as we paddled in the dinghy, the wall rose even more before us until we saw the opening extended at least ten feet above the water level. Caves are notorious for not staying very open, however, and after about a five minute paddle into the darkness, we had to turn back around. There was light shining through the water at the cave’s deepest point, and I probably could have swum through to the outside—and have no idea where I was or how to get back to the boat. There were bats, little furry things hanging from the ceiling; we were warned to keep our mouths closed when looking up at them. You never know when nature will call, and it’s not calling them outside the cave.
Dissolved rock can be extremely beautiful. It also can look downright strange. The lagoon had a cliff face that looked like a huge, toothy fish and two that vaguely resembled human forms. To get to these, one had to paddle from the larger area of the lagoon to a placid little area with nothing except leaves between the water and the sky but surrounded on all sides by rock (except where you could paddle under the rock). It seemed the perfect place to build a suspended cabana, shaded by the trees and cooled by the water, comfortably isolated from the mainland but no more than a half hour’s boat ride from port. The almost-sort-of-human forms were in alcoves on the walls: one looked like a figure seated on the ground. Our guide called it the island’s Buddha. The other looked to me like an angel swaddled in its wings (pictured—remember I said vaguely human).
As a career traveler, I hate feeling like a tourist. Tourists have a reputation for being unaware of their effect on the places they go, traveling in loud, brightly colored crowds down clearly marked pathways. I can never totally shake feeling like livestock when I’m in one of these crowds, squirming—if only internally—when I’m standing in line waiting to have my picture taken in front of a rock. It’s a famous rock, though, and featured heavily in the Bond film. I was the only one (that I saw) who swam out and touched it.
They warned us as we pulled up to our final stop, the monkey beach, that the monkeys aren’t always there. The real purpose of our stop was the opportunity to spend a little time on the beach. It was a hot day (not that those are in short supply between the tropics), so it was wonderful to get some down time in the shade and warm water. The monkeys were there, but as I jumped off the boat and swam to shore, I didn’t have the opportunity to take any pictures. You’ll just have to take my word for it.
Back on the boat, back to port to nurse our sunburn and go through the photos we’d taken. Sights seen, my last few days in Phuket will be spent much like the first few: relaxing and catching up on reading, writing, and sleep. You’ll hear from me but once more as far as this trip is concerned: when I tell you all I’m safe at home after all the transit is complete. Until then, keep having fun, my friends.