The islands off southern Thailand's Andaman Sea coastline grace Sea Quest's husband-and-wife team and their crew with the splendid sights of a fitting finale to their cruising sojourns. From our November 2012 issue.
|Connor Batham took to the swing set up by his grandfather, Michael Batham, for hours of flying into the water.|
Where we next dropped anchor, the strong currents flowing between the halves of an eroded island spooked Connor and Sophia a little, so I claimed the paddleboard for myself. The hong here consisted of a deep-water bay, the far side pierced through with a sea cave. Poking along the sheer rock walls, I noticed a dark, surging tunnel redolent with the smell of weed and sea creatures. Just a hint of light in the gloom tempted me to go farther. Letting my eyes adjust, I slid between overhanging rocks to enter a dimly lit pool. The family had to tip and wiggle the dinghy to fit its larger bulk through the tight passage. High overhead, a bird, complaining, fluttered from his roost.
This hong, like others throughout the archipelago, was formed by water eroding the porous limestone constituting the islands. Like cavities in a rotten tooth, large caverns were created that eventually collapsed, exposing the chambers to the sky. The one in which we floated was flooded from wall to wall. However, it led on through a rock-strewn tunnel into yet another, which, with its gloomy walls and gray water, emerged into view like the spooky swamp setting from The Lord of the Rings.
Surprised by our approach, a dragon-like four-foot monitor lizard splashed into the water and swam out of sight. Connor and Sophia were eager to follow it into a farther hong, but the dinghy wouldn’t fit. So the two of them slipped onto the paddleboard and bravely set off alone through the dark tunnel into a creepy, real-life place that the denizens of Disneyland can only dream of conjuring up to frighten city-dwelling children.
In calm weather, we wound our way close along the shores of the many islands, basking in their unusual beauty. Through the heat of the day, we watched tourists from passenger ferries climb into inflatable canoes to be escorted into the hongs by guides. Fortunately, by late afternoon, the uninhabited islands became deserted and their wildlife cautiously emerged.
The upper reaches of Phang-Nga bay are intersected by channels through mudflats. The water is opaque here. Several times Sea Quest squelched into the soft mud as we searched for depth along our way. Thai long-tailed boats manned by Muslim couples fished the bay. One stopped near. “Sawasdee krap!” they cried, calling out the Thai greeting while offering up dripping prawns from their sloshing bilge. Anticipating a tasty gourmet meal, we paid the asking price—about double the town rate, we later learned. But oh, were they ever fresh!
As expected, Ko Khao Phing Kan, otherwise known as James Bond Island after being featured in The Man with the Golden Gun, was a crowded tourist hub. However, Connor and Sophia, exhibiting symptoms of that modern malaise, shopping-mall withdrawal, were keen to get a fix. They’d worked hard to earn cash for their trip, but they’d been whisked off into a wilderness before they could spend any of it! Passenger-carrying long-tailed boats, with exposed propellers whirling dangerously at the ends of long shafts, jostled us for space to land on the tiny beach. Multicolored souvenir stands formed a gauntlet to run for those tourists more interested in scenery than trinkets. Michael and I dropped off Marina and the kids and retreated out of the way, promising to return later to pick them up. In the dinghy, we circled the island’s pair of sugarloaf peaks and the iconic tower of rock featured in the movie.