Sunday, February 26, 2017

Thailand, Koh Tao - part 2

Let's start where we left off in part 1 - with a sunset. Some were more, some less bright red, but most were very pretty.

We usually went snorkelling shortly after breakfast.
These are Squirrelfish between Staghorn corals.

There were a lot of very big rocks around, that seemed to defy gravity. I really can't understand what is holding this one up there. Sorry for the quality of the photo, it was taken from the water while snorkelling.

A Grouper sitting on a carpet of Zoanthids.

These were always just hanging in the water in small groups, I think they are Golden rabbitfish.

One day we decided to make a hike to the West side of the island, and do some snorkelling in the bays on the way. Already after a couple of meters we had to climb up a lot of steps through the neighbouring resort, and then we followed the narrow path through the jungle to another resort near the West end of our bay...

... then there was more uphill climbing and then downhill to next bay, again we had to walk through two resorts. We found ourselves a nice spot on the beach at second resort and decided it was enough of hill climbing in the heath and among mosquitoes and went snorkelling.

These are Bannerfish, they are the same as we seen in Maldives...

... as well as Sergeant Majors.

This is the only turtle I've seen in whole time. It was quite busy eating and didn't pay too much attention to me.

Colourful Anemone with a Clownfish

Parrotfish were plentiful and in unbelievably bright colours.

On our way back we had to climb the same hills, this photo is taken from the highest point of our hike. There was a place called Sky bar up there, we hoped to get something refreshing to drink, but it was closed.

Luckily we got a nice cold gin&tonic and a pleasant chat with bartender at bar in neighbouring resort Sunset Bungalows.

Next day it was time for the next adventure - we hiked to Chalok bay and hired a kayak. Plan was to paddle along the coast towards East as far as we feel like it. I had a feeling that Captain's expectation of how far that will be were a bit more ambitious than mine.

We made first snorkelling stop on the East corner of Chalok bay. We were lucky to get there before all the tourist boats did.
We found a lovely Cowry shell. Of course we just took a look and a photo and left it there.

This one is from a Jack fish family

These are Streaked spinefoots, from the family of Rabbitfish.

This is a Blenny, sitting on a coral

I only saw these once, and I don't know their names.

This one I know - it is a Crown of thorns starfish. In great numbers they can be very devastating for reefs, since they eat corals. In Australia they are removed from reefs if there are too many, and even on Koh Tao they reduced their numbers after El Nino damaged corals few years back, to give corals the chance to recover from El Nino as fast as possible. Luckily, this was the only one I've seen.

These beauties were quite common, they are Two-barred rabbitfish.

Next we paddled to the neighbouring Shark bay. It got it's name from many baby Blacktip reef sharks that live there. I was lucky to have seen quite a number of them, but they wouldn't come close, so all the photos I got are a bit blurry.

After snorkelling in the bay we wanted to make a stop on the lovely sandy beach, but there were signs Private all over the place. Beach obviously belongs to some posh resort, and unlike on most private beaches they don't like visitors that don't pay. We still pulled our kayak out of the water, ate some bananas and stayed for couple of minutes, but didn't feel welcome. So we left the beach, Captain on the kayak and I was snorkelling in hope of seeing some more Blacktips. After a while I suggested to the Captain that we should return to the beach so I can also climb onto the kayak, but he said no, I can do it in the water. I didn't think so, but I tried and managed to turn the kayak over and Captain and our rucksack landed in water. Captain was angry, although we pulled the rucksack out of the water so fast it didn't have the time to get really wet. I knew it wasn't going to work. So we tried a new approach - first I climbed onto kayak while Captain was still in the water and held it, and then he climbed on. This worked. By the time we were both on it, I didn't feel like paddling further East, so we turned back towards Chalok bay. We made a stop in a very small bay, that we had all to ourselves. We pulled the kayak on a tiny beach and sat under the trees in warm water for a while, and afterwards did some more snorkelling.

The edge of the bay is very rocky, and again there were some very oddly shaped rocks there.

Captain was also exploring the rocks.

After the snorkelling we paddled by the Freedom beach...

... and some more resorts ...

... to the place where we returned the kayak. Our time wasn't up yet, but we were getting tired and hungry and I had the feeling the swimming web started growing between my fingers.

And here is one more photo of June Juea, or "our" bay, this time taken from Pinnacle hotel reception.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Thailand, Koh Tao - part 1

Hi there! Remember us? I know, we haven't been posting much these past months. But living a every-day land-lubber's life is hardly exciting enough for posting. Although, this winter was different from last ones - I managed to convince Captain that we need a holiday somewhere warm.

So on last week in January we flew from Vienna to Bangkok, then further to Koh Samui, where we spent the first night in Thailand. This below was our hotel and on the right is our bungalow. The best things about it were the lush green garden in which it was placed ...

... it was just a few steps away from the beach, that also served as a perfect background for several pina coladas in the evening...

... and there were orchids everywhere.

Late next morning, after having a swim in both the pool and the sea, we continued our journey by ferry to our final destination, island of Koh Tao. The ferry ride was not very pleasant, the sea was quite choppy and lots of people got very sick. It seemed like Chinese tourists, that were in majority, got particularly sensitive stomachs. 

The first impression of Koh Tao was: chaos. The ferry almost had to push away the fishing ships in the port to get to the "main pier", which was a wooden construction that looked like it is going to collapse under the weight of couple of hundreds people, waiting to board. We were unloaded on to the same pier, with all our luggage. From the open waiting room, that looked like a wooden terrace, a lot of locals started shouting, holding up the signs with hotel names, so we dragged our suitcases, avoiding holes in the pier, in their direction. Luckily our driver was also there.

But the adventure wasn't over yet. We hopped into the truck, some people and luggage got up in the back. I was wondering why there were so many Toyota Hillux trucks around, and I soon got an answer. The island is made of many very steep hills, and the roads go straight up the hill and then straight down on the other side. Obviously some time ago somebody bought Toyota Hillux and it had all the 4WD capabilities and it was able to drive over the island's hills, so other people just bought the same model to avoid testing the hill-climbing capability of other brands. On Koh Tao main transportation device is actually a motorbike, and while planning our vacation I thought we would rent one for couple of days and do some island exploring. On our ride to the hotel I decided we are not renting a motorbike, regardless how cheap it was. And I also decided we are not going to do long hikes - island is only 8 x 4 km big, and looking at it on Google Earth the distances really don't look that hard to walk. But once I saw the terrain and the shape the roads were in - one part looked like a dry mountain creek rather than the road, I just hoped there is some really good snorkelling near the hotel.

The Pinnacle Koh Tao hotel is located on the slope of the hill (where else) on the S-W side of the island in June Juea bay. What immediately overwhelmed us was the view - it was stunning. Already from reception, and then also from our bungalow - I think I made 100 photos from our balcony.

The vegetation was full of birds, butterflies and squirrels. I could just sit on the balcony and listen to the birds and watch all the small creatures flying and running by. Unfortunately none of them came close enough to make a good photo.

We only had breakfast in our hotel, from our previous holiday in Thailand that was almost 20 years ago, we remembered that food was great and cheap. And we weren't disappointed. Most of the evenings we ate in Chalok village in the bay of the same name, that was the bay right next to ours to the South. On advice of Google Maps one would need to walk over couple of hills almost to the middle of the island and then back towards the cost to Chalok bay. But there was a sign on the edge of the road under our hotel that said: Chalok bay 10 mins. So we followed the sign. We passed couple of houses and found ourselves on the driveway leading to the reception of a hotel. We passed the reception, walked by several hotel's bungalows and some pretty orchids...

... and along the hotel's beach.

Then we took our shoes off because most of the beach was flooded by high tide. Next we came to a wooden pier that led us to a terrace of the restaurant which we crossed without our shoes, came to concrete pier at the other end of terrace, that ended in the water with a gentle slope and after a couple of steps we were in next resort, through which we finally reached the village. Although we walked through so many establishments everybody was friendly and smiled at us.

Chalok village also looks a bit chaotic. Everybody is on the street - from trucks, motorbikes, people, dogs, cats, chicken, different vendors, but it is a kind of "gentle" chaos - everybody is friendly, even dogs, and nobody gets upset or even hurt.

For the first week we ate curry almost every evening. We just walked into a restaurant on a hunch or we asked locals. Everything we ate was super delicious and even when we ate food from street stalls, we never had any stomach issues. For lunch we usually ate the small local sweet bananas and cookies and tea.

One of the complimentary services of our hotel were also shuttle rides to Mae Haad pier and village and back three times a day. We were glad we didn't need to walk there.

This is the Mae Haad port with the covered ferry pier in the background.

These are Thai long-tail boats, all cheerfully colourful and decorated.

We met a lot of backpackers in Mae Haad and saw that most of the hotels were meant for them. Our hotel was of a bit higher standard, and since we're not 25 any more, were glad that we had air conditioning, warm water, power all day, wi-fi and beach towels.

There was also a pool in our hotel, but with the sea like that who needs a pool.

This is how we usually spent the hottest hours of the day - on our balcony.

Our bay was a great place for snorkelling and I spent hours and hours in water. Captain usually joined me, but sometimes swam back before I was done.

This is a Christmas tree worm, here they came in many bright colours. There were plenty of them  also in Caribbeans, but I met them already before on my trips to Maldives. There were many similarities between what I saw in Koh Tao and what I already knew from Maldives, after all both are in Indian ocean.

There were many pretty Mushroom corals.

What was most surprising was the abundance of fish of all kinds, especially considering how many fishing ships we saw out at sea every evening.

Fish of all kinds...

This one I haven't seen before, it must be some kind of Butterflyfish.

Also Giant clams came in many bright colours.

The Giant top shell snail really deserves its name - this one was about 15 cm large.

These lovely Groupers were always sitting on a corals and tried to remain unnoticed, but they would turn their big eyes to see if I was coming too close.

This is a Needlefish, some were quite big.

And here is the nudibranch section - this one is probably Phyllidia nigra ...

... and this one is Phyllidia varicosa (I got the names from ).

Gobies were rather nervous, this one was surprisingly patient with me.

Another Grouper, striped this time

Afternoon in Chalok village with mango smoothie ...

... and young coconut.

Sunset from our balcony