After a pretty uneventfuL journey, apart from Ruth admonishing a Dutchman in a small group who had been drinking for sometime! to modify his language! we arrived at Surat Thani. One of the better night trains, it was comfortable, not too cold and the train/track weren't too noisy. The train was an hour late and our pre-arranged pickup were not happy about it as they had started out before five that morning anticipating the train's arrival at 07.15. They were cheerful enough when we got going. An uninteresting journey to start with until we reached the Khao Sok national park where the scenery abruptly changed to limestone karst; sheer cliffs rising from deep ravines, very rugged and beautiful scenery.
Arrived at the resort after three hours in the minibus pretty tired but were welcomed to the resort with a refreshing drink and ice-cold face towels. A good start. On to our rom, which faces the sea and we get a bit of a view through the foliage of the many trees. A lovely location though the 95 steps (Ruth counted!) back up to reception were a bit of a trial in the heat and humidity. We settled in then wandered down to the beach which was beautiful. The beach is approximately 22 km long, broken in places by piles of granite boulders, it looked stunning. We had bit of a swim; the Andaman Sea was warm but a bit choppy and the bottom was stirred up so no snorkelling. Some lunch at the resort beach restaurant and back to the beach for a lazy sleepy afternoon. I booked a dive at a little hut next door to the report and because the dive centre want me to sign in and get equipment fitted, Mr Chay, the little hut owner offered to drive me into town to do that (and to register with them that I'd booked through him so he could get his commission). So showed my credentials, got kitted up, paid and turned to get a ride back to find Mr Chay had gone! So, a half an hour walk later I returned to our room all hot and bothered!
Quick shower then we walked into town, about fifteen minutes, to the Gold Elephant restaurant. Food ok but a sanitised version of Thai food, for tourists. All the patrons were tourists, not a Thai to be seen. Won't go there again.
I was up early to grab some breakfast before the pick-up at 07.15 for my dive trip. The boat dock was half an hour away by songthaw as we had to pick up more people. Apparently there were to be 60 people on this trip, but the boat was big so didn't seem crowded. A very efficient operator, we were designated dive leaders then offered breakfast. The dive leaders came round afterwards and briefed us on the dive; rules, signals, the site and paired us up. Two dives, down to about 27 metres, plenty of fish but not too much coral as it was damaged badly in the 2004 tsunami. All very well organised, we didn't have to do anything wit the dive kit except put it on, check and dive- great stuff! Lunch between the dives was good, nice choice and plenty of fresh fruit. Finally got back to the resort about 7 that evening; quite a long day and greeted by a very red-face Ruth, who might have spent a bit too long in the sun!
My turn now! While Steve enjoyed doing his Cousteau impersonations, I had a most relaxing day, thank you very much, alternating bouts on the sun bed with dips in the sea, before finishing off with a very therapeutic foot scrub at the pop up "beauty parlour" which has found amazing clientele on the beach, sandwiched between three resorts, ours included, which charge much steeper prices. At one stage, because business was quiet, there were two ladies disposing of two months' accumulated neglect and much walking on my feet, while another gave 10 minutes worth of back massage. All in all, a very worthwhile 300 baht.
After our respective exhausting days, we opted to have dinner at the resort. The beach-side restaurant was candlelit and very romantic. Eating, listening to the waves wash gently on the beach, while the cicadas serenaded us. Magic!
Not an early start, we drifted down to the restaurant and enjoyed a lovely breakfast in the beach restaurant. The sky and sea were blue and the sun still rising behind the resort. Today, we decided was beach day. We took our things to a set of sun loungers and relaxed, a bit of swimming, a light lunch at the beach hut next door, a bit more relaxing and suddenly it was evening and the sun was sinking fast. One last dip in the ocean; I turned to swim back to shore and out of the corner of my eye I saw a huge pink jellyfish (probably about 20 to 30 cm wide). I tried to avoid it but brushed the back of my shoulder against it. It stung, worse than a nettle sting, but I raced back to shore and asked the bar staff if they had anything for it. They concocted a mixture of morning glory leaves and vinegar, which worked! The rash disappeared by the following morning, so no permanent damage.
Between all this we managed to book a snorkelling trip and our transfer to Hat Yai to join the train to Singapore, and Ruth developed a cold!
Up early for the pick-up to go snorkelling. We were off to Surin Island, one of the marine national parks, northwest of our resort. A quick breakfast then off to the dock, picking up more snorkellers on the way. Fairly well organised at the dock and we were soon underway in the fast catamaran. It still took one and a half hours to reach the island group, good job the sea was calm as it was a bumpy ride in the cat.
The islands are beautiful, covered in trees and dense foliage, a real tropical paradise. Snorkelling was ok, we'd seen better, but there were plenty of fish to see and some nice corals. We were always last back on the boat; some people spent very little time in the water, a bit of a shame. We visited three bays (and were given lunch in the middle somewhere) and a Moken peoples village, they are known in the region as sea gypsies as in the past they have moved from island group to island group. They are fishermen, have their own language and have ancient beliefs; spirits and ghosts, though inevitably they are being brought under Thai control and education. Our guide told us the Moken escaped the tsunami, they recognised the signs, knew it was coming and climbed to high ground. No injuries or fatalities though their village and boats were completely destroyed. In contrast, on the neighbouring mainland coast over 10,000 people are thought to have lost their lives. Maybe the spirits were looking after the Moken.
As I said, it was all very beautiful, and all too soon we had to board the catamaran for another hour and a half bumpy ride back to the mainland. The crew were all very friendly and helpful; a great day out.
A quick shower then down to the bar for a sundowner. The cocktail, a house speciality, was a bit lame so we headed next door for a proper cocktail and dinner - a delicious white snapper.
Leisurely breakfast and off to the pharmacy for some stuff to clear Ruth's cold. Afterwards the taxi dropped us at the entrance to Lam Ru national park for a walk along the coastal path, said to be easy, it turned out to be anything but. Steep climbs, scrambles over rock and fallen trees, it must have taken us almost an hour and a half to walk 1 kilometre, where we found a beautiful little beach. Ruth, by this stage was happy to crash for an hour (the medication we bought was making her very drowsy) while I went for a swim and had a look around (and grabbed a few minutes zzzzz!). Fortunately the path to the end of the trail was easy going, with just a gentle incline to the exit and the road.
Back to the hotel for a shower; it had been very hot and humid in the tropical rainforest, though it was majestic. Trees straight as a die, soaring up before bursting out their foliage, some huge trees too, with great buttress roots, palms and all sorts of dense ground cover. Didn't see many flowers, I suppose they must be up at the top, near the sunlight.