Tag - sea

Southern Thailand

Southern Thailand
Southern Thailand
Southern Thailand

Southern Thailand is large and inviting, featuring dozens of beautiful islands and a whole host of pristine beaches on which to top up your tan or enjoy water sports. The most famous resorts are on the west-facing Andaman Sea coastline, and the east-facing Gulf of Thailand coast.

Many people head straight to the South of Thailand and spend the rest of their stay enjoying all that this beautiful region has to offer. There are 14 provinces in all and each offers something different, to the highly popular and crowded areas in Phuket and Krabi to the much quieter, less visited areas of Songkla and Yala near the border with Malaysia.

Although areas of the west coast of Thailand were badly affected by the Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004, all infrastructure has long since been repaired thanks to the hard work of local and international volunteers. Perhaps the most effected area was Koh Phi Phi, and people still wanting to make a contribution can do so through the Children of Phi Phi Island foundation www.childrenofphiphi.com.

Many people tend to avoid the very south of Thailand, scared off by the stories of bombing and murders. The trouble started in 2004, when a long resentment in the southern-most Muslim-majority provinces burst into violence in Narathiwat, Pattani and Yala provinces. However, this all took place well off the beaten tourist trail, and few visitors were affected.

The Songkla Province town of Hat Yai has also been hit by a series of related bombings, although none of the islands or the west coast beaches have been targeted.

In September 2006, three foreigners were killed in Hat Yai bomb blasts. Some rebel groups have threatened foreigners, but no westerners have been directly singled out for attacks and generally the south of Thailand is still a safe place to travel.

Langkawi, Malaysia

Langkawi, MalaysiaLangkawi is the number one Malaysian holiday destination for many tourists, featuring a number of tropical palm fringed beaches with clear sea and sandy beaches as well as jungle and forests to walk through. With a name that translates roughly as the land of all one’s wishes, many people come to Langkawi to live out their tropical island fantasies.

Many people intend to visit Langkawi for a day or two and end up extending their stay, seduced by the natural beauty of this large and lovely island. This is a great time to visit Langkawi as it has been recently been given a face lift, with the addition of the Telaga Harbour Park.

The highlight of Langkawi has to be its beautiful beaches. There are a number to choose from, and the most popular include Pantai Cenang, Burau Bay, Pantai Kok and Pantai Datai. Water sports such as snorkeling, sailing and kayaking are popular here, while many people are content to simply lay to the sand.

If you are feeling adventurous, take a tour through the islands lush mangroves. There many tours to choose from including cruises, kayaking and nature walks. There is also an island hopping tour which gives visitors the chance to explore some of the hundreds of uninhabited islands in the area.

A fantastic way to see Langkawi is by taking the cable car to the very top of Gunung Mat Cincang. Walk across the sky bridge for spectacular views of the numerous surrounding islands. Hiring a bike and cycling through the countryside is a good way to enjoy the scenery and provides the opportunity to spot some of Langkawi’s colourful birds.

A great time to visit Langkawi is in April to take part in the wild and wet Langkawi International Water Festival. Other interesting festivals include the Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace exhibition in November, December’s Langkawi Arts and Crafts Festival and the Langkawi International Festival of Arts.

There are many ways to reach Langkawi, and particularly popular is the ferry from the nearby island of Penang, which is located to the very north of Malaysia. There are also regular ferries from southern parts of Thailand such as Saturn and Ko Lipe.

Click on a picture to see more images by the photographer. (Some pictures do not have links.)

Phang-Nga, Thailand

Phang-Nga, Thailand
Phang-Nga, Thailand
Phang-Nga, Thailand
phang_nga_4

Welcome to an area of intense and unforgettable natural beauty; Phang-nga Province, which is located roughly 788 kilometres from Bangkok in the south of Thailand. Full of spectacular national parks, pretty beaches and islands, it is easy to see why this is a popular destination for both international travellers and Thai holiday makers.

The most famous attraction is perhaps Ao Phang-nga National Park, which is a geological wonderland filled with islets, sunken caverns and astonishing rock formations rising out of the sea. The bay is ideal for expeditions of sea canoes to explore the many fascinating caverns, all of which have their own interesting eco-systems.

Also extremely beautiful is the Surin Islands Marine National Park, which is a great place to go diving and snorkelling. Between March and April whale sharks can be spotted in the park, while people can stay overnight in a bungalow in Morken Village. There is also an interesting Walking Trail around the bay of Ao Mai and into the jungle.

There are a large number of pretty islands around Phang Nga Bay just waiting to be explored. The most famous is the island of Ko Phing Kan, popularly known as James Bond Island. In 1974, the James Bond movie The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed around this needle formed limestone rock, which juts out of the sea. A good way to see the island is by taking a boat tour.

Other areas of intense natural beauty include the Similan Islands Marine National Park, the Khao Lak-Lam Ru National Park, Ton Pariwat Wildlife Conservation Area and Somdet Phra Srinagarindra Park, which is a public park located opposite the interesting building of the former City Hall.

Phan-nga is a great place for trekking through the jungle and exploring. There are a large number of spectacular waterfalls to discover, all of which make great trekking destinations. Of particular interest are Namtok Saeng Thong, Namtok Hin Lat, Namtok Tao Thong, Namtok Raman and the stunning five-tiered Namtok Lamru.

The Ban Bo Dan Hot Springs are a great place to soak away your aches and pains after a busy day of exploring. Not to be missed is the enchanting Wat Tham Suwannakhuha, which means Heaven Grotto Temple in English and is a cave full of Buddha images including a 15 meter reclining Buddha.

Said to resemble an elephant, Khao Chang is a huge mountain which offers spectacular views of the area from the top. Whilst there, check out the interesting Phang-nga Wildlife Nursery Station, which is located nearby.

Phetchaburi, Thailand

Phetchaburi, Thailand
Phetchaburi, Thailand
Phetchaburi, Thailand
Phetchaburi, Thailand

Located in the central region of Thailand, Phetchaburi Province can be found approximately 160 kilometers south of Bangkok. This is an area of rich historical and archeological interest as well as surrounding nature such as caves, waterfalls and beautiful sandy beaches. Phetchaburi, also known as Phetburi, is the capital of the Phetchaburi Province. This old royal city dates back to the Mon period of the 8th century. The style of the buildings in the city and surrounding area can be seen to reflect the style of the ancient Mon people, the Khmers and also the traditional Thai style. Phetchaburi province is well known for its large number of beautiful caves. Particularly of interest are the Khao Luang caves, which are located 5 kilometers north of the capital city. There are several Buddha statues inside the caves including a magnificent large reclining Buddha statue.

The area is also well known for the mysterious cave of Khao Wang and the Phra Nakhon Kriri Historical Park, which includes King Mongkut’s Palace. A great way to explore the Historical Park and to conserve energy is to make use of the quaint tram which circuits the large park area.

Phra Ratchawang Ban Peun is an interesting temple located 1 kilometre south of the city inside a military base, whilst the local night market is a great place to get a good meal and do some shopping.

Many people stop off in the province in order to visit the beautiful beach resort of Cha-am, with its sparkling sea and inviting golden sand, just a 40 minute bus ride from the city of Petchaburi. Cha-am is very popular on the weekends and during holidays, but visitors will find that it can be very peaceful during the week.

Another great day trip is the Kaeng Krachan National Park, which features the amazing Pa La-U waterfalls and with its lush jungles is a good place to go trekking and discover some of the area’s rich flora and fauna.

It is worth trying to time your trip to coincide with the Phra Nakhon Khiri Fair. This vibrant festival takes place in early February, lasts for eight days and includes a colourful sound and light show and displays of classical Thai dancing. During the fair the town takes on the feel of a fairy tale as the temples are decorated with lights and people dress in traditional costume to perform the unique dances.

If you are in Cha-am in late September, look out for the Feast-Fish-Flock Seafood Festival, when the seaside town celebrates the wealth brought to it from the fruits of the sea and displays all it has to offer

Chonburi, Thailand

Chonburi, Thailand
Chonburi, Thailand
Chonburi, Thailand
Chonburi, Thailand

Chonburi is a province full of beautiful sandy beaches, enchanting tropical islands, abundant natural resources and delicious fresh seafood. This is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle of the busy city for a while and relax on the beach. The capital town of Chonburi is the nearest seaside town to Bangkok. Located on the eastern coast of the Gulf of Thailand, Chonburi is just 80 kilometres from Bangkok and very popular with residents of Bangkok on weekends and holidays.

Chonburi province contains many places of interest for visitors. Particularly well known throughout the world is the seaside town of Pattaya, while the town Si Racha is famous throughout Thailand for its spicy chilli sauce.

Particularly of interest in the area is the picturesque island of Ko Si Chang, which was made popular when King Rama IV, Rama V and Rama VI visited the island for some much deserved rest and relaxation. King Rama V initiated the construction the first palace for royal home-stay in the summer, and the idea proved popular with subsequent rulers and people of note.

There are many beautiful beaches and other places of interest on Ko Si Chang. The meditation caves at the Tham Yai Phrik Vipassana Monastery are a good place to get in touch with nature while learning the art of meditation.

There are plenty of great places on the island to swim, such as the picturesque Hat Tham Phang (Fallen Cave Beach), Hat Sai Kaew and Hat Tha Wang Palace, which is a great picnic spot.

The San Jao Phaw Khao Yai Chinese Temple is located high on a cliff top overlooking the sea and offers spectacular views over the ocean, and the limestone cave of Tham Saowapha is definitely worth a visit, although don’t forget to take a torch.

There are a number of small islands located around Ko Si Chang such as Ko Khaam Noi, Ko Ran Dok Mai and Koh Prong. A good way to explore them is to rent a sea kayak, go scuba diving or go on a snorkeling trip to the nearby Ko Khaang Khaow (Bat Island).

Koh Si Chang is a great place to sample the abundant local seafood, and what could be better than eating fresh barbecued seafood on the beach whilst you drink and cold beer and watch the sun slowly set.

Triggerfish and Turtles

diving_ko_taoI’m 28 years old in the year of Our Lord and I can say that very rarely do I finish a day on this lonely planet with a smile on my face the size of China. Yesterday I ate my evening meal whilst grinning from cheek to cheek. Why? Because I had become a scuba diver! Koh Tao, about 50 km from the east coast port of Chumphong in the Gulf of Thailand was the location for my first experiences under the sea. Tao is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth. Resident population 2000, 21 km square, main industries: diving, fishing, diving, growing coconuts and er, diving.

Rich with turtles (Koh Tao = Turtle Island) the flat sea around this utopia shimmers with a thousand shades of blue which change as the ever-present sun drenches the white beaches. Once a political prison and for a long time uninhabited, Tao seems like a place not long-discovered and now exploding into a Mecca for self-indulgent divers. Few laws govern this totally chilled environment but no buildings higher than the ubiquitous palm trees are allowed. Under royal patronage, the island’s only tourist attraction is a large rock inscribed with the late monarch’s initials. The Thai population is trying to maintain it’s roots whilst welcoming tourist dollars by accommodating westerners with European cuisine. Hollywood blockbusters and the latest Fat Boy sounds in bars and the 2 clubs mix with the tinkling tunes of the waves on the shore in the evening. In all, a pleasant sense of harmony prevails and I felt as though I had found a special place.

The best was yet to come. Day one of our 4 day PADI Open Water diving course brought us to Ao Chalok Ban Kao, a secluded bay on the southwestern shores of Tao. We dived to a shallow 2m and completed the first job any diver must do- breathe! Taking off our respirators and masks underwater and then replacing them was quite a frightening experience as we felt like humans out of this world instead of fish out of water. And it is another world. Until this week I had only seen the amazing life that flourishes in tropical waters in tanks. In their own environment and illuminated by glowing sunlight, fish all sorts of sea life seem to emanate a beautiful aura which is difficult to describe.

Dives 2 and 3 brought me more confidence in my equipment and abilities underwater until I felt as though I could fly. Adding the 3rd (vertical) dimension reminded me flying and I immersed myself in the joys of swooping up and down from 5 to 10 metres, aiming for stunning coral then chasing my bubbles up towards the bright surface. Looking at my friend Paul, we made our “OK” signals every 2 minutes- as much wanting him to know I was not drowning as much as seeing that he was alright. As our minutes under water stacked up we soon started feeling like Jaques Custeau. We saw a stingray, which expertly dashed away from us when we disturbed it and a couple of triggerfish. These 40cm long fellas are common to Tao and are known for their ferocious defence of their territory. Once a pair of triggerfish (who are monogamous for life) nest, they create a conical exclusion zone with the base of the cone where they spawn and the large circle on the surface. The tactic of the sentinel male is to front you out until you leave his territory. A diver had 4 stitches in his forehead last week as he tried to stand up to the Daddy triggerfish. Happily, the 2 that we saw were happy enough to let us swim on by unheeded.

Our last dive led us to 18 metres and we played football with a rock surrounded by an audience of unbelievable coral, stingrays and Everton mint fish (?) Paul scored an amazing goal with a logic-defying overhead kick which beat the keeper in extra time. I sat on the marine subs bench feeling rather left out. On our way back to the dive boat we saw the captain of our boat with his harpoon in hand and tattoos over every part of his skin. At the surface he was proud to show off a red fish which was easily 2 foot long and would no doubt pay for his family to do whatever Thais do on a Saturday night.

On Thursday night, myself, Paul and 4 assorted Brits (90% of westerners in October are apparently British with the majority becoming French in April!?) took a 4 X 4 roller coaster ride to the top of one of Tao’s two peaks. Venus Park is a nightclub on a cliff face-come-jungle which is as close to Enid Blyton’s Land of the Faraway Tree as I can imagine. Try and imagine this: 1000 westerners and Thais full of cheer dancing until dawn. It was: EXTREME!

And so we had to leave Koh Tao. It was too fun. It was so beautiful. It has captured me and I will return. For now, we have continued on our way to the next adventure.

Trang Underwater Weddings

Trang Underwater Weddings
Trang Underwater Weddings
trang_underwater_wedding_3
Trang Underwater Weddings

In the southern coastal province of Trang, Valentine’s Day weekend is a busy time. The province is a natural romantic destination, with rainforests, waterfalls, limestone caves and vast undisturbed coral reefs. At this time of year, the Andaman sea is calm and still, and the area abounds with blossoming sri-trang flowers. But what marks Trang as a lovers’ destination is not just its beauty. For the past thirteen years, Pak Meng beach has hosted hundreds of adventurous couples in the annual Trang Underwater Wedding Ceremony.

The event originated in 1996, in the marriage of a couple who met and fell in love at an eco-tourism event in Trang. They chose the stunning underwater landscape of the area as a setting to exchange vows in a traditional Thai ceremony, along with the underwater signing of a wedding certificate. In subsequent years, the offbeat event attracted couples from around the world, even placing in the Guinness Book of World Records in 2000 for the largest underwater wedding ceremony.

Though the ceremony may seem unusual, it is in fact steeped in Thai wedding traditions. Along with scuba gear, the couples don hand-woven Thai wedding costumes, and a Buddhist ritual is the focal point of the ceremony. On the beach, the ritual of rod nam sang is performed, where water is poured from a conch over the couple’s hands. Before the weddings begin, couples and guests pay tribute to the ceremony’s eco-conscious roots. All participants release marine life into the sea before going underwater themselves. On the morning after the wedding, couples plant sri-rang trees as a commemoration of their love.

The ceremony can accommodate handicapped participants and guests. As of 2007, the wedding ceremony welcomes same-sex participants. Though same-sex marriage is not yet recognized in Thailand, the couples receive certificates of participation. All bridal couples must hold international divers licences. Non-divers can still take part in a ceremony held on the beach. Wedding guests can watch the ceremony on closed-circuit televisions.

The weekend-long wedding package includes meals, costumes, and accommodations. The wedding is as weekend-long affair, with a traditional pre-wedding party on the eve of the ceremony, and a romantic night of dinner, fireworks and dancing after the vows are exchanged. With a focus on eco-consciousness and ceremonial Thai tradition, this ceremony attracts nature-lovers and adventurers alike. Participants come from Thailand and abroad, to unite in marriage, renew their vows, or embark on an unforgettable second honeymoon.

Anne Merritt is Canadian and has an English Literature degree. She has worked as a journalist for a university newspaper. She is currently living in Ayutthaya as an ESL teacher and is sharing her experience of Thailand with KhaoSanRoad.com.