Saturday, April 7, 2012

Similan Islands and the Moo Moo

Yippee, we're going snorkelling today..!!

The previous day, Boss had said: "Tomorrow morning pickup between 07:40 and 07:50, ok? 1500B per person. Good tour company. How many people?". 

We were at the reception by 07:35, and waited for the pickup. At 07:40 a song thaew arrived and picked up other guests. We looked at each other in silence. I had left the mobile phone back in the villa. Who needs a mobile in the middle of the Andaman Sea? I sprinted back to the room, got hold of the mobile and came back to the reception area. "Don't worry", Boss said, "Pickup at 07:50, maybe a few minutes late, other guests to pick up". Just after 07:50, an air-conditioned van drove in. "This can't be for us", my OH said. "We got a good rate, so we'll get a song thaew." Well, it turned out that the air-con van was indeed for us. The other Boss, in this case, was right. 

We drove through several rubber tree groves (with the coconut shell cups to trap the latex) and reached the pier at Thaplamu by around 08:15. We collected our snorkel sets and fins, trying to look very cool about it, and helped ourselves to drinking water, fruit juice and cakes.  "Take more, take more", the staff kept repeating. There was a small line to pay the tour charges, which took a few minutes. 

The briefing followed. There was something strange about the way in which we were briefed. It was full of drama, humour and entertainment. We looked at each other, wondering whether this is a serious snorkelling trip or a fun show. I mean, a 80 minute speed boat ride across the sea and snorkelling in deep waters is serious business, is it not? Over course of time, it was evident that the staff knew what they were talking about, about the safety aspects and so on. But it was all presented in a highly entertaining manner, which continued during the journey. 

It was only later that we connected the dots. Talking to our tour guide during lunch, I realized that most of them have two jobs. A job with Fantastic by day and dancers with the Moo Moo Cabaret in the evenings. It is a hard life, indeed.

We left the pier at 09:00 sharp. The view behind reminded me of the lines from Coleridge's poem "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner": "The fair breeze blew, the white foam flew, The furrow followed free". Unexpectedly, the 80 minute ride was very mildly choppy, just a wee bit. Only one person in our group of 25 threw up. No worries. The tour guides had provided little plastic bags. Fellow passengers chipped in with wet towels, dry towels and water. 

As we reached Island 4, the last instructions were given. Life jackets, anyone? My hand went up. The guide then suggested that even if you know how to swim it helps if you wear a life jacket, after which most of the group collected a life jacket each. This is it, then, snorkeling in the deep sea. Our previous experience of snorkelling in the shallow waters in Maldives barely counted. That was over 10 years ago, and the spots were right off the resort island. 

Junior was all set to rock and roll, as well. 

Swimming in the blue waters off Island 4 was truly an exciting occasion, one for the books.  

Much as the brochures refer to powder white sands, blue waters and deserted islands, several boatloads of people do keep dropping in. However, they soon disperse around the island, so it isn't all that crowded at the end. 

The sand is really white and powdery. The brochures are right. My mother asked, after we got back, why had we not got a bit of it back in a bottle? Oops..!! Sorry..!!

For real peace and quiet, you may need to try the 2-Day/1-Night trip, which my OH did not seem too fond of, after staying in the comfort of NTBR1. "You do that", she said, "Sleep in a tent and use the toilet in the sand."

We did get some time to explore the dense jungles of Island 4 before lunch. We had to do that bare feet, though, since our foot wear had been taken away at the Thaplamu Pier where we had boarded the speed boats. Good for the environment, I would say.

Light levels get very low soon enough. 

After a well organized buffet lunch, we were taken to two snorkelling spots. The pre-monsoon winds made the sea rather choppy. It is a good idea to wear life jackets, so that you can listen to the eerie sound of your own breathing and focus on the colourful fish swimming under water. 

Both the spots were amazing, though the corals and fish would have looked even more colourful had the sun been shining brightly. 

After the snorkelling stops, we trekked up once again through dense vegetation, up slippery paths on Island 8. 

It was time to pause a while and admire the breathtaking views of the bluish waters around us.

As you go around the various spots on the rocks at the top of the island, several islands are visible all around. 

The speed boat ride back to Khao Lak was again about 80 minutes. Some dozed, some chatted and some admired the sea and clouds around. 

A few minutes before we were scheduled to reach the pier, the boat came to a  sudden, shuddering halt, kicking up huge amounts of mud at the back. We had run aground..!! The water level that was about 6 or 8 feet deep in the morning had gone down to about 2 feet. Our tour guides attributed it to the effects of the full moon. There have been instances in the past when the tide got low quickly, but that particular day was unexpectedly quick. 

Our crew debated what to do. We had three crew members on board. Our chief guide in the foreground (Gaga), the helper in the background on the left, an expert at curling up in the tiny space next to the engine at the back of the boat all day, and our speed boat driver (Jack Sparrow), the strong and silent type who never said a word, and came with a reputation of driving boats in the Andaman Sea for 20 years. 

Much discussion happened, and it was decided that everyone should get off the boat, and the men should push it to a spot where the water level is slightly deeper. The idea worked, we actually did so, after which the engines were lowered at a 45 degree angle to avoid the mud. We slowly reached the pier. The difference in water level relative to the steps of the pier, between the morning and the evening was starkly evident.

April 7, 2012, evening. 

A Boss taxi dropped us to the Moo Moo Cabaret (150B). Boss told us that we would get a taxi back after the show, there would be many waiting outside, not to worry. We had anticipated a crowd, and reached rather early, well before the show time of 21:45. We were the first to arrive. We also realized that food is not served at the Moo Moo. They only serve liquid refreshments. 

There was a simple 'street food' stall outside selling fresh, hot soups of different types (40B). A 7-Eleven store is conveniently located right next door, good for buying drinking water, snacks and small snacks. Our 'tour guide' saw us sitting on the stools outside, downing hot soup, and warmly welcomed us. We went inside shortly, and waited for 21:45. 

The setting of Moo Moo Cabaret is extremely simple, along Highway 4, essentially a small stage, a few sofas, chairs at the side, and a bar attached. Surprisingly, the prices of drinks are about the same as that at most bars and restaurants in the area.

Our Similan tour guide on the speed boat was one of the main dancers, a highly talented performer.

Whitney Houston, one of the highly entertaining 'briefing' staff and guide on another boat, was just as amazing.

Together they performed a high energy Whitney Houston duet, " I will always love you".

Dancers of several nations were represented, including Balinese dancers.  

And Chinese, Japanese and Spanish dancers. 

The colourful, energetic and memorable performance lasted about 2 hours. 

At the end, our "Similan tour guide - Moo Moo dancer" came up, hands folded, thanked us for our support and escorted us into a taxi. We got off at NTBR1. I asked how much, and the taxi driver said 150B. I was amazed. In the excitement of it all, I had forgotten to negotiate a price beforehand, which is the accepted practice in many countries, and at tourist destinations, particularly after midnight, where rather arbitrary 'night charges' are often imposed. The positive attitude deserved a tip. Maybe that's small town Thailand for you, not yet corrupted. We hope it stays that way. 

Acknowledgement: Most photos (C) Junior.

-=-= April 7, 2012 -=-=

Related posts:

Khao Lak:

A glimpse of Menus and Food in Khao Lak:

Chiang Rai - quaint gateway

Guest House, Mae Kok, Rafting and the Hill Tribes

Songkran in Bangkok (without a raincoat)



  1. Yayy Similan♥!

    And wow....great pictures!

    moo moo cabaret is such a stunning show.

    thanks for this xxx !


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