DAY 19 - Wednesday 15th July 2009 - James Bond Island

Packed into a minibus, Nick and I discussed our sincere hopes that the day’s pastimes would provide better entertainment than our time spent with Thailand Safari – and not entertainment of the garish sort. Frankly, if I saw another monkey on a tricycle, I would immediately demand a refund and a ride home.

Our guide, having introduced herself as Oom (honestly), delivered us and the minibus full of French and German tourists to a rubber plantation on mainland Thailand. I controlled my bubbling temper, already exacerbated by the dull, grey sky which had greeted us from dawn. This was already beginning to suspiciously resemble Thailand Safari. The demonstration on how to create a sheet of rubber was eerily similar to the Safari latex display. Oom cheerfully rolled the rubber through a press, explaining the need to squeeze it completely free of moisture before hanging it to dry in the sun for at least two weeks. She casually mentioned how Thai plantation workers tend to refer to the rubber trees as Condom Trees, forcing a scandalised Australian mother to leap forwards and clap her hands over her daughters’ ears.

A Condom Tree

The rubber visit had lasted barely ten minutes before we were bundled into the minibus and whizzed off to our next location.

Monkey Cave greeted us, while the eponymous simians leapt around like crazed grasshoppers and coated every available surface with living, breathing fur and disturbingly exposed bottoms. My irritation began to ebb away. Monkey Cave is sacred to the Buddhist Thai populace, as the exclusive burial site of local monks. It is both a shrine and a tourist destination, and the cacophonous mix of yelping Macacque monkeys, waddling tourists and shrieking salesmen and saleswomen. The commotion, however, could not put me off; Monkey Cave was a combination of history…and monkeys. Things couldn’t get any better.

Three hundred years old!

We were ushered into the cave, passing through an enormous stone archway, while the monkeys swarmed around us. The interior of the cavern was enormous, cavernous even, and contained various towering statues, all painted stone and all at least three hundred years old. I sighed with relief as we passed beneath the shadows of the peeling, cracked and grimacing sculptures – finally, some real Thai history! I frequently shuffled up to Oom to ask questions, learning that the idols guard the cremated ashes of Buddhist monks, and that the presence of the monkeys is holy to them. The air was heavy with the lingering presence of the past, and the weight of the silence and solidarity pressed upon our ears. I couldn’t resist buying a tiny, carved sandstone Buddha which Nick eyed suspiciously before snorting with disbelief when I told him the price.

My own little Buddha

Pushed for time, I rushed up to an elderly lady and bought some nuts to feed to the monkeys. I turned to make sure Nick was in the vicinity, camera at the ready; but before I knew it the cackling old woman had crammed my pockets full of the things. I gulped when a fat adult Macacque wobbled up and slowly and cautiously inserted a long-fingered hand into my trouser pouch before methodically clawing out a handful. News appeared to spread quickly. Surrounded by Macacques, I resorted to hurling fistfuls of nuts into the proliferating mob, while attempting to ensure a fair share for some of the smaller and evidently younger animals. This seemed to cause a fight as a growling, much larger specimen swiped at its slighter brothers or sisters, and began stuffing its mouth before howling triumphantly. I spat at the monkey’s feet and turned away in disgust. No, I didn’t really, in fear of incurring some kind of religious sacrilege, but I would have liked to.

I battle the monkey

Discarding the last of the nuts into the now-screeching throng, we once again entered the bus and let ourselves be shepherded to the coast.

Aww, baby monkey!!

The boat appeared to have a monstrous engine strapped to the back, as though somebody had sneaked into a farm and ripped out the internal workings of a tractor. Now enclosed in lifejackets, Nick and I took our seats near the very back of the boat, and worryingly close to the beast machine. I turned to Nick as a man attempted to tug the engine into life. “Do you think it will be too loud to tal-” I began before an eardrum-bursting roar tore through the air, instantly drowning me out. Nick looked relieved for some reason.

On the boat - with the monster engine in the background

It was time for some lunch. My stomach sighed happily before promptly imploding as I realised where we had docked, all of us very wet and very deaf: Pannyi, a floating fisherman’s village. Yes, a fascinating place. An entire community, complete with people, animals and its own economy, permanently lashed to wooden boards and forever floating, never touching dry land. Yes, I was incredibly lucky to be there. But it was a fishermen’s village. Fishermen fish. For fish. So lunch was, logically, to consist entirely of seafood, which I despise eating. I muttered prayers under my breath as we were seated at a beautifully prepared table and sobbed when prawns, rice and fish and shrimp were laid our before us. Mercifully, a measly piece of chicken was proffered in my direction, which I seized ravenously and swallowed whole. Nick contentedly helped himself to the extensive fish dishes.

Pannyi Village

We were unleashed upon the village and given the freedom to roam wherever we wished, providing we didn’t wander into the sea as this may have infringed upon certain insurance procedures. The village itself was very much like a smaller, quieter, and less odious Patong. Although in Patong, the residents tend to venture from their city unlike the inhabitants of this buoyant society, who spend their entire lives at sea and do not once set foot on dry land.

Once again boarding our superpowered vessel, we sped to the entirely stunning rock structure of Ko Tapu, marketed and known colloquially as James Bond Island. Dubbed as such after the 1974 007 film The Man with the Golden Gun was filmed here, it has become one of the most popular and photogenic sites in Thailand the most dramatic and awesome limestone sea rocks in Phangnga Bay. The Thai name translates as nail in the sea, which is certainly a more accurate description than James Bond Island; while not shaped like a womanising, gun-crazed, suit-clad English lunatic, it does stand as a lone pinnacle, towering and resolute, as though it has been hammered forcibly into the middle of the cove and left to stand for evermore.

Ko Tapu (James Bond Island)

Naturally, it provided ample photo opportunities as Nick and I scrambled up and down rock stairways, searching for the best spot. “That should be your Facebook profile image!” soon became the ultimate compliment to the quality of a picture. Before long, we bundled ourselves into the boat and set off for the final leg of our journey.

Irrefutable proof that Nick and I have been to Thailand!

On arrival at an odd sort of stationary floating boat, we were told to line up, keep on our lifejackets and sit in pairs on a succeeding line of dinghy-canoe-things, each controlled by a Thai fellow wielding a double-edged paddle. The last one swung by: Nick hopped in and I teetered on the edge before heavily flopping down, causing the entire vessel to rock. Our man paddled us skilfully across the water, and it became apparent that we were to be given a tour of the bay and its countless tunnels. I shan’t bore you with an entire account of the trip, but we swept under extremely low tunnelled ridges forcing us to lie flat and for me to gradually disappear slowly into my lifejacket like a tortoise, and into mini flooded valleys, enclosed by towering stone walls and lidded with thick tree canopies.

One of the many ridges...

I prepare to lie horizontally

A flooded valley

Through a cavern

Eventually, exhausted and soggy, we found ourselves back on the boat, speeding towards the port where we had begun this voyage. In all, the events of the day had been satisfyingly authentic, providing tradition, zoology, history, and geology. And not a single monkey riding a tricycle in sight.

1 comment:

  1. Good! Monkeys on Tricycles are not good. Glad you got to see what wild monkeys used to humans are like - greedy! Lovin the blogs, just catching up after my trip away!