If the Islands of Southern Thailand had a theme song, it would be "Big Yellow Taxi" by the Counting Crows (go on, look up the lyrics if you must!). We've just returned from a 2 week hiatus (from, you know, our other hiatus!) around Southern Thailand, and, while it was an amazing trip, it wasn't void of conflicting feelings. The islands and beaches of Thailand are, undoubtedely, what lures tourists. It's the scenary that books and movies are made of (namely, The Beach) and people are lining up to get a taste. So, Rachel and I set off on our 14 hour hour Phuket-bound bus, hoping for the best while trying to keep expectations at bay. We arrived in Phuket town with 2 days to spare (before leaving on our liveaboard) and immediately rented a motorbike so we could explore the island at lesiure. We went to the most popular beaches first, knowing that, if we've learned anything from travel books, it's that their most popular is our least favourite! What we found was great potential. Beautifully white beaches with clear waters and limestone surroundings---packed with farang, bars, resorts, construction, and an overall lack of "thai-ness". For 2 people who have grown to love a culture, it was painful to see, and, after seeing another topless farang (going topless is like spitting in the face of Thai culture), we hurried on our way. Every supposedely "secluded" beach/bay we came to had been developed and stripped of it's Thai roots, therefore, to us, had been stripped of it's beauty. But saying all this is met with a bit of self-criticism. If I love a country, love a culture, love a people, why wouldn't I want it to thrive?! Tourism can allow that to happen--so, in theory, I should be excited for all this development---. I guess I just want it to be preserved only for those who wish to experience Thailand in, well, all it's Thainess. (not to mention that it's the vicious cycle really---everyone flocks to a particular place beacause of it's untouced beauty---the flocking means money, development, tourism---which, unvariably, destroys the "untouched beauty" part and lasts only long enough until a new untouched place is discovered. And really, how many more of those places remain?)
A few days later, we boarded the Le Marhe boat and set out for 4 days of diving and island exploring. Luckily, our choice to go at the end of season paid off. Although the rains and rough seas flirted with us briefly (and even caused other ships to cancel their trips), they held off long enough for us to enjoy great weather, good diving, and less crowded sites. Although our dives were somewhat tainted by a piss poor (okay, that's not fair...new and unexperienced) dive guide, the trip still gave us the opportunity to find those beaches we had dreamed of. Because the Similian and Surin Islands are actually protected, the lack of development has preserved their beauty---allowing us access to crystal clear water, white beaches, and great lookouts---and all of this without the topless woman, bars, and resorts. Diving 4 times a day, taking a "break" to snorkel, swim, or laze on a deserted beach was all in all, amazing. Some say it's only a matter of time before the "protection" on these areas is lifted to allow for development and money making opportunities, but I will hold on to the hope that the protection will stand.
For a break from the beaches, we spent a few days in a small rain-foresty town (Koh Sok) which we loved. The scenary was beautiful (limestone cliffs for as far as you could see) and it was homey. We stayed in a family-run (actually, I'm pretty conviced the town itself was family-run!) guesthouse where mom took care of money, daughters took care of cooking, sons took care of driving and giving tours, and, well, adorable grandkids took care of hugging, entertaining, and melting the heart of visitors (see picture). :). We did a hike through the forest, where Rachel and I had our first experience with leeches. And, when I say 'experience', (mom), I really mean that I had a leech ON me...which left me with an "I'm so excited in a really grossed out kinda way" feeling.
I'm back to work tomorrow and I'm actually really excited about it! I've missed my kids so much and can't wait to see them again! It's hard to believe that nearly 3 months has gone by since I've taught them! So, it's back to the work world for about 4 months---then, if all goes according to plan, we're off to South Africa and Namibia in October to jump into 1 Sarah Buffie's world for a little bit and see what other cultures have in store for us.
****Many of the places we traveled to on this trip were affected, if not destroyed by the 2004 Tsunami. In this way, it was refreshing to see that things had been rebuilt and restored--allowing some degree of normalcy to return. Although my heart went out to the people back in 2004 when the pictures and stories were ripe, it wasn't until I traveled here that I was fully able to connect with the diaster and what the people must have felt. Back then, the places affected by the tsunami were nothing more then foreign names to me (a fact that made connection, and, in many ways, belief, nearly impossible)---whereas now, they are real places that I can connect with, see, touch, feel---. It's simple things like this that continue to drive my passion for seeing the world.