Ao Nang (II) Ko Phi Phi twice

The last two actual vacation days in Thailand: Together with Rafael I went for Ko Phi Phi, this ‘famous’ island off Krabi and Phuket. And a day later, when Rafael and Petra were on their way back to Bangkok, I did a last day of diving, again off Ko Phi Phi. Ko Phi Phi became especially famous after the movie “The Beach” had been produced on one of the beaches of Ko Phi Phi, although the book itself (I’m reading it at the moment) describes an island on Thailand’s east coast, off Ko Samui.

Update 19-NOV: With new software I could enhance the colors of some underwater photos.

AN_20071105_184523_Rafael.jpg: Retrospect: This is how I uploaded the previous article and some pictures: Sitting with the laptop on my lap (Why’s a laptop called laptop?) in front of the Best Western hotel in Ao Nang as this was the only spot I had figured out so far where I could get a decent Wifi connection. I had to pay for it, but the provider was the same as in the cafe I had used in Kata so I could continue using that account. I had found that place only by the worst of all methods: Walking with the laptop in my hand along the street and hitting the “Refresh” button of the “View Wireless Networks” screen. Probably attracting some looks…but, hey, all that I do for my readers: you!

Note: Picture names ending on “Rafael” denote that it was Rafael who made the pics, not me; “cr” denotes a ‘cropped’ picture, i.e. I present you a detail of the original photo only.

Ko Phi Phi Cayaking

Only Rafael and I went for Ko Phi Phi, while Petra did some Elephant riding to a temple. The ferry took about 90 minutes from Ao Nang there…it is a bit of a distance…

AN_20071106_110600.jpg: An array of longtail boats waiting for taxi customers, seen when walking down the ferry pier at Ko Phi Phi.

The first impression of Ko Phi Phi was a near-catastrophy: Crowded, busy; shops, stalls, booths everywhere, hawkers trying to get you on their longtail boat ‘taxis’…an extremely unromantic place. It got gradually better the farer away you came from the pier. But don’t expect (and we hadn’t) a secluded island any longer. Ko Phi Phi is expensive and expansive business by now.

Finding a kayak was principially simple as soon as you knew where to look: The main beach with the ferry pier (Ton Sai) is wrong. Walk once across the thinnest part of the island to the beach ‘in the back’, Loh Dalam. And there you find plenty. We ate a quick pancake each, rented our kayak, where told to go to that rock formation on the left first…then across the bay to the other side. Well…and that’s pretty much what we did 😉

AN_20071106_122601.jpg: Just around that rock on the left had side was a pretty fantastic snorkelling opportunity. Too shallow to dive (I actually was very careful when slipping from the kayak into the water), but perfect for snorkeling, and super-clear water.

AN_20071106_122945.jpg: Not much about new fishes, though, so here’s a nice top view of a coral.

AN_20071106_123041_Rafael.jpg: The big snorkeler leaving his element 😉 Rafael had briefly waited with the kayak on a small but secluded beach nearby to make re-entry into the boat easier.

AN_20071106_125023.jpg: Back in the boat we continued along the rocks on the left-hand side and found eve some places where we could squeeze our kayak behind some rocks and around. Coming out of one of these little circles we saw this bird.

AN_20071106_125234.jpg: A few meters later we saw we were surrounded by fishes…I just hold the camera into the water and pressed the button…

AN_20071106_125315_Rafael.jpg: Me and…

AN_20071106_125514.jpg: …Rafael.

AN_20071106_132536.jpg: The way to the other side of the bay was a long stretch…all in a kayak, some 15 or 20 minutes of paddling. Still nice, but not as great as the left-hand side. But here was one more secluded beach with veyr shallow, clear water. After some snacks on the boat we headed back for the beach to return out boat. Another long stretch of 20 minutes paddling. And then…the water was gone! Low Water…we had to drag the kayak some 200m across the shallow beach up to the position from where we had started 2,5 hours earlier…grrr…. 😉

Back on the ferry and back ‘home’ to Ao Nang was no thrills.

AN_20071106_221213_Rafael.jpg: We had a last dinner together in yet anther restaurant. None of the dinners in Ao Nang did convince us, though. The food had been a lot better on Ko Samui and even in Kata. Then we retired to a nice bar Petra had found that day…this one.

AN_20071106_221605_Rafael.jpg: You can’t see the dogs lying under the table…but that’s where I’m looking at. In the end both Petra and I had a dog to pat for the evening.

Ko Phi Phi Diving

I had early decided to do the dive with Poseidon. This dive center was strategically well positioned: Right between our hotel and the cafe where we always had breakfast. But the main reason was that it was the only one I came across, which looked reputable. I especially remember a shop called Scuba Addicts, where you might think that the poeple hanging out there are indeed addicted…and god knows to what. Haven’t talked to anyone there, maybe they are just great…but from the pure looks I liked Poseidon immediately. It also turned out that many people speek German here, the owner, Danny, actually being a German. I don’t insist on speaking German having learned scuba diving in English for good reasons. But it does make things easier…

When I talked to them the first time, three days before the dive, all sound easy and I just should tell them a day in advance. That very morning, one day before the dive, I happened to see Danny during breakfast time, told him I’ll be in for the next day, but would come back in the evening for the formal stuff (signing papers, selecting equippment, paying). No issue…boat’s empty…I would so far be the only fun diver at all.

Coming back there after our Ko Phi Phi kayaking things had changed: “Boat full” another German colleague siad. I saw four fun divers ont he list…doesn’t make a boat full, but when questioning the details I learned that their own boat got a problem with the compressor for refilling the tanks and couldn’t go out the next day. All people to be distributed to other boats. He made a lot of effort, calling various parties to find a boat for me, but couldn’t confirm anything immediately while I was standing there. We finished the formal stuff, but only when I came back two hours later I received the final OK: A Coral Diving boat, but Poseidon’s staff (meaning: instructor). Great, so I would finally dive!

I got up early with trying not to wake up the others, got on a diving boat, and basically went all the way back to Ko Phi Phi, even close to Loh Dalam Bay, where Rafael and I had done kayaking the day before.

AN_20071107_095950.jpg: The boat was considerably smaller than the last one I was on in Phuket. Gearing up was inside. And there was a video film maker aboard, making a quick movie of the day for selling it in the end. All of us watched that movie during the long drive back home, but I wasn’t so amazed to pay 1.800 Baht for it. 75% of the material was standard and only 25% about the actual dive. These 25% contained indeed some nice moving pictures, most of them better than mine, but then again…when do you watch a movie? The others must have thought similar. On the bus back home I overheard the cameraman saying to my instructor that he hadn’t sold a single copy, though it was good exercise for him and his new lens got tested… But at least the offer is very fair: You see first before you buy.

1. Dive: Ko Phi Phi Hindot

Time: 10:40 – 11:32 (52 minutes)

Max Depth: 18.8m (deepest so far, but today’s second dive will be deeper again)

Air Start: 200 bar, End: 40 bar

Weights: 4.8kg

Wet Suit: Short sleeves/legs

Notes: Wall dive; visibility not so great, maybe 5-8 meters; slight current, dived one-way with the current, picked up by boat at the end of the dive. Not much of a fish diversity, but many corals new to me.

AN_20071107_104947.jpg: As my log book notes say already: This dive was about corals, not so much about fishes. It is also deeper than earlier dives and poor visibility…won’t make up for colorful photos. But still I very much enjoyed the dive as the underwater world looked again different.

AN_20071107_105132.jpg: It was my first “wall dive”, which means diving along a more or less vertical wall. Apparently, flora is different there than on flat sea beds.

AN_20071107_105759.jpg: And there were these long plants protruding everywhere, hard to avoid, but not a hassle anyway.

AN_20071107_110219.jpg: By accident the flash fired…and suddenly there are colors! As above water I usually avoid using the flash. But seeing this result I should consider flash more often under water. It is in so far critical as usually the flash just high lights all the small particles hovering in the water and makes the outcome even worse. But here I was very close up to the object, this tiny blue snail, that it mostly worked out, except that mostly the upper part is illuminated. There is a filter coming with the underwater housing to diffuse the flash light. But I didn’t carry it with me…always looked a bit shaky and easy to break.

AN_20071107_110524.jpg: Underwater world in a nutshell: Fish, coral, and something sitting atop this tree-shaped soft coral. It looks like a spider, but I believe it’s just another piece of plant often found on these tree-like soft corals. But I can be wrong…it’s often hard to judge if these underwater creatures are animals or plants.

AN_20071107_112445.jpg: Towards the end of the dive both my lense and the cover over the display fogged up, what a pitty, because this here seems to be an extremely rare sighting! Stef, my instructor, pointed me to it, but later couldn’t say either what it actually was. Only after returning to Ao Nang and when checking with Danny, who also needed to do some looking up, these tennis balls turned out to be Allied Cowries. If I understood their explanation correctly, then there is actually a kind of white shell, which they can cover (under certain circumstances which I didn’t understand or forgot) with this black skin. You can still see a bit of this white shell on the right Cowry. As I write this I don’t have internet access…but I’ll see that I look up information on these funny species.

2. Dive: Ko Phi Phi, Koh Yung Pinnacle

Time: 12:55 – 13:50 (55 minutes)

Max Depth: 21m (my deepest dive so far)

Air Start: 200 bar, End: 50 bar (I’m getting better and better….diving deeper and longer and still having more air left in the end)

Weights: 4.8kg

Wet Suit: Short sleeves/legs

Notes: A big circle, partly strong currents changing after every other rock, made swimming though rock openings quite a bit of…fun 😉

AN_20071107_130236.jpg: Finally, my first water snake. A Black-striped Snake.

AN_20071107_130759.jpg: I made that photo just for the colors, but Stef later gave that thing its name…sorry…ask Stef again 😉

AN_20071107_131451.jpg: This diving site ad beautiful soft corals in basically two colors, white and…

AN_20071107_131858.jpg: …red. The way they look like reminds me strongly of a mathematical structure called “Apfelmännchen” in German, which roughly translates to “Little Apple Man”, but I really forgot where this name came from. It is all about infinite geometrical structures, lines a unsymmaetrically broken into smaller parts, these parts again and again…with no end to it. Results in a similar shape 😉

AN_20071107_132430.jpg: Yea…there were also some fishes down there, but I dodn’t seem to have writen down which one this was.

AN_20071107_132455.jpg: And here is one hiding within these beautiful corals.

AN_20071107_132525.jpg: Nemo is back, with his father! These Clownfishes are great, aren’t they? They wouldn’t leave their soft coral, in which they hide (and I believe from which they feed). But they ae curious if something comes close. This was the better photo, but I also got another set of Clownfishes on another coral, and they looked curiously into the camera, too!

(And, yes, answering a private question I once got in public: This photo is real, nothing changed in it, nothing added or removed, just cropped a bit to better highlight the two fishes: Clownfishes do exist in nature, there are not just an invention of the Walt Disney Studios for the Finding Nemo motion picture.)

AN_20071107_133452.jpg: Another thing I took a picture of just because of the colors, but I learned the name later back at the dive center: Bushy Feather Star.

AN_20071107_133503.jpg: Another Lionfish, this time a species with white and brown stripes. During the last dive I saw ‘only’ a black one, which is still impressive, but less than this guy here. And…this photo is better.

AN_20071107_134108.jpg: Towards the end of the dive (no fogging up lens this time…apparently I’d cleaned the housing well) just some more colorful impressions…

AN_20071107_134246.jpg: …of the underwater seascape.

AN_20071107_161353.jpg: A lot later as you can see by the timestamp: We are back on land, it happens to be low water. And I liked the gloomy atmopshere of this spot, actually next to the Ao Nang ferry pier.

The Last Evening

We returned to the Poseidon Dive Center for some looking up of fishes and corals as mentioned before. Then I was really really hungry. There had been a warm lunch on the boat, but still…I was hungry. As reported earlier all the Thai food in Ao Nang didn’t really convince us. Now I was alone, Petra and Rafael on their way back to Bangkok. So I could decide alone again (and essentially had already the evening before). Avoiding Thai as well as Italian (which had given us some light meals for late lunch on some days) the choice was limited and I went for…Swiss! I though that’s kind of a change for once 😉 With quite a mental effort I could avoid ordering “Züricher Geschnetzeltes”, which probably is the one and only dish (except maybe for Cheese Fondue) everybody knows to be Swiss, and ended up with some Beef Goulash, which however looked a lot more like shredded beef. It was the best beef I got in Thailand, but still it was miles away from what I am used to in Europe. Well, sigh…Ao Nang is not for the food. Maybe it’s not so bad a thing after all that right smack in the middle of the beach promenade just recently a Burger King had opened its doors…McDonald’s was too far along the street and up the hill…

AN_20071107_192747.jpg: Only on my last day I figured out by chance that the nice cafe right next to our hotel and the Poseidon Dive Center, where we used to have breakfast and an extremely good coffee, also offered Wifi! :S Had to be paid with them (1 Baht per minute, which is the usual price), but it was available.

And so ends my stay in Thailand. The next day, to be described in another document, I got to Kuala Lumpur by van and bus.

Today’s Lesson: Flash can help the colors under water.