Saturday, March 1, 2014

Party town

There's trouble in Bangkok. Protesters want to overthrow the democratically elected president, an emergency election was disrupted, the major traffic arteries are blockaded, a state of emergency was declared in Bangkok, and the army is patrolling the streets. Sounds dangerous, does it?

Well, no. It might have been if this were Tunisia or the Ukraine, but Thailand doesn't work like that. There's bahts to be made. Those blockades are essentially street markets of tightly packed stalls selling food, watches, cell phone contracts, T shirts, whistles, and souvenirs. Bands play music in front of big video walls. Parents carry their children on their shoulders, tourists take pictures, and the police diverts the traffic.

This is how revolutionary parties push their slogans in the 21st century: they print it on iPhone covers and sell them to the tourists. Welcome to Thailand, long live the king!

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sail Rock

Sail Rock is a small rock pillar north of Ko Pa Ngan, and perhaps the most popular diving site here. Fish are so plentiful that they formed tornadoes around me so large that they obscured the light from the surface. I was hovering in huge clouds of silver and yellow fish, among them barracudas a meter long. Visibility was excellent.

Sail Rock has a chimney: divers enter at a depth of 18m, and ascend along an irregular shaft to 6m. Really too bad that these were my last dives; tomorrow I'll leave the island.

It's easy to shock the locals: I claim to be American and ask where to stow my harpoon and explosive-tipped bolts. Before I actually started diving, most of what I knew about it was from watching James Bond movies, and you never know when you need to blow a shark or enemy submarine out of the water. But this is not a joke that Thais appreciate , diving is all about conservation.

The island of Ko Samui itself is not very exciting anymore. When I came here for the first time over 15 years ago, it was a simple paradise with few luxuries. Now resorts block access to most of the large beaches, there's a KFC and a McDonald's, and everyone drives around in obscenely big pickup trucks. When probing the locals, what they complain about most is out-of-control construction and - loud Russian tourists.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Toilets flapping

Many of the best diving sites are around Ko Tao,  the smallest of the three large inhabited islands here. My dive boat was fairly large (larger than the one in the photo),  with a lower "wet" deck for the equipment and an upper "dry" deck for rest,  meals,  and sleeping.

Diving is mostly corals, but they have also sunk various concrete structures and seeded them with corals to create artificial reefs. There are hollow concrete boxes and suspended hoops for practicing buoyancy skills, but also some steel wire structures resembling boats and houses, concrete sculptures, even stair masters and weight racks, and a family of toilet bowls with their seats gently flapping in the current.

At a depth of 30m lies an old warship, also deliberately sunk there to create a reef. Many fish have already made it their home. Divers pose for pictures at the cannon, and there's an actual line of divers waiting to swim through the bridge of the ship. Unfortunately the no-decompression time at that depth is quite short - the deeper you go,  the more air you use.

I'll post some underwater pictures later.