Saturday, March 12, 2016

Ko Mook

Another day on the islands. Relaxing!

After the big tsunami in 2004 that washed away entire villages on the western coast of Thailand, they installed an earlt\y warning system, including signs on the islands that show which way to run when the tsunami approaches.

Ko Mook

The beaches on Ko Mook aren't quite as white as on the Parhentians, but the place is more authentic. Accommodations are more basic, and the locals live just around the corner in, for Thailand, very simple wooden houses. These people do not have much money.

Otherwise it's another tropical island paradise. They run long-tail boats to all the neighboring islands, with good places for snorkeling or just exploring the jungle interiors. Ko Kradan has a so-so coral reef, but so many fish that one gets rear-ended all the time.

Ko Mook has a long cave with a very low ceiling one can swim through at low tide. It opens up to a kind of cenote, a small beach and some trees completely surrounded by towering vertical cliffs. Very impressive. The screaming boatloads of school children they drag through the place takes away from the wonder a little.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


Kota Bharu is very close to Thailand, there is a border checkpoint just west of it and the Thai city of Hat Yai is not far. Trouble is, using that checkpoint would take me through the southernmost three provinces of Thailand, where some crazies have decided that they'd like to re-establish some old Sultanate, and the best way to accomplish that is bombs. Thailand is governed by the military, and they take a rather dim view of such ideas. So we have a quite brutal war of terror there, one that has completely escaped world attention.

So I had to go the long way around, first from the east coast of Malaysia to Alor Setar and Kangar on the west coast, and from there across a safe border checkpoint to Thailand, and from there to Hat Yai. Several more connections brought me to Ko Mook, a small island in the Andaman Sea, sufficiently far south of Phuket and the other tourist epicenters to be quiet and peaceful. All the connections worked perfectly, not because someone had worked out the timetables to perfection, but because everyone in this part of the world is so friendly, helpful, and intent on making things work.

BTW, the Malaysian restaurant photo below is perfect. It ticks all the boxes. Open to the street, tiled floor, corrugated metal roof, cold and much too bright fluorescent lamps, colorful plastic chairs, fans, TV sets (imaging sugary Thai pop music videos), and some counters where the menu is negotiated.

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Leaving paradise

My last day on the Parhentian Islands, spent not doing very much at all, sampling the local cuisine, and trying to remember where I put the shoes that I am going to need off the island.

Kota Bharu is an old Malay town on the northeastern tip of mainland Malaysia. It's not a major tourist destination and never will be. It's museums and Malay row houses are nice enough, but putting a huge monolithic 23-floor hotel, the bottom 10 of which are a parking garage, was not a very bright idea. Right next to it is another huge parking garage, and then the promenade ends. Clearly parking is an overriding concern in this city.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Barefoot paradise

The Parhentian Islands are the sort of place where shoes are just a forgotten artifact left behind in a cupboard. It is just natural to step out of the door onto the beach barefoot. My hut is at one end of the long curved beach and the Quiver dive center is at the other, no problem, and there are plenty of stalls on the way to have a fruit juice or lassi before getting kitted out with dive gear.

This is my diving day. The first site, called T3, is on the opposite side of the island. Unfortunately the sea was rather choppy there and one of the divers described the underwater visibility as "vodka with milk". The second site, just off the beach, was much better.

One nice thing about diving is that there is always lots of time between dives to sit together, chat, have lunch and dinner together, compare notes on where we have been and which dive sites we like most, and generally having a good time. In fact, our dive computers keep track of our blood nitrogen levels and have very clear opinions on when one can go diving and when one can't. And the island is just made for relaxing.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Tropical islands

It's a long way by bus north along the coast, and I had to connect several times. All connections between different buses and the ferry worked like a Swiss clockwork, so I found myself looking at the lesser Parhentian Island from a speedboat in the late afternoon.

The Quiver dive center is strategically located at the end of the island's ferry pier, and friendly dive masters hang out there and give advice on accommodations and restaurants. I'll be seeing them a lot during the next few days, but for now all I needed was a shower.

Unexpectedly, the island is almost fully booked, but I got a nice beachfront "chalet" at the Senja resort. The island is more of a laid-back backpacker destination so it's not anywhere as grand as the name chalet suggests, but the nights are cool and the sound of the surf comes through the open windows, and the variety of fruit smoothies is endless.