Monday, January 18, 2010

Koh Chang snorkelling

Surprise! We’re picked up by the outfitters not by boat as anticipated but by 2 young Thai on… the dreaded motorbikes. Off I go, doing what I swore I’d never do: riding pillion unprotected, hugging the driver. Eric’s following and yes, we slowly negotiate the rock-strewn road leading from Bang Bao’s Hillside Cottages to the pier where we weave through pedestrians, all of whom are strolling to meet their snorkel or other boat tours. We are safely deposited in front of our spectacular turquoise-and-scarlet painted boat and, in 20 mins we’re off on our four-island snorkelling tour. As promised, only approx 30 people on board: some divers, snorkellers, a “nursery” of tots (cute!), one baby, and some sightseers.

We had purchased our own snorkels & masks at Jomtien Beach but Eric rented flippers for 100 bhat ($3Cdn) for the day. The snorkelling was good but due to last night’s whopping windstorm (according to our host this is not ordinary – he did not sleep a wink all night he said), the visibility was quite poor.

Nonetheless, we had a blast.

Favourites included coral reef invertebrates known as Christmas Tree worms which came in unbelievable neon blue, gold and scarlet – all had sparkles, too, and were approx 3 cm tall. And definitely, although they damage the reef and an indicator of an unhealthy reef, the big black sea urchins were spectacular. Diving down to look at these spiny critters reveals five bright, silver-white sparkling “eyes” and a tangerine orange and neon purple “mouth.” Stunning colours against the jet black bodies. You don’t want to step on one of these as the spines are apparently very painful. However, they’re easy to avoid while being beautiful to behold.

A surf parrot fish tried to touch us: evidently it was attracted to us for some reason so we had fun observing it for a several minutes worth of interaction. Its fins resemble hummingbirds’ wings with their constant motion, while its body of emerald green with yellow, blue and red highlights was utterly beautiful.

The many corals as well as the giant clams with their amazing coloured “big lips” of purple and other hues, and iridescent fish were all fun to experience. More than anything, the turquoise water was beautifully warm. A languid day of wonderful exercise, where our Thai hosts were friendly and fed us well.

Thumbs up for a great deal.

Thumbs down for any ecotourism perspective: there was no discussion whatsoever of the Mu Kho Chang National Marine Park, nor did staff adhere to the park principles of not feeding the fish or the monkeys which we saw on the rocks en route back to Bang Bao. I was disappointed not to receive any educational component, and not to have others (especially the children) get this much-needed, caring perspective.