A Travellerspoint blog

Exploring Ancient Angkor

sunny 83 °F

Like many visitors to Cambodia, exploring Angkor was at the top of our list of things to do upon arrival. At 5am on our very first morning in Siem Reap we got to it. Our guesthouse provided a couple of baguettes and bananas for a quick breakfast and then we hopped in the tuk-tuk that would to cart us around for the day. The city of Angkor is inside a park of sorts that you need to pay to enter. They offer one-day, two-day or week-long passes. We had heard there was too much to see in only one day and opted for the two day pass. It turns out we had heard correctly, there is way to much to explore in a single day especially considering the number of steps you inevitably have to climb. We lasted a solid 6-7 hours that first day and we were beat.

Tickets in hand we proceeded to Angkor Wat, the first stop for all of the MANY early temple tourists on a given day. The best itinerary for exploring some of the lesser temples in the area is debatable, but it seems like everybody agrees it's best to head to Angkor Wat for sunrise.

As evidenced by the crowds:
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It was still fairly dark as we crossed the moat and entered into the massive courtyard that sprawls from the feet of the temple. Obviously I'd only seen pictures of Angkor Wat up to this point and the sheer size of the entire structure surprised me. It was impressive even in just the earliest hint of light. We found a decent spot to stand and watch as the silhouette of the temple came more and more into focus until the first red-orange rays of sunlight crowned the uppermost towers. It's a sight well worth the early wake-up call, to say the least.

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As the sun went about it's business of rising the crowds began to thin and spread in every direction across the grounds. We headed for the temple itself where we made the walk through the lower portion of the temple, the inner walls of which are covered from floor to ceiling with bas-reliefs depicting the epic Hindu poetry of the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. Those walls drew a majority of my attention as we made our walk but if you looked close enough at anything in Angkor Wat there would be something to see. Every inch of the place is covered with incredibly ornate decoration.

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When we'd had our fill of Angkor Wat we headed to some of the less talked about structures in the city of Angkor Thom. Neither Sam or I knew much about Angkor Thom. It was beautiful to look at but at that point we were pretty jealous of the groups of people enjoying the breadth of knowledge their tour guides had to offer. If I could do things over I would make a point to find a good guide, at least for the first day there. But since we couldn't go back in time we just listened in whenever we came upon a group with an english-speaking guide! It worked well enough and after seeing the Bayon, the Baphuon, the Terrace of the Elephants and the Terrace of the Leper King, we called it a day.

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We took one day off to recharge a bit and on our third day in Siem Reap we headed out on what is referred to as the "small tour" which includes Preah Khan, Ta Som, Tha Prohm, Neak Poan. Each of the structures we visited were incredibly detailed, each beautiful in it's own way. Even without much knowledge of Hinduism or Buddhism, the temples are a lot of fun to just explore and marvel at while trying to picture how amazing they must have been in their time. Two days of temples, ruins, bas-reliefs, statues, moats and countless steps was two days well spent, and should remain a must-see for any visitor to Cambodia.

Posted by Sam.and.Avery 22:01 Archived in Cambodia Tagged temple cambodia angkor_wat sunrise angkor_thom angkor bayon sightseeing entertainment exploring must_see baphoun Comments (1)

Crossing Into Cambodia

Adventures with fake officials, scamming tuk tuks and taxi mafias on the Thai-Cambodian border

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"Do you want to go to Cambodia?" I asked Avery as we sped down a highway in Krabi Province, Thailand in a van full of foreigners. "It makes sense." Outside, the limestone karsts rose above the jungle, like sand castles made by giants.

We had planned to head north from the islands to Chiang Mai, looking forward to the cooler temperatures and rugged terrain of the north. Then the girl next to me asked to see our Lonely Planet guide. We exchanged travel routes. "Oh, we're doing that too -- just backwards," she explained. They were heading to Cambodia once they reached Bangkok. By heading to Cambodia first, they'd be missing the sickening March/April heat of the hot season. By then, they'd be in the cooler northern reaches of SE Asia.

Avery and I had a little chat, and it was decided. We'd reverse our travel route, hoping to save me from some massive heat rash and the perpetual 95 degree days of Cambodia in the hot season.

Buses, Trains and Scams

The bus ride from (somewhere around) Krabi to Bangkok wasn't too bad. Except for the overweight French couple (I thought French people didn't get fat?), who kept waking me up with their butts every time they got up from their bus seat. We arrived in Bangkok around 4:30 a.m. and headed for Khao San Road, fabled backpacker ghetto. At this time, we thought everything would be closed up. But, oh right, this is Bangkok. Fueled by booze and Asian strength drugs, the partiers of KSR were going strong into the night. The 24-hour bar was blasting their American Top 40s, and the beer was flowing. We walked over to the 24-hour bar. "I need to stay awake," I said to Avery. There would be no sleeping at this establishment.

We chatted with a French guy who had accompanied us all the way from Railay Beach. He talked about his travels, including his time in northern Vietnam. After having his camera stolen on a bus there, he is a permanent hater. "They treat you like a dog," he said and made the poo-poo motion that only the French can make. (Say that quote in a THICK French accent, much better.)

The server never came over to us, so we never got a drink. Then at 5:20 a.m. we said good bye to ze Frenchman and headed to Samsen Road for a cab. But first we stopped at McDonald's so I could satiate my grease craving. Ah, Micky D hashbrowns.

We went through three cabs before we found one that would turn on the meter. First guy wanted 200 Baht, next one 100 Baht, the last one turned on the meter and we paid 53 Baht. Scammers. I'm sure they were waiting for the drunks, not sober backpackers.

We bought two tickets at the train station to the border, 48 Baht each. That's like $1.60. On the train, we met a couple from Canada who were living in Bangkok and going on an visa run to Cambodia. The guy (didn't get his name) had been in the Philippines doing research for his grad paper about the media there. The Philippines has the second highest rate of murdered journalists. One of my favorite parts about traveling this way is talking to people you meet along the way. It's really opened my mind to the myriad of opportunities that are present in the world. There are so many more ways to live, work and learn than I had imagined.

Our First Border Crossing

We arrived to the Arapaythet/Poipet border after five hours on the train. As soon as we disembarked, there was a bevy of annoying tuk tuk drivers waiting to take weary travelers to the border. "Tuk tuk to the border, miss?" an incredibly persistent driver asked as he followed me around. Annoyed, I shot back, "Okay, how much?" "Eighty baht." "Okay, let's go," I replied.

Off we went, passing buses, scooters and tuk tuks as we cruised down the red, dusty road. He stopped at a unofficial looking building. "Border. You get off here," he said.

Now, this was not the border. It didn't look anything like the border. I've been to Canada. I know what a border crossing was. For anyone attempting this border crossing, listen up. The drivers will take you to this building, where someone in a uniform will ask you to come inside and receive your Cambodian visa. DON'T GO IN THERE. That is not the crossing, and they may give you a visa. But you will pay way too much for it. I think they charge 1,000 Baht. It should only be $20.

"This is not the border crossing," I said. "Please take us to the border."
"Yes, this is the border."
"No, no it is not."
"This does not look like a border," Avery added.

The tuk tuk driver knew we weren't going to be fooled. Again, I demanded, "Where is the border?" He shrugged and pointed down the road. We paid, even though he did not take us the border. Then as we walked by, we were verbally assaulted by several uniformed people telling us to get inside for our visas. Ha, not today suckers! It's a good thing we read up on this crossing.

Then, we spent forever looking for a bank to exchange our Thai Baht into US Dollars (main currency used in Cambodia). All of the banks refused. UGH. We had read the Cambodian side was notorious for ripping people off during exchange. But no one in Thailand would do it.

We then set out for the crossing. My new rule is when in doubt, follow the locals. They all headed for a very poorly marked outdoor hallway that led to the border. We got in the foreigner line, which was long and filled with backpackers. And then, fast forward: stamp out of Thailand, welcome to Cambodia where we don't use signs to tell you which way to go, Cambodian visa ($20 plus 100 Baht that the custom officials pocket), take your picture, stamp your passport, okay now Welcome to Cambodia.

It was a long long process, but we did it without getting (relatively) scammed.

Illegal Taxi or Legal Taxi?

Next step was to find a way to Siem Reap. In Poipet, the taxis are run by the mafia. Once we passed through Immigration, we were accosted by a pushy, albeit friendly, representative of said mafia. With sparkling English, he told us to please take this free (woopdeedoo!) shuttle to the bus station. The tourist bus station, mind you.

I was pretending that I didn't hear him and kept walking. Then a guy came up to me and said, "Here, you can take a legal taxi or you can take an illegal taxi." I'm guessing he was the illegal taxi. I was never able to find out my options because the mafia rep ran up to me and pretty much verbally hauled us on the "free" shuttle.

At the station, we were presented with an overpriced taxi. Okay, it was only $12 each for a two hour ride. But that's a lot of dollas for this area of the world. And there are no negotiations. So we paid our fare and waited for the next taxi.

We waited in the cab for the two other occupants, who turned out to be two very disgruntled Canadians. "We paid for a private taxi," said the wife, obviously annoyed. Avery and I shrugged.

Turns out, the Canadians were actually very nice people. They had been to Cambodia in 2001 and were back again for more exploring. They pointed out all the things that had changed since their visit. Hospitals had been built, roads had been paved. "It looks like they're doing very well," she kept saying.

We talked about the US and the financial crisis. A lot of the older people meet always ask us about our political views and how we feel about Obama and the way the country is moving. It's interesting to hear foreigners' opinions. But they definitely love to hear what Americans think. The conversation is never a happy one.

Then, the car suddenly stopped at a food stall on the side of the road. A Khmer woman opened my door, "Hello, the car driver alway stop here to wash car. Please come in and buy something."

We watched a guy briefly spray off the hood with a pressure hose, while the shopkeeper kept trying to sell her overpriced wares. Here, drivers get commission for bringing unwilling travelers to their shops. I think this is the fourth time this has happened to us.

Two hours after Poipet, we reached Siem Reap. The taxi was supposed to drive us to our hotels. But instead, he delivered us to the hands of some ravenous tuk tuk drivers. We said good bye to the Canadians, who were whisked off in a tuk tuk to their posh Siem Reap resort.

Our tuk tuk driver said he did not know where our hotel was, despite us having the address. Siem Reap is not that big of a town. Another told us the address was too far out. He wouldn't take us. We did not have a phone or internet access. It was so incredibly frustrating. Stuck outside Siem Reap with a bunch of uncooperative tuk tuk drivers.

It was so frustrating because they did know where it was. They just refused to take us there, hoping we'd cave and be driven to one of their "suggested guesthouses," where they would then collect a nice commission. If a driver says he knows a nice place, don't listen. Usually it will be crap and not like it is in the photos.

Eventually we got to Hak's House, which is a very lovely guesthouse. I'd definitely recommend the place if you're ever visiting Siem Reap.

Then, we had some dinner and fell asleep. After all, we had just traveled from the south of Thailand to Siem Reap, Cambodia in 26 straight hours. Plus, we were getting up at 4:30 a.m. to visit Angkor Wat!

Posted by Sam.and.Avery 02:03 Archived in Cambodia Tagged taxi cambodia thailand border_crossing border tuk_tuk poipet scams paks_house Comments (1)

Railay's Redeeming Features

Rock-climbing and Snorkeling in a Paradise gone Posh.

sunny 85 °F

Like I mentioned in the last post, Sam and I had been really excited about spending some time in Railay. We'd read about it and watched a few YouTube videos that made it sound pretty low key and relaxed. I had envisioned a beach lined with rustic bungalows and hippies, backpackers and rock-climbers lounging around. It's our own fault for being misinformed and for coming in peak tourist season, but we were surprisingly disappointed by what we found in Railay instead. And we weren't the only ones taken by surprise, over the few days we spent there we saw plenty of backpackers running around wide-eyed, soaked in sweat and asking where the cheap bungalows could be found. (Sorry, man they're all full! I know! Bummer!)

Apparently, the whole area has become a choice destination for Europeans on holiday. And with that status comes over-development, inflated room rates and hordes of tourists with wailing children in tow. They have just as much right to enjoy those stunning beaches as anyone, but this wasn't the Railay we had been looking forward to. However, if you can manage to look past the crowds and get over the fact that you're spending half of your daily budget on accommodation, Railay really is a beautiful place with a lot to offer.

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Rock Climbing

Our first night in Railay was a write-off. Both Sam and I were nursing headaches from not eating or drinking enough water during the bus trip and after a little nap we had the energy to search out some fried rice and that was about it for the night. The next day, feeling recharged and happy about having been able to move to a larger, better lit room (with windows and everything!) we were off to a much better start. I set out to find someone to teach me rock-climbing -- Railay is said to have some of the best climbing in the world, one of the major reasons I wanted to visit -- and by that afternoon I was headed to "1, 2, 3 Wall" with some laid back local guys from a shop called Real Rock.

At the wall I was introduced to my instructor, Len, who was busy belaying for one of two brothers from Pittsburgh who I was climbing with for the day. There really wasn't much instruction before I got started but I'm more of a learn-by-doing type of guy anyway so it suited me just fine. Len showed me how to tie in my harness properly and told me to have at it. I took a deep breath and scanned the rock in front of me while I chalked my hands up for the first time. This was supposed to be an easy climb and for not having done any real rock-climbing before I thought I pulled it off pretty gracefully. I found myself rushing through the first part, my adrenaline started pumping and I had a little bit of tunnel vision where all I was thinking about what getting up and getting back down as quickly as possible. It's an interesting feeling to be clinging to a rock with nothing keeping you off the ground except your own skills and a rope tied to a stranger on the ground below you. I slipped a couple of times but Len was always quick to stop my fall and shout suggestions on what my next move should be. As I became more confident in him and myself I was able to slow down, enjoy the feeling of raw physical activity and even turn around and take in the view a couple of times, which even from only 30-40 feet up was spectacular.

Our group spent the afternoon completing increasingly difficult climbs around that same rock. I was able to finish all of them but the last one. It was the longest and hardest climb of the day. I was exhausted just looking at it.

"Just go straight up!" Len offered. Soooo much easier said than done, but I gave it a go. I made it about 30-35 feet up, around 3/4 of the way to the top. At that point I was hanging on by two footholds deep enough for the tips of my shoes and a sliver of rock large enough to grip with three fingertips. From there with was a long stretch to the next decent hand hold. I gave it my best in four or five tries and then just hung there looking up at the last 10ft of the climb. My knees marked with the bruises and scrapes of an inexperienced climber and aching from neck to toe, I called it a day. Maybe on a new day I could make that last ten feet, but it definitely wasn't happening that afternoon.
I yelled to Len, "I'm dead."

Snorkeling

I would love to do some more rock climbing and there is plenty of it to be done in Railay, but we had limited time there and I was so sore the next day I didn't think it would have been worth my time to even attempt it. Instead, Sam and I had a lazy breakfast and strolled up to Diamond Cave -- a shallow limestone cave just a short walk from the beaches -- where we poked around for awhile before meeting up with a snorkeling tour that afternoon.

We hopped on a large longtail with about 15 other people and spent the rest of the day being carted to a handful of snorkeling spots around some of the smaller islands about an hour boat-ride from the mainland of Railay. The snorkeling was enjoyable everywhere we went despite poor visibility. We spotted quite a bit of wildlife including a lot of clown fish, banner fish, butterfly fish, grouper, barracuda, box fish and a bunch of other stuff I can't put a name to. There was also one moment when the schools of fish around us exploded in what I thought might be panic. They shot past us in a blur and I turned the direction they had come from hoping to see a shark. I kicked a few times in that direction and saw a large tail fin flash into my range of visibility and then disappear. I grabbed Sam, hoping to share a sighting with her since it's a goal of ours to see a shark, but whatever I saw was probably long gone by the time I looked back and we didn't have anymore close encounters :( .

That evening we headed to an island beach where we watched between two rock formations as the sun set on the horizon. In the waning light the sky and water were matching swirls of blues, purples and pinks. Overhead, a steady stream of massive fruit bats dotted the sky between the cliffs and the mainland. It was a surreal moment neither Sam or I could capture properly on film and could only stand and watch in awe. Pictures just can't do a scene like that justice.

Here are a couple anyway:
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We ate a quick meal of spicy green curry on the beach and boarded the boat for our last stop. We approached a rock cliff that looked a lot like the others we'd coasted past throughout the day, but as the boat sliced nearer to the formation our wake began to roll out in shimmering blues and greens as it peeled away from the boat. The water there was full of a bioluminescent algae that lights up when the water is disturbed. When everyone was prepped and in the water, the boatman killed the lone light on the longtail and we were left in the shadow of the cliff. Here, shielded from the moonlight, the algae danced brilliantly with each kick or swing of an arm. We were suspended there in what our guide described as "stars above and stars below". I couldn't have said it better myself. We treaded water for about ten minutes there. Each of us thrashing around in the water, shrouded in our individual clouds of neon specks and enjoying the natural light show before climbing into the boat for the chilly ride back to shore.

Sam and I both enjoy they outdoors and the more nature-y things in SEA never seem to disappoint. In this case, Railay may not have been the laid-back retreat we had imagined, but it is undeniably beautiful. A couple of days spent clinging to a rock and snorkeling out among the many islands and cliffs away from the crowds was enough for Railay to redeem itself and leave us with a favorable opinion.

Posted by Sam.and.Avery 01:26 Archived in Thailand Tagged cliffs sunset accommodation nature beach hotel thailand krabi sun west rock tour climbing tourists set east limestone snorkeling expensive railay longtail peak bungalows prices overpriced real_rock diamond_cave fruit_bats Comments (0)

Railay or Bust

A race against nausea and heat-exhaustion.

sunny 82 °F

With our desire to do some more SCUBA diving satisfied, Sam and I got an early start on leaving Koh Phangan the next morning. Our next destination: Railay Beach, one of the places I'd been most excited about visiting since we started planning this trip. We knew it was going to be a grueling trip -- it ended up being just over 11 hours by tuk-tuk, catamaran, bus and long-tail boat -- but keeping in mind postcard-perfect visions of sun-soaked white beaches and sapphire tides stretched between towers of jungle-capped limestone cliffs, we set out. Travel in Thailand up to that point had been fairly easy and pleasant compared to some horror stories we'd read from other travelers, but we were about to have a little experience of our own.

One option for travel here is to buy what the call a "joint ticket" which includes the bus, boat, taxi or whatever it takes to get from A to B for one price. We'd heard that some of the buses in those packages were "scams", on which peoples bags were looted and frequent stops were made so shop owners could hassle riders to buy something. We decided to forgo the package deal, get to the mainland and make our own way via the government buses which we had read were supposed to be safer, cheaper and nicer. So we took a Songserm slow boat from Koh Phangan to a small pier on the mainland with nothing around it but a ticket booth and a food stand. We were told there was a mini-bus on the way to take us into Surat Thani town, so we set our things down to wait and a few people bought some food and snacks from the only available option. After everybody was finished buying food, a guy who had been there since we showed up stood and announced that the mini-bus (which had been there the whole time) was ready. We've learned since then that buses in Thailand and Cambodia stop VERY often at food stands/ small shops. I can't decide if stops like this are a courtesy to the riders or if the bus companies get some kind of commission for bringing in customers, maybe a little of both. Either way it's a little annoying for a couple of westerners who are used to things running fairly efficiently and on-time.

Anyway, we made it to Surat Thani, where we set to work trying to find the government-run bus station that, as far as we learned, does not exist. It's actually just a street lined with buses of varying colors and shops that sell over-priced tickets. To get the best deal you have to find the correct bus and avoid getting suckered into buying a ticket while you're at it. There are plenty of people on the sidewalk assuring you that their friend runs the shop that sells the ticket you need. It's best to just ask them which bus you'll be riding and then go directly to the bus. The driver will sell you the ticket without the middle-man mark up. Even direct from the bus driver, prices can vary. Sam and I paid 200B each, the girls in the seats next to us bought from the same guy and paid 250B each. A Swedish couple we met had bought through one of the travel agency shops lining the street and they paid 500B each! And this is the bus that we thought was supposed to be legit!

As expected, the bus ride was awful. By the time we boarded the bus only the back seats, where you get none of the a/c, were available. But we had it better than the girl in the seat next to me. Things were fine for her until we started moving and some hidden reservoir of stale water cascaded from the ceiling into her lap. She patched it up with some first-aid supplies and the rest of the trip was uneventful; boring except for the continuous game of trying to keep from passing out or throwing up from the mix of heat and blaring Thai pop music.

The road signs for Krabi were a welcome relief, from there we were expecting to catch a long-tail to take us to Railay, but that would have been too easy. We pulled into town and everyone got off, except the six foreigners who were told this wasn't our stop. Instead we were driven to a coincidentally inconvenient spot about a mile out of town. When the Swedish man confronted the bus crew as to why we couldn't get off in town he was told "That stop Thai people only. You stop here." "Here" happened to be nothing more than a three-walled shelter with a few desks occupied by smiling travel agents eager to tell us the "more better" way to get to our destination. With no other option at this point Sam and I pooled together with the two Slovenian girls to take a cab to Ao Nang beach, where we hopped in a longtail for the short ride to Railay Beach West.

It was about 5pm when we arrived and we headed for the more backpacker-affordable accommodation on Railay Beach East, which is about a 5-10 minute walk from Railay West. We soon found out that this happened to be the weekend of the Chinese New Year. The combination of the holiday and the beginning of the tourist season meant ALL of the budget accommodation was booked by the time we got there. Sam camped out at a little juice shop with our packs and I ran around for a good hour or so trying to find a place we could afford. I finally found a place, a little windowless brick room big enough for a bed, it was ridiculously over-priced but it was the best we could do. Dehydrated, hungry, head aching and soaked with sweat, I took the room. I found Sam and lead her back to our home for the night, we both immediatley collapsed on the bed where we laid in the dark for few hours before even considering our next move.

I think it's a requirement to have at least a couple terrible travel experiences while in SEA. Ours wasn't as bad as some we've hear about but here's hoping it's the worst we'll have to deal with. At least it makes for an interesting memory.

Posted by Sam.and.Avery 01:20 Archived in Thailand Tagged boats boat travel bus longtail koh_phangan scam ao_nang getting_around how_to_get_around surat_thani krabbi bus_ticketrailay frequent_stops scam_bus joint_ticket Comments (0)

SCUBA Diving in Thailand, Take 2

In hunt of the elusive Whale Shark

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After a few days at Bottle Beach, my head/chest cold was almost gone. And I felt confident enough to go diving within the next couple of days. (Can't dive with sinus issues.)

Along with 14 other tourists, we headed over to Chaloklum Bay -- a small and, at times, beautiful fishing village on the north side of Koh Phangan. We booked two dives with Chaloklum Diving at the famous site Sail Rock.

We didn't bring our cameras, so here's someone else's photo. Thanks Brianlegg.

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Sail Rock is an intimidating (to the novice diver) pinnacle that rises out of the Gulf of Thailand between Koh Tao and Koh Phangan. It's often hailed as some of the best diving in the Gulf of Thailand as the sides of the rock are coated in all kinds of coral, soft sponges and clams and lots of fish hang out there. A divemaster at Chaloklum called it "fish soup out there." Most divers come to Sail Rock in hopes of seeing the elusive whale sharks that often hang out near the rock. According to our divemaster, the whale shark enjoys "scratching his back" on one of the pinnacles. There's also a chimney, or hole within the rock, that divers can swim up from 18 m and exit at 10 m.

After about an hour on the boat, we reached Sail Rock. It was pretty intense, seeing this giant rock just looming in the middle of the ocean. But our instructor, Kris, a French girl with a heavy accent, was a no nonsense kind of instructor. Into our suits and equipment and into the water we went, leaving me little time to change my mind about going under.

We snorkelled over to the rock and prepared to descend. But as I looked down into the water, checking my mask's seal, I could see incredibly far down. I could see the bubbles from the other divers below floating up. "That looks awesome," Avery said. I did not feel the same way. I fiddled with my mask for what seemed like forever until I had built the courage to deflate my BC vest. I gave Kris the okay symbol, pressed the deflate button and down we sunk.

This is the worst part of the dive for me. First, I'm trying to control my breathing. Secondly, I'm trying to control my body's urge to swim for the surface. It's amazing how loud those primitive survival instincts can be. And thirdly, I get all anxious about letting too much or not enough air out of my BC, causing a nasty crash into the coral below.

But then, I stop sinking. I get my breathing under control. And I have that wonderful sensation one gets from having a dream about flying. I'm suspended in the water, watching the fish swim by. Then I flop over on my stomach and kick in long, slow sweeps. I listen to the air leave my regulator, fill my lungs, then watch the bubbles float up as I exhale. SCUBA diving is truly wonderful once one gets the hang of it.

So anyway, we descend, slowly circling the massive rock that grows even larger under the water. Though the visibility is shit (only 5-7 meters), it's still amazing. Their is life all around us. Sail Rock is covered with the most beautiful coral and sponges. We saw quite a few maroon clown fish families swimming the anemones on the rock as well.

We continued to circle the rock, heading further and further under the surface. I'm not sure how many times I had to equalize my ears. But I remember it was a lot. We eventually got down to 18 meters.

While farther from the surface, we met up with three divers who were intently staring at the coral on the rock. We turned to see what they were staring at. There, on the surface of the coral, a yellow moray eel moved across the coral, sweeping along like a snake in S-shaped movements.

Avery, Kris and I just watched it as it moved, opening and closing its mouth to allow the water to pass over its gills. Despite being so far under the water, the eel's colour was bright like a ripe banana. (FUN FACT: This was actually a green moray eel, but they have a mucous coating that gives them the yellow color!) Moray eels are the only sea creatures that truly creep me out. I'd rather encounter a shark than an eel. I thought that if I ever encountered one while diving, I would surely swim away, thinking about how the bite from a moray eel will fester for weeks because their mouths are absolutely filthy, full of bacteria.

Example given (Thanks Cameron Park Zoo for the photo):

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But, in that moment, all I could do was stare in wonder and amazement at this creature wiggling before me. I wasn't afraid, just in awe. Granted, this was a really small eel. If it had been a full grown adult, I'm sure I would have kicked my ass all the way to Koh Tao. Anyway...

We also saw a lot of beautiful schooling fish around the rock, like banner fish, barracuda, huge batfish, and, oh yes, the triggerfish. Before the dive, Kris warned us about the territorial triggerfish that hang out at Sail Rock. They can get very large and can be very aggressive. If you're diving and see a triggerfish on your right and a reef shark on your left, swim to the left. Triggerfish bite. Hard.

So at least five times while we were diving, Kris would give us the hand signal for triggerfish, which is, you guessed it, like shooting a gun. Then we would flip on our backs and swim backwards with our fins kicking pointing at the triggerfish. This way, he would bite our fins instead of our bodies.

That got annoying real fast. Every time we would see something cool on the reef, it seemed like a stupid triggerfish would swim our way, and we'd have to swim away. Damn triggerfish. But a quick Google search reveals the fish do attack recreational divers quite often. Oof. Terrifying. Those suckers are huge. Here's a picture, compliments of Ze Eduardo:

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And here's a video of a triggerfish attack.

And, alas, no whale shark sightings that day. But it was still an amazing experience. We did two 40-minute dives that day. After that second dive, I decided I really enjoy it. I hear there are some good sites in Vietnam, so I'm really looking forward to being able to do it again!

I also got a wicked wetsuit tan that shows no sign of disappearing...sigh.

Over and out.

Posted by Sam.and.Avery 04:44 Archived in Thailand Tagged fish diving thailand scuba scuba_diving reef phangan coral koh_tao koh_phangan moray_eel whale_shark sail_rock Comments (2)

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