Couchfish: A good trip, with kids. Part 1

  
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I’ve been so wound up following the sad events in Burma that I’ve forgotten what I was going to write about today. So, I’m going to write about something fun—I need something upbeat goddam it! So, I’m going to write about a trip I did with my kids a little over a year ago. Yes, pre–Covid19—remember then?! I’m going to break it out over a series, a new one every Tuesday—there is plenty to write!

First thing you need is a boat. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

In summary it was about a three week trip, spent island hopping in Southwest Thailand. Ignoring the logistics of getting to Thailand, we first saw the Andaman Sea from the coast near Trang. From there we went to Ko Kradan, then Ko Muk, then we turned south, first Ko Libong, then Ko Sukorn and Ko Bulon Lae. From there, we trundled back north (still on the water) to Ko Ngai, for a last couple of days before back to the mainland. With two kids, aged 11 and 13 at the time, it was just about the perfect trip. Here’s what we did.

For some it is the spicy food or broad smiling locals, but for me, the longtails are the quintessential sign you are in the south. Yes they’re noisy as all hell, and far from the most manoeuvrable or speediest craft on the open sea. But they’re spacious, moderately comfortable, colourful and, well, good fun.

Mindcraft. Everywhere I tell ya. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

My daughter was born in Thailand, but save a brief layover enroute to Japan, this is my son’s first time in the country. Neither have seen a longtail before. It’s love at first sight.

The boatman, still seated, keeps the engine at a low ebb at we cruise out of the estuary. As the river bleeds into the sea, he stands and guns the engine to a roar. He leans into the khan yôk (thanks Justin for this word!) —a long often aluminium pole, that extends from the engine. As he leans into it, the boat both tilts and accelerates as we round a marker buoy and into open water.

“Can I sit at the front?,” my daughter asks.

Taking a panorama with a level horizon on a longtail is impossible. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

When I nod, within seconds they’re both huddled on the prow. Coloured ribbons jangle, seabreeze in their face. We can see Ko Muk in the distance, but we’re aiming for Kradan, an island further west, for now hidden behind Muk’s bulbous hills.

Above us are brilliant big blue skies, while calm muddy waters slide underneath like ice tea. As we break free of the estuary’s muddy grasps, the caramel fades, first into no–mans land green blue wash, then the bottom drops. It still isn’t all that deep, so is more of an aqua blue something or other. Regardless of the colour, it is still glass. So beautiful—one of the upsides of getting up early I guess. Later in the trip we’ll “longtail” over deep waters, so deep the water looks black, yet still glassy like a mirror. Magnificent.

Our lodgings in Trang. Anon: Mummy takes us to nicer places. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

The previous evening I’d taken them to the Trang night market. They’ve seen no shortage of Indonesian night markets, but Thais do it different. Also Trang, while it is hardly a “tourist town”, does see tourists. The vendors, well acquainted with foreign curious kids, load on smiles and encourage my daughter’s attempts at Thai. We graze and try lots—we all eat our fill.

But this, right now, on the boat on the sea, surrounded by beauty. To me, this is Southern Thailand.

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I watch Ko Muk appear, we veer to the south, to hook around the island’s sandy white thorn, to continue west to Kradan. The kids keep yelling at me, but I can’t hear them for the racket of the engine. The boy is watching jumping fish, other boats, birds wheeling above. My daughter is watching. Pensive. Soaking it up.

Destination sorted. Photo: Stuart McDonald.

We round Ko Muk’s southern headland. My son points and yells “Is that it?” at eleven he still has a high pitched voice, and the wind—it is no longer a breeze—washes it back over me. He’s pointing to a small, long and thin island. Far smaller than Ko Muk, it still has a row of distinct hills—we’ll get to know them well in the coming days.

“Yes,” I yell back. He nods, then goes back to watching for sea creatures beneath the water.

It feels like longer than it is, but Ko Muk slips behind and Ko Kradan approaches. It has been almost two decades since I’ve set foot on the island. A long house beach wraps around the south and eastern coast. On the west coast a couple of small beaches—I remember them from the 90s as being popular with nudists. Popular because so few bothered to leave the main beach. I wonder what it is like now.

Are we there yet? Almost! Photo: Stuart McDonald.

As we near the main beach, there are just a few longtails pulled up. Perhaps a half dozen people strolling. The tide is high and as we near, the boatman idles back his engine. The boat lolls, sinking into the water and we coast rather than rush, towards the shore. My ears ring.

The kids are peering over each side. The deep blues fade, replaced by the shallows, a banged up house reef slides underneath us. The kids gawk and point out brightly coloured reef fish—the greens and electric blues. They’re scant glimpses, so fast, as we pass over them.

What now? Photo: Stuart McDonald.

The boatman throws out the rear anchor, and the prow grounds to a stop against Ko Kradan’s house beach. He positions the ladder and we climb out, feet into those warm Thai waters, golden sand underfoot. The kids loiter on the finer, whiter sand, while we get the bags out, then we’re done.

My daughter asks, “where are we staying?”

“Into the jungle,” I say, pointing to the sign reading “Paradise Lost”.

More next Tuesday.