Monday, December 26, 2011

Winter in a Tropical Island - Koh Mak

Koh Mak, the clear waters.

Getting there to Laem Ngop, 6 hours if you drive really slow.

Parking at THB 60 per night.

This island, Koh Mak, smack in the middle of Ao Thai ocean between Koh Chang and Koh Kood. A journey there will take 4 hours by car to reach the various ferry terminals within Laem Ngop in the province of Trat, so start your journey early. Over at Laem Ngop, on an unnamed jetty, there are speed boat operators offering the sea crossing for hotel staffs on Koh Mak at only THB 350, and for the public at THB 450. They also offer parking lots in private housing for you to leave your cars at THB 60 per night. Now, these boats are not the normal slow massive ferries crossing to Koh Chang. These are fast sea vessels guaranteed at making you regurgitate your food out all over the 16 or so rather comfortable seating under the white canvas canopy shielding you from the sun. It was hell of a ride for me as the December sea was rough. The boat had to continually retard the on the throttle and yet attempt to make the crossing in under 45 minutes. It's the monsoon now and we had to slam through the waves instead of cutting smoothly across clam waters. My testicles swapped positions after the ride.

A pier at Koh Mak where we arrived.

The long beach of Haad Khao.

There are a few beaches on Koh Mak. You wouldn't know which beach you did be arriving on but not to worry, the island has a network of local roads and your hotel will pick you up in a truck. We stayed on Haad Khao which means white beach. The sand ain't white on this wide gentle beach stretching laterally east west, but the waters are clam with very gentle waves offering us sunbathers a relaxing swim. We could float around face up without a struggle and be one with the horizon. The waters not churned is clear this season, see them crabs crawling and the occasional small fishes darting. I love Haad Khao, with the winter sun low, we enjoyed both orange sunrise and radiant sunsets in full view.

The shallow waters.

Sunrise in cold December mornings.

Winter I mentioned, whatever winter am I talking about? This is a tropical island, but December offered contrastingly cold mornings. Every morning, we woke to the sound of bristling trees swaying about in the breeze, it was the music of nature. It was 19 degrees centigrade as the sun rose and I clicked away on me shutter. In double clothing I was in, the wind chill I fought. The cleaners were out early, they comb the beaches keeping her pristine.

Bungalows of Baan Chailay.

Local road entrance to resort.

I stayed in Baan Chailay, about 4 to5 bungalows she has. Easy on me pocket, it cost THB 1,200 and we could sleep three. The air conditioner old, but it was cold. Need it actually we don't, the weather was pleasant. Hot showers in ground water pumped from below we bathed. The water was more of a trickling, and it smelt but hey, I ain't complaining for this price. Breakfast served simple, American or that Khao Tom (boiled rice) went well with the self served instant coffee. We were the only Asians accompanied by a number of elderly Caucasian folks politely chatting. Seated on wooden chairs and over our food laden tables, the feel was easy and homey. I had my 3 strips of bacon in the yellow sunlight accompanied by eggs, bread and butter.

Canoes for rental.

As the hours passed, the sky was a deep blue interrupted by bright white clouds . Still, the relentless breeze blowing. Our scheduled snorkeling trip costing THB 500 per pax was repeatedly delayed hourly since 10am. The sea beyond was too rough and the air too cold. We could have had ourselves a private boat at THB1,500, but it had been already been fully taken up by all the Farangs told we were. Being on Koh Mak during the monsoon season, expect travel plans to be altered. Our trip was eventually cancelled and the operators were worried how they were to deal with them Farangs who came on packaged tour. Nevertheless, we went on to an island opposite our beach known as Koh Rayang Nok.

Koh Rayang Nok.

Beach chairs.

White sands on a rather limited beach.

Koh Rayang Nok offered a small white beach with a few beach chars tastefully placed near the shoreline. Coming onto this island is not free, cost THB 200 for "entry". You could get your snorkeling gear form the lone restaurant operating on this island but the December seas were too strong for me. I do not want to drift away to Cambodia so I just sat on the sand whiter than that on Haad Khao on Koh Mak. That's where we also decided to have out very late lunch, not too tasty and a rather bit pricey. And as when one wishes, just tell the boat operator and you will be on your 10 minutes journey back onto Koh Mak.

Wind surfers during sunset.

Local roads to restaurants.

As evening approaches the cats were out playing. The dogs swam and we tourist strolled along passing the many small decent and simple resorts spaciously spread on Haad Khao. At times, we had the whole beach to ourselves. At times we had to avoid being hit by the beach ball so franticly chased by the sweaty young beach boys playing out front of their resorts. Dinner can be offered by a few restaurants located along the main road hidden behind by all the idyllic accommodations along this beach. Don't expect a gastronomical feast on these joints, they offer only decent simple meal masquerading behind artful names.

Chilling out the night.

Sofas on the breezy beach.

After dinner, there's a only-pub-on-this-beach place you could go to the locals called a Reggie Pub. Its well known to have a once a month Full Moon Party similar to that on Koh Phangan. There will be a live band and I could see that the lead singer was attempting his best to please the Farang crowd. We could not understand a single word of all the easy-listening songs he was bringing to us such. Stand By Me became Can By Me, Missing You became Meeing You . Alternatively to avoid the ear torture, we could just chill the night out over BYO whisky on the sofa set on the beach. Just make sure you order that soda, coke or French Fries from the cocktail stand serving the area. They are there to make a living after all and won't be pleased with you taking up the comfy seats free. It seemed we had the whole beach to ourselves again that night, only our laughter, cheers and chatter filled the windy night air. As we drank that last drop under the star lit skies, we walked the 10 meters back to our bungalows and shut down in anticipating of the beautiful sunrise the next morning.

Gentle waves.

So private.

Koh Mak in December, cool weather on contrasting sunny beach. A quiet place giving you the privilege of having the beach and turquoise waters all to yourself at times. Be warned though, oil yourself heavy in insect repellent. I am now sore with more than 20 or so ugly looking blistering sand fly bites. Locals had told me unlike Koh Kood and the more commercial Koh Chang nearby, Koh Mak does not spray their beaches with pesticides. The waters on Haad Khao will be still and only agitated by passing speed boats. The windsurfers takes to the waters and the power kites the cuts the breezy air. The simplicity of this island, the solitude and the clean air is a comeback that I must. Till we meet again.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

2011 Bangkok Flood - Aftermath

Well it's a good questing to if this should be called an aftermath at all. News has been reporting the sunny side of things. Bangkok is dry and it is true. All major shopping malls are now open and businesses are as usual. Heavy traffic is back on the streets, the signature of a normal working Bangkok. Water and food are back on the shelves. We live every day, drive pass once flooded streets as if nothing had happened. The only reminder, is the watermark left behind on walls by the dark water. The flood is over. But is it?

Truth is, it is not. My mates, some of them still could not go home, flood waters have not receded. In their minds, constant worry building up to stress, as one thinks about the resources needed to restore their flooded first floor to its former glory.

The water stayed in their village, but the news always reported only the good side, that here and there have been receding by 1 or 2 cm per day. 1 or 2 cm? I give credit to evaporation rather than irrigation. Irrigation all blocked, what is there to flow? I visited some folks in factories up north. I asked if they have experienced a flood like what Bangkok do now. They said oh yes they did. But water came fast, water came deep. And water also gone very fast and they are used to it. But in Bangkok - water came fast, water came deep. And water stayed because they don't want water to touch central business district.

Driving around, I assume that everywhere is dry now, but it is not. I had to drive against traffic because I drove on to an impassible section of flooded roads only passable by trucks. I did see a suspicious sign of some sort, but it was in Thai. I wonder, how many expats have experienced inconveniences like I do. This flood situation, all non Thai reading public have been excluded from all warning systems. Comon, at least hand draw a picture of farang driving his car dropping into water, that will at least give us some kind of indication.

A tip I will give is that to get to Saraburi, you can now take the Toll Way all the way till the end pass Future Park. But expect to be stuck on the Toll Way for a while because it exits down to damage road. And if you did take the Outer Ring Road, take note that the road surface have been heavily damaged by the flood. So, expect to experience very slow traffic too. It will take three to four hours to get to Saraburi or vice versa. It normally takes less than two.

I accidentally drove to some areas, witnessing full in the face what "neglected by the authorities" really means. See, as long as all the high profiles areas are kept dry at whatever cost, Bangkok when seen from the outside world successfully managed the flood and it is now over. All these other areas, no authorities were in sight to direct or warn traffic. Debris strewn all over, I was left to negotiate and try my luck across flooded plains, created my own traffic rules and drove in any directions I wanted.

Now people in power are busy with finding a scapegoat for the flooding (as reported in TV). Now some people have moved from poor to rich benefiting from corruption cases. The purchase of donation items are at very obvious inflated prices. Currently we can also see on TV those that did not get a share in the dirty cake bringing these cases to light. So many discomforting cases, you can read them all from the media websites. And we the working force, go through our everyday lives as per normal, ignoring these noises. And they the flooded victims for months, taking on actions by themselves. They organize mobs and activities, breaking down the flood barrier, closing important traffic routes and breaking the windshields on innocent public cars just trying to get through for a very delayed appointment. All these activities and the situation of misery going on now, in the presence of the so many new morale lifting songs about the flood released by famous local artist. "Thais will not neglect Thais" the lyrics of these songs, but the truth is the opposite.

Full photo sets here under The Flood 2011.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

2011 Bangkok Flood - So Dumb

For some reasons or other, water seems to have a mind of her own going and not going where as had been predicted. This again, I believe due to the heavy intervention by man to control the water flow, only to result in more chaos, panic and nuisance. Shopping malls some so unlikely to be flooded, at Robinson Ratchada especially, had closed their parking lots because the frantic neighborhood had moved all their cars into the multi storey parking lots. The departmental store Tops in the basement, had reduced their inventory clearing out the bottom two level of shelves in anticipation of the speculated flooding. Consumers like me, driven into frustration.

For some reasons or other, the Big Bag project carried out to prevent Bangkok from flooding had backfired. It caused people north of the barrier to be soaked indefinitely. They watch news of inner Bangkok's water subsiding while stinky waters in their village crept higher. The authorities should had seen it coming, very short sighted all their short term plans. There have been several mobs activities reported and they had succeeded in breaking the silly idea of the bag at several spots. Water level in their villages finally subsiding and all these little efforts seemed to be working way better then what the government had planned. The most surprising twist is that, although the northern water is coming into town, the levels inner Bangkok have not been rising.

For some reasons or others, Samut Prakan, the last district to be hit by the flood remains dry till this day. I visited my customers there and they voiced "we have sucked our canals dry, preparing to receive the flood waters but we seemed to have waited forever". Some expert from Netherland had been engaged as a consultant to handle the flood in Bangkok. He was seen on TV doing inspections, he commented many. One of which was that the pumping stations were all under performing, if only there were more water for them to suck. The water remains at the northern Bangkok region and never reached these efficient machines. Then for some reasons or other, he was never seen on TV again. Therefore, I blog writer, solemnly decide to christen the Big Bag Project - The Big Joke.

We heard of the misuse of funds here and there, people have reduced donations to the organizations set up by the government. Donations to public TV channels poured in with increasing numbers and the resulting flood relief efforts seen more than what the government had done. Complains big time, the voices wrong side of The Big Joke barrier. Reported on newspapers, it seemed the authorities are waking up and realizing they should not be "keeping the patient ill". They must focus on not containing the water but to find a solution to drain the water away. My point of view, Bangkok do have a large network of canals for the purpose of drainage, but so many of them still remained dry. Cleary, something is not done correctly somewhere somehow.

Vibhavadi Rangsit Toll Way had turned into a new tourist attraction. Many people are touring the new Vibhavadi Rangsit River. We park all along the highway taking the pictures of our lifetime, including me of course. This toll way runs alongside Don Muang Airport, we could see the situation from high and dry, witness planes soaked in water and cars strewn around like plastic toys. This toll way have also turned into a massive elevated peeing ground. I took pictures, I also took in full breathes of dried urine everywhere I parked. Traffic police had removed the dividers along many locations of this toll way. A real convenience for people to make u-turns back into Bangkok without having to exit down into the flood below.

The peak of the flood we believe is over for Bangkok. This confidence could be felt by the increasing amount of traffic on roads. Driving is no longer a breeze like when the flood just started. However, the surroundings, poor souls the people are. Some areas have been speculated to flood till the new year. My mates some, had not gone back home for more than a month and longer still they will wait.

Water level had indeed be receding but at a very slow rate. Photographers by the hordes could be seen scouting the flooded plains on weekends before the water is finally gone from inner Bangkok. Inundated industrial estates in the north are now confident that they will start recovery efforts mid of December 2011. Leg and bikini line waxing saloons in Union Mall remaining closed resulted in an increasing number of Thai girls turning into gorillas. However, this week, some major malls have been reported re-opening their doors and some had set forth planned re-opening schedules.

The water is no longer crawling further into the heart of Bangkok. She is expected to take on the surrounding Samut Prakan and Samut Sakhon, flow into the sea alongside and slowly drain away. Samut Sakon had been hit first but the flooding is gentle. Samut Prakan as mentioned remains dry. Strangely the water, she stopped her advances. Rama II she did not cross and the International airport she did not hit. She is so close to the sea and yet she will not jump. Will she rather drain herself slowly via the machineries and into the central canals, the main rivers? The pumps working mad, the efforts of man she ain't so glad.

Full photo sets here under The Flood 2011.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

2011 Bangkok Flood - So Numb

Staring up your half submerged Prius will results in explosion of sparks, you will probably become part of the car's circuit and die in the process. Ok, maybe that won't happen, I am sure Toyota thought of it but lately, there are many victims of electrocution as the water sets in. Touch this get shorted, touch that get shorted. Stand around in water minding own business also get shorted, which is why the authorities are cutting the power to some selected estates.

If you don't die of electrocution just standing still doing safely nothing, you could be bitten by the recent escape of a bunch of poisonous Green Mamba snakes. Imported pets by some too-much-money-nothing-to-do owners, they are now floating around freely somewhere in our very big Bangkok. There is no vaccine in the whole of Thailand and this is so very consoling.

I was standing still composing a shot, people at a distance from me shouted "Don't stand still!!! Leeches in the water!!". Darn. I wish I had more leg hair, they offer at least some confusion to the leeches before it gets the meat.

Taxi drives, apparently they are a happy bunch now. The uncle said: "So good, I wish everyday Bangkok's traffic is like this. I can estimate my time from one place to another so accurately. Bangkok should remain this way."

Uncle was right, getting from one place to another had never been done in such record time before in my entire life here, as many people had escape the metro and moved to surrounding Rayong, Pattaya and Huahin. People who still needed to work had parked their cars permanently in offices, taking the public transport to and from work. Most of us, our homes are flooded. Getting in and out of the moo-barns means hopping on to military trucks on their rounds which are in place of the public buses. These huge green beasts they call GMCs will drop you off some convenient dry place where you can then continue your journey by other means.

Public bus services, they did not suspend. It's just that hopping on to one every time, the route is different for the very same bus number. As this place and that floods, they change their course according to situation without advance notice. But we are all fine with that. Many areas along the river floods as the sea tide rises opposing the deluge flowing downstream. Twice a day, they get wet, drains and then dries. Markets and tourist destination in Sanam Luang have orgasms twice a day. It's a nice place to experience the climax if one wants to experience the subtle flood just so to be part of it.

Flood danger indication level how to tell? Locals say:
"Level 1 alert which indicates possible flooding is when you begin to notice peddlers selling boots, life vest and plastic boats on dry streets."
"Level 2 danger will be indicated by the arrival of news crew. Water only at ankle level and meaning possible time to evacuate, so start packing."
"Level 3 means all too late - die. Military trucks arriving on site with platoons of sweaty soldiers. By this stage, water is at waist level."

So far the above mentioned had been much more reliable then the so many false alarms and warnings issued by the government. Increasing number of nasty comments from streets and offices. Flood situation seems deliberately extended because of stupidity. You sand bagged an area till it is flooded full as you slowly pumped water out a thousand times slower than it is being filled. As the water overflows the first barrier onto the second sand bagged region, the cycle repeats. Then onto the third, fourth and so on sections of defense, all so very slowly. We are not afraid of the flood, it's not the water that will kill you, it's the smell.

Imagine you have a toilet bowl at home with your discharge that does not drain. Hold it there for two good weeks and I rather break the toilet and let it drain. Well this is what has been happening with increasing frequency lately. Unhappy residents are getting good at destroying flood barriers. The government patching them back up again every now and then.

The Bangkok government has successfully turned the city into the biggest ammonia factory in the solar system. This is what happens when you place a puppet and a bunch of farm animals to manage the country. They put relatives and friend-friend into positions of power within the government and other important agencies, all without the proper background expertise and practical knowledge and thus the result today. "There is a big difference between understanding what to do in a flood and knowing what to do", one industrial estate owner commented on TV. I like him.

Previously, I had blogged that the highways had become a treasure trove for criminals. Now it has become an obstacle course for drivers. As reported on news, motorcycles, cars and trucks have been smashing into these stationary vehicles parked all over precariously along elevated roads. We have many pieces of cars to clean up nowadays. Going into that shopping mall and looking for a lot usually means staying in orbit for a good long while before finally locating one. Cars left by owners in malls had become a permanent feature of the building structure.

Some things did turn for the better. Instant noodles and water have been arriving back on the shelves. But they do not stay there for long. Bottled mineral water of strange brands we never seen are being sold. Eating out we were served "no brand no label" bottled water, very dubious indeed. People staying in western Bangkok bathed in strange smelling yellow water from the tap, but the situation have improved now that the issue at the waterworks had been rectified.

Water creeping slowly, 3 kilometers a day. Encroaching deeper and deeper into Bangkok, the death grip of a python. Extended the doom, the effects of all the rather questionable efforts. We are numb now, we are so very. The news so foul, we are so weary.

Full photo sets here under The Flood 2011.