Sunday, August 15, 2010

Chiang Mai to Phuket: Day 13

Much of the day was dedicated to travel, departing Chiang Mai and heading south to an island near Phuket called Koh Naka Yai, where we'd enjoy the last three days of our Asian adventure. Getting there, unfortunately, required passing through a now-common gauntlet of security screenings (two in one especially annoying ten-minute period) before waiting at a gate filled with a gaggle of tourists, a TV showing a Thai teen-sitcom, and an ensemble of musicians playing traditional music (as far as we could tell). The flight was blissfully forgettable.

Crossing Phang Nga Bay by longtail
A guide picked us up and loaded us into a van and charted our course toward the dock. We'd come to Phuket just to leave it. Once more I felt that unsettling tourist dilemma, recognizing a complex array of people, equipment, exchanges, and services necessary just for two people to sit quietly on a peaceful island. This disquieting feeling arose most strongly when the guide had to haggle with a reluctant longtail captain, a guy clearly miffed at the prospect of crossing Phang Nga Bay with measly complement of two people. Eventually we set off for the tiny island of Koh Naka Yai, home of a "luxury tent resort" called Tenta Nakara.

No electricity - but they do have cold beer!
Crossing the bay, watching the boat slice through blue foamy currents, I wondered just what we'd find. Supposedly we were arriving right in the middle of rainy season. Yet the skies were filled only with white puffy clouds. Would the weather hold? After about 20 minutes we pulled ashore, docking near a sign that hung between two palm trees. "Cold Beer," it promised. Several employees greeted us in a manner that reminded me of that cheesy 70s show, Fantasy Island. Checking in meant signing a guest book while sipping a glass of lemon grass juice. The resort's owner, Chulpol Burusratanaphan, informed us that we were his only guests.

Paradise on a hillside
I understand that folks would want to avoid monsoon season, but goodness is this place beautiful. And we had it all to ourselves. Climbing onto a hillside overlooking the bay, Tenta Nakara is awash with butterflies, golden orange birds of paradise, and about 15 thatched-roof huts. Aside from a four-hour spell when electricity is available in the restaurant, the resort runs by natural power alone. At first, I must admit to feeling a bit constrained by its tiny scale. I looked at a tiny sliver of beach, those smallish huts, and asked myself, "Is this it?" Maybe sensing my mood, the owner reminded us of a footpath that led to nearby secluded beaches and, further inland, a small village.

Touring with the happiest dog in the world
Ahh, I thought: adventure! We tossed our gear into the tent (careful to secure the mosquito netting) and set off. And we had company: a friendly and alert mutt named Chaiya who, we'd soon learn, loves nothing more in the world than to accompany guests on island hikes. Heading away from the beach and upward, Jenny and I surveyed lines of rubber trees while looking out for spider webs that sometimes were strung across the trail. Sometimes we'd lose site of Chaiya - Is she OK? Should we go find her? - until we'd see her a hundred yards further ahead, head cocked backward with canine zen wisdom: "You coming?"

Literally, these guys would hang across the trail
The village was nothing like we imagined. No one was trying to sell us trinkets. No one cared, actually, that we'd come. Kids were just getting out of school. They knew Chaiya, though most were a bit frightened of her; she romps with such delight, she could knock a child over. Otherwise the village was quiet. We didn't hear any radio or television. Signs announced that the people get their power from solar energy. Jenny stopped awhile to play with some kittens; Chaiya concentrated chickens and a couple of goats (who also knew, but didn't much like, the dog). Later we relaxed at a solitary beach. In the distance, daytrippers were packing up their stuff, returning to boats that waited off-shore.

Rows of rubber trees
Back at Tenta Nakara, Chaiya departed. Her guest-work done, she scampered off to her next order of business. Jenny and I sat in an open-air diner atop beams sunk into the soil, looking at the waves. The clouds turned pink and purple, and we picked out menu items. As if on cue, the frogs and crickets cranked up a night chorus. The resort owner joined us, praising our good luck at getting a tent set so high up the hill. The noise can get nearly deafening at night, he said. After dinner we carried a lantern up those hilly steps and retreated behind our tent's mosquito netting. Helped by one too many glasses of Thai whiskey, I settled into a blissful sleep, with only a fan needed to mellow the tropical heat.
Day 12 | Day 14

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