Off the Beaten Path

Ao Nang Travel Blog

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Estuary
On Friday I met James, who I had been sort of stalking since my arrival.  An ex-pat who now calls Klong Muang home, Shae and Kyle told me James was a terrific resource for things to see and do in the area.  We talked for a bit, me asking about the different things S&K told me to check out, and after making me swear up and down that I didn’t work for “the thieves at Lonely Planet,“ as he didn’t want any of his local secrets to be published and hence become tourist attractions, he offered to take me to a few unknown places on his motorbike.  Um, yes please.  So off we went.

James was born in Canada (which means we share the same accent), spent most of his youth and school years in Australia, and his adult life in Thailand.
Hellooooo
  He’s crazy tan with shock white-yellow hair and a bushy mustache, never wears a shirt, and looks like a cross between Hulk Hogan and my Uncle Pat.  (My aunt is reading this and going what?! I’m married to Hulk Hogan?? Since when?!)  Strap me to the back of his motorbike and you’ve got a recipe for amused looks from the locals.

We zoomed through the neighboring towns and villages, admiring the landscape as we went.  The predominant sources of income are farming, fishing, and tourism (I believe in that order), and the landscape alternates between karst peaks and untamed rainforest and rubber tree, date palm, and pineapple plantations.  It’s stunning.  There were so many things we passed that I wished I could take a picture of; we would have spent all day stopping every five hundred meters if I had done so.
Estuary


Our first stop was an estuary where a freshwater stream meets the saltwater from the sea.  James told me he’d tried to find the source of the freshwater several times, hiking all throughout the surrounding area and had yet to find it.  It’s a carefully preserved area, with a short boardwalk built throughout the mangroves, so that visitors don’t trample or damage the ecosystem.  The water is unbelievably clear.  Crystal clear, light turquoise, just beautiful.  You aren’t allowed to go swimming in the freshwater, as they want to keep that area as pristine as possible.  We knelt down on the platform and drank from the spring -- the water is so fresh and so pure it almost tastes sweet.  It was delicious.  I wanted to sit there all day drinking that amazing water.
Estuary


Just a short way down the boardwalk, only a hundred meters or so, is where the saltwater comes in to meet the freshwater at high tide.  Before we left we walked down to the beach to see if the tide was in or out; James wanted to time it with low tide as he said the estuary is at its best when the tide is low and the freshwater dominates.  Even here, where the two waters meet, was still clear as can be.  You‘re permitted to swim at this point, as it is downstream from the purely freshwater.  Since the tide was just turning, the water was almost entirely fresh, and it was so cool and crisp and refreshing.  Even the freshwater fish were bright and colorful, and apparently these guys found me to be a tasty treat too.  They were timid about it at first, but then became quite bold, encircling my legs and nibbling me for all I was worth.
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We dried off in the sun and air as we rode to the next stop, and if fair skin and blonde hair gets you attention, it quadruples when all you’re wearing is a bikini.  The Thais are perhaps the nicest, friendliest people I’ve ever met, so it’s not harsh or leering attention, but rather smiles and laughter and waves.  Everyone wants to say hi to the “exotic” girl with freckles.  James is known by most of the locals and can speak Thai, so there was lots of playful banter back and forth between passing motorbikes and pedestrians.  It was fun.  I spent the whole day with a smile on my face.

Our next stop was a place he dubbed “the blue hole.”  The blue hole is just that: a freshwater spring that was the most brilliant, bright turquoise you’ve ever seen.
Estuary
  We’re talking shocking turquoise.  It’s James’s prized possession, and if word gets out about this place he’s going to be crushed.  There are tiny little pinpricks all along the top of the water, and at first I thought those were the typical gnats and bugs often found skimming lakes and ponds.  On closer inspection, they are tiny bubbles of air continuously floating to the top.  Being a freshwater spring, the mineral-rich water is so good for your hair and skin.  Talk about a hidden gem.  One I certainly hope the locals keep to themselves.

From the blue hole we stopped in a nearby town for a bite.  We pulled over to a woman with three big vats of curries, and I had the fish curry, as the other two curries had either chicken or pork.
Estuary
  They kept trying to get me to eat the chicken, saying the fish was spicy.  “Spee-cie! Spee-cie!”  No worries, I like spicy.  So I sat down to a heaping plate of rice and some fish curry, which they complement with a cooling plate of cucumber and raw green beans.  It was hysterical; all the women (there were about eight of them, sitting in the shade manning two food stations for passersby) watched me like hawks as I ate my first few bites.  I nodded and smiled and gestured that I enjoyed it, and then the “Thai spicy” kicked in, about three minutes after the fact.  Holy Hannah was that spicy.  Fresh and tasty, but SPICY.  Those green beans and cucumbers did not go astray.

From there we went to a rubber plantation, where James showed me how the trees are tapped and the sap is collected.
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  Not sure if you’ve ever been to a rubber plantation, but that stuff REEKS.  Yow.  James described it as a cross between “flatulence and feces,” but I’d put it a degree or two below that.  Like poop and hippie feet and rotten meat.  Real appetizing.  And as you’re riding around on a motorbike throughout the day, constantly passing rubber tree plantations, you get hit in the face with varying degrees of “ripeness” without warning.  I learned to recognize the first few notes of the “aroma” real fast, and would count to ten and hold my breath.  Yuck.

I wasn’t the only one learning; I taught him how to plant and grow his own pineapple.  Not quite what I’d call a fair exchange, but hey, the man can grow pineapples now.
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We then visited a family (actually three families living together, I believe all related) who owned one of the rubber plantations.  As we pulled up James goes “oh look, they’re washing their bull,” as if it were as common as washing your car.  And of course I’m standing there taking pictures of this bull being hosed down.  There were two little girls, one two years old and one seven months, both of whom were shy at first but before long were running around squealing “Peg! Peg!” and trying to tackle me.  ADORABLE.  I wandered over to take more pictures of the other bulls (one wearing a multi-colored necklace), but was warned not to get any closer, as that one was particularly dangerous.  And here I was ready to pet him.
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  Apparently many Thais own their own bulls, and fight them every month.  Not bull fighting as in Spain, where it is man on bull, but here the bulls fight each other, and are called off each other before killing each other.  It strikes me as animal cruelty, but that’s the anti-gambling vegetarian talking.

We made it to Ao Nang in time for the sunset, where James had a few beers and introduced me to more locals, and I scampered off and was stretched and yanked and cracked during my first Thai massage.  Not what I’d term relaxing, but felt good.  I’m already jonesing for another.

In the morning when we first met I wished James a merry Christmas.  “Oh, is that today?”  Dude.  Seriously?  Turned out to be a merry Christmas indeed.
divadownunder says:
sounds like a great day!
Posted on: Dec 28, 2009
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Estuary
Estuary
Hellooooo
Hellooooo
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Not sure what the purpose of the e…
Not sure what the purpose of the …
The Blue Hole
The Blue Hole
The Blue Hole
The Blue Hole
Crazy spicy fish curry
Crazy spicy fish curry
Rubber tree plantation
Rubber tree plantation
Tapped rubber tree
Tapped rubber tree
Date palm plantation from the back…
Date palm plantation from the bac…
Pineapple plantation
Pineapple plantation
Hosing down his bull
Hosing down his bull
Cute as can be!
Cute as can be!
Ao Nang
photo by: findmeabeach