Wednesday, June 26, 2013

John Gray Sea Canoe – the Sunset Trip

My heart skipped a beat last week when I was asked to take a trip with John Gray Sea Canoe.  John Gray is a bit of a local – and international – celebrity in the ecotourism industry, and I was excited to finally go on one of his famous trips in Kho Hong, an island just half an hour from the Cape Panwa Hotel beach.

We left the jetty in the afternoon and slowly cruised to the ocean – I really enjoyed the ride because the scenery of the Phang Nga Bay was beautiful all along the way (and the trip hadn’t even started!) We arrived at an island where we switched to ‘impact free’ inflatable canoes that gave us the mobility to travel into the ‘hongs’ that literally translates to ‘rooms inside the island’. 

Approaching the caves on our kayaks was one of those enthralling life moments that I hope to forever etch into memory as what the imagery of “paradise” would be. Being at sea on a kayak is an interesting feeling. The quiet, idleness of it all makes you feel like you are absolutely surrounded by tranquility and peace. Each couple in the three-person kayak had a guide to help paddle and maneuver in the wavy seawater; this also allowed us to just sit back and take it all in. 

The view from the kayak was simply fantastic! The miniature islands stood ever so majestically above the water, as if someone had dipped each of them in thick stalactites and then sprinkled their tops with the lush greenery of tropical vegetation.

Because you can get so close on a kayak, you can see every bump and concave of the varied rock formations that were shaped by the changing of tides over the years, little by little.

We soon arrived at an entrance to the caves. They were these naturally formed tunnels that lead to the middle of the island. The space of the entrance was so tight that we had to lie flat and keep our heads down just to get through to the other side. I felt a little claustrophobic being so close to the ceiling of the tunnel, but it was all the while exciting.

Inside the caves, it was breathtakingly entrancing – it felt like I had been transported to another world. On a side note, I was happy that John Gray’s team makes it an effort to give all tour-goers an introduction to how to behave on the trip and how to keep nature the way it is. It is important to be an observer and take in the gracious gift of beauty that nature had given us, without leaving our footprint in it.

We visited two more caves, and discovered a plethora of different wildlife inhabiting the islands, there were bats in some of the caves, all sorts of birds flying in the surrounding areas; and surprisingly unafraid of humans, monkeys were goofing around on the walls of the caves.

After exploring in the caves, we were given time to free paddle around the islands before we had to get back on the boat for sunset. For dinner, the guides moved the boat to a special spot in Phang Nga Bay for an amazing view of the sunset, while we feasted on a superb fresh seafood buffet on deck.

After dinner, we made our own Kratong with the assistances of the guides. The Kratong is a lotus shaped container decorated with an intricate folding of banana leaves, flowers and candles. 

Once the darkness of the night blanketed the beautiful bay, we returned to a Hong on our kayaks to release our Kratongs. Traditionally, floating of the Kratong signifies letting go of all one’s hatred, anger, and defilements. It was sort of a cleansing of the mind kind of ritual for the local people.

We weren’t allowed to use torches and were asked to keep quiet as respect to the others when we released our own Kratongs. We sat quietly as the candles on our Kratongs went out and continued to float forward in silence.  In this moment, we were surrounded by peace and mesmerising starlight. It was as if time stood still and your mind all the sudden clears of all worries. The experience verged on being mystical.  

It was a truly magical and out of this world experience – the feeling was so special, I didn’t want it to end. Next time, I think I will join John’s overnight camping trip – I’m sure it will be just as unforgettable as this. 


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Cape Panwa Hotel's Lighthouse

The original purpose of a lighthouse was to warn ships in the local vicinity that there were possible hazards – be it rocks, reefs or harbours close to the lighthouse.

However, as the electronic navigational systems in ships became more and more sophisticated, these 'warning towers' were eventually rendered redundant. So what do you do with an old lighthouse when it is no longer needed?

Put in a pool table, suspend a television, install equipment for a band and set up tables and chairs – The Lighthouse is now a pub in front of the Cape Panwa Hotel.

Much of the original lighthouse equipment is still there, if you look carefully – the most important of which is the “bell”.

When Simon the bartender rings the bell at 9:30 pm it means that it is Happy Hour!


Friday, June 14, 2013

The Son of the Dragon of the Sea

Last week, whilst visiting Pattaya to conduct a hotel survey, I noticed something on the beach. There was a small Buddhist Shrine on the edge of the water with the opportunity to light a joss stick. Following my previous visit to Chiang Mai where I had watched the staff and guests make an early morning offering I wondered if there was something similar in the Cape Panwa area?

I was surprised when I arrived at Cape Panwa Hotel and found there was a Chinese Spirit figurine placed in one of the trees on the Cape Panwa Hotel beach.

There is a plethora of Chinese Spirits that are usually known as good, evil or simply unhappy spirits. Phuket has a great deal of history linking it to the Chinese which is clear if you choose to walk through Phuket Old Town or visit it during Chinese New year celebrations. 

The name of this particular spirit, placed in one of the trees on the beach, is Lee-Lo-Chia, who is the Son of the Dragon of the Sea. This spirit is placed near the edge of the water to protect those using the beach and sea. 

So, along with the beach staff and the life saving rings, there is a Chinese Spirit to protect you.


Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Buddhist Morning Alms Offering

The Thai (and Indochinese) tradition of offering alms to Buddhist monks in the early morning is a beautiful part of Thai culture that is often missed by most tourists.

In Theravada Buddhism offering alms to monks is an opportunity for lay people to earn merit by performing a good deed. Each monk has a large brass bowl to collect the alms of food offered him by the people. At Cape Panwa Hotel, guests can witness this is ritual when we take them to the temple on Songkran.

This ritual actually takes place on a daily basis – the monks leave their temple at dawn each day and make their rounds (on foot) of the community where their temple is located in order to give local residents, who wait for the monks to pass by the front of their house, a chance to make merit.

I always leave at 6:30 in the morning to witness this – don’t worry breakfast at Cape Panwa Hotel is available till 10:30am!

(Ed - But if you visit Kantary Hills Hotel in Chiang Mai the monks come to you right in front of the hotel!)


Sunday, June 2, 2013

Purchasing alcohol in Phuket, Thailand...

image courtesy of Sunset Bar
We all acknowledge that when there is free alcohol, 
there will be more drinks drunk, don’t we?

Also, the addiction to caffeine, by our friends, and the ramifications of it is well known.  

Every country, around the world, is combating addiction to alcohol and drugs in a number of ways: fines, licensing, banning, and for Driving, Under the Influence (DUI): loss of driving privileges, jail terms, community service, etc. 

Phuket, in Thailand, has a specific one: as seen in the picture above.
“Liquor Selling Time: 11:00 - 14:00 Hours, and 17:00 - 24:00 Hours.” 
(However, there is no time restriction for more than 10 litres at a time.) 

We are not sure what this law prevents though...

(Ed - The difference in the amount able to be sold during certain time periods evidently is aimed at distinguishing between types of customers: a purchase for an individual (a bottle, for example) and for a club or bar needing to replenish stock (many bottles)).