#14 from Southeast Asia
‘ECO’-TOURISM RUN AMOK — LOVING IT TO DEATH
February 15th, 2011
We have a tendency to exaggerate to the better how our vacations go. We generally go on vacations to ‘feel better’. We want this to happen. And expectations form opinions. Who wants to come home from a vacation saying to friends “It was terrible. I will never go there again.” Well, I want to do a bit of truth-in-advertising here.
Clifford and I went on a fishing boat. There were 14 of us aboard, but just 8 rods and reels. The lady who booked us told me that there would only ten people and everyone would have equipment. We left late and trolled aimlessly. At the stern of the boat were two Russian paraplegics. If I hooked anything, I was handing them my rod to reel it in. They needed to catch a fish more than I. But three hours into the trip and no one had had a single hit. The six Russians in their party had by then downed at least three fifths of vodka and whiskey. They began making loud crass jokes about how bad the fishing was.
I watched the two near kids crewing the boat. They were searching with the fish finder. We saw nothing. So they took us swimming and snorkeling instead. To my complete surprise, the younger Russian paraplegic grabbed and mask and snorkel and rolled off the boat. This man was way over the top drunk. I watched him closely, ready to jump in. But he had tremendous upper body strength and swam strongly thru the water. Finally he was enjoying himself. He was the last one back aboard. He pulled himself out of the water with surprising ease.
We then had a mediocre meal with small proportions. That was ok for me because I was here to fish, not eat. But it was not okay with others. Then we went bottom fishing. As a group, we caught perhaps eight fish, nothing bigger than eight inches. I have done much better bluegill fishing in small farm ponds.
When we got back Clifford had me talk with his fisherman friend, Amir.
“Oh they haven’t caught fish on those boats for years. In the last eight times my friends have gone out, they have only caught one tuna, of about two kilos. The coastal waters of Thailand are COMPLETELY fished out. If you want to catch any fish, you must go at least 100 kms. from shore. And that will cost each fisherman $600-700 apiece.”
“And they keep booking boats on a lie?”
“Yep. You paid. It is a one-and-done. I guess there are still enough people coming who will pay once. But no one ever catches anything anymore. The only thing they catch is your money.”
I decided to ride over the coastal mountain ridge to the tourist mecca of Patong Beach. Dieter had warned me that Patong was now a terrible place. “DONT GO DWIGHT. I KNOW YOU. YOU WILL HATE IT.” Dieter is a German ex-pat. He and his Thai wife have managed remote tourist resorts for 25 years. Dieter said that he had not gone to Patong in six years, and it was less than 25 kms. away. Dieter finished up by calling Patong ‘Tune-Town’. Hmmmm? So I left anyhow.
I got off to a late bicycle start with my 15 kilos of gear. Then I had my first flat tire of the trip. So by the time I began the 700 meter climb, it was noon and 30 degrees centigrade. Then I found that much of the slope was around 10%. I cannot sustain climbing 10% on a loaded bike. So I had to walk my bike up much of the slope. I quickly went thru my two liters of water. I had to rest in the shade a few times on the climb. It took me a while to get it that this was heat exhaustion.
Coming down the ridge was as steep as going up. I had to ride the brakes the whole way down. I used up all that potential energy melting my brake pads. How I wanted a long slow coast. I finally pulled into the neon billboard city called Patong. It was one living advertising sign. Everyone was after your business. Across the board, the prices for everything had just doubled. I booked a room with free WIFI. But there was NO WIFI. The stated prices on the food menus did not exist after you sat down.
So I packed up my bike and left. Patong was not worth a photo. This time I took the northern way out of Patong. Much longer, but not nearly as steep. I got back to my original bungalow in much quicker time. Dieter could not resist.
“I told you so Dwight.”
And I could not argue with him.
So I had a dental delay. I told Dieter I would go to the Ko Phi Phi Don islands.
“Oh that is terrible Dwight. You will hate it.”
I bought my boat ticket anyhow. When I asked how much it would be to take a bicycle on the boat and back, they told me $48. That was more than MY ticket. I told them forget it. I would leave my bike with friends. Fuck that shit. (FTS).
The island Ko Phi Phi Don was as overdeveloped and overcrowded as Dieter had promised. I realize that I am part of the problem. Just my visiting adds to it. Having stated that, the beauty of the islands, mountains, beaches and reefs are overwhelming. You just have to go somewhere where there isn’t someone standing right in front of you. I found a good hike up the mountain quickly got me to isolated serenity. Any time I was snorkeling was fine too. I saw lots of beautiful fish. But nothing bigger than two kilos. The Thais have even fished out the big fish on the reefs dedicated for snorkeling only. I saw significant coral bleaching. This great coral die-off is happening around the world, and there appears to be nothing at all that humans can do about it in time to make any difference.
The ‘isolated’ beaches on the uninhabited islands that we went to were so full of boats that late arrivers had to wait in the bay until someone pulled out. I am talking about maybe 1000 people on a 200 meter beach, 50 kms. from any city. It is the policy of the Thai Ministry of tourism to maximize the tourism business. They will send out as many boats as they can fill. I am not blaming them. But if you come to these stunning islands in the Andaman Sea, be ready for it, because the number of people will be right in your face.
Having stated all of this about the crowds in certain places, it is still stunningly beautiful. If you want to avoid the crowds, check beforehand and go to the islands where there are no cars or motorcycles or porters. That should eliminate about 90% of the other hominids.