Back in the Land of Smiles

After clearing out of Malaysia in Langkawi, a process I now know well, we crossed the border and headed for a new Thai destination, Ko Lipe and the adjoining islands. I had read horror stories on Noonsite about the crowds and noise of Ko Lipe, much like Ko PiPi it was reported. We intended to pass it by and anchor in one of the larger less populated islands. The diving here is the draw, by all accounts excellent.

I entered the bay at Ko Lipe and peered through the binoculars expecting mass traffic and people. I put down the binoculars, checked the chart to see if I had the right place and pondered where all the people are. We found an assortment of mooring buoys and grabbed one that seemed to be placed by the park system. A few long tails, those exquisite Thai boats propelled by small motors on long shafts, puttered by. One of the Thai speed boats, not so exquisite and powered by five huge outboards, slid by too butt that was all. The white sandy beach was lined with a few small bars and restaurant huts for about a quarter of a mile only. The girls manned the kayaks and headed for the beach while I did some boat projects. Soon one returned with my needed Thai sim card and news of what was a shore, all good. I went to shore soon after and wondered about. Walking barefooted along the narrow sandy path that led to the shops and more restaurants I discovered there are no cars, only a few scooters for transporting gear. I found a dive center and met a nice French girl who told me about the various dive sites. After some chatting we agreed she would come with us in our boat and guide some dives the next day. I also met dive masters and students from Italy, Sweden and Spain. Diving is the international draw that brings so many young people to SE Asia.

The girls and I find a nice café and eagerly order our first Thai meal, Phad Thai. This is a common street dish and is usually very good and very cheap, no exception here, seafood Phad Thai piled on the plate with shrimp, calamari and fish all for about two bucks, so good to be back!

We are in the transition season from wet to dry and when the monsoons (the wind) changes to the northwest. This time of year you get everything every day, sunshine, blue sky, flat water, squalls, torrential down pours and the cycle repeats itself. One such squall and down pour hit during dinner, the bamboo framed plastic tarped roof held the rain at bay but the sandy path was soon awash. A bit of relaxing after dinner and the rain stopped, people reemerged from cover and aside for some mud puddles life was resumed.

It did not take me long to realize I had discovered yet another magical place. For lack a better term, the “vibe” here was great. I knew the crew wanted to move on as their times were running short and much to see but with the promise of diving I thought I might get them to be happy with a longer stay here. As I began to broach the subject, I hardly started and both girls smiled and said, “We were hoping you would want to stay we like it here.”

I headed back to the boat and the girls stayed to enjoy the beach bars, fire dancers and locals. The next day I went ashore at the appointed hour to pick up Adeline, our French dive master. Not too surprised she was late, I mumbled to myself about the flaky dive world population only later to discover I had not set my clock back when we crossed the border to local time. I guess I am the flake, haha.

The first dive was at a place called Stone Hedge, reported by many to be the best dive site in the area. It is reputed to have strong currents and it proved to be true. We tied Furthur to a mooring ball and she pulled hard. I affixed a safety line running aft and we prepared for the dive. This would be a new experience for both girls and Adeline did a fine dive briefing. We entered the water and pulled ourselves to the mooring ball on the safety line and down the mooring line we went. As is typical the currents on the bottom were far less. 

The dive was spectacular, colored soft coral as good as I have seen. My Grandmother loved the color lavender and other purples and pinks; they dominated her home and garden. She would go to great detail in assembling attire and home decorations always with her favorite colors dominating and mixing in a careful pattern. The soft corals brought her memory to life as the deep purple, lavender and pink coral all were accented with white trim. It is possible she was assigned the job of decorating this site from above.

We saw an incredible large black and white spotted eel, and an assortment of rare fish. Massive schools of fish clouded the view as we swam through them.

There was not clear choice for the second dive as we needed a mooring and still water and the current was starting to rip. The girls had not done a drift dive so I offered to stay on the boat and “live boat” so they could drift along. By this time I had full confidence in Adeline. They plopped in the water and I pulled a safe distance from the reef to wait. As expected, 45 minutes later, I spotted the SMD (safety marker device) or safety sausage as I call it and I pulled up and spun the stern to the divers. The girls boarded the boat with gleeful tales of what they had seen.

On a dive gear note, most of the things I had learned to use are now called “devices” so the acronyms all had D at the end. I started diving just after the buoyance compensating vest was introduced, a marvelous addition to dive gear, it was labeled a BC, buoyancy compensator. I still have my first one a simple piece of equipment with one purpose, hold and disperse air. Somewhere along the way it added a D, now a buoyance compensating device or BCD. The D also seemed to double the price. I just finished reading a great book on the history of Sesame Street— I chuckle as I think; this dive is sponsored by the letter D.

After returning Adeline to shore another squall hit and Mother Nature gave Furthur another bath. The girls commented on how tired and what a healthy good kind of tired diving brings. A rainy evening of movies and good food with an early to bed call ended a wonderful day.

Ko Lipe has now found its way into my heart, like so many other places. As the man said, “I shall return”.