the sandal testers have gone back to the frozen wastes of Scandinavia, leaving
me all alone with South East Asia to sweat it out here in Thailand. So,
some fun in Bangkok, and then down to the islands down south to try and
find a bit of fishing - if the nets had left any for me look for.
Lamphong Station, Bangkok, and waiting for the train to Surat Thani.
Well, I was anyway. Many of the people waiting were heading for
Chiang Mai for Thai New Year (Songkram) festivities it seems.
After one last night in Bangkok with Francois,
at the end of which he left me in a bar being accosted by a young
lady (No.28, apparently- or so it said on her bikini, and I'm sure
that wasn't her age) for a free drink. Nice eh, or so you'd think?
Until I looked down and saw a Caesarean scar emanating from her
trunk-line that resembled the zip on your average tool bag. All
things considered, and she was barely half my age at a guess, it was
time to make a sharp exit methinks...
I sat a short time later sweating and having a beer at one of the
road side stalls near the end of Soi Cowboy, surrounded by farang
tourists working down polystyrene trays of dubious looking
animal/noodle concoctions, and doing a spot of people watching (why
do most overweight, middle-aged, western kiddie-fiddlers seem to
wear socks with their sandals and insist on tucking their vest into
their shorts?), I was already considering my options down further
south... Koh Phi Phi perhaps? Maybe Krabi? Or perhaps the gulf side-
Koh Samui? Koh Pha Ngan even? And I just couldn't decide. After a
little deliberation I remembered from a previous non-fishing visit
to Koh Samui a couple of years ago that the water seemed to be
basically fairly shallow there and that I was told that deeper water
was available off the Andaman coast.
So, based on that limited
and very sketchy
information, that kind of ruled out the gulf islands - for now
anyway. But where on the Andaman coast? There was only one thing for
it: get out the map and the finger, close the eyes and make a stab
at it. As I opened my eyes to see my destination of choice, I
briefly wondered where I would be taken. A deserted tropical
hideaway I hoped, with empty, white sand beaches, quaint little
bamboo huts along the water's edge, cheap food places knocking out
bowls of tasty curries and noodles, clear blue seas full of fish...
As I waited, Timmy The Tubby Thai Boy insisted
on having his photo taken.
Apparently, he was fine while he was on a "Sherbet &
Gob-Stopper Only" diet. It was only when his parents introduced
hand grenades that his dental health really began to deteriorate.
As my eyes focused on the end of my finger, I lifted it to see where
the hand of destiny would take me... Oh
bollocks. Patong. Not quite what I was hoping for. I was faced with a
dilemma: i.e. should I bin my new, albeit temporary, 'Diceman' rule and
ignore it the first time it doesn't take me somewhere I want to go?
decided to get my vest and socks on and go and have a look anyway, much against my better
12 hours? Overnight? In an air
conditioned sleeper carriage? 618 Baht? (About 9 quid). Bargain.
lumped my monster rucksack into Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok, and
queued to order a ticket. The place was packed due to the Thai New
Year celebrations (Songkram) kicking off that weekend, but
eventually I booked a ticket to Surat Thani. Having looked at the
pricing options, I couldn't believe how cheap the cost was, so I
booked onto a 2nd class sleeper seat in an air conditioned carriage
for my 12 hour overnight journey for about 9 quid, and some couple
of hours later the train pulled out of the station at bang on the
After arrival at Surat
Thani, and another 4 and a half hours on a bus to Phuket Town
(another 120 Baht), I disembarked at the coach station to the usual
melee of taxi drivers, tuk-tuk drivers and con-artists. It's
amazing, cos it was the first time I had ever set foot in the place
in my life, and yet they were all my best friend!
Such warm people! Swatting a few of them to one side, weighed down
with all my luggage, I dragged myself clear of the crowd:
I don't want a bloody taxi, thanks for asking!"
Patong, Phuket. With the vests, donkeys and Full
English of Blackpool, but with more hookers and palm trees. Get me out
of here. Now.
is, I did, but my inbred dislike of these kind of situations gives
me a kind of 'cut off my nose to spite the face' knee-jerk reaction.
But - my cunning plan was to walk around the corner, flag down some
transport and negotiate a price less than half what the predators at
the coach station would charge! Ha haaaa!
sweaty 15 minute walk, a half hour wait in the roasting sunshine on
deserted (Songkram!) streets, a humiliating flag down of one of the
taxi drivers I had knocked back (or knocked over?) earlier, and, finally,
300 Baht later (it's the standard rate apparently...) the cab pulled
up in Patong town.
The next morning I was leaving, I'm afraid. I'm sure
if I was with some of my mates it would be really good fun, being
like Blackpool except the palm trees aren't plastic and the hookers
are about 5 stone lighter.
can honestly say I'm not one of those 'inverted travel snobs'. You
know who I mean: "Oh realllllly, but surely if you haven't eaten a
monkey's brain while staying with a local Bedouin tribe and got off
your head while sitting cross-legged in a loin cloth licking toads and
sipping palm wine then your experiences just aren't valid you
know...". But as the couple of blokes in front of me discussed
with their wives whether they would be back to the same bar for the
Full English Breakfast the next morning, only to look up from the
menu, whistle loudly, and give the startled fat bloke with the
really bad sunburn
on the opposite side of the road a synchronised middle finger each, I
realised I was yet to find my travel Valhalla in Thailand.
time the map/finger combo produced Ao Nang (well, nearest to it
anyway), a small town on the coast in the Krabi District. I had
heard of it, but knew next to nothing about it, but at least it looked a good deal
Standard picture of longtail boat in Thailand. Everyone should have one.
Krabi Rocks. Well,
actually it's fairly quiet this time of year, but the beaches are
couple of days were spent getting some bearings about the place, and the
lovely old lady who ran the guest house really did me a favour once I
had somehow communicated that I wanted some bait, and she sent me off on
a moped to the local market with one of the other ladies who worked
there so I didn't get lost. While my moped driver went off to do a
couple of errands, in amongst the crowds of people buying soap powder,
batteries, rubber gloves, light bulbs, mobile phones, MP3 players,
Durian (just what is that stuff all about?),
some Pla Mook (Squid) for glua (bait) at the market was an
experience in itself.
brains and toads (joke), I found the fish-zone ('just follow your nose
mate'), which consisted of trestle table after trestle table of all
manner of marine life: Tuna, Bonito, Queenfish, Shrimp, Mussels, Clams,
various silver fish, and mounds of the very thing I was after - Squid.
After asking for 8 of them (that means I pointed at them, said 'Pla Mook'
a lot and held up 8 fingers), and half a dozen small fish which looked a
little like Joey Mackerel, we then had to negotiate the price. This
means the lady on the stall said something. I peeled out a 20 Baht note,
gingerly. Then I peeled out another, even more gingerly, at which point
she pounced, Mantis-like, and grabbed the 40 Baht. She then handed back
a 10 Baht coin by way of change, and the deal was done. It's always best
to drive a hard bargain I find.
we had the bait, we had the technology, and it was time to do a
little bit of fishing. On my walks about the area, I had noticed a
rocky outcrop at the western end of the beach which looked like it
may produce a few bites, so decided to head up that direction. The
expedition was delayed an hour or two by a terrific thunderstorm
which swept through the town, and it rained like only tropical
monsoon rain can, but soon the evening sun was out again, and the
humidity was hitting max on the Humidimeter. I arrived, soaked with yet more
going mad for it at the Ao Nang fish farm.
the rocks with a couple of rods and my bag of bait, and
threw out a fish head on a heavy rod to a deep spot some 50 yards out
away from the rocks in the hope that some foraging scavenger like a
Stingray may find the scent, and then got to work with some tiny
strips of squid on a size 10 hook on a light rod to try and rack up
some multi coloured tropical species. In short, the deadbait rod lay
undisturbed (except for the crabs), but the light rod was rarely out
of action as a several different Snapper species raced to beat a
multitude of other Wrasse and as yet unidentified fish to the bait.
Good fun, and a nice way of spending a few hours. It was doubly
nice, because being tucked out of the way a bit
meant that not asingle person came up and offered me a boat trip, a
taxi, or a suit/shirt/tie combination for just 100 dollars! And that
in itself was a little piece of heaven.
course, as much as I enjoy catching as many species of fish as I
can, and part of my idea behind making this journey is to see just
how many I can rack up, the proper angling excitement lays with
things a little bit larger than the palm of your hand.
So with this in mind, and the fact
that if I paid 'normal' tourist game boat prices I'd be home by the end
of May, I walked the beach to see how many boatmen were about during
the daytime, lounging about like driftwood swept up the sand, but of course I had no idea what they
cost, what they should cost or what they would cost. I
sat down to think, because I just felt like I needed a starting
point, and it seemed obvious - ask someone at one of the
dive centres what the going rate should be, and then start
bargaining down to it. So, having consulted a dive shop owner, he confirmed it
should be no problem to secure, and that the going rate should be
about 800 Baht for 4 or 5 hours - fortunately bang on what I was
hoping. I took my new found inside information down to the beach the
next morning, and it took only seconds for a stony faced bloke to
approach, and after a nerve-racking few minutes of negotiation, a 5
hour trip was bought for... 800 Baht.
All aboard the Skylark,
and off we sailed out to the deep blue yonder. He wasn't the most
welcoming of skippers, but at least we were afloat. It also turned
out that he wasn't a fisherman, but again, at least we were
afloat... We spent an hour or two fishing close to some of the near
vertically sided rocks jutting out of the sea in the area, and soon
several fish were caught on the tiny 'foil' feathers which Thorke
had left for me, as they skittered across the surface surrounding
the boat- so bait was not a problem! So a livebait went out on a 20/30
class outfit, while a Blenny's head went out on a lighter set up.
Within seconds it was seized by something a little larger, and soon
a nice multi coloured snapper species fluttered into the boat.
Despite my inane mimes and best efforts I still couldn't squeeze a
smile out of our man for the picture, but at least he was good
enough to hold the thing up.
I have no idea how many
fish followed- several I know, and all of them would have looked
great in an aquarium, but after a while the bites dried up and I
looked at the boatman and said "Try Pla Isaak?". Suddenly
he looked a little more enthusiastic! The 20/30 rod was brought in
and a trace tied to the end, and a few minutes later a large Rapala
was being trolled around the rocks in an attempt to snag (literally)
Some hour or so past
without any interruption, when suddenly, just as we circumnavigated
another rock, the rod lurched over violently in my hands, and I
found myself attached to a lively Barracuda as it tried to regain
its freedom. A short but frenetic scrap later, and a few kilos of
psychopathic fish was clattering about in the bottom of the boat. As
much as I always like to practice catch and release wherever
possible or practical, in this case the fish was quite badly hooked,
making it unlikely to survive in any case, so it was
despatched to the deck
Laughing Boatman and a string of bait taken on the feathers Thorke
left for me. They really worked a treat...
bottom of the boat to meet its maker. As we
pulled ashore a short while later, we finally got a smile from the
boatman, when I did some more hand signals indicating that he could keep the fish
himself, which was a
nice way to finish the day really.
also worked for Blennies and stuff, of which this was one of the small
fish I used to catch a big(ger) fish...
The multi-coloured Snapper
still couldn't make him smile.
at last a grin... Not right away, but he did, just briefly, later on
when I told him he could take Harry 'Cuda home with him.
Next stop on the Andaman coast
was Koh Lanta Yai. Getting there involved taking a bus journey and a ferry
across from the mainland. Although relatively short (2 or 3 hours) the journey was an experience in
itself, as we sped along the road at about 80 miles an hour while the
driver ate his dinner- a chicken wing in one hand and a bag of rice in the
other- and steered with his knee. Add to this high speed overtaking on
blind corners, overtaking when someone was doing the same thing coming in
the other direction, perhaps the worst road surface in Thailand, and near
zero visibility because of the amount of dust being kicked up, and you may
get some idea of just what a white knuckle ride the whole thing was.
Eventually we pulled up at the bungalows, and
once I'd stopped hyperventilating, unloaded all the gear.
little time was spent getting some bearings around and about the place, and to be honest,
after doing so I
wasn't really sure what to make of it. On one hand it could be an idyllic
tropical island, and on the other it could have been a Manila landfill
course, everywhere you looked it was impossible to miss the evidence of
tsunami damage, but I'm not sure that all the crap laying around was
actually caused by it... Still, it was a lovely beach, lovely sea and I hoped to be able to
sort out a bit of fishing somewhere along the line. Some very cheap
accommodation was also found in the form of a bungalow right on the beach-
a lovely little place, once I'd put out the cockroaches each night.
The moped ride up and down the island had
me gasping for air as the passing trucks kicked huge clouds of dust
high into the sky, and it was all a pretty unpleasant experience as sand
and grit continually filled my eyes. But eventually reaching the village
of Saladan at the top end of the island, a search was instigated for
The insanity of
driving on the long and dusty road along the west coast of Koh Lanta.
pitch, but not as we know it.
you might think, being right next to the ocean and all that. Unfortunately
it didn't prove to be so. I asked at the couple of dive shops which were
still open & operating- they had no idea where I could buy any. So I
asked at two restaurants proclaiming that they were specialists in
seafood- surely they would know where I could buy some squid or shrimps?
Nope. Even after drawing pictures and saying Pla Mook and Koong (prawn) a lot
I still drew a blank. So, as I stood, dripping with sweat and covered in
dust looking up and down the main street, I have to say that things have
a little more hopeful! As I wandered the dusty street, one
last beacon came into focus- another cafe/restaurant with the word
'Seafood' painted in large, bright letters on the front of it. 'Here
goes', I thought as I entered. And there, in front of me were half a dozen
large polystyrene cool-boxes full of different types of fish... and some
large squid, all on ice. At last! The strange thing is that this place was
no more than 30 yards from either one of the dive shops or one of the
restaurants I had asked at, and yet none of the people I asked even
indicated it's existence. Spooky.
finally secured a source of bait, and carried out some local reconnaissance
down on the beach, it was time to secure some fishing. A couple of
evenings were spent under beautiful tropical sunsets down on the beach,
hoping that a Stingray or some other such scavenger would put in an
appearance (it didn't). However, several small and brightly coloured
species did take some small strips of squid on a light gear, which was
nice to at least have something on the end of the line and a bend in the
rod again, but looking at the vast expanse of clear blue Andaman Sea in
front of me, it was obvious that to reach anything of any kind of
substance, a boat was going to be required. And arranging this - and the
resulting day on the "ocean"- was a passage fraught with
enough frustration to... well...
lovely long beaches of west coast Koh Lanta Yai
It all started when I asked the nice lady
running the bungalows whether there were any longtail boats that could
take me out fishing on the ocean; "Pishing no problem- me get pishing
man come talk you". This sounded quite promising. An hour or two
later, this bloke turns up with a money pouch draped over his shoulder,
looking like he could actually supply you with anything and everything
from pop-socks and dusters to marijuana and Uzi's:
"You wan go pishing man?" he
sand crab lugs his dinner back to his hole.
"Yes please. Out on the ocean", I
gestured towards the deep blue sea in front of us. "You know, Pla
Isaak, Pla Kapong Daeng, Pla Mong". (Barracuda, Red Snapper, Trevally).
"Issss no problem. No problem. Ow long
you wan go?"
"Don't know - five, six hours
"Ok. No problem. Costing 4000
"Kinell!!" I spluttered, nearly
choking on my Chang Beer.
"How much you wan paying then?"
"About 500 hundred mate!", I
said, trying to bring the bartering process back onto this island.
"Ok. I go thinking. Speak you
And later he appeared. Slinking into the
coconut grove like a ferret in flip-flops. "Ok. Me do trip 2500 Baht
for you", he offered. After much to-ing and fro-ing (Jesus I hate
bartering) a price of 1500 Baht was settled on, for five hours out on the
deep blue ocean (and I was deliberately quite lucid about the 'deep blue
ocean' bit, by the way). I still wasn't confident, and I really didn't
like the bloke at all, and it was perhaps quite a bit more than I really
wanted to be paying. Still, I reasoned that if it was any good, and got me
into the right place, then it would be money worth spending. Hmmm.
So where do I start? I guess I kind of sensed all was not going to be
quite as it should be shortly after reaching the boat. Another guy sat
waiting in the longtail (obviously his mate), and once we stowed
everything aboard, off we went. Now, for some reason the boat turned right
out of the channel at Saladan, which even with very limited
the place told me we were heading east towards mainland- and therefore the
mangrove swamps covering that part of the island. Giving them the benefit
of the doubt, I hoped we were just either going to collect some bait, or
we just taking a bit of a short cut. Ten minutes later the engine cut,
right at the confluence of two narrow mangrove channels: "We trying
here for Snapper pish first", said the ferret, dropping the anchor-
which hit bottom after 0.3 seconds (give or take).
"Oh. Challow here. Still we do trying
anyway", he said with an embarrassed smile, obviously realising that
any veneer of being a local fishing guru had been shattered right away.
"I said I wanted to go out on the
ocean. Remember? You said no problem. This no good mate", I said
without any trace of a smile.
"Ok my friend. But trying here
Then go ocean. No problem".
I had two rods set up with me, one I
planned to use with deadbaits, livebaits or lures for bigger fish, and
another to use to catch a load of small species. "Oh good, you having
2 pishing line. Give me". And with that he picks up the lighter rod
and drops a bait over the side, making himself comfortable up on the bow.
Meanwhile his mate had decided to take it
easy and was already laid out in the shade catching up on his sleep, and
after half an hour I'd guess, we were both biteless, and I was bored
"I want to move to the ocean - this no
good", I reiterated.
The Tripodfish. Now that's a Wow.
Even ferret had to agree, and we pulled anchor.
Pointing at the black dollop of mud which had dripped from the anchor, I
again made the point: "This mud. Not coral sand. We need coral
sand", trying to get it as clear as possible. Again I was assured
this was no problem... At least it may not have been if the engine had
started. After another 20 minutes of banging, clattering and twisting of
wires, his mate got the rusting lawnmower engine kick-started again, and
off we spluttered through the muddy, root-lined channels.
cut a long and exasperating story a bit shorter, but basically we spent
the day fishing in water not more than about 15 feet deep, and only once
did the anchor come up without mud on it. He tried the age old trick of
taking a farang punter to an island where one of his ferrety mates had
a cafe so I could
Oh yeah, he's laughing
now... Haa... haa... bloody haaa...
Ok, guess what? Yup, the engine is knackered. So we get towed ashore and
'borrow' a jump start off a moored boat.
buy lunch- which I refused to do on the basis that it
was wasting fishing time. Then, after an awkward 10 or 15 minutes of
islanders and their kids staring at me while he disappeared to do some
business, we set off again. We caught a few fish, but certainly never came
close to targeting any of the species I had hoped for. Still his mate had
not risen from the bottom of the boat, except to squat over the side to
try and take a leak every few minutes.
"He no feeling good", said
ferret, as the other guy got up to pee for the umpteenth time. This time
though, because ferret was driving the boat, his mate had a different
position on the edge, and as he squatted down yet again he flicked up his
sari to expose his inky squid and a couple of prawn balls straight down
the boat to all and sundry.
Oh-my-word. What a situation to be put in. He
seemed to really not be worried about his indecent exposure at all, but it
was impossible not to notice them. You know how it is- you look left, you
look right, you look up, you look down, but every change of viewpoint
seems to be drawn magnetically to the display of roadkill in front of you.
It was with much relief for yours truly that he eventually flicked it back
down and laid himself out on the bottom of the boat again. The final twist
of the knife came when as we set out to move spots from one
you see fit, please
insert your own line about 'English bloke goes to Thailand and catches
another. Yup- you've guessed it, the engine wouldn't start. And this time
it stayed stopped. For ages. Finally, another fisherman was flagged down
and he towed us to an island a couple of miles away. By way of his
payment, he took several of the fish we had caught, and the one large
intact and remaining Calamari I had on ice - being a bit slack I just didn't see he had taken it until he hopped back from our boat to
his. So that knackered up the evening beach session I had planned as
West coast of Koh
Lanta- always a lovely
sundown. Guaranteed. Unless it's cloudy of course.
Mad Tony (just call me Che...) and a small reef shark, called Stew,
Eventually the boat got jump started again,
and because a. they dare not stop the boat again in case it wouldn't
start, and b. so much time had been wasted fannying about, back to dock we
When I asked for a reduction in cost due to, well,
everything, he just said "But my friend we are very, very late
back". The reasons for this were seemingly lost on him. Either that
or I suspect he was just taking the piss again! I didn't get his business card for some reason...
on the oche was Tony (not his real
name I'd guess!) who worked at the bungalows, and who came round the next day to
ask whether the fishing was any good. After answering in the negative, he
whispered (helpfully, now, thanks): "Man you go pish with no
pisherman. Only interest money (really!?!?). Good pishermen on Koh Lanta
are Sea Gypsy. You need pish wiv them. Pish night. They know where pish
course, he knew some of them and he could talk to them to arrange a night
out on the ocean for a fist full of baht.
Baby Grouper that liked the look of the
This did sound much more interesting, though, and after
a couple of chats and the exchange of a handful of dough we were on for a
full night out on the waves. And a truly unique experience it was too. We
set off a couple of hours after dark and headed perhaps 3 or 4km out to
sea (where I wanted to be before!). The evening was hot, humid and calm,
and a full moon lit up the whole landscape and ocean around us, casting
sharp shadows on the bottom of the boat. The anchor was dropped in water
25 metres deep, and as the smell of marijuana hung heavy in the air, I
opened a beer and set up a couple of rods.
a multitude of Snapper and Grouper of different species were winging their
way into the boat, and nobody was without a fish on for many minutes all
evening- nothing huge- although my deadbait anchored on the bottom set off with a
ratchet-scream at one point, only to be dropped before I could strike the
hook home. After the boys had got suitably whacked enough on their gear,
obviously the munchies kicked in, and the barbecue was rigged up and lit
for a midnight feast. Fresh Squid, first, cooked for at least 25 minutes.
I 'enjoyed' eating as much of the piece of tyre as I could before gently
dropping the rest of it over the side while no one was looking.
good", I replied, smiling, but hoping that they weren't all thinking;
"Tosser- it was overdone by at least 20 minutes...", or whatever
that is in Thai. The barbecued Snapper was excellent though - and I guess
it doesn't come any fresher.
As we sat fishing again, clouds
had gathered over the hills towards the centre of the island, and in the
far distance on the horizon, more had formed over towards the north west
in Phuket direction. Soon, as we sat afloat under the bright full moon, on
a mirror calm sea, we were treated to the most spectacular light show from
two directions as monsoon storms illuminated the skies.
"We get rain?" I asked, in that
horrible pigeon English that I seemed to have mutated into speaking since
arriving on the island (at this point I couldn't remember the last English
person I'd spoken to- there were a couple of Americans but that didn't
really help to be honest).
"Maybe. Waiting waiting- may
Suddenly a chill (and I use that word hesitantly, cos it's all relative
isn't it?) split through the air, ruffling the water's surface. Within
seconds waves replaced what had only moments before been oily calm.
"Rain come. Winding. Going".
And with that all lines and the
anchor were retrieved, the engine spluttered into life, and we were
crashing through the surf on the way back to
shore. As we cut through the
heavy whitecaps now bursting onto the beach, the hull of the boat bounced onto, and then slid up the
sand - just as we could hear the torrential rain
rattling its way closer and louder through the forest, before bursting
over us just seconds later, soaking everyone and everything to the bone in
an instant. Obviously,
this cut the night short, with it only being about 1.30am when the storm
broke. I was a little disappointed by this, but had nevertheless enjoyed
What was nice was that the next morning, Tony came to see me and check I
was happy with the trip, knowing how bad the first one was. He informed me
that his gypsy mates were disappointed too, so one of them would take me
to try for Barracuda for two or three hours one morning to make up for it.
This was a much appreciated gesture, and one that I nearly snatched his
hands off to take up.
A nice morning was spent out there again, trolling Rapalas in and out of
the nets (of which there were hundreds- again), and although we only had
the one 'Cuda that hung itself, enough marine life was also seen (also
trying to work its way in and out of the nets!) to make it all
interesting. The capture of the Barracuda itself was amusing, in that as
it neared the boat, my gypsy friend readied the gaff. I indicated that it
wouldn't be necessary, and then lifted the fish into the boat by the use
of the wire leader so I could unhook and return it to the water... at
which point, as it hung for a second or two in mid-air calming down, he
suddenly twatted the poor thing over the head with the blunt end of the
gaff like he was trying to slap it for a home run. Oh well...
So that's about it this far. I have since moved on from Koh Lanta, but
have only just got round to writing this load of waffle (please bear with
me...). I'll update soon, if anyone is interested, once I get a chance.
Sea Gypsy Dude
- "You wanna see me play baseball".
Tony (not his real name I'd guess)
barbecues some fresh (and I mean proper fresh) Snapper.
Koh Lanta sea gypsy shows off a
Snapper taken on a handline.
The delivery boy from Cuda Hut was late as