I was rudely awoken by banging outside. It sounded like someone dropped a few empty soda cans on our porch, so I jumped up to make sure some drunk guy or our neighbor who ate a magic shroom brownie at Mong Bar last night wasn’t trying to get into the wrong bungalow. But we’re in Thailand. I hadn’t even considered the possibility that a wild family of monkeys would be tearing through the trash bag on our balcony and the one down below. The three little dudes on our balcony didn’t seem to mind me staring at them, standing behind the protection of the bungalow door of course. A monkey lunged and hissed at me two nights ago as I drove by on my scooter, and I already don’t trust them, so I was expecting an attack.
They wanted food, not trouble, and went back to eating the loaf of bread they scored. Babies were swinging from an electrical line, the females were distributing the random bits of loot. I even saw some impromptu monkey sex that resulted in a very unhappy female monkey.
We spent the majority of the day on a long tail boat having our most touristy experience yet: a snorkeling tour of four local islands, including the Emerald Cave. It was a perfect day to be on a boat, in and out of the water.
The snorkeling wasn’t that great. We saw some schools of fish and had fun playing in the water finally. They served us a chicken green curry lunch which was enjoyed over conversation with two young British lads about the Royal Wedding, US healthcare, and the rules to Cricket.
The Emerald Cave alone was worth the price of the tour (850baht). I’ve never seen anything like it. We almost didn’t do the tour because one traveler we met called it “tourist hell” and I’d say that’s not too far from the truth.
We pulled up to the rocky side of a random island where a dozen other boats were anchored and were immediately approached by a boat of camouflage wearing park rangers collecting the mandatory state park fee of 50THB per person to swim into the cave.
They made us ditch the mask and snorkel and put on bright orange life vests. Mark that down as a good Thai idea, because I’m sure about a dozen people a day would drown from panic if they had to swim the long, dark cave on their own. And here’s a travel tip I wish someone would have mentioned: bring your own underwater/waterproof flashlight for this. I don’t mean go out and buy one specifically for it, but if you’re a diver and have a light, bring it.
Our guide had one and used it partly to shine up the cave walls to show us the eerie landscape and huge colonies of bats, and partly to keep a general “eye” on us, even though I doubt he ever did a proper head-count.
On our way in, for the first 100 meters or so, the sunshine was coming in under the rock walls of the cave and creating a beautiful, glowing emerald hue in the water. As we swam deeper into the winding cave it got darker and darker until there was no light other than the flashlights. Going inside was chaotic because several other groups were trying to swim out. Bobbing heads and orange life vests and kicking legs were everywhere. Had there been more than one way to go, people would be getting lost all the time. I saw a few tour companies that lined their people up into conga lines and made them swim through while holding each other. Our dude didn’t give a shit, we just went for it and it was much more relaxed and comfortable that way.
The cave was maybe 12-20 feet wide at parts, and had a ceiling peak ranging between 30-70 feet. The sound reminded me of being at Disneyland as a kid and riding the Matterhorn or Space Mountain or Pirates of the Caribbean. The wind and water and voices echoed in that creepy familiar way that certain roller coasters do.
After 7 or 8 minutes the cave began glowing emerald again as we reached the end. It opened up into a fully enclosed tropical beach paradise. The only way in would be through the cave or to rappel or jump in.
We didn’t stay in the secret beach area for long because a choo-choo train of about 75 Chinese tourists came through the tunnel and it became very clear that it was time to go.
Our way back through the tunnel was amazing. No other groups were coming or going. It was quiet with only the sounds of the lapping water and gusting wind echoing through. I lingered last of our group and found delight in looking back and seeing nothing but black abyss. One of the most unique experiences of the trip, hands down. Loved it.
The ride back to Koh Lanta on the long tail was, well, long. Everyone was sleeping. Nick and I hit the hay fairly early due to an early pick up to leave the island in the morning. On to new adventures.