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Ysterday was yet another activity-filled day as I joined Silvio, his brother Mateo, and Mateo's wife (who is also Lek's sister) on a speedboat excursion to some of the many islands that dot the Phuket Sea. For only 1100 baht (approx. $28) per person, we were picked up by air-conditioned minibus at 7:30 for the 45-minute drive to the harbor in Phuket Town, taken to five or six islands for sightseeing, swimming, snorkeling, etc., given a huge buffet lunch, and then returned to the hotel a bit before six in the evening. A bargain!

The other passengers in the minibus included three guys visiting from Seattle. I talked to them for much of the trip to Phuket Town as this was the first chance I'd had for almost a week to converse with someone who understood English well enough so I didn't have to keep repeating myself. One of the guys has family who live in Portland and recommended some places to look for nice apartments there.

The staging area for the various speedboat tours was very well-organized. With many minibusses all arriving at the same time and many different tour itineraries, the operators were very efficient at getting everyone onto the correct boats. Once you got off the minibus, a person looked up your group name on his clipboarded list, giving you a color sticker to put on you shirt. Our boat was the purple sticker. They then ushered you into a building where you paid your tour fee. After a very short wait, another person gathered everyone with a certain color sticker and lead you to your boat.

The boats were tied up along the waterfront, stern first. We descended a short flight of steps from the pier and walked across a strip of sand before climbing onto our twenty-passenger speedboat. I took a seat in the bow (which turned out to be a very bumpy ride when skimming over the wavetops) along with several people visiting from South Africa. Some of the other nationalities represented by our boatmates included Russian, Japanese, British, and French.

Our first stop was Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi Lay, where "The Beach" starring Leonardo diCaprio was filmed. We were one of the first boats to arrive so it wasn't crowded yet. We were given 30 minutes to explore that part of the island and to swim. After taking some photos of the beach and bay, I followed Silvio up a jungle path for a ways to a small pool of water at the base of some tall cliffs. It was very scenic.

After reboarding the boat, we were whisked around the southern tip of the island to Lo Sanah Bay but did not stop here. A journey along the eastern shores of Koh Phi Phi Lay brought us to Pileh Bay and it's beautiful lagoon where we were given 40 minutes to snorkel. I was given a mask and snorkel but not having done it before I tried to get someone to show me. Finally, I just climbed off the stern of the boat and paddled to the side to get my mask adjusted. I had just managed to get it on but hadn't yet put the snorkel in my mouth when I was hit from above by someone jumping in. I went all the way to the sea bottom, swallowing a lot of water on the way. Apparently, the Russian felllow had decided to jump off the boat despite warnings not to do so. The crew was busy trying to explain to him about the "out" and "in" ladders and didn't bother with me as I climbed back aboard gasping for air. But Mateo's wife had seen what had happened and clucked over me like a mother h!
en. I just laughed it off, there was no purpose in getting angry over the incident and I'm sure the language barrier was more at fault than anything else. I would recommend that the crew give some basic instruction and rules to the entire group before handing out the equipment, however.

Next, we raced across to Phi Phi Don Island where we pulled into several bays for photo ops but didn't get off the boat. These included the main town of Phi Phi, which was completely destroyed by the tsunami and you can still see the scars high on the trees, a series of cliff caves where the swallows' nests are harvested for bird nest soup (very expensive at 40,000 baht - almost $900 per serving!), and a small beach where there was dozens of monkeys entertaining the sunbathers.

I'm not exactly sure where we stopped for lunch but it was a long beach fringed by huge palm trees with a couple of resort hotels. Lunch was a massive buffet just off the beach with all sorts of interesting items. I put a little bit of each hotplate item onto my plate and soon had no room for anything from the fruit or dessert platters. I did add a salad plate and made a king-size salad with that orange dressing I've fallen in love with here (looks like a creamy thousand island but certainly doesn't taste like it!) and topped that with pineapple slices. I had water to drink because if you wanted anything else you had to purchase it from one of the resorts and be charged resort prices. Silvio ordered a "watermelon cocktail" for 100 baht and found that all it was was watermelon juice squeezed into a fancy glass. "For 100 baht, I could buy 10 whole watermelons," he exclaimed.

After lunch, we cruised to Koh Kai, very close to the town of Krabi on the Thai mainland. This island consisted of a few tree-coverered bumps of limestone and the rest was one huge beach. We stopped here for two hours of snorkeling, swimming, and relaxation. The four of us rented beach chairs with umbrellas and spent much of the time just laying there. I actually dozed off at one point. I think I'll wait until I can upload my photos before attempting to describe the beauty of the tree-covered islands, the clearness of the deep green and blue waters, and the intense whiteness of the sandy beaches. Mere words will never do them justice anyway.

At 4:00, we were ushed back on board our boat and sped westward across the Phuket Sea back to Phuket Town. Along the way, we encountered a number of fishing trawlers and several tramp steamers and larger cargo ships. At the dock, we were once again met with the model of efficiency as we were reconnected with the correct minibus to return us to our hotel.

I almost forgot about the souvenir photos: as you were about to board the boat a photographer snapped your picture. Now, as you disembarked the photos were on a table for you to purchase if you wanted. They were affixed to a plastic frame, complete with stand, and cost 100 baht. Mateo found mine and I purchased it; it wasn't until I returned to the hotel that I looked closely at the photo - it's probably the worst picture of me ever as I have a look on my face of intense pain, probably from my burned feet. It's funny, though, because it accurately captures the moment.

Mateo, his wife, and I had planned to attend the spectacle/show at PhantaSea upon our return but we got stuck in traffic in Patong and made it back too late. We'll go tomorrow night instead.

We had a dinner of giant prawns in garlic sauce served over rice made my Lek. Another awesome - and free - meal.

I played pool with Mateo for a short while and turned in rather early. I have no idea what I'll do during the day today other than transferring yet another memory card full of photos to CD. Perhaps I'll check out a travel agency and book a tour. I'm actually a bit worn put but I still need to find some monkeys and elephants.

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