Telaga to Phuket; Hongs and Christmas. 26 December 2010

Emerald Cave at Ko Muk.

Southern Thailand on the west coast is ‘Hong’ country! This part of Thailand, especially Phang-Nga Bay is famous for it’s scenery where limestone islands stick out of the water all over the place and provide the back drop for films (i.e. ‘The man with the golden gun’; hence, ‘James Bond Island’!!). This type of landscape is known in the rock person world as ‘Karst’ topography and the caverns and lagoons are known as ‘Hongs’, which in Thai means ‘room’.

Emerald Cave.

Ko Muk

Krabi and Thyme.

Anyway there are lots of limestone islands all over the place and heaps of them have caves, lakes and lagoons in them. This is quite spectacular from the visitation point of view, makes for interesting exploration but also makes the area quite something for mass tourism; but more later on the tourism stuff and here is the obligatory background material (off the net mostly of course).

Geology 101 in Thailand!

Karst topography is characterized by subterranean limestone caverns, carved by groundwater. The geographer Jovan Cvijić (1865–1927) was born in western Serbia and studied widely in the Dinaric Kras region. His publication of Das Karstphänomen (1893) established that rock dissolution was the key process and that it created most types of dolines, “the diagnostic karst landforms”. The Dinaric Kras thus became the type area for dissolutional landforms and aquifers; the regional name kras, Germanicised as “karst”, is now applied to modern and paleo-dissolutional phenomena worldwide.

Limestone of marine origin

This limestone is a monomineralic (one mineral) rock consisting of a single mineral (calcite) which can make up 95% of the rock. Other rocks found in marine limestone include dolomite, siderite, quartz, feldspar, mica, and various clay materials.
Fragments from the hard parts of marine animals and plants, the parts which contain calcium, form the sediment. The main sources of calcium come from algae, corals, calcareous sponges, foraminiferids (certain plankton), bryozoa (moss animals) , brachiopods (lampshells) , echinoderms (starfish, sea urchins, sea cucumbers, sea lilies) , mollusks (snails, bivalves, chitons, octopus, squid) , crustacea (barnacles, lobsters, crabs, shrimp) , and pteropods (some snails, sea slugs, abalone, cowries, limpets).
When they die, they leave behind either complete units or skeletons. Sometimes the former organism is recognizable (fossils). Other times, it is completely broken down.

How did the hongs form ?

Way back when.


Karst is limestone that features internal drainage. Most areas that have karst formations also have heavy rainfall and a thick bed of limestone with a lot of underground flowing water.

Dissolution caves are formed by dissolving limestone. These are generally the largest caves with the most interesting features, including some of the most interesting mineral deposits. The actual dissolution by rainwater occurs due to slight acidication of rainwater resulting from dissolution of carbon-dioxide, forming carbonic acid and sulphate oxidation producing sulphuric acid.

Ko Hong

But enough of the geology and back to traveling!

Ko Lipe and Longtails.

George and his birthday cake.

On Malaysia and movements north, our departure from Telaga on December 06 went according to schedule and those with more knowledge of the place than most assured us that we would be good for up to 10 days to get up to Ao Chalong and clear in. So with ten days to spare it was island and hong time. First stop of course was Ko Lipe in the Butang group only 25 odd miles away where we spent three nights shifting between anchorages and trying to avoid excessive rolling; anchorages here could be best described as ordinary and deep, try not to bang into the reef! George and Mooky left Telaga the same day as us and on the second day Richard and Susana arrived on their catamaran (Ultimate Dream), this was just in time for a tea party on Thyme and an Amanda baked cake to celebrate George’s birthday.

Nice place Lipe, plenty of tourists but more laid back then places like Ko Phi Phi, no cars here and not too many motor-bikes. On the second day we anchored the boat in a pass between Ko Lipe and Ko Adang, the latter being a national park subject to no development. There is however a resort that has been completed but is not allowed to operate as the issuing of the permit seems to have taken place under odd circumstances (fancy that). It seems that when the new Government came in as the old one departed under a cloud, the new minister wasn’t at all impressed to discover a resort in an untouchable national park. Anyway so there is this flash new resort fully equipped with bars, bungalows and caretaker, all set to go but with no people, same story, different reason! There has been discussion of the resort needing to be removed but as they say, money talks and with one resort there now, next time we pass this way one suspects there might be a couple more. The caretaker was however excellent in directing us to the ‘Pirates Waterfall’ above the resort. The story goes that local pirates used to shelter at the resort site and get water from the waterfall. If there is any truth at all in this no wonder somebody invented water makers, the walk was kind of long, up hill and the track could be best described as cryptic; hell of a way to get water!

The track to Pirates Waterfall.

Yet another waterfall; no pirates.

One keeps doing such things!

We slipped away from Lipe on the morning of the ninth headed for Ko Rok with visits along the way to Ko Kraden for lunch and Ko Muk for the obligatory ‘Emerald Cave’ visit. This was all very short hop stuff with only about 20 miles involved for the whole day. Lunch at Ko Kraden at the little beach café/restaurant was great especially watching the chef fellow racing off to get his long, chef hat as we came ashore in the dinghy.

Love the hat.

The skipper also took the trouble here to get a couple of jerries of water, no long track walks to waterfalls at Ko Kraden, why didn’t the pirates come here? Ko Muk and the Emerald Cave is a seriously nice place to have a look at and really an obligatory place for a visit for any passing yachties. The Hong here is effectively a chimney inside the island and to get in you can either swim or kayak through a 300 metre, quite small, tunnel/cave; the tunnel roof is about a metre to a metre and a half above the water. We swam and having forgotten to bring a torch we had to grope our way along the walls in total darkness, keeping to the right. Amanda took her inflatable sea-kayak along with joint supplies of wine, beer and assorted picnic foods. The best part though was when we got there not another punter in sight, we had the Hong to ourselves. What a place, sandy beach, clear water, no rubbish, trees, birds, the sun filtering down past the trees, ferns and creepers growing on the Hong walls. We finished our drinks and picnic just in time to watch a dozen life-jacket bedecked Koreans come splashing in and on the way out another very happy dozen or so from the same party were being towed in by their tour guide, all seated on their inflatable crocodile.

Ko Muk and the Emerald Cave.

It’s an interesting thing tourism in Thailand. Everywhere one might go where the place has a degree of aesthetic appeal, as soon as you have been there somebody will build a resort. At Kraden which is very quiet, as soon as we left the little beach café and we passed the east end of the island there was a resort, perhaps they quickly built it while we were there? At Ko Muk one assumes that the only reason there is no resort is that the island is too small (watch this space!!!). It’s not really the building of the resort that is the primary issue but perhaps the developers complete inability to construct something sympathetic with the landscape. Anyway tourism is very, very big here and the supply of punters apparently inexhaustible.

From Ko Muk it was only five miles to Ko Rok Nai where we went to anchor off a beach and on a lee shore. This had the skipper flapping about the conditions, which weren’t all that settled and next morning along with Thyme we had a 15 mile punch north into 20-25 knots (apparent fortunately) to get up into the lee of Ko Lanta Yai. On lee shores, it’s a very different world here compared to down south (like Bass Strait and Tasmania) where you would point blank never anchor overnight in conditions where the wind could conceivably push you ashore. Here it just seems to be a normal thing to do, probably speaks volumes about wind strength and shifts! Anyway after our somewhat nosy and rolly trip up to Lanta we dropped the pick in 5 metres of water off ‘Old Town’, half way down the east coast of Lanta.

Old Town at Ko Lanta.

More waterfalls, this time Ko Lanta.

More cryptic tracks.

We spent three nights here and the weather was crap. In fact it was so crap that a dozen boats from the Kings Cup Regatta at Kata Beach in Phuket managed to drag and go ashore (you can see it on Youtube); might have been a good idea after all to worry about lee shores!! Another boat, a 44 foot Privilege, Catamaran on a mooring at Nai Harn was converted to fiberglass splinters and scrap yacht fittings, one bow section is still there on the rocks. We of course did the motor-bike thing, played dodge the rain, went looking for yet another waterfall and the skipper managed to drop his motorbike on a very wet, clay road. Lanta though is very nice and has yet to suffer too much from the excesses of the international developers. There is also a very funky local resort with bungalows in mock-up boats and tree houses where we spent a morning waiting for the rain to go away. Old Town is especially nice with lots of old buildings and none of the in-your-face touting one sees in places like Patong or Phi Phi. Apparently Old Town used to be the main town of the region but most activity has moved to the other side of the island where the majority of the tourists and backpackers hang out.

Funky boat bungalows.

Funky tree bungalows.

The next island on our generally northern sojourn was Ko Phi Phi where we hung out with the multitudes for two days before heading up to Krabi. Phi Phi is one of the obligatory visits for the backpackers and they pour off the ferry here like there is no tomorrow. Amanda made the observation that when she came to Phi Phi 15 years ago on a diving trip there was nothing there but a beach and a few fishermen, now you can barely see the beach for the people, boats, piers, shops and deck chairs (embellishing but one gets the picture). Apparently Phi Phi was devastated by the tsunamai but has been completely resurrected since and is back to whatever one would call normal. The dive shops here are especially active at touting for business and there are lines of dive boats on the eastern side of the north facing bay on Phi Phi Don, where dive boats on moorings have people brought out by water taxi to jump straight off the back of the boat to dive under the cliffs; at night they pump the scuba bottles, kind of noisy. We spent a laid back couple of days here before deciding that we should really consider clearing into Thailand and stop being potential illegal immigrants. Oh and by the way, Phi Phi Lai is where they filmed ‘The Beach’, so of course this is now called, yes, ‘The Beach”.

Krabi and that karst country.

Clearances and Singha.

Krabi is about 20 miles north of Phi Phi and clearing in here is possible but an adventure. Like most places in Asia you must go to them and this involves finding immigration, customs and the Harbour master and though they are not hidden, locating them can be a saga; the Harbour Master in particular involved a lot of confusion, basically the locals had absolutely no idea what a harbour master was/is. But cleared in we eventually were and celebrations with a few Singha’s were the order of the day. We stayed here for two nights, one off Ar Nang beach and the other off Pha Panang were there were again the mandatory up-market resorts and rock climbing is a big feature. We did also sally forth for breakfast on the other side of the little isthmus that the resorts occupy for cheap food on the Rai Lay side of the world where the budget conscious backpackers loiter. At Krabi, Elisa and Benita went off to their own adventures but we picked up South American Puala who stayed with us until the 20th when she jumped ship and continued on with Thyme.

Strange traffic lights they have at Krabi??

Krabi, anchored off Pha Phanang.

Ko Hong.

Beaches at Ko Hong.

Between Krabi and Nai Harn on Phuket we went to four more islands, Ko Hong, Ko Panak, Ko Roi and Ko Phanang. Ko Hong is another (as one might guess) island with a big lagoon and caves and the boats arrive here en-masse and weighed down to provide the Hong experience for the multitudes. This area is part of a national park and is quite stunning. The islands are very pretty with caves, overhangs, limestone stalactites hanging down to near the water, all quite spectacular really and the view of the islands from the boats as we moved further north was getting better by the day. That night we anchored off Ko Roi and managed a BBQ on the beach till as late as the tide allowed. Ko Panak and Ko Phanang both had big Hongs with mangroves inside them and the Hong at Panak having all the appearance and sounds of a set for Jurassic Park, mangroves, birds, bats, quite eerie it was.

Ko Hong.

Ko Hong, lots of caves.

Jurassic Park stuff.

Spectacular mangroves.

At Ko Phanag the cave/tunnel goes all the way through the island with a big Hong in the middle. We managed to get both dinghies through to the Hong although this involved 400 metres of pitch-black tunnel, very shallow water and rocks, at least we brought a torch this time. The mangroves and mud in the middle proved impassable though with the tide we had available kind of messy.

Ko Phanang tunnels.

And more tunnels.

Ko Phanang, in the 'Hong', with mud!

On the 20th we bid adieu for the time being to Thyme and Puala and turned Gadfly’s bowsprit south towards Ao Chalong and Nai Harn. We dropped the pick after the 30 odd miles at Ao Sane in the NW corner of the bay at Nai Harn, right down at the bottom of Ko Phuket and slipped in to the beach café for food.

Nai Harn.

Once a catamaran!

The girls, Gini and Naomi.

This was our Christmas venue and we welcomed Gini back on board on the 22nd for three weeks break from the Danish winter, while on the 23rd sister Naomi arrived from Ko Tao on the east coast where she is becoming a dive-master. Michael left the boat on the 22nd headed ultimately for Sydney where he will start a PhD in Geophysics; always sad when crew leave after a longish stay on board but a big Bravo-Zulu for Michael getting an international scholarship. The girls in the spirit of the occasion came fully equipped with Christmas hats and tinsel and the skipper of course broke out the Langkawi, Christmas cheer.

Thyme dropped her pick 50 metres away on the 24th and much preparation ensued for the joint Christmas dinner on board Thyme. This was a big day with as usual too much food and of course too much Langkawi, Christmas cheer. The Ultimate Dream people (Richard and Susana) came over later on and much over indulging was had by all followed by midnight swimming and the skipper learning the value of a dead-man switch on dinghy, outboard motors. This was a very big night for all involved and the location scenery and fireworks display from the locals just made it all the better; as you would imagine, a lot of fun. You wish every day could be as good, just sad we will have to do it all again for New Year’s Eve at Patong; except for the dinghy thing!



The Thyme Captain; Simon.

Skipper and Amanda.

Simon and Ultimate Dream's Richard and Susana.


Definition of Stubborn according to free, online dictionary.
adj. stub•born•er, stub•born•est
a. Unreasonably, often perversely unyielding; bullheaded.
b. Firmly resolved or determined; resolute. See Synonyms at obstinate.
2. Characterized by perseverance; persistent.
3. Difficult to treat or deal with; resistant to treatment or effort: stubborn soil; stubborn stains.

Definition of stubborn according to G. Andersen.
Not letting me get my own way!!!!
Now you are twisting my words!!!

Notes on acidification.

Ocean acidification is the name given to the ongoing decrease in the pH of the Earth’s oceans, caused by their uptake of anthropogenic carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Between 1751 and 1994 surface ocean pH is estimated to have decreased from approximately 8.179 to 8.104, a change of −0.075 on the logarithmic pH scale which corresponds to an increase of 18.9% in H+ (acid) concentration. By the first decade of the 21st century however, the net change in ocean pH levels relative pre-industrial level was about -0.11, representing an increase of some 30% in “acidity” (ion concentration) in the world’s oceans.

The carbon cycle describes the fluxes of carbon dioxide (CO2) between the oceans, terrestrial biosphere, lithosphere, and the atmosphere. Human activities such as land-use changes, the combustion of fossil fuels, and the production of cement have led to a new flux of CO2 into the atmosphere. Some of this has remained there; some has been taken up by terrestrial plants, and some has been absorbed by the oceans.

The carbon cycle comes in two forms: the organic carbon cycle and the inorganic carbon cycle. The inorganic carbon cycle is particularly relevant when discussing ocean acidification for it includes the many forms of dissolved CO2 present in the Earth’s oceans.
When CO2 dissolves, it reacts with water to form a balance of ionic and non-ionic chemical species: dissolved free carbon dioxide (CO2(aq)), carbonic acid (H2CO3), bicarbonate (HCO−
3) and carbonate (CO2−
3). The ratio of these species depends on factors such as seawater temperature and alkalinity.

Dissolving CO2 in seawater increases the hydrogen ion (H+) concentration in the ocean, and thus decreases ocean pH. Since the industrial revolution began, it is estimated that surface ocean pH has dropped by slightly more than 0.1 units on the logarithmic scale of pH, representing an approximately 29% increase in H+, and it is estimated that it will drop by a further 0.3 to 0.5 pH units (an additional doubling to tripling of today’s post-industrial acid concentrations) by 2100 as the oceans absorb more anthropogenic CO2. One of the first detailed datasets examining temporal variations in pH at a temperate coastal location found that acidification was occurring at a rate much higher than that previously predicted, with consequences for near-shore benthic ecosystems.

Possible Impacts

Although the natural absorption of CO2 by the world’s oceans helps mitigate the climatic effects of anthropogenic emissions of CO2, it is believed that the resulting decrease in pH will have negative consequences, primarily for oceanic calcifying organisms. These span the food chain from autotrophs to heterotrophs and include organisms such as coccolithophores, corals, foraminifera, echinoderms, crustaceans and molluscs.
Aside from calcification, organisms may suffer other adverse effects, either directly as reproductive or physiological effects (e.g. CO2-induced acidification of body fluids, known as hypercapnia), or indirectly through negative impacts on food resources. Ocean acidification may also force some organisms to reallocate resources away from productive endpoints such as growth in order to maintain calcification. It has even been suggested that ocean acidification will alter the acoustic properties of seawater, allowing sound to propagate further, increasing ocean noise and impacting animals that use sound for echolocation or communication. However, as with calcification, as yet there is not a full understanding of these processes in marine organisms or ecosystems.

Basically it’s going to be hard for animals and plants that rely on calcification to get by in seawater more acidic or rather, less basic.</em>


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