In water: snorkeling in Thailand

Rewind to January 2011, when we escaped the snowy winter and went to Thailand. Snorkeling in Thailand was great! Most tourists snorkel the coral reefs and so did we, but we also snorkled in the rainforest(!).

Coral reefs. We went on two trips to popular destinations in the Andaman Sea. Much too popular, we think. The first company we went with ran a terrible, large scale operation with something like 8 big boats leaving from the mainland at the same time. Arriving at the extremely busy snorkel spots, the crew immediately threw the anchor and dumped food overboard to attract fish, which both are a total no-no, of course. This first trip left us with nothing but a very sad sense of exploitation. By contrast, our second trip was absolutely great! We went with Medsye, an eco conscious and very knowledgeable operator. These guys really know their stuff, and could tell us beforehand that “at this reef, you are likely to see the following species…”, with great accuracy. They also lectured us at length about how to behave on the reef so as not to disturb its various inhabitants, about the life cycles of various life forms, etc. A really great trip with a highly recommended operator!

Here I come! M jumping into the waters of Surin Island Marine National Park.

Rainforest creeks. In addition to the coral reefs, we also enjoyed snorkeling knee-deep rainforest creeks and watching freshwater ‘aquarium’ fish in their native habitat. Both dad and M are fish nerds and spent long hours studying the environments and natural behavior of the fish in the wild. What type of eco systems do they live in? What do they feed on? What other species live here?

Cool water rainforest creek.

A half-hour trek up through the rainforest right across the road from our hotel took us to this hidden jewel, a plunge pool below a small waterfall. Really nice to snorkel in with its cool, crystal clear water. Here we found three interesting species: a cyprinid, most likely Danio kerri, blue and iridescent yellow, dashing around near submersed roots and vegetation; a golden-copper colored barb, possibly Puntius orphoides, roaming the open sandy areas; and the killi Aplocheilus panchax, hiding among roots and leaf litter near the banks of the stream. The latter had fantastic colors, blue and bright orange. Much more colorful than any aquarium strain we’ve come across back home.

Exploring the aquatic fauna in the Khao Lak – Lam Ru National Park.

Another little creek emerged from the rainforest onto a ‘secret’ beach in the Khao Lak – Lam Ru National Park. Here we found at least two Rasbora species, a Badis species, and, again, Aplocheilus panchax. M & M spent a long time snorkeling and watching the fish. We also snorkeled in the sea and saw a sizeable Moray eel among the rocks. It was big enough to make the encounter a bit scary!

Ready? You bet! Let’s go look at that moray eel again…

M & M’s UPF50 swim suits provided perfect sun protection when snorkeling, swimming and playing on the beach. M & M wore their suits pretty much all the time. Mom & dad need to get shirts like these too for our next trip. We definitely want to go back!

Lush! Can you feel the humidity?

Canoeing on Immeln

We took off on a brief but exhausting and very fulfilling 2-day canoeing trip to lake Immeln. This area is sometimes called the “southernmost wilderness” of Sweden. Not quite wilderness actually, but you still get a real sense of being out there. We rented two big, clunky canoes from Immelns Kanotcenter. They were perfectly suited for beginners like us. We set out from the southernmost end of Immeln with a slight breeze on our backs. The weather was pleasant, despite the compact cloud cover and intermittent drizzle. Soft air.

M & mom paddling away northbound with a light tail wind.

In just a couple of hours worth of paddling, we reached far north (some 10 km away) with little effort. We made a few stops on islands on the way, to have lunch, to have a coffee/hot chocolate, and to just check things out, and finally landed on a small island where we set up camp for the night. Sadly, as on all of the other islands we went ashore on, there were obvious signs of frantic bushcraft with lots of trash left behind. Who are these people? What ever happened to leave-no-trace? We quickly filled a big bag with trash to bring back home. With two huge canoes and very light packs, there simply wasn’t any excuse not to pitch in and haul it out.

On the bright side of things, we also picked a cup full of golden chanterelles (Chantarellus cibarius) to supplement our dinner. The sun broke through the clouds and we all had a swim before we started cooking dinner. Wilderness or not, the water in the lake is fit to drink. Close to the shore of our little island the water was full of planktonic crustaceans (i.e. “water fleas”) that we couldn’t be bothered to sieve out, so our soup was fortified with extra protein and dietary fiber. There were also some bilberries (Vaccinium myrtillus), a.k.a. blueberries, to be found on the island, and M & M were busy grazing away for a good while after dinner.

Bounty! Chanterelles for dinner.

Later in the evening, a storm rolled in over the lake. We pulled the canoes high up on the shore and turned them upside down. It rained heavily throughout the night and the wind reached gale force, ripping violently through the tall pine trees on our little island. We were very comfortable in our shelters. The Trailstar and Tarptent Double rainbow both stood solidly in the strong wind and we slept well, dry and warm.

A storm is rolling in…

The next morning, the rain stopped but the wind just kept increasing. Lake Immeln frequently sees winds being channeled from south to north and this day was no exception to that rule. The strong headwind presented some problem to us. We tried to paddle as much as possible on the leeside of islands, which helped to some extent. We quickly learned a lot about how to and how not to handle a canoe in strong wind and choppy waves. Crossing open waters, we had to paddle steadily and stay exactly on course into the wind, or else our big, heavy canoes were rapidly swept away tens to hundreds of meters before we managed to get them back on course again. In retrospect, we should have rented only a single canoe; as things stood, with only one adult in each canoe, we were in for a real challenge to make it all the way back to the southernmost tip of Immeln. We had a close call in the shallows near an island, where sidewinds pressed us repeatedly towards the rocks, threatening a capsize. Finally, after a lot of struggle, we managed to steer the canoes straight into the wind and headed out onto open water, fully committing ourselves to a long crossing of continuous and hard paddling across the sound to the next peninsula. We made it, but by the time we reached the jetty where we returned the canoes, mom and dad were utterly spent. It had been a very long day of hard work and we all celebrated the completion of our great little microadventure with huge ice creams. Satisfaction certainly lies in the effort — but the attainment is pretty sweet too! We were all extremely satisfied with our first overnight canoeing trip.