Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Borobudur: A Sprint to Nirvana

A serene Buddha Image on the upper terrace of Borobudur.

Borobudur was once described by French Scholar Albert Foucher as a "badly risen cake, of which the extent of its failure to rise is matched only by the over embellishment of its decoration." Today the world's largest Buddhist monument continues to rise out of the ashes that once buried it, attracting over a million visitors annually.

Story and pictures by Prisana Nuechterlein

When I was invited to join a tour heading to Borobudur, the world’s largest and most impressive Buddhist monument, I had imagined spending most of the day leisurely exploring the stunning architectural masterpiece. Instead, when our tour guide announced that we would only be viewing the monument for one hour, I honestly was in shock. We had been given hours to shop for batiks and handicraft items, and yet here we were on the threshold of one of the Seven Wonders of the Modern World and the time allotted to actually see it was incomprehensible. 
Additionally, I was there to photograph and write about the famous Indonesian site for the Bangkok Post and wondered how I could possibly take the images I needed in only one hour? It was over a kilometer just to reach the top of the transcendental sanctuary. I grabbed my camera equipment and literally started sprinting up the ancient stone terraces, stopping every so often to take pictures of the intricate relief panels. 

Stone galleries depict the story of Buddha.

Rising 15 meters above the fertile Kedu Plain, the monument’s site was chosen where “the gods are seen at play” directly in the center of the Indonesian island of Java. Bright green rice fields surround the monument, dominated by Mount Merapi’s cone and the jagged Menoreh mountains. Of the two sets of neighboring twin volcanoes, Mt Merapi alone remains active.

Built during the reign of the Sailendra dynasty, Borobudur predates Angkor Wat by nearly three centuries. Archeologists are uncertain what inspired Java’s most powerful family (whose name meant “Lord of the Mountains”) to build the monument between AD 778-856. Nearly a century after its completion, “The Legendary Temple of a Thousand Buddhas” was nearly buried under a shroud of volcanic ash when Mt Merapi erupted violently. 

The “re-discovery” of Borobudur to the Western world occurred in 1814, when English Lieutenant-Governor Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles was informed of a great ruined temple lying deep in Java’s interior. Raffles, a brilliant scholar and historian, immediately dispatched H.C. Cornelius, his Dutch engineer to investigate the site. Under his supervision 200 men worked steadily for nearly a month and a half, removing the thick growth of vegetation and layer of earth until a clear outline of the elaborate monument emerged.

In the following years, Borobudur suffered nearly a century of decay, plunder and abuse. Finally in 1900, the Dutch government established a committee for the preservation and restoration of the massive monument. The immense task of reconstruction was entrusted to Thadeus Van Erp, an ingenious 28 year old Dutch military engineer with an avid interest in Javanese antiquities.

Van Erp began his work by spending the first seven months excavating the plateau around the monument’s foot. Buried beneath 1.3 meters of earth was an impressive collection of Buddha heads, gargoyles, lions and decorative items. Extensive restoration of all the balustrades, niches, lower stairs and gates ensued. Collapsed walls were straightened and sunken stupas rebuilt. More than half of the upper 72 stupas, (many of which had been destroyed by looters) were remade out of new stone due to the scarcity of original material.

Although Van Erp accomplished the reconstruction in a relatively short period of time, between 1907 and 1911, his ambitious plans for permanent reconstruction were never realized due to the intervention of two world wars and a depression. Indeed, Van Erp grew so attached to his “old grey pile of rocks” that he was later buried close to the monument. His body, however, has since been removed.

Some 60 years after Van Erp’s restoration efforts, Borobudur’s outer walls began to bulge causing immense concern over its structural doom. Alarmed by its inevitable destruction, a “Save Borobudur” campaign was launched in 1968, which was later supported by UNESCO. After a decade of arduous work and over US$25 million was invested on the Borobudur Restoration Project, President Suharto officially announced the completion in 1983, saying: “It is now to be hoped that Borobudur will live a thousand years more.”

In total there are six square terraces leading to three circular platforms, forming what has been described as “a prayer in stone”. 

Over 1,000 relief panels can be seen at Borobudur.

The story of Prince Siddhartha, from his glorious birth to his first sermon as Guatama Buddha in Deer Park, is portrayed on thousands of bas relief panels on galleries circumnavigating the terraces. Scenes depicting his previous incarnations and the life of the Bodhisattva emerge in rich artistic style, showcasing a beautiful mythical world unfolding with dancers, musicians, saints, ships and elephants. 

Above the balustrades are 432 stone Buddhas placed in niches, conveying the image of hermits meditating in caves upon a mountain top. The presence of the Dhyani Buddhas gazing outwardly, each displaying one of six mudras or symbolic hand positions, inspired an interpretation of Borobudur as a “cosmic vihara, a monestary of perfected Buddhas meditating on the universe.” 

The upper three circular terraces support 72 bell-shaped perforated stupas, each of which encloses an “invisible” Buddha image that can only be seen by peering into the diamond-shaped openings. Two tranquil Buddha images, with their stupas dismantled attract the most attention from visitors. When visitors finally reach the top of the monument they symbolically enter the formless world of pure knowledge and perfection. 

Picture by Trey Ratcliff

An aerial view of Borbudur clearly shows its spectacular mandalic design. In Sanskrit "mandala" means both circle and center. Seen as a mandala, the sacred monument's square terraces may symbolize the man-made world, while the upper round terraces; the infinite cosmos. Mandalic concepts were extremely important to ancient Javanese Buddhists as geometric tools for meditation, interpreted as universal symbols of integration, harmony and transformation. In this sense, Borobudur represents the world's most powerful and dramatic mandala.

Unraveling the mysteries of Borobudur has mesmerized archeologists ever since its discovery. Although many questions may never be resolved, what remains clear is that Borobudur was created as a magnificent visual representation of man's spiritual journey toward enlightenment; a journey that takes time and would be best embarked upon without sprinting.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Ultimate Wreck Diving in Coron Bay

Coron Bay, Philippines

Coron Bay, is one of the Philippine’s top diving destinations, attracting wreck diving enthusiasts from around the world.

By Prisana Nuechterlein

Over a few San Miguel beers, I made my decision – I would definitely dive the wrecks of Coron Bay. I was sitting with Gunter Bernert, the founder of Discovery Divers and Coron Bay’s foremost wreck-diving expert at his waterfront dive shop, having just arrived in the Palawan area the day before.

“When I first sailed here in 1989,” recalled Gunter, “I learned of the wrecks purely by accident from some local fishermen.” Much to his surprise, he later discovered that the bay area’s wrecks included a sunken fleet of 24 Japanese warships from World War II.

Among Gunter’s prized possessions, are aerial photos of the Japanese ships, taken only minutes before the American bombing raid. The pictures clearly disproved an apocryphal story that the ships had been camouflaged as islands. According to the old rumor, the ships were detected by American renaissance planes after aerial shots showed that a few of the “islands” apparently had moved.

“Someone made up this great story,” explained Gunter. “And for years everyone believed it as fact.”

A Letter From The Last Remaining Survivor

Flipping though his files, he excitedly handed me a letter that he received from the last remaining survivor of the victorious World War II air squadron: former gunner Ralph Johnson. Mr. Johnson’s own amazing story of that day is as compelling as the wrecks themselves.

In vivid detail, he described the extremely bold U.S. air raid on September 24, 1944, which involved a total of 120 fighter planes. Launched from the Pacific, the squadron flew 356 nautical miles (in the longest ever attempted air raid at that time) and successfully sank the entire convoy of Japanese warships.

In the final moments of the one-day bombardment, Mr. Johnson’s own plane was shot down, and for three months the young gunner and his pilot hid out in the remote islands until their rescue. Although Gunter has attempted to locate Mr. Johnson’s plane, its final resting place is still a mystery.

An Eerie Darkness

Slowly we descended into the haunting dark realm, diving back in time over 70 years. The visibility was so poor, I nearly landed on the massive wreck before actually seeing it. I followed my dive master Eric over the coral encrusted ship and noticed an unusual amount of scorpion fish. The spines on there dorsal fins can cause extreme pain if you touch them, but even though they are masters of camouflage, it is extremely rare for divers to accidentally bump into them.

When we reached the middle of the ship, I saw a gigantic hole large enough to drive a big truck through. Before entering the wreck, Eric stopped to make certain I felt comfortable venturing inside. I nodded a firm “yes”. The swimthrough was easy to navigate, well-lit and ideal for my first penetration.

After lunch we anchored on top of the awesome Olympia Maru, a mammoth 150 meter cargo ship that lies only 14 to 18 meters under the water. The visibility was better there, although still poor. I followed Eric inside the ship’s massive cargo hold — an eerie , overwhelming space that plunged suddenly into pitch darkness. Floating above the mysterious black void was a daunting experience and only then did I get my first true feeling of how gigantic the ship really was. From the cargo hold we finned onward through a wide tunnel penetrated by shafts of light.

Once outside the ship, we visited Eric’s friend: a small lobster. The colorful artificial reef was inhabited by numerous species of marine life; lionfish, clownfish, groupers, batfish, parrotfish and large scorpion fish.
At the end of the leeward side of the wreck, Eric stopped and “stood” sideways, holding onto the ship’s deck rail and saluting me. Then it was time to leave the hidden war of over 70 years ago and return to the surface.


Getting to Coron Bay

Coron Island is located in northern Palawan in the Philippines, approximately 310 km southwest of Manila. From Manila’s international airport, take a 20 minute taxi ride to the domestic airport.
  • Philippine Airlines runs daily flights to Puerto Princesa from Manila.
  • Air Philippines offers the same route.
  • Seair (South East Asian Airlines) flies daily to the YKR Airport in Busuanga, in the Calamians; and also runs flights to El Nido, Puerto Princesa and Cuyo.
  • Asian Spirit flies to Busuanga, Puerto Princesa and Taytay.
  • Charter flights are also sometimes available into airports such as El Nido.


The high season for diving runs from March to June. Tropical weather is enjoyed year round.

A Letter from Burma

Prisana in Rangoon, 1996

A writer's struggle with what it means to be free.


Author's Note: A relevant letter from the past followed by present thoughts on Myanmar and freedom.

October 17, 1996

Dear Eric,

I'm flying over some barren brown Burmese mountain tops on our way to a primitive place called Heho. Although we have only been here 3 days, it feels like 3 months since I last saw you leaving the parking lot in Bangkok. I went outside on the balcony to watch you leave, but you had already gone.
You've been on my mind ever since then...I've been trying to act OK and so far have managed not to drift off too much into my own head, however it has been difficult being here with my head elsewhere..."Headless in Burma."

Yangon or Rangoon (I prefer Rangoon) is a charming city, much nicer than I imagined it would be. We went to the DAB bar that R recommended and met the manager Brent and had a few drinks...AJ was elsewhere.

My brother-in-law Cyro

I can't believe we're already landing! The landscape here is entirely different than what we have seen so far. Rugged mountains, more brown than green, perhaps victims of deforestation or maybe just not enough rain.

We only spent the first night in Rangoon and then flew out the next morning to Bagan, a magical backwards place, an ancient dusty land of pagodas and striking sunsets. The dry air reminded me of Koh Si Chang. Cacti, palm trees and horse carts.

We hired two horse carts for the day. The horses had no names, only numbers. No...mine was not 69. I asked the driver his favorite color. He said that it was Yellow, so I named his horse Yellow Sun. In Burmese you say Wansunny. "Malingalaba means Good Morning."
We've landed...more soon.

My Brazilian niece.

We're back at Heho airport. Yesterday was amazing. After landing we hired a car and drove nearly two hours to Pindaya cave that houses an estimated 9,000 Buddha images. On route we stopped at a village to take a break. It was market day and the villagers acted as if they had never seen foreigners before. We bought some shoes while a group of sixty peasants gathered around us.

Two hours more and we arrived at Inle Lake at sunset. There were a number of gaudy Chinese style hotels, but we were in search of something more cozy when we finally discovered the perfect place called 4 Sisters Inn. Dinner was by candle light and they even made us gaucamole! The bill for our delicious meal was "as you wish...as you like."

The next morning Sister #2 asked me; "Sister, how being your egg?"..."Sister...your boat is here."
I actually had been awake since 4 am, awoken by some energetic roosters crowing at the full moon. By 6:30 am, we were out on the misty and glassy calm lake. We passed fishermen rowing their boats with one leg, swimming water buffaloes, villagers bathing and children walking arm in arm along the river bank. Flocks of birds were everywhere, flying above us and over nearby boats.

The morning was incredibly cold. My feet quickly went numb even though I had taken a thick blanket from the Inn. After an hour we arrived at Jumping Cat temple, where an old monk greeted us with a warm smile, treats and hot tea. The tea tasted awful but made a good hand warmer. The temple on stilts was 200 years old and built entirely of wood. Cats roamed everywhere. The monk brought a hoop out and showed us how his cat could jump through it.

The hours pass by with games of Hangman with my niece and villagers playing takraw nearby. We are waiting for yet another delayed plane. The planes here are always, always late. A lanky Burmese man just came up to me to ask me what I was writing. I told him poetry. He gazes down at my notebook and tells me that the planes are always late because of the "snow in Rangoon." I tell him he must mean fog. He reassures me that he means "snow". He walks away and it dawns on me that he is talking about heroin shipments. 

Beneath Burma’s Yellow Sun

A yellow sun is setting over the ancient temples of Bagan, where out of the midst and dusty plain,
#89 clip clops down the dirt road.

Won Oou smokes his cigar and tells us
about the "ass crack" in 1975.
"Ass crack?"...a moment later we realize he is saying: "Earthquake."
We laugh with relief...followed by silence.

The Ayeyarwady River flows to the Sea,
roosters crow and fires burn,
flowing robes; pink, red and saffron.
My Brazilian brother-in-law searches for shoes...
I search for the right quote...

"Rivers and roads lead people on." ~ Georgia O'Keefe ~

Hidden tortures lie beneath a dream-scape of peace and tranquility.

This dream-scape story offers you a glimpse of Burma, void of the endless conflicts that lie behind these peaceful scenes. While we drift on this calm and tranquil lake, innocent Burmese are being killed and tortured by the brutal military regime that reigns over this broken country. For years, I struggled with my decision to visit Burma, supporting The Lady Aung San Suu Kyi in her steadfast declaration that tourists should: "Stay out of Burma. "Tourists are merely keeping the present regime in power," she warned, so out of respect, I waited...hoping that eventually there would be some sign of progress. After years of waiting and seeing nothing that indicated even baby steps toward Democracy, when I had the chance to see Burma in 1996, I jumped through the hoop like the Cat and landed in a place more Wonderland than you could ever imagine. What a vast difference it is to see, smell and taste a place first hand...the sensual trip of visiting a place rather than the distant armchair experience.


Truth can free us and imprison us.

The letter to my husband never ended...there were pages torn and missing from my worn Burma notebook...I have no idea where they went, or how they were lost? What I do remember is that Eric and I were losing each other when I left for Burma and for years after my return, we struggled to find that peaceful union between two souls...it would be decades of what someone once described as a Half Leaf love, only he used the word "Democracy".

My unfinished letter remained buried among pages and pages of notes about SLORC and Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize-winner who was still under house arrest at the time of my visit. My editor at the time was envious of me and told me that he was forbidden ever to enter Burma. "You are lucky," D said. "You are free to go anywhere. Still, I don't regret what I wrote...even if it closed the door for me to a country that I love. My intention was to help the Burmese and if my words helped them in their struggle for freedom, than it was worth it."

Prisana at a Burmese Refugee Camp in Thailand in 2012

What it really means to be free.

I am free to go anywhere, because I don't have the courage, insight, nor the immense knowledge of my editor. I admire D for what he has written and the risks that he has taken. D -- if you ever find this letter, excuse me for paraphrasing what you actually said. The truth can free us and imprison us. If we write the truth, we take great risks. Look at Snowden. Will the world really change now that we know what we already knew? Was it that big of a surprise that the NSA has and always had full access? It certainly was something I suspected from the beginning of email, or even before, when my NASA friends first explained the concept a decade before email became a public form of communication.

My story of Burma will never end. For as long as I live, I will dream of returning and of seeing my special little ones; the Burmese children that my husband and I cared for and cherished and their lovely parents. In spite of everything that they have suffered and endured, their spirit is always free. They sing in the face of adversity and have taught me what it really means to be free.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Tiger Woods: Up Close in Thailand

Tiger Woods at the Johnny Walker Tournament

Photojournalist Prisana Nuechterlein gets up close with Tiger Woods in Thailand. An uplifting account in the midst of Tiger's great fall.

Story and pictures by Prisana Nuechterlein  

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Ball

“Have you seen my ball?” Tiger Woods asks me. I’ve been following him for a few hours, shooting pictures of the Johnny Walker Tournament for my publisher. I can’t seem to utter a word in reply and begin looking in earnest for Tiger’s ball. Of course, I am not alone in this quest. There are now at least 7 of us searching for the lost ball.

Earlier in the day, I had met Tiger’s father, Earl Woods, as he was riding around in a golf cart. The former Green Beret lieutenant colonel was all smiles and shook my hand with great strength when I introduced myself as “Prisana.”

“Are you a luk kreung?” he asked me incredulously, recognizing that my name was Thai. This was perhaps the millionth time, that I have been asked if I am half Thai, because although my mother is Thai and my father is Italian; I look 100% farang (foreign in Thai). Tiger on the other hand, definitely looks hasip-hasip (50-50 in Thai). Much easier than saying that he is: “25 percent Thai and 25 percent Chinese from his mom, Kutilda Woods; 25 percent African-American, 12.5 percent American Indian, and 12.5 percent Caucasian Dutch from his dad, Earl Woods” as stated in an article titled; Thais that Bind by Dave McKenna.

Earl Woods in Phuket 1998

A birdie, a bogie and an eagle. Oh my!

While I have occasionally visited a driving range, my knowledge of golf is practically nil. This was obvious to Tiger’s mother Kultilda (a Thailand native), when I asked her what a birdie was? She couldn’t have been more kind and patient, explaining to me about a birdie, a bogie and an eagle, as we sat on the greens enjoying the Phuket sunshine and watching her son hit what appeared to be super-natural shots.
For three surreal days, I stalked Tiger and South Africa’s Ernie Els, along with some other fearsome competitors at the Blue Canyon Country Club, the hosts for the Johnny Walker Tournament in 1998. Those were the glory days, when writers following Tiger, didn’t fret about whether to title their article: Tiger Woods: Up Close in Thailand, or Tiger Woods: Up Close in Thailand, but not that close!

Tiger's Great Fall

I have to admit, I was quite saddened by Tiger’s fall from perfection, but not all that surprised. Phuket is a small island, and the coconut wire was hot on Tiger’s trail following his every movement back in 1998. One night, (according to Coconuts in the know) Tiger ventured into Phuket town to let a bit of his bad boy side out and though the details were sketchy...when I asked him the following day; "Did you have fun last night in Phuket town?" Tiger about tripped over his golf club.

This was my second day following Tiger, and my nerves had calmed down immensely since the morning of his lost ball. He gave me a surprised smile and regained his cool stride, intrigued for a moment by my knowledge of his night out on the town.

I suppose what I find hard to believe is that it took so long for Tiger’s secret world to implode. Fourteen mistresses is a hard number to manage. And yet, the world was none the wiser until that fateful day in Tiger’s life, when everything turned upside down.

The Tiger I witnessed back in 1998, was at the height of his game and his life, beating Ernie Els in an astonishing comeback, that amazed everyone watching - including Els, who had been leading the tournament. I’d like to think that perhaps I had some small part in his comeback, due to an observation that I shared with his body guard on day two of the tournament.

Ernie Els

Zen and the Art of Tiger

Tiger was preparing himself for a swing, when the sound of bird calls distracted him to the point of obvious frustration. I wondered if Tiger had ever studied Zen before and asked his bodyguard to pass on a message to him about studying Zen to improve his game. The following day, his bodyguard told me that my message was relayed and that: “Tiger told me to throw you into the nearest pond.”

Tiger in the woods with Mike "Fluff" Cowan, his first caddie.

Tiger Wood’s Second Coming

I think back to those moments of humour and awe and the less tabloid-rich life that Tiger once lived. Before sadly losing his father, (who was also his best friend) to cancer in 2006; and before a large part of his private life unravelled for all the world to dissect. Perhaps the root of his disastrous great fall lies within this quote which his father shared with Sports Illustrated:

“He's the bridge between the East and the West. There is no limit because he has the guidance. I don't know yet exactly what form this will take. But he is the Chosen One. He'll have the power to impact nations. Not people. Nations. The world is just getting a taste of his power." 

Johnny Walker Tournament at Blue Canyon Country Club

 The Chosen One

His father may have had the best of intentions, but what mere mortal could live up to being called, “The Chosen One?” The Tiger I watched for three glorious days, was an amazing athlete with supernatural abilities – but he was not The Chosen One. He was just a young man, who made Thailand proud and gave the world his best.

Conversely, in the nearly 2 years since Tiger was caught cheating with a harem of women, “he has lost four major sponsors, changed swing coaches, was divorced from his wife and now has cut loose his caddie, ” writes Doug Ferguson.

In spite of all these setbacks, I have no doubt that Tiger will make an impressive comeback, even more spectacular than on that unimaginable day in Phuket. He just needs to practice a bit more Zen and all will be right in his world.

Official Tiger stalkers - Prisana Nuechterlein on right. Picture by Matthew Burns


Blue Canyon Country Club
Address: 165, Moo 1, Thepkasattri Road, Thalang Phuket 83110
Tel:  +66 (0)7632 8088 
Tour Available: Blue Canyon Country Club

Red Mountain Golf Club
: Kathu district, between Kathu village and Kathu waterfall
Tel: +66 (0)76-322000-1
Tour Available: Red Mountain Course

Laguna Phuket Golf Club
Address: 34 Moo 4, Srisoonthorn Road, Cherngtalay Thalang, Phuket 83110
Tel:  +66 (0)76 324 350
Tour Available
: Laguna Phuket Golf Club

Loch Palm Golf Club
Address: 38 Moo 5 Vichitsongkram Rd., Kathu District, Phuket , Thailand. 83120
Tel: +66 (0)76 321 929-34
Tour Available: Loch Palm Golf Club

Phuket Country Club
Address: 80/1 Moo 7, Vichitsongkram Raod, Katu, Phuket 83120
Tel: +66 (0)7631 9200-204
Tour Available: Phuket Country Club

Sunday, October 6, 2013

A Paddling Misadventure in Khao Tao, Thailand

Stunning Khao Tao Reservoir, Thailand

By Prisana Nuechterlein

A paddling misadventure story set in beautiful Khao Tao, Thailand. The idyllic fishing village of Khao Tao is an off the beaten path trip well worth taking.

My family's love affair with the idyllic fishing village of Khao Tao, located just 15 kilometers south of Hua Hin, began two generations ago when my grandfather first took up residence there, building a charming wooden Thai beach house on Khao Tao beach. We spent countless glorious days at the beach house; crab hunting, picking pineapples and collecting marvelous seashells for hours on end.

Sadly, the beach house has long since been torn down, but in recent years we have once again taken up residence in Khao Tao – not on the beach, but within walking distance to Had Sai Noi, another well known smaller beach located just minutes from Khao Tao beach.

My beautiful mother strolling on Khao Tao Beach. 

We are also within walking distance to stunning Khao Tao Reservoir, where a truly scenic winding pathway takes you past exotic floating lotus gardens and is perfect for sunset strolls and a few Singhas or Leo Beers with the local residents. Our sunset “bar” consists of a simple table and a few chairs in front of a popular mini-mart.

Had Sai Noi Beach

For years, Had Sai Noi beach was our own private playground. We were indeed spoiled and the only critters challenging us for beach space were a few hermit crabs. Today, the beach still has a secluded feeling even though there are plenty of umbrellas and beach chairs available for rent and masseuses for hire, along with a few beachfront restaurants. There is even a Mermaid statue watching over “our” beach, keeping a lovely eye over all her visitors.

Had Sai Noi Beach

Paddling to Turtle Island

Depending on the season, the sea is either calm or can be a bit dangerous especially with Had Sai Noi’s strong riptide. On one of the calmest of days, my husband and I decided to paddle out to Koh Tao (Turtle Island), about 2 kilometers off shore. Although we knew the fiberglass boat we were using wasn’t really seaworthy, we were in an adventurous mood and decided to test our karma by ignoring all common sense. After about 30 minutes working our way up the coast toward Khao Tao village, my husband started paddling toward Turtle Island.

Even though the sea was flat and there was not a wisp of wind, we were often pausing to bail water out of the boat. Not a good sign. And of course just to make our paddle a touch more dramatic, there were storm clouds looming far off in the distance, but in our glass half full mode, we were sure the clouds would dissipate before ever reaching us. We thus made our run for the island, paddling and bailing; and paddling and bailing. If we had plotted our course with a GPS it would’ve been truly funny with all the 360's and left and right turns we made along the way.

After our misadventure our son bought us a much more seaworthy vessel.

Turtle Island

When we finally arrived at Turtle Island, (after about an hour and 20 minutes) we saw a skinny monitor sea lizard meandering about his rocky perch for some tasty island tidbits. Spotting the lone lizard was actually exciting. We were explorers visiting an unknown land (or maybe we were victims of sunstroke). After he saw us, the lizard quickly scampered off into the sparse vegetation, so we headed onward to the north end of the island. Unbeknownst to us before our paddle, Turtle Island has a channel splitting the island in two. We passed through the channel and emerged on the other side of the island, where the water was a bit rougher and a slight wind was starting to blow.

Two hours had already passed since we had bravely, or stupidly, left the shore and it was time to head back. We took turns alternating paddling and bailing but soon the wind got so strong that our small boat was becoming entirely engulfed in water. We were sinking and sinking fast! No amount of bailing would save us. Finally, we succumbed to the inevitable and stopped bailing. The boat flipped over and we were scrambling overboard into the water. Climbing back on board was a bit tricky, but somehow we managed to flip the boat back over and gently hauled ourselves back into the half-submerged craft.

At that point, I was convinced that one of us had to swim for the shore (2 kilometers away) because there was no way we could paddle the waterlogged boat back with both of us on board. I slid back into the water and told my husband that I would swim alongside. He reminded me that there were huge jellyfish in the sea and seconds later I was back on board the boat, face down on my belly, and not moving an inch.
Even though the boat was full of water, it was still floating and with fierce determination, my husband paddled and paddled and paddled until at long last, 2 hours later, we finally were safely back at Had Sai Noi Beach.

Not surprisingly, our children were quite alarmed hearing about our misadventure to Turtle Island and recommended that we invest in a more seaworthy vessel. For our 29th wedding anniversary, my son gave us an inflatable kayak – a perfect gift to safely continue our paddles and love affair with Khao Tao!

Khao Tao Reservoir and Beach

Recommended Activities

Tour de Asia Bicycle Touring Co., Ltd.
4/34 Hua Hin Soi 96/1
Hua Hin, 77110
Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand
66 (0)8 1173 4469

Hua Hin Pranburi Forest Park
Tel: (+66) 321608 or (+66) 97874812
Price: 400 baht for a boat ride
Duration : Boat tour approximately 45 to 60 minutes
Getting there: From Hua Hin, take the main Petchkasem road down south for approximately 25 kilometers. Follow the signs to the Pran Buri Forest Park.

Vic Hua Hin
62/70 Soi Moobaan Huana, Nongkea, Hua Hin
Prachuab Kirikhan 77110
Tel: 032-827-814, 032-827-815
For art lovers, Vic offers excellent theater performances and art activities.
Fiery sunset at Khao Tao Reservoir