Paradise Found in Thailand

Confronting Shark Island
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Every day I rolled out of bed when I felt like it, filled up on pancakes and papaya for breakfast, and went snorkeling for hours in one or another of the many secluded bays. The reefs are absolutely unspoiled. Swimming with millions of tropical fish was like being inside an underwater kaleidoscope.

While snorkeling one day, the current carried me above a freighter that had ended its final mission in the grip of several submerged boulders. Someone told me later that the captain had gotten drunk and confused port with starboard. He may not have been a great captain, but his mistake created a world-class aquarium. I dove into the broken-open compartments and discovered fantastic corals and swirling clouds of brilliantly colored fish.

The scuba-dive master was a Danish guy who took three of us out to several giant rock pinnacles that rise thousands of feet from the floor of the gulf to within 20 feet of the surface. We dove for hours through caves and tunnels and along vertical cliffs, trailed by streams of curious marine life.

In the Shadow of a Shark
One day we sailed to a nearby island with a somewhat ominous name. I think you, too, would have asked why it was called "Shark Island." The dive master said it was because the island's center ridge looked like a stony shark's fin.

I bought that explanation until later when I looked up and saw the black silhouette of a 30-foot whale shark squarely between me and the surface. I gulped up about 20 minutes' worth of compressed air in a few seconds. My heart didn't calm down until the shark finally got bored and glided away—without introducing himself.

During peaceful afternoons I sometimes worked on the book I was writing, or read histories of adventurers who had sailed these waters over the centuries. I traded stories with other travelers or sat on the beach and contemplated the world.

Each evening I wandered down to one of the beach restaurants to enjoy a cold beer and watch the orange glow of the setting sun. Before long, dozens of masthead lights of the fishing fleet would wink on. My favorite meal of spiced fish, fried potatoes, mangos, and bananas with honey cost about $4.

While I was in Ko Tao, the weather was perfect. It rains a bit between July and November, interrupting beach time but making the nights even more pleasant. That's the way it is in Paradise. One way or another, it's wonderful all the time.

Published: 30 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication



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