Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Chiang Rai and the White Temple

Although there is plenty going on in Phuket, Thailand really is an amazing country with STACKS to see and do. Maybe your holiday could embrace a bit of a sight seeing adventure and then start or end up here with me in Phuket. Or simply just break your stay in Phuket with a couple of plane trips (Phuket to Bangkok/Bangkok to Chiang Rai...or somewhere 'up North') to sample the different climate and scenery. I would very much recommend purchasing a Lonely Planet Guide to Thailand if you are coming here and have a look at some of the maps, places and information given in this essential traveller's handbook to get an idea of what might appreal to you. Chiang Rai, for example, is nearly as far north in Thailand as you can go before hitting the Laos or Myanmar borders. Morning temperatures are in the 12 degrees range (ideal for sight seeing) but climbing to the mid 20's by afternoon (in the Dec to Feb period). It's a delightful northern town but has a dramatic and very popular attraction in the White Temple, correct name being Wat Rong Khun.

Whereas all other Thai temples (Wats) are extremely colurful the White Temple is exactly what it says it is....white! This effect is due to a 'combination of whitewash and clear -mirrored chips' giving an impression of 'glittering porcelain'. This temple's construction began in 1997 and is due to continue for some time yet as the artist/architect Chalermchai Kositpipat incorporates more of the world's 'events' into his murals and paintings as they unfold.

I know art is very much to an Individual's taste etc but the paintings inside Chalermchai's on-site studio are nothing short of brilliant if at times inventively futuristic. I bought a couple of prints for the house...with the orginals selling in the region of $6,000! He is an extremely productive artist with a lot of work on display and the funds he raises are used to develop his masterpiece, the Temple itself which is a incredible and gigantic work of art.

So...if you get to Chiang Rai...this is a 'must see' and invites an opposite and stunning artisitic stance within the framework of the traditional Thai temple.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

A busy time!!

It's been a hectic 8 days which have seen me in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar in my attempts to find a big Mekong catfish. The Jai joined me for a few days of sight seeing along the mountains between Myanmar and Thailand...one time Bandit Country, the mecca of the south east Asian Opium trade before dramatic changes took place in the 1980's onwards and the locals were persuaded it would be better for their health if they grew tea and coffee instead!!

Thailand is stuffed full of fascinating sights, lakes, mountains, rivers, temples, many different ethnic minority 'tribes' and cultures. As Thailand is a long country running from 20 degrees North right down to 5 degrees North, the temperature varies enormously. Our fishing today was taking place in temperatures of 34 degrees C. 5 days ago, right up in the north of the country, I was fishing in just 8 degrees C.

Anyhow, these next days of fishing had been carefully worked out thanks to our Game Fishing Captain, John Pearce, in Phuket who knows anyone in the fishing world worth knowing. He had put me onto our guide, Gob, and Gob..altho' we didn't see much of him in his disguise during the day...was excellent and worked really hard to keep us catching right through the day.

The first lake was a good hour's drive north of Bangkok and contained a variety of monster fish including carp to 50kg (yeah....over 100lb!), arapima to 150kg (????what???) and catfish to 100kg. We had come for the catfish....and that's exactly what we caught.

These fish are tough. We needed heavy weight spinning rods and bait runners which were loaded with 30lb mono to 60lb braided hook lengths set just below bait cages. The hook wasn't baited...it just hung free beneath the rice bait ball.

The cats fight with agressive resistance and can be hard to control. The main problem is encroaching on another angler's swim or not being able to stop the fish going under the wooden pylons that support the fishing piers.

In the first photo you can see the houses that you can rent. At £40 per day and able to sleep up to 4, it's a better bet to spend a couple of days on this lake rather than having to travel as we did. We had been warned the journey back could take twice as long because of the Bangkok traffic (the warnings were correct!)

Now, you all know that Thai people can squat all day long with no ill effect. Here I am practicing the semi squat...which is, I can assure you, painful. The reason I am in this daft position is that my 30lb catfish has hurled across the lake towards me and gone belting under the bloody pier trying to take me with it. It took a good 15 minutes to get this buggar back out....not funny when it's a tad warm and the sun is beating on your back. You will also see that The Jai insists I look smart when I am fishing and had only packed my long trousers....bloody great!

Anyhow...with magnificent dexterity...(Gob, our guide handhauled the damn thing out) I coaxed the monster to the net.

Meanwhile our Bertie had more than got the hang of these rascals. The first one (well over 20kg) hurt him. Now Bert's a strong lad, but it's all about technique and making the rod do the work. These fish really are nuts and definitely on drugs...if you bully them they just get angry. What's that Blazing Saddles phrase...'Don't shoot Mungo...he just gets angry'. Wel, give these critters a bit too much grunt to start with and they don't respond too happily either!

Gary has gone over to the Dark Side. He is now a full time Commercial Fisherman back in sunny Weymuff. He doesn't bother with a rod...just reaches in and pulls 'em out. (What? Mungo's mate, you say? Dunno what you mean).

Meanwhile....my next bloody fish had also gone back round the piles. I get the feeling Gary's technique is a lot easier. They certainly put a LOT of pressure on your back when they're jammed underneath you....

Bertie started and finished the day with the biggest fish. We caught at least 10 each. We lost count. So, 30 fish (at least) at an average 20kg = 600kg = 1300lb approx...well, that's pretty impressive for a 6 hour session using just two rods between the three of us.

We met a lot of very fanatical visiting anglers around the lake. Two German lads were on a ten day fishing trip...and then were going back to Germany for two months before returning in April for a 60 day freshwater fishing marathon all round north Thailand. I got some good hints and places from them to go....we are just scratching the surface...there is SO MUCH excellent fishing here to explore. Gary, Bert and I have already got next year's first place in mind. There's a big dam across the River Kwai (as in the film) at Kanchaburi to the north west of Bangkok. Gob has described the snakeheads that live there. We are hoping to do a three day stint there and stay in one of the floating bungalows on the massive lake.....

Meanwhile Steve 'el Crusty Thorne has already ear marked a three day stint at Gillams fishery over to the east of Phuket for Dec this year...and that is definitely a world class venue. You know, chaps, it IS all about how much money you are prepared to pay as freshwater fishing is not cheap. Keeping a big lake stocked with quality big fish is an expensive business....so the angler MUST pay or it just won't work.

Saying that though...we shall be off to our lake in Phuket in the next day or so...and that's £20 for the day. We're also booked to go sea fishing tomorrow evening with our favourite longtail boat Thai Captain....so it's all busy busy....

We finished our day off in the lake's tackle shop!! I mean...look at it. And the gear is real top quality Shimano stuff with plenty of fixed spool reels in the £600++ bracket. Some of the top Shimano bait runners were well over a £Grand. We, miserable paupers that we are, purchased 3 sets of tackle for our next day's baramundi fishing at £150 for the lot!

The Jai laughs at us and calls us 'Keeneo' which apparantly means 'Tight Old Gits' or some such equivalent.

I have many more stories to relate...but I have a feeling the next few days are going to dominate the past ones..Happy Days and Keep Fishing.


We had been warned that the baramundi fishing took place in a very exposed area well to the north of where we fished the previous day. When we met our guides Gob (yeah; I know...you all think I make these names up) and Tinkle (see! Well...that was their names...so there) we could tell we were in for some serious heat. Gob and Tinkle were dressed like members of the Taliban and we never got to see Tink's face all day...

Yep; it WAS hot exposed and hot.....but at least there was the beginnings of a five star resort for us to shelter under when the need arose for drink breaks....water only in this case!

There were 50 lakes set in the middle of no-where. They are breeding ponds for the baramundi so, from an angling point of view, it's cheating. The Thai owner is on to something good here....the baramundi are being bred for the Bangkok resturants with each lake netting (get it?!) £20,000 per year. That makes a cool £1 mill. And, as a bit of a bonus for his workers, he allows a LITTLE bit of fishing (we were the only three anglers allowed that day...ah, such influence one has) to take place in one of the lakes where the fish are just about ready to be taken to market.

It cost us £45 each for the day's fishing, plus tips and taxi (taxi had to stay with us all day as we were so far from anywhere) and the fishing gear we had to buy...so it ain't cheap...£100 each approx...but what an experience. (I put the financial details in for you lovely readers so you can get an idea what dosh you need to bring when you come for your holiday here with me!!!). Resembling bass, baramundi are manic fighters. These lakes were only a couple of metres deep so the fish leapt well clear of the water in their efforts, often successful, to throw the lures.

Obviously there's no tackle shop around so we had to provide our own gear. We bought, under our guide's advice, very light Shimano spinning rods with small Shimano fixed spool reels loaded with 20lb green braid. Because of the power of these fish we needed 60lb mono leader tied to the braid with the correct tapered bimini twist leader knot (you know the one lads, that one you all practise tying regularly in the evenings).

The leaders were tied to a variety of lures, mainly rapalas. Some were sinking and others were more like poppers. It was nice to try a couple of different types. But, with so many fish within a contained area, we couldn't go wrong. I guess we must have had 60 between us...maybe more. The fish were mainly in the 4kg range which is the size the restaurants want?

Here we are then, the three Musketeers with three of our hard fighting fish. All the fish were released as they were due to be shipped out later in the week.

OK...there was no challenge in this as regards the actually tracking down of the quarry and fishing in remote, untamed and natural surroundings BUT we caught stacks of manic fish on as light as tackle as we were advised. A brilliant if extremely hot day. The secret was just to be sensible and get in the shade now and then, drink plenty of water and stick a few cubes of ice under your hat!!

Monday, January 9, 2012

Phuket Game Park

Steve El Crusty Thorne and Capt'n Whittall of Weymouth's latest excursion to the Phuket Game Park resulted in the Capt'n (me) attracting hoards of adoring crowds and small children to view the biggest catfish ever recorded (I lie) from this water. This fine 16kg catfish fell to a deftly presented bit of bread squeezed onto a size 14 (hmmm...dunno how sizes are worked out over here....looked like a size 2 to me) thick shanked hook to a 30lb braid trace. The running leger rig incorporated a bait cage with a good handful of bread/fruit/stuff crammed into it. The filled 'bait cage' acts as the weight to cast the bait into the middle of the lake which is apparently 10 metres deep.

This was though, take note Mr Derby and other followers of the legendary Crusty's angling exploits, Mr Thorne's day. His Siamese carp was just on 19kg (over 40lb!) and was the biggest fish of the day and the heaviest to be caught from the lake so far this year....well, it IS the 10th Jan already!

This has made Steve's lake fishing something very special....a 40lb plus freshwater fish is a very fine catch.

And one more before it was released...to show the justifiably ecstatic angler enjoying a final wet wriggle against his toned and tanned body before the fish was returned.

That's the end of Steve's fishing for this holiday. The next fishing adventure will be when I meet Gary and Bert in Bangkok on 22nd Jan. I have arranged for a Thai fishing guide to take us to two waters to the north of the Capital. Our first venue contains some monster catfish...up to 350lb!!!! (I've seen the photographic evidence) Day 2 will be fishing for baramundi using spinning tackle. I am assured to expect anything between 20 to 50 fish each in the 5kg to 12kg range per day. I'm going to invest in a couple of rods/reels for this second day as then we'll have some tackle for the lake in Phuket. It costs quite a high percentage of the overall daily cost in Phuket if we hire rods....so this may be a way to reduce the outlay a bit.

I have made enquiries at Gillhams Fishery over in Krabi. These venues are not cheap...Gillhams is £100 per day (approx) but it has to be regarded as one of the top freshwater venues in the world now. I know that's the sort of stupid claim made by many venues or in various tourist guides...but in the case of Gillhams, it is definitely an accurate description.

It seems like Gary and Bert won't have time for my proposed trip there after the Bangkok lakes....so, I can see me going there on my own at the end of February.

The point of this drivel though is to emphasise just how much amazing freshwater fishing there is available. For you keen anglers, there is just so much on offer....what a winter's holiday you could have here!!

Rawai Sea Gypsy Fish Market

One very special treat is to drive down to Rawai Fish Market and wait for the boats to come in and unload their days catch. Here's the Jai and Om (Bristol Faery's missus) waiting to pounce. Those gals argue every gramme of fish down to the lowest Baht...the poor old Sea Gypsy fishermen must dread it went the Thai women descend on them (mmm?)

The fish are landed and spread out across a number of family stalls right on the sea's edge. There's a huge variety of species witha few reasonable sized fish...these fish come from 20 miles offshore along the 150 metere drop offs and are caught in large 'fish cages'...a bit like a big square lobster pot....the 'cages' are hauled each ay.

Shell fish is not cheap anywhere in the world....so it's good to have the ferocious bartering prowess of Om in particular....

These lobsters are extremely tasty...much sweeter than our home back home but no claws...well, scraggy little claws...the meat is all in the body.

Crusty Steve likes to wander around and look lkike he's in control of the bartering....here's his 'How much??? You can get stuffed' look...bugga me but he's scarey, ain't he? If you were a weather beaten, sun baked Sea Gypsy Commercial Fisheman's wife...you'd be scared of him wouldn't you????

Anyhow, with 4 kilo of tiger prawns, several lobsters, a dose of crabs, a gurt plateful of green lipped mussels and a selection of fresh fish all bough back to the resturant opposite the fish stall for cooking....the gang set to it. It may be seen that our own group expands somewhat during such occasions as Horst (our esteemed EFSA World Presidente) and his family always seem to appear when there's a chance of a bit of free scram about.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Khao Sok National Park

The Khao Sok National Park is about 150 km North of Phuket. A massive part of it was dammed and flooded in 1982 creating a lake of 165 sq km and, as it was filled, over 100 islands were formed.

Many groups of Thai people an visiting tourists enjoy the peace and beauty of the surroundings and enjoy swimming in the freshwater which is much cooler than the sea.

There are 8 'floating' villages scattered throughout the area where visitors can enjoy a night or two on the lake.

The accommodation is simple but the houses have the basic facilities and there's a restaurant and bar on hand.

For the adventurous types (The Jai and Me for example) there are kayaks to go off exploring in and you can take along a mask and snorkle to have a bit of an investigation into the underwater scenery alongside the sheer sided 'Hongs'. There's plenty of fish in the lake so nice to take a couple of rods as well.

There's a longtail boat present to take us out on evening trips in the hope of seeing a few wild animals...we are always promised tigers, boar, deer etc....I don't think there's much chance of that with all the racket and laughter going on in the boat as we 'creep silently' along.....

But it's all about scenery and the chance to take some memorable photo's and collect togther some unforgettable memories.

Janey (mad as a box of frogs) Thorne has no idea at all how to use her camera and is a happy snapper...although she tells me 'she knows how to compose' a picture (ha ha haaa).

The great thing with digital photography is that anyone can take 4, 273 shots per day day and the chances are one shot will turn out ok. Well, here we have an example of that very phenomenon...with Janey ending up with two very nice photo's plus the usual stuff...

The park is an amazing place....if you are into photography, then you've got to fit a visit into your holiday here...

Early morning mist falling down the mountains to the lake and across our floating village.....stunning!

Sunday, January 1, 2012

New Year's Eve

There's so much on offer New Year's Eve in Phuket that you are spoilt for choice. We decided to much about in Chalong...have a few drinks around the bars...have a few bites to eat and wait until the midnight hour's fireworks extravaganzas. Thailand LOVES fireworks so we knew we were in for a treat.

The question is..where was the best venue to go to see all the multitude of displays...

Anyhow, off to Chalong. Our little group now compromising Crusty Steve and wife Janey plus nephew Ali who is a teacher in Bangkok, Lothario Keith, Wad and Coz (who have recently arrived) Jai and me....a nice group of partygoers to swell the Chalong Town ranks.

Here we are at Guy's Bar. Guy is son of Colonel David who Jai and I had Xmas dinner with. Guy offers a 'girlie free' zone which is actually very refreshing....and makes a point of creating an 'All things English' atmosphere with sports TV (cricket, football and snooker) along with Cheese and Wine afternoons and pub quizzes. This actually works very well as, believe it or not, many ex-Pat chaps enjoy an Oasis of good old British calm against the more usual bars where you are pounced on by a scantily clad, dark haired beauty within seconds of arriving.....mad you say??...well, not really...enough's enough and all that.

A short walk down to Chalong seafront and free eats were on offer at all the seaside bars....very pleasant. Here we have the Happy Jai and her Thai lady friend Khun Leck who owns the colourful Tamarine Bar and her husband Petro from Sweden. This bar has been a firm favourite over the past couple of weeks with its impressive offering of Thai dishes at very cheap (£10 for dinner) prices.

My little camera cannot handle firework display shots...but at midnight the whole seafront is lit up with the displays provided by every bar in Chalong...and there's at least 30 bars....so PLENTY of fireworks.

And now are little group is gathering before the post midnight split with the 'younger members' heading off to a massive beach party (30,000 people!) taking place on Karon Beach about 4 miles away. We saw our younger friends at about 4pm on New Years Day when they finally surfaced...

We older personages remained for a few more drinks in a mature and stately fashion before waddling off back home...

Yo Ho...all good fun here in Chalong.

Happy New Year to you all!!!