Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Caving for Beginners

 During our latest trip to Mike Bailey's Exotic Fishing Thailand, a daring trio of us broke away from the main angling group to see what else Phang Gna had to offer. I mean, hard tho' it is to comprehend, some of the partners might prefer to do some sight-seeing rather than spending all day watching their bronzing heroes tussle with lake leviathans.

Phang Gna offers some spectacular scenery with several lengthy caves penetrating the interiors of some of the Karst formations.

Taking up the challenge of Cave Pentration were our Eastern Explorers Mandy and Jai with me as bag carrier, brow mopper and cameraman.

This is the first scene that confronted our courageous lasses....inflatable kayaks to be used against the rapidly flowing stream to reach the next mode of transport....bamboo rafts which were better equipped to handle the inevitable thumps against the sharp rocks, stalagmites and stalactites that presented what at first appeared to be an impenetrable barrier.

The team had studied the charts of this particular underwater network and were properly equipped with hard hats, head torches, rugged footwear, wet suits and professional guide.

 The first part of the cave system had hundreds of bats hanging from the roof. The ceiling was very high but as it lowered the bats gave way to the series of spectaclar natural colours associated with caves.
 Some of the rocks were pretty bland but then they would give way to areas of vivid colour.....
 ......and this sort of scenery. We were able to leave bamboo rafts and walk sections of the cave to admire such sights from the natural rock platforms surrounding the deeper pool sections.

And even here, deep underground in total blackness, were little fish swimming about in the stream and collecting together in these pools.
 It's always amuses me why natural patterns or formations have to be categorised and that this categorisation becomes an extension of the imaginitive culture of the country in question. So, here we are in Thailand....a country that reveres the elephant....and lo and behold..there were elephants appearing in the rock formations all over the cave. Here's one! Can you see its brown/orange eye middle left? And the white head and trunk set against the orangish background? Yes! Thought you could. I was very fortunate because I saw the ghost of the first person who discovered the cave.....and this terrified our Asian friends who are deeply supersitious and certainly believe in Cave Spirits. Ha Ha...Bless!
 This of course is a crocodile.
 This was a narrow cleft leading to another cavern opening but was currently unnavigable because of the high  water level from the recent heavy rains (we've had several days of storms here).
And at the end...you guessed it.....a little 'temple' with loads of elephants. This cave system is called Elephant Stomach Cave because the whole Karst mountain above it resembles an elephant....and we were probing deep into its interior.

I never realised the importance of possessing a vivid imagination when exploring caves.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

A day of Phuket Culture

 I know that many of you have spent months if not years unravelling the complexities of the Ramayana and that the story forms an essential part of your everyday reading. You will know that as this great Indian epic migrated eastwards over the past 2,000 years it has changed shape as it was adopted and then adapted by whichever country it flowed into. The first two kings of the Thai Chakri Dynasty, (1780 to 1820) infused 'Thainess' into the story and renamed it the Ramagian. Just imagine how deleriously merry everyone must have been when these three statues were found hiding in a tree in the jungles of Phang Gna. Here are the three central characters of the Ramagian itself!

 On the left we have Rishi Mara Kanthaya, who became Pra Lak; in the centre is Vishnu himself, the main Hindu God...although Brahma seems to have taken over this central role... who becomes Phra Ram (or Rama) and, on the right, is the head of Nang Phu Thevi who was the inspiration for Sida. Well, everyone knows the story of Rama and Sita, don't they? When Sita was kidnapped by that nasty old buggar Ravanna (who became Tosakan in the Ramagian) and Rama set off to rescue her along with the help of Hannuman, the silver furred Monkey General.

 Hannuman discovers Tosakan can't be killed. Why? Because Tosakan had  taken his own heart out and hid it in a casket and in turn hid that deep  inside a mountain. Hannuman has to find the casket containing this heart, which he does, and can then confront the many armed (literally) Tosakan and defeat him.Well shiver me old boots if this ain't the story of the Pirates of the Carribean with Jack Sparrow acting out the part and mannerisms of Hannuman.....so the Hollywood Blockbuster came from a 3,000 year old story.

 Anyhow....we were at the Phuket History Museum because one of our guests insisted we took him there. Mark Butland applied to be a Museum Curator, such is his deep interest in old things.....and his knowledge of ancient Indian myths is a joy to listen to.

The museum dedicates a part of itself to the influence of the Chinese on Phuket.
 There's a couple of model rooms set up to show typical Chinese businesses at work and these correspond to the very impressive restoration work in the old part of Phuket Town where many wealthy Chinese had their colourful homes 1850 to 1920.
 Now, whilst Mark was showing me around and explaining all these fascinating insights, The Jai was off mucking about in her usual style. Here she is in a truck that had a big sign by it saying 'Don't Touch' etc. It can be seen how obedient she is.
 I mean!!! What IS she up to, eh??? Nice to show the exhibits the respect due to them.
Jai's ancestors came from China. Here's the family boat...preserved for future generations of the Chansongsri dynasty. Jai tells me her Grandpappy was actually the inspiration for the Thai/Chinese equivalent of Popeye.

Monday, December 22, 2014

A visit to Wat Luangpu (Supha Temple)

 Today we visited Wat Luangpu which is a new Temple just behind the house. This is an extra special Temple as it is where men go to learn to be monks and as such the central building is never normally open to anyone other than those training to be monks.

It is even more unsual for women to be allowed inside. From yesterday (21st Dec) until 27th Dec there is a very special ceremony taking place over 7 days. Because of this women are allowed inside the Inner Sanctum and for most this will be the first time they have ever seen inside this very special building.

 Jai and her friends were extremely excited about this....and, as someone who has been coming here for 11 years now and never seen inside such a sacred part of any Temple, I too was much intrigued.

The larger of the two buildings is The Ubosoth, the Ordination Hall, which is currently open to the public for 7 days.

 Looking at the exterior of the building gives loads of insights into Thai Mythology which stems from Hinduism. The most obvious feature are the pointed shapes on the roof. Architecturally known as Filials, they refer to the head of the Garuda, the mythological creature that carried Vishnu, the main Hindu God.

The elaborate decoration on the building is full of characters from Thai/Hindu mytholgy intermingled with Buddhist stories. Thai Temples reveal an eloborate story on many levels if you know how to read them. Fascinating stuff.

 Here our three excited Thai ladies....all seafarers as it happens. From L to R we have Tuk, who has recently completed a lengthy global circumnavigation with her husband in their yacht. Nong is in the middle and is currently running a Catamaran Charter Company sailing in the Phuket area but also to Langkawi in Malaya and the Andaman Islands off Myanmar.and of course we have Jai who is our very own top notch Offshore Rebel crew!!

 The decoration inside the Ubosoth (or Bot) is as intricate, detailed and as colourful as to be expected. Dominating the interior is a huge Buddha seated on his special throne known as a 'Taan'.

 And here are our three ladies enjoying the special privaledge of being allowed inside. this is the first (and probably the last) time they will ever have such an opportunity.

 The walls are cover with paintings...all scenes from the Buddha's life on earth but with many references to his previous lifes and the Spiritual World with depictions of the many creatures/gods/divinities that inhabit that level of existence.

And this is what its all about. Here is one of the nine black balls which will be lowered into the ground and covered on December 27th and will signify the closure of the Ubosoth to the general public. Throughout these 7 days the black balls will be covered in gold leaf, money and good luck scrolls from the thousands of Thai people (and visitors who are welcome to take part in this) who will come to the Temple this week.

These purpose of these black balls, known as Sema Stones, is to mark out the boundaries of the consecrated property of the Sangha (the Buddhist Monastic order) and to identify the building as the Ubosoth.

A very special day for all of us today to see inside this revered building.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Exotic Fishing Thailand

 Thaidate: Thursday 11th December. Location...Mike Bailey's Exotic Fishing Thailand in the Phang Gnaa district to the north of the fair island of Phuket. Away party of four...(L to R) Richard Heaseman from Devizes, Mark Butland from Porchester and Jeffrey Whittard from Bristol. Person in far right...unidentified Thai gal trying to infiltrate photo call as only Thai gals can. Fourth member....Whittall of Weymouth taking the photographs and making the tea.
 Scenery....stunning. The remanants of the largest coral reef ever known on the planet stretching over 3,000 miles in a Nor-easterly direction through Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam and China act as a panoramic backdrop to the lake.
 Mike has been very busy. The lake and its surroundings have seen many changes since our last visit in March. Set lower, on a walkway behind the main lake, are a number of aquariums with exotic fish from around the world and which have been introduced to the lake. Names of the fish, record size of the species in question, size of the biggest to be caught in the lake and other details add to the visitors increasing knowledge of these global species.
 And here we go....just starting off...with Mike's Number One man, Ross from Canada in the foreground. Ross co-ordinates everything and makes sure all the anglers around the lake are well cared for by the Thai staff. Apart from making sure the fishing goes smoothly and any monsters are carefully unhooked and presented for photographing, the staff at EFT are always on hand to take refreshment and food orders....we were totally spoilt all day.
 A normal drive from the Phuket house to EFT takes us about 2 hours. With the lunatic Whittard at the wheel we were there in under 90 minutes. I was still in the recently finished and splendid resturant having a 'stiff one' to regale my shattered wits when Whittard bent into the first fish of the day literally minutes after casting in. Serves him right that I wasnt there to take a photo.....lunatic! (Seriously thought we were going to be shot on the way home thanks to his road rage scenario!!)
The first fish!! A splendid 50kg arapaima caught by Mark with supprt from Ross and (right) Thai guide Lek. This is what we'd come for!

A useful guide in the fishing shelters showing the 66 species available in the lake.

Insane driver Jeff Whittard with his second fish, an Amazon Red Tail Catfish. Jeff caught 10 fish and four species.

Mr Richard Heaseman(can tell he's just arrived!) with an Asian Redtail cat.

Mark with a very slippery vundu catfish.

Jeff with an asian redtail.

Mark with an alligator gar.

Richard Heaseman with the day's biggest fish...a monsterous arapaima estimated by the lake team at 110kg!!

And then he goes and catches another one of 60kg!! What a star!!

Demon Driver Whittard already has a couple of arapaima to his name when we fished at Gillhams earlier in the year. Jeff was hoping for an alligator gar so was delighted when this beast came along to take his species tally to four in the day.

Take a look at the alligator gar's teeth....you wouldn't want one of these sweeties nudging yer vitals.

Knowing how I miss my boat, Offshore Rebel, EFT owner Mike Bailey had thoughtfully provided us with these special Offshore Angler gloves to help us hold on to to the slippery rascals for their photo call.

The three anglerds totalled 19 fish and 7 species between them with 3 fish over the magic 100lb mark and one well over the 200lb mark!!  This is all amazing....we are very fortunate to be experiencing this incredible fishing during our time over here. Our next trip, a two day extravaganza, will take place between Boxing Day and the New Year. We shall be joined by Steve and Janey Thorne plus Gary and Mandy Chard. Mark will still be with us as he is on a nice short holiday of six weeks....well, why wouldn't you??

Thanks to everyone involved at EFT for giving us such a great day and wonderful memories. See you again soon!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

First Dec 2014 session at Phuket Fishing Park

Today our intrepid angling guests opted for the first session of this new 'season' at the Phuket Fishing Park.

We arrived at opening time...0800...ready to fish the whole day until 5pm closing time. Tackle prepared, extra bait bought along, sandwiches and a cooler box of drinks....we were ready..but would the fish oblige??

Our first casts resulted in immediate takes catching our men completely by surpise. Crack-offs, tangles, over runs, bite offs....fish lost....it was a wonder to behold. such skill! Such mastery of the ancient art of angling. The Thai Fishing Guides and I were bent double in mirth much to the misery of our angling heroes.

But then, as our chaps settled down and learnt how to cast again without blasting the bait over the trees, Mark Butland struck into the first properly hooked fish. Our target species was Siamese Carp...would be be lucky?

Mark Butland bends into the first fish and yes, it's a good carp. Success

Tackle was Shimano and Grauvel rods with Grauvel reels loaded with 30lb mono. We were asked to use heavy line because of the size and power of the fish in the lake. throughout the day we did lose several fish with the mainlines breaking but this only happened when the over enthusiastic guides grabbed hold of our rods and gave the fish far too much pressure. There's no way we should lose anything with this sort of powerful tackle unless the traces were bitten off by the pacu (fruit eating pirhanas and full of teeth!)

.Jeff Whittard landed several pacu and was bitten off by several more. These pacu are on steroids! They belt up and down the lake and fight right to the net....mad! A steady run of catfish came to the net keeping the rods busy....here's Mark with one of the catfish.

We were very lucky as we all caught carp...much to the bemusement of Chris the Australian owner who couldn't work out how we could connect with our target fish. I explained that Jeff Whittard was a carp specilaist and was the Bristolian City Champion for several years as well as the British carp record holder for a year and who gave talks on carp fishing to clubs throughout the UK. Chris seemed to believed this and the Thai lads were amazed that they had such a celebrity in their midst. Once all the bowing and scarping had finished we were able to get on with the fishing......

.....allowing Mark to get into the best carp of the day which was estimated at 40lb. All the fish were taken on bread crust fished under a bait cage. We've tried lots of different baits in the past but it's always the bread crust that works best.

And here we are with Jeff bent into another fish. It was a really great day out. Stacks of fish coming in all around the lake. Our group was split up around the lake....and of course none of the photos came out on the camera used by our other team of three.....typical, see. Without me, they are all lost!!

Tomorrow is set aside for diving....which will be our third day underwater already. I have two lads who have dived just a couple of times. It's always great to see the first reaction to the wonders of Kata.