The Island Life

by Chris Devonshire-Ellis

June 23rd, 2009

Not just the title of an old song by samba crooner Michael Franks, but also a way of life in Thailand, and Phuket especially. Life here really does move at a slower pace, and there is more of an observance of nature, which still rules supreme over man in these parts. The Weather dominates, and from scatter gun showers to fierce sun, to rip tides and fast running beaches, you need to be a little more on alert than in city dwelling. It’s simplicity too – want to eat, just reach out and grab any of a selection of South-East Asia’s amazing fruits – Durian are in season now, Rambutans are plump and fresh, and the Mangosteens sublime. A huge bag of all of them are just USD5, and is breakfast for several days.


Much of Thailand also is national park, including most of the offshore islands. The majority of these are deserted, uninhabited except for a select few, the homes to the Edible-Nest Swiftlet, which lives in coastal areas and nests high on cliffs and within caves on offshore islands. The nests, made mainly of the birds saliva, is indeed edible, and is highly valuable. Rights to harvest nests each breeding season are regulated, and are bid for every eight years, the winner has to provide security, and such is the value of the crop that machine gun toting guards live on remote small islands to deter anyone other than the franchise holders collectors from approaching.

Those that are accessible though are either rather impenetrable, which means a good look at safe anchorages and tidal behavior before embarking on a dingy visit, and of course packed meals and cold beers in the fridge. One can view, if lucky, Brahminy Kites fishing, and I was fortunate also to spot the rare melanistic form of the Pacific Reef Egret, a bird that is usually completely white.

Weekends thus can be spent leisurely drifting along, and finding remote, deserted islands to play Robinson Crusoe on for a few hours. Plus, of course the reward of a spectacular sunset at 6:30 this far south, the Southern Cross hanging low in the sky betraying the closeness to the equator. Tomorrow, I have a five day cruise, with changeable weather, to Langkawi, Malaysia. That trip takes in Phi Phi Island, scene of the Leonardo DiCaprio cult film “The Beach”, and its crystal clear waters. I am still under instruction, and will face challenges in the form of night sailing and some erratic currents, an observer is on board. When I return, a final set of exams and I’ll know almost immediately if I’ve passed.

In the meantime, the island life is not a bad way to get an education.