Hat Yao is a village on the Andaman Coast in Thailand and apparently the name means Long Beach. We chose Hat Yao as the location of our next visit because it is also the home of about 40 of the remaining dugong in this part of the world.
The place we stayed at was the Haad Yao Nature Resort. They organise eco-friendly tours with English speaking guides to Koh Libong, where you are most likely to catch a glimpse of these shy mammals which are distant relatives of the elephant.
However, our foray into dugong spotting was reminiscent of our first attempt to see the Aurora Borealis. When you are waiting for nature to do its thing you really need more than one attempt, as we only caught a few seconds glimpse right at the start of the trip. Our guide was not English speaking either, but a local longtail owner. We would have enjoyed a bit of a commentary on the dugong and it’s environment (considering the price of the tour was rather on the expensive side) but we reasoned that at least the local who took us did take care when taking us to the grass beds. He didn’t cut it up with his propeller or drive fast and loud to scare away the timid creatures. The environmental care factor was at least as promised.
Nonetheless, the boat trip around Koh Libong was for the most part very enjoyable. Koh Libong is a lovely, wild looking island and has a number of pretty golden sand beaches which I eyed off longingly from the boat. It was therefore, somewhat disappointing when our driver took us to a decidedly un-scenic location for lunch: the extremely dilapidated research centre. Here we ate an equally disappointing, bland, fried rice that had been packed for us. We then dutifully wandered around the small information centre and looked mostly at the faded pictures as there was not much we could actually read in English.
Next we were taken to a location to snorkel amongst the sea grass. Again, not sure why this particular location was chosen! The sea grass had some sort of disgusting algae growing over it. We both motioned in sign language to the driver that we did not want to swim there. So he took us out deeper. I jumped off mainly to appear not too ungrateful for his efforts but this area was equally gross and the water was so murky that visibility did not extend much past three metres in front of me. After allowing what I thought was sufficient time to have passed to make it look like I gave it a shot, I aborted mission and got back on board, feeling safer in the knowledge that no slimy green creature of the deep was going to get me.
I felt let down by this experience as we had sat motionless in an area of very clean, clear water, with healthy sea grass for nearly an hour and a half earlier in the day. At the time I was keen to jump overboard as I could see so many star fish and I was keen to get amongst it. But I didn’t as I knew from what we had been told by the girl who worked at our accommodation that we would be taken elsewhere in the day to swim in the sea grass. I figured that as the spot we stopped at for a protracted period was the site where we were most likely to glimpse the dugong, they probably preferred you did not get in the water and scare them off.
Our other “fail” of the day was our pathetic attempt at canoeing around a tiny island where birds that had migrated from Siberia (again this information came via the girl back at base camp) were resting. All we could seem to manage to do was go round and round in circles. I rather tetchily blurted to Damien, “I have never had this problem canoeing with anyone before” To which I got a curt reply of “Well neither have I”. Touche. Deciding to join forces again after that little outburst we ganged up on the canoe and decided it was a design fault, and if the front seat was positioned further back etc etc things would be different.
It had been a fairly long day and once we had fully circumnavigated Koh Libong we motioned to the driver that we wanted to go back. As we neared the inlet that led to Haad Yao Nature Resort our driver alerted us to some action in the water. We excitedly got up to look. It wasn’t a dugong but a dolphin. Still good to see though, and it was quite small so we assumed it was a baby. When we returned we told the girl at our accommodation of our sighting. She said that the local fisherman say that when dolphins are seen entering the inlet they know that it is going to rain. Sure enough, that night it stormed.
While we were chatting to her we asked her if it was possible to get to a small beach we had spied on our boat trip that appeared to be inaccessible by land. She said if we left immediately with our long tail driver he would drop us off and we could canoe back. We were both stoked at the opportunity of getting to the secret beach that we didn’t care much about the means by which we would have to return.
So the first world problems of bland food eaten at a not suitably picture perfect locale were rapidly forgotten once we were dropped off at the secret beach. It was a magnificent place that was surrounded by karst rock cliffs. We had such a great afternoon hanging out there like castaways, no other people around, just us and the views of islands off in the distance.
The return voyage via canoe was no more successful than our attempt around the bird island, so as soon as we got to Long Beach I got off and Damien paddled back while I walked back into the village. Damien had no greater luck without me, the canoe still went round in circles.
We spent two nights on Hat Yao in total and I think it will be a place we’ll return to. It is a real off the beaten track kind of a place where we didn’t see any other tourists. It would be great to have a car so you could just drive from beach to beach along the coast discovering untouched wonders. We have been entertaining the idea of coming back and camping through Thailand in years to come and I think this would be a great part of the country to do it in. How much fun it would be to get dropped off at the secret beach and pitch a tent and stay a while 🙂