In at the deep end
Tiana Templeman samples snorkelling in the clear, emerald waters of Thailand’s Koh Lanta
EMERALD Cave, this way,’’ shouts our guide as he jumps into the Andaman Sea. None of us knows much about Tham Morakot, or Emerald Cave, other than it has a secret beach and is considered a must-see on our half-day snorkelling tour around Koh Lanta’s National Marine Park.
I still can’t see any cave: just limestone cliffs soaring into the clear blue sky above our speedboat, which holds 20 bemused tourists who, like me, wonder what is going on. Then the crew springs into action. Lifejackets are thrust towards us and we are gently but firmly hustled into the water. I am one of three Australians who dismiss the battered buoyancy vests with an airy wave and dive nonchalantly into the sea, pausing only to readjust our ill-fitting flippers before we swim towards the guide.
As we float towards a sheer cliff face, a jagged hole above the water line is slowly revealed. Behind me I hear low murmurs and nervous laughter from the rest of the group.
‘‘ Come now,’’ says the guide urgently, waving his battered torch. ‘‘ The tide here is quick.’’
I duck my head involuntarily as we enter a cavern filled with stalactites silhouetted in the flickering torch beam. Their rocky fingers push towards tiny waves created by the swell as if they too want to immerse themselves in the clear, cool water. The three of us without lifejackets swim quickly and for a moment we are alone in Emerald Cave as the guide returns to fetch the others who are still outside.
Water slaps gently against the ancient limestone and our breathing echoes off the cavern walls. We turn back towards the tiny opening where the sea resembles an iridescent emerald carpet lit from below, and gasp in unison just before the moment is lost.
The sun retreats behind a cloud and we are soon surrounded by excited chatter and swept up with the rest of the group.
Luck is on our side as conditions must be perfect in order to enter Emerald Cave; another passenger says she has done this same tour three times without success before today. She is swimming beside us up front with the guide, which we discover is the only place to be. His
Cave dwellers: Snorkellers in the shadow of precipitous limestone cliffs after exiting the Emerald Cave torch is hopelessly inadequate for such a large group and the sunlight at the cave entrance has long since been left behind.
Pitch black envelops us and it seems the long, winding underground cavern has no end. Behind me there are shouts and splashes and a woman keeps saying, ‘‘ I want to go back, I want to go back’’, not unlike Dorothy lost in Oz. Like a child in a darkened room, my imagination runs wild and thoughts of hideous sea beasties fill my head along with the increasingly anxious shouts echoing off the cave walls. When something brushes against my hand I let out a shout.
‘‘ I can see daylight,’’ yells my husband, who is up ahead. ‘‘ Not far now, keep going.’’
We swim quickly towards the distant glow and splash through clear waist-deep water to sit on a tiny crescentshaped beach. Limestone cliffs towering 100m high are covered with jungle vegetation and enclose this secret place which pirates supposedly used to store treasure. As we revel in all this beauty, we hear another group making its way through the cavern. The muffled sound of their splashing chaos echoes towards the beach and a few of us grin knowingly at each other.
But the tide is turning and we can’t stay long. It seems our 80m swim back to the boat takes no time at all and soon we are bobbing in the water where our adventure began. I am glad our guide made us leave when he did, as the cave opening now seems noticeably lower. As he climbs back on board I realise he has the same encouraging smile as the person who finally coaxed me to jump into the deep end of a pool. Sometimes it is best to push fear aside and just do it.
Krabi International Airport is the closest gateway to Koh Lanta; there are several flights a day between Bangkok and Krabi. From Krabi to Koh Lanta takes about two hours, including two car ferry crossings. Emerald Cave can be visited as part of a Four Islands snorkel trip operated by Opal Travel, which includes snorkelling at Ngai Island, Haa Island, Maa Island and Muk Island (Emerald Cave), and a Thai buffet lunch; $95 a person. More: +66 89 469 9262. www.thailand.net.au www.golanta.info