To the is­lands

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Front Page -

From Page 5 ar­chi­tec­ture of their own roots, I climb on to a rock ledge. A king­fisher is work­ing a care­ful beat, flit­ting be­tween two trees with a flash of irides­cent blue.

A heron ar­rives to stand knee-deep and statue-still in the shal­lows. Schools of tiny fish pass, leap­ing out of the wa­ter in lit­tle fly­ing arcs. On the mud flats ex­posed by the re­treat­ing tide, fid­dler crabs scut­tle back and forth wav­ing their pin­cers in a show of mock hys­te­ria.

It is then I no­tice the la­goon’s most re­mark­able crea­ture: a walk­ing fish. Barely 10cm long, mud­skip­pers are fish with spe­cialised gills that use their pec­toral fins as prim­i­tive legs. They scam­per about on ex­posed rocks and mud­flats, paus­ing from time to time to check out the neigh­bour­hood with their bul­bous eyes, which stand on stalks on the top of their heads.

In this strange se­cluded place it seems en­tirely nat­u­ral I should find a crea­ture still poised at a re­mark­able evo­lu­tion­ary mo­ment. About 370 mil­lion years ago, when a dis­tant rel­a­tive of the mud­skip­per clam­bered out of the sea and be­gan to strug­gle across the rocks on its fins, life on dry land be­gan. Mud­skip­pers are the rea­son that most of us don’t have scales or dor­sal fins or change sex when the gen­der bal­ance goes astray.

Later, back on the boat, at an­chor in the mid­dle of my se­cret la­goon, I make my notes. Looking over them now I can see it had all been a bit much for me. Like the fid­dler crabs, they verge on the hys­ter­i­cal: ‘‘ This is where pi­rates hide, where fish are born, where mer­maids live, where sea mon­sters con­vene, where myths are writ­ten, where sea gyp­sies shel­ter, where tem­pests re­treat . . .’’

OK, I got car­ried away. But why should I apol­o­gise? I have pen­e­trated to the se­cret heart of the one of the world’s great hide­aways. Later, back on my ter­race, with a fluffy bathrobe and a mar­tini, shaken not stirred, I watch the is­lands float­ing in the moon­light and won­der why there are never any for­mer KGB op­er­a­tives around when you need one.

Check­list

Phuket’s hongs at­tract about five mil­lion vis­i­tors a year and Phang Nga Bay is a pop­u­lar day trip from the penin­sula. Some hongs , par­tic­u­larly in high sea­son, get a lot of traf­fic, which rather spoils the point of vis­it­ing them. Ex­cur­sion boats, of­ten car­ry­ing large groups, tend to stick to the same la­goons at the same times. Your ho­tel should be able to ar­range a pri­vate tour to the hongs by lo­cal boat or by speed­boat to avoid the crowds. Both can carry a kayak should you want to pad­dle into the la­goons. Bangkok Air­ways con­nects from Bangkok to Phuket. More: www.bangkokair.com. Six Senses Hide­away is a lux­ury re­sort on Yao Noi is­land in the mid­dle of Phang Nga Bay. More: www.sixsenses.com.

www.phuket.com

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