I dunno if you’ve ever been to Thailand, but there are two things you ought to know about it. 1. They serve Thai rum in buckets. We’re talking regular sized buckets that you could dip your mop in. and 2. Thai rum, or Sang Som, happens to give you a very different hangover than other types of booze. It’s characterized by extreme goofiness and an inability to really move at all. It is often referred to as a “Hang Som”.
I bring these points up because on Boxing Day 2006, I found myself snorkelling in the Andaman Sea after having spent Christmas the day before sucking my way to the bottom of two or three buckets of Sang Som. Somehow, I’d gotten myself up that morning, threw on a suit and hopped in a longtail boat with my brother and a couple of his friends.
GM Note: The day in question here happened to be exactly two years after the devastating tsunami hit Asia and wiped literally everything off of this island. The island has two large bays and a tiny strip of sand between them, on which the village is built. The wave came in from one bay, swept over the village, into the other bay, bounced back and swept over the village again and then repeated the whole mess. Nothing was left in tact. The first thing I saw when I arrived on the Island by boat, is the awning of a 7-11. That’s it. Just 4 pillars and an awning was left. No walls, windows or insides. In Thailand, it’s customary to just pick yourself up and brush yourself off and get back to life, and they did on Koh Phi Phi, but on the eve before the second anniversary, they let loose and allowed themselves to feel. Sang Som was flowing, buckets were filling and it was the most fun and the most moving Christmas night I’d ever had. If you only ever visit one more place in your lifetime, make it Koh Phi Phi.
Koh Phi Phi
Our boat was headed to Hin Klang, a large coral mountain and reef just around the north tip of Koh Phi Phi Don. It rocked and jumped over turquoise waves, and jostled our queezy, hungover stomachs. We saw flying fish sailing along side us and other longtail boats transporting other hungover tourists back and forth between the many Islands. In the distance, Hin Klang rose out of the water like a breeched whale, pinpointing where this wretched motion would finally stop. White-knuckled and green-faced, we were silent the rest of the way there.
I took no time getting in the water when we arrived. When I get in the water, every ailment, every issue, every kink and ache just disappears. The water is where Godless Mom feels truly at home, and I desperately needed that feeling after the bucket-draining night before and that rocky boat ride we’d just endured. I jumped overboard without my gear and just floated for a moment, letting the knot in my stomach slip undone.
It was peaceful, floating on my back, gently rocking on the surface of the water, the sun beating down on me. This is my spirituality; water is my peace. A peace that, had we not had hang-soms, would likely have lasted a lot longer. Instead, I heard, “cannonball!” and I was submerged in my brother’s wake. A small thud as my flippers, mask and snorkel crashed down on my head.
I guess it was time to snorkel.
The water was about 50 or 60 feet deep, I guessed, as I stared down while putting on my gear. It’s beyond breathtaking, to still be able to see the bottom at that depth. After I cleaned out my mask, I put my face in the water and a world of colour accosted my senses. There were fish every colour of the rainbow: pink and green and yellow and red, and these teeny, tiny little electric blue fish that were more brave than the rest and came to say hi. I kicked my flippers to get going, my brother giving me the thumbs up under water to signal we’re good to go.
One of my brother’s friends, a woman from the UK, we’ll call her E-Bomb, was not as comfortable in the water as the rest of us and kept letting out little shrieks through her snorkel. Every time one of those dime-sized little electric blue fish, which can only be described as a delightful little bringers of cheer, came near her, we’d hear a muffled “eeek!” come up through her gear. Naturally, with the added help of a hang-som, we found this hilarious. Every time it happened, we’d all be in stitches, which isn’t easy when your face is submerged and you have a giant tube coming out of your mouth. She’d shriek, we’d laugh. She’d shriek again and we’d all laugh again. It got to the point where were near hysterics, completely unable to stop laughing, under water, in the Andaman Sea amongst fish of every colour of the rainbow. There we all bobbed on the surface of the water, clutching our guts with muffled laughter and gasping coming out of our snorkels. Have you ever had a laughing fit in deep water? It’s near exhausting and you can barely keep yourself up. Now, add a hang-som and you have what we were experiencing.
It became too much for E-bomb, who swam back to the longtail boat for a break. We continued to howl and bob and try to breathe. Now, when Godless Mom laughs, her eyes disappear, so I couldn’t see much as I laughed alongside my brother and his friend, M-Duder, but I finally pried my eyes open and poked my head out of the water. I wanted to check where we were and whether or not E-bomb had made it back to the boat. Spotting her sitting on the edge of it a ways away, I relaxed and sunk my face back in the sea. When I came down though, I caught a glimpse of my brother’s face which had suddenly turned to pure panic. M-Duder was still howling unaware of my brother’s quick change of mood. I heard my bro let out a sound of panic and wondered if he was having a cramp from the laughing. He signalled me to come up, so I poked my head out of the water again.
A fucking shark
“There’s a fucking shark behind you!” He coughed, tearing his snorkel out of his mouth.
I froze. I didn’t quite know what to do with that info.
“A fucking shark, Court! It’s behind you!” By now, M-Duder had noticed we were no longer in fits of laughter. His ears came up out of the water just as my brother had said this.
“A fucking shark?”, M-duder asked.
“A fucking shark!” My brother started to turn and swim away.
“A fucking shark!” I yelled, throwing myself into the water. I began to swim faster than I ever had before.
“A fucking shark!” I heard M-Duder yell, sounding as though he had just now understood.
“Eeeek!” We heard from E-bomb on the boat. M-duder, who was her boyfriend, popped up in concern and asked her what was wrong.
“A fucking shark, you dunce!” She yelled from the boat.
I was swimming so hard now, I could feel my thighs and my upper arms start to burn. I wasn’t even breathing, I didn’t even look back. I just kicked my ass off and flew towards the boat. I’d snorkelled and dove in many places all over the world and only seen a shark once before. It had been a totally safe situation, so on this Boxing Day in 2006, suffering from a hang-som, I was experiencing a whole new terror I had never experienced before. I wanted to look back and see it, but I knew if I did I might be sorry. I just swam faster than I ever thought possible, my arms were just windmilling through the salt water. I thought I felt something at the end of my flippers, and shrieked, swimming even faster. I had no idea how close I was to the boat or how far away the shark was. I just swam. My lungs were on fire; my snorkel felt useless; my mask felt like a weight slowing me down. One of my flippers came loose and I swore through my snorkel. I was in a total and complete state of panic.
The boat. I’d finally reached the boat. I struggled to find the edge so I could pull myself up, my mask cocked sideways now from the ferocious swimming. I felt around the boat, imagining the shark getting closer. I kept thinking I felt something touch my leg, my arm, my side. I started to wimper, unable to grab that edge, when finally I found it. I pulled myself up and in a pile of complete hang-somed, terrified, and relieved physical exhaustion, I collapsed on the boat floor. I was the first to get back, but my brother soon fell into the boat, followed by M-Duder.
“Ohmmmf-fff-ggakk” My brother was waving his hands around wildly, before he realized he still had his snorkel in his mouth. Pulling it out, he repeated himself, “His fucking face was this goddamned big!” He held his hands out about 3 feet apart.
“Are you fucking serious?” I asked.
“YES! And it was RIGHT the fuck behind you!” He insisted.
We all looked at each other silently. A moment passed.
“The fucking shark?” E-bomb’s eyes were wide.
“The fucking shark!” My brother yelled.
“Eeek!” E-bomb’s signature exclamation was all we needed. Within moments, we were in hysterics again.
Okay, so maybe I wasn’t in the jaws of a shark. It was still pretty scary, though. Part of me regrets not turning around to see it. Sharks may be scary, but they’re also majestic creatures that we don’t often get to see up close. I’ve since seen another, in Cozumel, but it wasn’t near as big as what my brother described.
Have you ever encountered a shark in the wild?