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BBQ and Snorkel Trip to Koh Yuak

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

© Frank P. Schneidewind

The Koh Chang archipelago, also known as the "Nice Weather Island" – has become our new home for a while. The total number of islands here varies in number between 52 and 54, depending on which publication you refer to. Michael, the owner of the Top Resort, is known for his excellent knowledge of the island's opportunities. Early October is still considered "Rainy Season" in the tourist trade here, but matter-of-factly, the chances to get a sunburn are often higher then the chance to get soaked by rain.

As our group of friends was willing to take a chance, even if the sky didn't look promising, we headed out to populate an uninhabited island off the coast of Koh Chang. The tiny island of Koh Yuak was our selected destination for some decent snorkeling with a beach BBQ. We selected this speed-boat in Kai Bae:

The drinks, food, grill and blankets had to be brought over, but with several athletic fellows in our group that was a manageable task to do. The giant ice-box contained cases of beer, cokes and champagne for the ladies.

The entire party crew was soon aboard, and we ventured off to Koh Yuak. The orange cooler contained the sausages, meats and salads to feed hungry snorkelers.

Michael and his youngest daughter Alisa enjoyed the breezes, as our twin engine outboard (2 x 200 hp) propelled us in no time out on the calm waters of the Gulf.

The sea was exceptionally smooth, which made the ride much more enjoyable. We carried toddlers, school kids and adults of all ages. Several entire families joined the fun day out at the outlying island.

The closer we came to Koh Yuak, the more the sky brightened up and even streaks of blue sky became visible. The natural beach there is visible in above picture, the rest of this island is lined by rocks. It may be 100 m wide and 40 m across, covered with very dense rain forest.

Deboarding was a piece of cake, as the skillful skipper navigated through the corals without a scrape to the hull. He dropped us off so close to the shore, that you only needed a short hop on dry, coral covered sand.

The natural beach didn't appear really clean at first glimpse, as plenty of dry leaves dotted the fine sand between the rocks. Plenty of hermit crabs were put to safe zones and trash bags were hung up in a few areas. We definitively wanted to leave nothing behind, but footsteps here – when we depart. The paradise was free of any trash and we also wanted to keep it that way!

Next came the snorkeling, snorkels, masks and fins were provided by the boat crew, we had vests for the young ones and those that wanted to circumnavigate the island. Everybody had much fun, the warm and clear waters plus plenty of reef fish everywhere, guaranteed a day out in nature, filled with impressions and new experiences for the rookies.

The youngest members of our team were watching the fish so close to the shore with astonishment. One could sense their eagerness to plunge in with the others. The ladies took turns babysitting, so everyone was able to partake in the fun.

The fish out here aren't shy at all, humans rarely come here. The teenage girls must have felt like in the middle of an aquarium. :)

Previous visitors had strung pieces of reef rock to lines and hung them up in the trees here. These natural wind chimes added to the tropical flavor here.

The snorkeling was interrupted for snacks, whenever anyone felt like it. A large charcoal fired BBQ was to provide lunch and dinners later.

The thick forest behind seemed impenetrable, but provided shade at it's fringe for the needy. Even under a cloudy sky, one can quickly catch a sunburn here.

Jörg and Claudia used this last day of their dream holidays to the full extend. Their well tanned European skin tells you more about "Nice-Weather-Island", than any brochures would promise you for a stay here in the Rainy Season. They know much better now and we were happy to have them along!

The wife and son of a well known German restaurant owner from Bangkok enjoyed a break from the smells and sounds of the metropole, too bad that they soon need to return to attend their Old German Beerhouse in Sukhumvit Soi 11 – and to protect their assets from a possible flooding there.

Bratwurst is almost a must at German themed BBQ parties, but we had chicken wings and legs plus a great assortment of fresh baked bread as well. The Foodland Koh Chang store in White Sand Beach proved again to handle all catering tasks extremely well!

Next to Bratwurst, German beer is a must-have for the adults as well. Icecold Warsteiner's and original Paulaner, Erdinger Weißbier and Weihenstephaner, are not exclusives to Oktoberfest in Munich! We had our very own Oktoberfest here in paradise with water temperatures matching air temperatures at 28° C!

The sun broke through in full force occasionally, but we were lucky and mostly shielded by clouds. Some of which brought a bit of water from above, but warm monsoon rains here are not really a nuisance as in colder climates.


The waters around the Koh Chang archipelago are of almost unequaled quality and cleanliness in the Gulf of Thailand. It's color is a soft turquoise and the visibility underwater is outstanding. You compare yourself to the "other" tourist areas. We want to remain unbiased, since we did chose to live here after 12 years of traveling extensively.

Jörg was keen on finding and spotting all kinds of shells, crabs and aquatic sea life forms.

Ordinary bread makes a great food for the coral fish, and they all were eager to get some:

In places, the density of reef fish was really overwhelming and virtually covered the feeding person entirely. ;)

The boat boys enjoyed spear fishing further out, where it was deeper and caught some sizable marine delicacies for their own homes. Elen shows here one of the squids, these dudes caught bare handed under the boat.

We will continue bringing you destination reports from all Southeast Asian destinations, although we may have a little overhang on Koh Chang now, after our relocation here. Stay tuned for more insider reports, photographs and travel reports. Interested folks are invited to join our "Koh Chang Ticker", a free service on facebook's platform to inform about ongoing events, current weather and other archipelago related issues, updated several times daily!

Yasothon Rocketfestival – Rocket Shooting

Saturday, November 6th, 2010

© 2010 Frank P. Schneidewind


The fiery final of the Bun Bang Fai commenced early on Sunday morning. The large Phaya Thaen Park was the site of this big event. The Rockets did come in various sizes, the larger ones are being called Bang Fai Muen, Bang Fai Saen and Bang Fai Lan. Below picture shows some giant Bang Fai Saen. These missiles are custom made and weigh a few 100 kg each! Most of this weight is black powder or another type of explosive material, as can elsewhere be found in military type missiles. All rockets have solid fuels, liquid fuels are outlawed. A bamboo stick is allowed as a guidance, some of these measure over 15 m (45 ft.). The blue plastic pipe is universally being used, the different types of rockets have different diameters. It takes a crew of about 10 or more to haul them around or mount these missiles onto the launching ramp.



The teams all look forward to their time slot, everything is well prepared and much more on-time than departures at Bankok’s notorious airport for example. It is a hands-on experience for everybody on the teams, and there are starts scheduled in a tight sequence. Rocket festivals (Bang Fai Festivals) are being held in every larger community with a dominant population of Laotians. The entire Northwestern region of Thailand (Isaan) is such an area. The traditional festival in Yasothon is bv far the largest and most colorful of this kind of events. Each rocket will be blessed and decorated with jasmine-garlands to promote the flying path to be a pretty and successful one.

No less than three launching towers have been erected for the Bang Fai Saen Class alone, below picture sequence shows detailed, what happens here. The Bang Fai Saen Class has a bad reputation and was responsible for several deadly accidents in the past. Each missile was numbered and cataloged with the organizing rocket-authority, showing their number and given time-slot on a rocket mounted plaque.

The three Bang Fai Saen ramps dominate the firing range. A careful final check of the rocket’s connections with the giant bamboo pole is being performed, before the actual mounting procedure, the igniter is being inserted last!



The background hosts another sweaty activity. Half the team clings to massive ropes to secure the missile and bring it into position. All relies on manual labor, no power winches can be spotted. Being a rather heavy dude, if compared to the average male here, this was my task to pitch in here, when my team’s start was coming up. No spectators were allowed here, only team members and event personnel. So the photo documentation on the action at the launch towers had to pause for our own missile. But it gave me a good chance to be, where the action was. Accidents have happened before in the past, several ones with fatalities. Hundreds of kilograms of solid rocket fuel per missile demands attention to detail and strict security measures!

Military and Police watched out, in order to prevent happy drunken watchers to get too close to the storage sites or the launching area. One by one the giant missiles were transported by their respective crews to the launching towers and mounted for their trip up. The airspace over Yasothon is completely closed for civil aviation, as these missiles reach ceiling heights on their flights in excess of 10 km or 30.000 feet! That is, by the way, a typical cruising altitude for large commercial, transcontinental aircraft. No Jumbo with 300 passengers on board wants to get a lucky hit by an unguided missile, which reaches immense speeds, due to their low take-off weight and strong thrust/weight-ratio. The missiles gain speed with altitude, as a percentage of the fuel is used. Empty rockets are still a danger to everything living, when they tumble back to earth with their scorched components. Such free falling objects have damaged cars and houses before, which may explain why this festival may not be held in more dense populated areas. The danger zone is well marked and non-permit-holders need to remain behind the razorwires at all times.

 

Smaller classes of rockets, like these Bang Fai Muen are a lot less expensive to make, they also compete as long as they meet the standards for this class. The missile itself, being about a meter long in size, is being mounted on a bamboo pole, still exceeding 5 m overall length and quite capable of soaring several kilometers high.

The funkiest home-made fireworks and missiles were launched from tube type launchers, expect super loud bangs and at times colorful smoke there.

Onlookers here are watching the show from a dangerous close distance, they all need special permits or are member of a rocket team.


Our own missile went a bit astray and wasn’t a crowd-pleaser.

Bang Fai Saen firing is Joe’s favorite pasttime during this time of the year. He is not taking it too seriously, but he is a cool dude!

We’ll meet him again in 2011!

Rows upon rows of other rockets in miniature were fired in between large rocket launches. The wonderful Phaya Thaen Park had plenty of scorched earth after the long and hot dry season. It has a full year to recover from this mega event.

Some other home made fireworks were ready for some extra fun and noisy spectacles. They were fused together and started in a sequence.

Judges roamed the field, but most were hiding in bunkers way off the launching area.

Noise levels and rocket exhaust clouds kept piercing the ears and biting the eyes.

3 Thai TV channels reported live from a safer distance, the broadcast was nationwide.

Starters for the rockets yelled and commanded attention, neighboring ramps had to be cleared of people as well.


Unlucky rocket teams received a mud bath, this is a part of the tradition. You may spend thousands of Baht for your Spa-treatments, but try this for a change!

Garments will not be spared, if you want to wear some and the mud here may really have a lot of magical powers! Participating in the mud-wrestlemania is a privilege for rocketeers. So get seriously drunk for 72 hours, party hard and dance as much as you can. The Yasothon Spa at Phaya Thaen Park on the Sunday of the event is by far the oldest and most exclusive Spa in the entiree Kingdom!

Another great Bun Bang Fai in Yasothon was nearing its end with the last rockets fired. Rest levels of alcohol in our bodies, made us grab a lengthy sleep back at the hotel, before we headed for the long drive back home. Many exciting hours in the shadowless park on the firing day, also took a toll on us, as usual. Make sure to read our part one, covering the giant Street Parade and report two, dealing with the biggest Stage Party in Asia. Look for the “We love Yaso” Rocket Team, if you want to meet us next year.

Oh, sorry – the team’s name in Thai is “Rak Yaso”, if you care to remember.

 

This report is the final part of a trilogy:

Part 1: Yasothon Rocketfestival – Street Parade

Part 2: Yasothon Rocketfestival – Stage Party

All our other photo reports can be be found at: www.siampedia.org