Welcome to Ko Muk, Trang Province, Thailand

This morning we pulled up to the fuel dock promptly at 0800, when they opened. We got the last 100 gallons fuel we needed. We also picked up Claire and Alex from Fafner. We were traveling to Ko Muk, an island in the south of Thailand, with Fafner, and since it is only a short day hop, their parents let them join us for the day. We pulled away from the fuel dock at about 0830.

When we first left, the seas were uncomfortable. The waves weren’t very big, maybe two to three feet, but they were steep and coming at rapid intervals. Everyone took some seasickness medication. The wind was 15 knots from the starboard beam (right side), making for idyllic sailing conditions. We were making good time at close to 7 knots. Fafner was flying at about 8 knots. Fafner left us in the dust. Er, mist?

As the day went on, the seas flattened out some, making for a nice ride by the end. There were tons and tons of little fishing platforms everywhere, so Eric wound up hand steering around the maze of platforms.

Archeological evidence suggests that as far back as 10,000 years ago, parts of Thailand were inhabited by farmers and bronze workers, making it one of the first agrarian cultures in the world. The indigenous people are dark skinned, today called “negritos” and small tribes of negritos still exist in the central forests of southern Thailand. The negritos were called “siam”, meaning golden or swarthy in Sanskirt. Around 600 BC, Chinese began to move into the area, collectively known as T’ai. Indian traders introduced the Thai people to Hinduism, which spread rapidly to become the principal faith.

The first state in Southeast Asia was called Funan, which included large parts of Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos. Funan peaked as a nation under Jayavarman I, who ruled from 478 514 AD, then rapidly went into decline. The next superstar empire was the Khmer empire from Cambodia, which took over central Thailand. Thai culture was greatly influenced by the Khmer. The Mon people of Burma grew into an empire at about the same time and dominated western and upper southwestern Thailand from the 3rd to the 6th centuries. The Mons also had a big influence on Thai culture. The Mons were Buddhists. Southern Thailand became part of the Srivijaya Empire of Sumatra from the 7th to the 13th centuries, along with Malaysia. The people of southern Thailand area were mostly Malay, spoke the Malay dialect of Yawi, and converted to Islam when it spread in Malaysia in the late 1300’s. The cultural and religious divide exists to this day between the deep south and the rest of Thailand.

In the 13th century, several Thai principalities in central Thailand joined together, called the Sukhothi, and got control of their land back from the Khmer. They later took land from the Mon people and from the Srivijaya. This is considered to be the first Thai kingdom. The third Sukhothi king developed the Thai writing system and established Theravada Buddhism as the state religion. The Sukhothi empire was replaced by the Ayuthaya empire, also called Siam, which grew to become one of the greatest and wealthiest nations in Asia, far more powerful than most European capitals, and attracting visitors from all over the civilized world. This empire ruled for 400 years, and it conquered parts of Cambodia and Laos, as well.

The Burmese conquered Ayuthaya in 1767 and in 1769 a general named Taksin declared himself king. He was not well liked and murdered. Another general, Chakri, became king and named himself Rama I. He moved the capital city to Bangkok and established a new hereditary ruling system. Chakri’s descendants are the ruling family to this day. Rama IV was known for his savvy dealings with the Europeans. His attitude was to learn from them, but not to wholeheartedly believe in them. You are probably familiar with Rama IV from “The King and I”, the play based on the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, who claimed to have an affair with the king. Rama IV died in 1868 and his son continued his father’s quest for modernization and openness to the west. Like his father, he was a skillful diplomat and played the European powers off on one another to avoid colonization. He ceded territory in Laos and Cambodia to the French and southern Thailand to the British, who were ruling in Malaysia. The British gave southern Thailand back five years later.

In 1912, the military staged an unsuccessful coup against the king. In 1932 Thai students educated in France staged another bloodless coup, which marked the end of absolute monarchy in Thailand. A constitutional monarchy along the lines of the British was established, with a mix of civilian and military in power. The current king took the throne in 1946 and is the longest reigning monarch in Thai history. He is revered by the people. The political side has not been so stable. From 1932 to 1992 there were 19 coups, 10 of them successful. In addition to coups, there were many popular uprisings and elections, causing a parade of different leaders and approaches to ruling. The constitution had been revoked and reinstated several times, and amended 15 times.

The government in power in WWII collaborated with the Japanese, allowing them to use the southern province to invade Malaysia. The people in the south suffered severely during the war. The government in power from 1964 to 1973 was friendly with the US and negotiated a package of economic deals in exchange for allowing the US to set up military bases in Thailand for the Vietnam war. The presence of the US military led to the rise in the sex industry that Thailand is now infamous for.

The assorted governments have taken widely differing approaches to dealing with the Muslim south, ranging from neglect to forced assimilation. In 1957, Muslim separatists initiated a guerilla war in an effort to make south Thailand an independent state, using a strategy of bombings and armed attacks. The insurgency died off in the 90’s when a peace deal was made with Bangkok that allowed for greater cultural freedom and autonomy for the south.

Since 1992, nothing has really changed. There have still been a parade of leaders over a short time span, some elected, some installed by the military, and yet another amended constitution has been put in place. The most recent coup was in 2006, when the once very popular Prime Minister Thaksin began to lose popularity and was forced to step down. The military ruled for over a year, until elections were held in December 2007. Thaksin’s party, The Thais Love Thais, won the majority of the seats in the election. The military is not happy about the results, and onlookers are wondering if the military will stage another coup.

Thaksin was very unpopular in the south because of financial neglect of the area by the government and suppression of Yawi language and culture in the schools. The separatist violence resumed in 2004.

We arrived in Ko Muk at 1630. Most of the island seems to be dense jungle all the way down to the sea. We anchored in a nice bay near crescent of beautiful white sand beach. There are some small bungalows set just back from the beach along with a few other structures and lots of people walking around. There were also a lot of infamous Thai longtail boats around. These are very similar to the little Indonesian fishing boats, except with a different engine and prop. The engine is usually a car engine mounted high out of the water. They have a very, very long propeller shaft running from the engine to the water, hence the name longtail.

img_0077-small.JPG

Alex and Karen just wanted to relax on board Fafner, so Claire and Jeff came to shore with us for dinner. Upon landing on the beach, we realized we were smack in the middle of a resort called Charlie’s. It is a cute place, with a covered patio restaurant, a hut where you could get massages, a dive shop, and a nice pool filled with what must be Europeans. We assume this because many of the women were topless with unshaved armpits and many of the men were in speedos. We found this to be rather surprising, since we are in Muslim territory and most Muslims are offended by public nudity. It obviously must be OK in the resort.

We stopped in at the dive shop, where we found out there were no ATM’s or money changers on the island. The resort would take a credit card with a $30 minimum. Most entrees were between $2.00 to $5.00, so it was going to take a lot of food to hit $30.00. Jeff asked if they would package up two meals for take away, so we ordered 6 meals and made the minimum with no problem. Christi ordered a “Thai omelet”, which turned out to be a simple plain omelet with no cheese or seasonings. Eric went for pizza.

We were treated to a beautiful glowing red sunset. It has been a long time since we have seen a really nice sunset!

imgp3171-small.JPG

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *