Discovering Thailand's Emerald City
Thailand is a soul-saturating experience. Every aspect, from the colors and flavors to the painted landscapes and people.
My first hit of Thailand was a wild ride of adventure and one-in-a-million moments that would be impossible to recreate anywhere else. I’ve tried it all – from sunset yoga on a private island, riding elephants and navigating small villages by bike. But for me, it was an adventure swimming through inky water in a pitch-black cave to discover a secret beach in the Andaman Sea that was the most permeating. It was after this that I knew Thailand was in my system forever, and would be impossible to shake.
Most travelers know Southern Thailand for its lazy beach culture by day and frenetic party scene by night. A cross-section of grungy backpackers meets barefoot elegance on dozens of islands ringed by sugary sand in the middle of the Andaman Sea.
Closer to Krabi is the small beach community of Si Kao, and the luxury resort Anantara Si Kao. This beachside resort is a perfect home base for exploring the natural wonders around Si Kao and the nearby city of Trang. Trang is a province with an extensive coastline that runs about 123 miles along the Andaman Sea. Despite its geography, which is similar to Krabi and Phang Nga, with idyllic islands, bleached beaches and commanding cliffs, the province remains infrequently visited by tourists. Trang has both mainland beaches and a string of 46 offshore islands.
In search of the storied Emerald Cave, I boarded a private speedboat from the resort dock and rocketed through the glassy green-blue waters toward a cluster of cliffs that rise dramatically out of the sea. This is an excursion provided by the hotel, but if you wish to go on your own you can hire a boat from Pak Meng Pier in Si Kao. It is a 40-minute trip and costs 1,500 Thai baht (about $45).
Armed with a guide, a flashlight and a life vest, I dipped my feet into the warm, bath-like sea before hopping over the side with a liquidy plop. My guide took off in front of me like a seal, gliding effortlessly through the water, while I doggy paddled awkwardly behind him. We cut our way through the clear water into the recesses of a narrow, pitch-black tunnel. Hesitantly I followed him inside, waiting for my eyes to adjust to the fuzzy black and the grainy beam of light emitting from his low-power flashlight. I swam in the chilly darkness for about 250 feet, lit only by the small glow of the flashlight and the voice of my guide. Dodging jellyfish and putting all of my trust in a stranger, I inched along in the darkness, listening to nothing but water licking the rock faces and bats fluttering above. After what seemed a long time, faded bands of light began to seep into the black calling us out.
From out of the darkness we suddenly emerged into a cavernous opening – a private pool of brilliantly turquoise water, ringed in sand, protected by imposing, vine-covered cliffs that circled from every angle, all reaching upward to a gaping opening to the sunny sky. The beating sun electrifies the water in the centre, making it the burst with emerald colors that bounce onto the tunnel’s walls, giving inspiration for the cave’s name.
It’s quiet. Peaceful. The sun baked saltwater onto my skin leaving me with that blissful, sticky beach feeling, while grains of sand clung to my legs. I tore off my life vest and tossed it on the shore and dipped my entire body into the warm water. I gazed up at the sun, letting it wash over my face, marveling at the great stripes of green that danced on the rock faces, and the jungled vines that roped around and clung to the craggy surfaces.
You can’t stay in paradise for too long, because as the tide comes in the entrance closes up, keeping the cave’s secrets for another cycle. Before I strapped my life vest back on, I took one last look around at this Garden of Eden. Thailand’s adventure arsenal may seem endless, but here, it felt right to be alone, where all that exists is the whispering lapping of jewel-colored water onto white sugared sand.