A fishing village enchants
Fishermen on Ko Yao Noi island open up their homes to tourists and win international acclaim for their outstanding efforts
Story and pictures by THANIN WEERADET
Our host Prasit hauls the net back: this crab was among the catch.
For Prasit and his fellow villagers, whether it's Sunday or Monday makes no difference. To them, what matters is the lunar calendar that will determine whether tomorrow they would be going out to sea. It was the first waxing day of the month on the lunar calendar and that was why he and his wife, Patama, were doing what they usually do on such days — catching crustaceans and fish from early morning until mid afternoon.
It's a normal day for them and other fishermen who live in their village. The only difference was that this day their small fishing vessel was carrying more than its usual share of marine catch — two strangers from Bangkok who were there as part of a homestay travel programme designed to promote tourism in the village community.
SOME VOCABULARY HELP
to attract strongly
(of the moon) to seem to get gradually bigger
any creature with a soft body and a hard outer shell
fishing by pulling a large net with a wide opening through the water
to happen at the same time
to make known
a feeling of excitement about something that is going to happen
having a particular quality
a difficult and unpleasant situation
a feeling or particular quality that is very noticeable surrounding a person or place
to stick out from the surrounding area
spread over a large space in an unorganised way
bending and twisting like a snake
covering a large amount of space
skill in using your hands
There I was sitting side by side with the couple in their wooden boat and watching them cast the trawling net. We had started as strangers but within hours of our arrival a special bond had developed between me and my hosts which would grow into a friendship by the time we departed.
Twenty families on Ko Yao Noi island off the resort province of Phuket have opened their doors to visitors, taking turns to host them, and in the process enriched our knowledge about their small fishing community.
Our arrival coincided with Prasit's turn to play host. Samroeng, his colleague from the island's Sustainable Tourism Club, greeted us as we arrived by boat. On the way to the village, Samroeng disclosed that he had just returned from the Northeastern province of Yasothon. He had gone there to educate the people about the concept of homestay tourism and how it could be developed to ensure healthy dividends for the visitor as well as the local community. The people of Yasothon, he said, were clearly impressed by the system we operate here.
Ko Yao Noi residents rely on fishing for their livelihood. "We have lived and fished here for generations. I am fifth generation. My predecessors came from Saiburi (Kedah) in Malaysia," he said.
In less than ten minutes we arrived at a wooden pavilion in a village, the working quarters of the island's Sustainable Tourism Club. A dozen villagers sat there in anticipation of today's visitors. I was a little nervous at first but the broad smiles on their faces immediately put me at ease.
At first I could barely understand what they were talking about. Their heavily laced southern accent was totally foreign to me, but seeing my predicament they switched to a more central dialect and from there on conversation was more lively.
I was told that among their most recent visitors were a group of villagers from the North and the Northeast, some of whom had never seen the sea. "They fondly called us bung which means elder brother. When they left they took back with them bottles of seawater," recalled one of the villagers.
Bung Chaweng soon arrived with his pickup truck to take us for a ride along the narrow road that runs around the island. It was late afternoon and the sightseeing was excellent. We were joined by Bung Bao, another member of the tourist club who has been a fishermen all his life. His gentle voice, sun-baked face and silver grey beard gave him the aura of a typical fisherman.
In his forties, Bung Bao lived in Tha Ton Doo village by the sea. His house was built on stilts.
The village has a long concrete pier jutting out into the sea. Low tide results in hundreds of rai of bare muddy seabed. Farther out lies a strip of green marine grass. "If we want crabs we just walk in the mangroves and pull them out from the muddy ground using a hook," Bung Bao said.
Back on the truck we drove past a mangrove tract with a sign that read "Community Forest".
"We are looking at the possibility of including a mangrove tour to the homestay package in the future," said Bung Chaweng.
The sun was setting as we reached the village and stopped at a house whose host came out to greet us. In her late thirties, Patama lives with her husband, Prasit, and their two sons. Although their relatives still live in stilt houses, the couple opted for a contemporary lifestyle.
We were ushered into our room which looked exceptionally clean, had electricity and tap water. There is an artesian well too. Surrounding the house is a vegetable garden and fruit trees — mostly mango. Pumpkins of all sizes lay sprawled on the ground, chillies yellow and green and fat roots of tarot thrived in marshy conditions.
"We go and catch shrimps every day beginning early in the morning and come back in the middle of the afternoon," Prasit explained.
The next day we set out in their vessel to watch them work. We followed the serpentine course of a canal through an expansive stretch of mangroves. In ten minutes, Prasit ushered the boat out of the canal and on to the sea. When the boat was steered to the right spot, Patama erected a makeshift pole needed to prevent the trawling net from running loose.
In five minutes, the trawling net 200 metres long and over a metre wide had disappeared under water. All that was visible were the two ends of the net that were marked with bright orange buoys. I could see one end while the other was adrift too afar.
We headed for Phanak island. The limestone islands in Phangnga Bay make for an awesome spectacle. After having a casual lunch on the beach, Prasit said we should get back to recover the net. He did not want to leave it there too long as it would trap marine junk that was swept in by the currents.
My excitement grew as I watched the couple pull the submerged net. Transparent bluish shrimps were trapped. Their dexterity in separating the shrimps from the net was amazing, very little time was lost, although, it took them longer when it came to leggy crabs. `Unwanted visitors' were sent back, among them eels, horseshoe crabs and jelly fish that discharge ink-like toxin that can be hazardous if not handled properly.
I wondered how the trawling net could trap so many crustaceans and other forms of marine life. Prasit explained that holes between the nettings are large enough to allow smaller fish to escape while bigger ones get trapped. One length of the net is stringed with a line of lead beads to make it stand on the seabed while the other end is kept afloat. Shrimps which feed on the seabed are easily caught.
Normally, the couple catch two-four kilogrammes of crustaceans per trip. The catch is readily sold at the village pier. Patama said a kilogramme of big shrimps can fetch 220 baht while smaller smaller ones 180 baht. Today they got only a little more than a kilogramme of crustaceans plus two crabs and scores of fish. They also got two of striped prawns which will be sold to breeders.
In the middle of afternoon we were back at the village. Before dusk we hopped around from one village to another along the narrow road that circled the island.
Back to our host's home, Patama is cooking for dinner from today's catch. I am surprised to learn that an islander like her who is out to the sea almost every day cannot swim.