The Courage of the Sea (Our 4 day adventure with the Sea Gypsies)

With a desire to start 2016 off in a very special way, we (being myself, my partner and my 9 year old) decided to book a trip to the beautiful Surin Islands where we would spend 4 days camping, snorkelling and meeting and learning about the Moken People (or sea gypsies as they are better known), the indigenous peoples of Thailand & Burma.

Here’s my account of our adventures!

Day 1 – 30th December 2015

We arrived at our first destination tonight, the Poonboota resort in Kuraburi. It’s a resort in the loosest sense of the term, but the huts were neat & clean and everything we needed for a decent nights sleep before our adventures began the next morning!

Last minute emails etc before the next few days with no internet connection. Yippeee!
Neat & Tidy, but not sure about the bed spread…

We went for dinner at a very local Thai restaurant across the road. The food was great although I ordered Panang Curry (one of my favourites) – ‘ped’ (spicy). Now that’s usually fine, but at a local restaurant up in the mainland ‘ped’ means seriously head blowing spicy! Delicious though!

Mr Kosaks (seriously spicy) Seafood Restaurant

So tomorrow we’re heading for breakfast at the morning market then off to the boat to go to the Surin Islands!

Yippee! Also tomorrow is New Years Eve. So looking forward to supping champers on the beach.

Day 2 – 31st Dec 2015

After a decent nights sleep we all headed to the morning market and my daughter Cerys & I quickly decided we were going to become vegetarians!

Noodles, Sweet Bread and all sorts of other Thai delicacies
I’m thinking… Pork??
Chicken anyone??

Yum Yum! 😉

We then headed over to the port where we were collecting snorkel kits etc and jumped on a pretty bumpy (and fun) speedboat out to the Surin Islands.

My daughter looking ‘cool’ at the front of the boat

After checking in to our tent (more on that later – quick note I’m not that keen on camping as many of my good friends will atest to!), our first stop was the Moken Village.

Now just to briefly explain, the Moken people (otherwise known as Sea Gypsies) are indigenous communities having occupied the Andaman coastline of Thailand and Myanmar for centuries.

Over the years they have been uprooted and resettled so many times they were eventually left with no land to call their own.

It was the King of Thailand who granted the Mokens some tiny plots of land to live and raise their families.

Koh Surin (Island Surin) is one of these plots of land.

They are on National Park land and as such have quite an influx of tourists every year. Unfortunately this has resulted in many unhealthy habits from wealthier countries infiltrating this peaceful, live off the land community.

Soda, candy and such like are now regular ‘gifts’ given by tourists. However our guide advised us that it’s best to give fresh vegetables and donations for their community.

Approaching the Moken Village on a Long Boat
Rhett & Cerys standing in the ‘lounge’ of a Moken hut
Ole and his son sitting on their ‘balcony’ with a ‘gift’ from a tourist
Not a care in the world!
I always wanted to live on the beach!


I just bought the book ‘The Courage of the Sea’ from this lovely family. All proceeds go to the Moken community.
The local Health Centre
The School (do our kids realise how lucky they are?)
Everybody works around here!
If they had their way the huts would actually be over the water, but the National Park rules say this as close as they’re allowed to get!

Next stop was a couple of snorkelling spots. Always great to go snorkelling and we saw some amazing fish but sadly much of the coral was dead.

I have to say I am looking forward to getting slimmer, fitter and stronger this year so I’m not so terrible at trying to clamber into a long boat from the sea. I nearly pulled Rhett back in with me as he tried to help me on to the boat. Thankfully we didn’t get that little moment on video!

Here’s my amateur underwater video captured with my new Go Pro I got for Christmas.

Then it was back to our island for dinner, cheap champagne on the beach, a fire show and a rather uncomfortable night in a tent.

The Barnes Residence!

Now bear with me here all you camping enthusiasts. I pride myself on being the type of person who’ll give anything a go. If we need to rough it, I’ll rough it with the best of them.

But I do not, never have, never will enjoy sleeping in a tent! It is singularly the most uncomfortable, awkward, ridiculous thing ever invented. How can you enjoy sleeping on what feels like hard rock, with no space, no room to move and then having to crawl out in the dark and traipse to the nearest communal toilet in the middle of the night with a torch?

Thankfully last night I was feeling pretty tipsy so I slept, but I’m not looking forward to tonight at all! We’ve packed up drinking for 2016 so I can’t even numb the experience with a few beers!

Alright it’s not that bad. But I do have to say it’s not my favourite experience in the world. However, the saving grace is that this is what I see when I wake up in the morning!

Even more beautiful in real life!

Can’t complain too much eh!

Day 3 – 1st Jan 2016

So today was brilliant!

After relaxing on the beach through the morning, I decided to take some action (my motto through 2016 is to take action towards my goals every day).

I read a quote yesterday that really struck a chord with me;

“The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it.” ―J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan

Based on that quote I have decided to create an “Action Takers Make It Happen” FB group and to invite my subscribers, followers & fans to join the group and use it as a goal setting, action taking, accountability community to really make things happen in 2016 & beyond and start living the life you really vow to make!

So I waded into the beautiful sea and shot the first half of a video I intended to send out to my community when I got back to the land of the internet.

Unfortunately I recorded the video vertically, not horizontally on my phone (little tip there, budding video makers) so it looked rubbish when editing it.

Ho hum, it was fun to stand out in the sea recording a vid though!

After lunch at the campsite we then boarded a long boat for a trip back to the Moken Village for a hike through the forest.

Bhatoi, our Moken guide along with Khun Noon, our tour guide explained all the plants and trees that the Moken people use for food, medicine and building their homes and boats.

These people truly live off the land (with a few unhealthy donations from the tourists and the mainland!)

Here’s some of the things we learned;


They use this plant in the building of their houseboats (kabang).


This is what makes up the roofs of their houses


In the Monsoon season if they can’t catch fish they dig for and live off Yams! There’s no Maccas here!


Used as rope in the building of houses and boats!


This is a plant that soothes & heels sunburn

There were many more medicinal plants for all sorts of ailments, but for poisonous snake bites, jelly fish and anything else potentially fatal they use a ‘secret’ leaf that only they know about!


The view of the village from the forest behind. This is where many fled during the 2006 Tsunami

The Moken people call Tsunamis – ‘Laboon’ which means ‘wave that eats people’. However they called the 2006 Tsunami which killed over 250,000 people ‘Lahope’ – small Tsunami.

This is because of the stories passed down by their elders who told of Tsunamis that have completely covered the entire area and the only survivors were those who reached the very top of the mountain.

It’s because of the stories handed down by the elders, that this community somehow knew the 2006 Tsunami was coming and even though the entire village was swept away, everyone survived!

We then sat with some of the Moken women who taught us how to weave bracelets and rings. They weave the same to sell to tourists, but also make containers, baskets and anything else they need for their village using the same method.

Before sailing home in a Kabang, Bathoi (our Moken guide) demonstrated the spear fishing skills of a Moken on a banana plant.

National Park rules mean they’re not allowed to spear fish with Falangs (foreigners), or spear fish to sell or trade. They can only spear fish to eat themselves.

Lastly, we all boarded a traditional Moken Kabang for the short trip back to the campsite.

While Rhett had been trying his hand at spear fishing with the banana plant, my daughter had made friends with some of the Moken children who were all playing with hermit crabs.

So the little ones (Tepe – Bathoi’s daughter and Mai – Ole’s daughter) jumped on the boat and joined us for our trip home. It was a super special moment to see the kids playing together and to ride alongside a true Moken family on what was once a traditional family boathouse.

The universal language of play!

After a dip, a cold shower, and a lovely Thai dinner, (during which we saw a flying Lemur) we all settled into our tents under the spectacular stars and much to my surprise I slept like a baby!

Day 4 – Saturday 2nd Jan

After a pretty goods night’s sleep in the tent, I woke to this and I have to say I warmed slightly to the whole camping experience!



In my action taking mode, I headed off to the little coves and rocks to the side of the bay with Cerys and completed the video I intended to send to my community.

Here’s a clip that I did record horizontally;

Why indeed!

I went on to discuss this in my video but again unfortunately recorded myself vertically, so decided to scrap the whole thing.

(It was very therapeutic to make though so wasn’t a wasted exercise.)

Regards the question I posed, why do we get stuck at the action taking part, there are many reasons why and I will go into them in my Make It Happen Monday Series.

Ok so back to Surin.

This morning was all about snorkeling and trying to spot sharks & turtles.

Luckily I saw both!

Very unluckily, I haven’t worked out how to use my new Go Pro to its full potential yet and so I didn’t catch either on video. You can’t even see a shadow, it’s just a dark sea!

Better luck next time.

But an exhilarating and spectacular morning for sure.

Plus we got to say goodbye to the lovely Moken families who had joined us for our travels for the last couple of days;

Bathoi, Mai, Me, Rhett, Tepe, Cerys & Ole (from left to right)

During our last lunch at the campsite, it struck me how fast we adapt to our environment, as in the campsite is completely outdoors. There are bugs and flys etc everywhere, the shower water is cold, there’s no toilet paper, only ‘bum squirters’ as my daughter and I called them. Electricity only comes on between 6pm – 8pm. Certainly not the homely comforts we’re used to.

Yet, by the last lunch, I felt completely at home in my new environment and to be honest could have stayed another few days to soak in the atmosphere, the tranquility, and the world without western comforts (including the internet!)

Cerys & I chilling in the beautiful crystal clear Sea!

But it was not to be. At 1pm our tour speedboat was waiting to take us back to the mainland and an hour and a half later having been thrown around like rag dolls over pretty choppy waters, whooping and cheering as we went, we landed back at Kuraburi.

We headed another hour down the coast to Khao Lak on route to Phuket, where we checked in to the JW Marriott, a place we have visited before with friends.

Hot showers, comfy beds & toilet paper were all greeted with oohs & aaahs from us all! Especially the toilet paper!

I include this last paragraph simply because it was such a lovely end to a perfect trip.

3 years ago we came here with friends and dined at the Blue Mist restaurant on the beach just a short walk from the hotel.

Us with Mr Mong at BlueMist Restaurant – Khao Lak – Highly Recommended!

On returning to the restaurant for dinner, it seemed that they recognized us and wanted photos with us. They gave me some earrings as a gift and then took us down to the beach to light and let go of a lantern.

Rhett, Cerys & I stood on the beach and watched the lantern climb into the night sky becoming a star in the distance and as we did, we gave thanks for all we have and wished for all the dreams of our family & friends both old & new to come true this year.

One, Two, Three
There she goes! Happy New Year!

It was absolutely magical as was the entire 4 days spent with the Moken people – The Courage of the Sea.


Courage of the Sea is a book written by a chap called Thom Henley, who wrote it while visiting and studying the Moken people after providing aid following the Tsunami. He wrote it with the help of Geo & Jok Klathalay, two Mokens who provided many of the stories and information about their community.

Klathalay was the name given to all Koh Surin Moken people (who had no second name) by the Thailand Queen Mother.

If you’re interested in this fascinating community, the book can be purchased at the Project Moken website and all proceeds go to the Koh Surin Moken community for needs they have identified themselves.

Thanks for reading!

I’d love to know which places are on your bucket list.

Let’s chat below and tell me where in the world you’d love to visit and explore. Perhaps 2023 is the year you’ll make it happen!

Jo 🙂

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