November 27, 2010

Indo-Pacific Tour 2010 - Khao Sok National Park (Day 4)

We woke up early again to have a quick breakfast before checking out. By 8:30am, we were waiting for our guide to pick us up. Strangely, the guide didn’t arrive until 9am.

When we hopped into our private van, we found an extra passenger. This was looking quite suspect.

We arranged a 3-day and 2-night private kayaking tour with PaddleAsia. Unbeknownst to us, the owner had added an extra companion to our private tour. Initially, I was quietly rather upset about the additional person, especially since my sister and I paid $450 each for the private tour. However, we soon learned that Tami from Oregon was a great person and we had a lot of fun for the next 3 days. In fact, we got along so great my sister said "You two have some chemistry...". Thanks sis.

Since we had an extra person, we were treated to two tour guides! Tom was the more experienced guide and he was tutoring Bao for this tour. Both of them were experienced kayaker both at Khao Sok National Park as well as in Phang-Nga Bay.

The 2 hours drive provided ample time to know each other before we arrived at Khao Sok National Park. At the park gate our ID’s were checked. Security was quite tight for a national park. It was just a short drive until we reached the boat launch.

Our gear and supplies were quickly loaded onto the longtail boat. We had an hour boat ride ahead of us.

Along the way, we passed by many hills of this limestone karst landscape. Originally, this area was a steep river valley. When the river was dammed, it became the large Cheow Lan Lake. According to the park website, this area has the oldest evergreen forest in the world. It is also home to a wide variety of mammals, birds, insects and fish.

An hour later, we reached our accommodations.

These eco-friendly floating bamboo rafts were constructed with local material and they had low impact to the area. We were staying at the most remote location within the park. Thus, we saw very few people for the next few days.

After settling in , had lunch and a little rest before heading out on the first kayak trip to observe some animals and birds in the late afternoon. We didn’t have to paddle too far before we started seeing some dusky langur. Unfortunately, there was too little light to photograph them. Most of the animals we saw were quite high in the trees, sometimes about 50-60 feet above the water. Thus, it was rather difficult to photograph on conventional point-and-shoot camera.

We did end the day with this wonderful picture.

When we returned, we were treated to a great dinner. In fact, all the meals were beyond expectations. We had a great sampling of local cuisines with local ingredients. The food was certainly one of the highlight of this trip!

Banana fritters with chili...yum!

Every meal had a plate of fresh fruits.

Fried tilapia

Green curry chicken

November 26, 2010

Indo-Pacific Tour 2010 - Phuket (Day 3)

We woke up early to take advantage of our only day in Phuket. After a quick complimentary breakfast, I was going to ask the front desk to arrange a taxi for us. Stepping toward me was a taxi driver who was sitting in the lounge area waiting for customer. After a bit of bargaining, my sister and I secured a private, full day tour with this taxi driver who would take us around the island in a comfortable, air-conditioned minivan. How much, you asked? It cost a whopping $50 Canadian dollars for the day!!! Things are relatively super cheap everywhere you go in Southeast Asia.

We were to spend the morning at Rawai Pier where I could get a couple hours of fishing. Fishing is not really the highlight of this trip, but my sister was very nice to let me have some fishing time scheduled.

Before we went to the pier, we found this little pastry shop and couldn't resist having a second breakfast.

Rawai Pier was quite a beautiful pier. Along the way, my sister looked into the water to point out all the little reef fish.

At the end of the pier, there were a few French expats fishing. I started talking to one guy and we had a mutual respect for catching new species. He shared a new kind of plastic lure with me and I shared some of mine with him. He also gave me a couple pieces of shrimps so I could catch some reef species.

Using a float rig with #16 hook, I quickly caught my first new Asian species. It was a 5” Scissortail Damselfish (Chromis atrilobata).

There was another kind of fish that was swarming the pier piling with the scissortail. It took a little work and patience of weed through the damselfish before I caught the beautiful 5” Redbelly Yellowfin Fusilier (Caesio cuning)!

There really wasn’t any other kind of reef fish in this area. I was very surprised there was no wrasse species or small snappers here. However, the large houndfish caught my eye.

Small groups of houndfish patrol the area. I had the most luck with a twister tail, however, getting the hooks to stick was very difficult. I had a couple of fish shook off the hook when they jumped and shook like a mad marlin.

Soon, the 2-hour of fishing came to an end. However, just before we left the pier, I spotted a small aggregation of fish nearshore now that the tide was coming in. I managed to catch a juvenile Bluefin Trevally. There was a small conger eel that was hunting, however, I had already ran out of shrimp bait. If I only had some shrimp, it would be too easy to catch that conger!

Next, our driver took us to a lookout point were we could see the west coast of Phuket.

After the short photo stop, we reached Kata Beach. My sister and I picked a seaside bar where we ordered lunch for only $5 and we had the best dish of squid cooked with fresh basil and chili. The dessert was simple crepe with grilled bananas and pineapples...but it was very delicious!

My sister wanted to get a Thai message, so I had another couple of hours on my own. I took the rods and went to look for a spot that was not busy with swimmers. Unfortunately, I reached an impasse where I couldn’t go further without getting wet. I had to settle on an outcrop of rock where only shallow water was available.

There were some smaller fish coming in and out of this area. Since I had no fresh bait, I had to resort to some Gulp! Sandworm. I cut smaller portions off and hoped that the scented plastic will suffice. The fish let me know quickly that I was on the right track. They quickly bit the little chunk of plastic off the hook.

I persisted, even at the cost of losing precious lures. Finally, I was rewarded! Here was a 6” White-Spotted Spinefoot (Siganus canaliculatus). Their fin spine were very sharp. It was best not to handle them too much.

A few more casts later, I hooked into a 6” bubblefin wrasse (Halichoeres nigrescens).

I also had a small needlefish hooked, but just like always, the fish came off the hook a couple of seconds later.

Soon, it was time to go. I met with my sister and we were off to the next location of our tour.

As our driver took us up to the high point of Phuket, I fell asleep. I soon woke to a bump road on the way to the Big Buddha. My sister was wearing shorts and she had to put on a long skirt before she could enter the complex.

Shooting into the sun just doesn't work...

As it was getting later in the day, we moved on to visit Wat Chalong. This temple complex was on of the more beautiful in Phuket. The artistry of the temple was stunning.

Wat Chalong was the last stop for us. On the way back, our taxi driver tried to convince us to dine at this overpriced seafood restaurant. We held our ground and insisted that he took us back to the hotel.

Once we were back, my sister and I went to the night market to find some street eats. Care must be taken to select where and what to eat, since it is rather easy for foreigners to succumb to stomach illness. My sister and I were prepared prior to our trip with a couple doses of vaccines against traveller’s diarrhea. We’re proud to say we didn’t get sick once through our entire trip. Food in Thailand was just great everywhere!

Best Tong Yum sup we've had!!! It was so spicy our lips and tongue were burning (my sister and I can eat pretty spicy as is)...but it was so good we just kept eating and eating!

We were having a great affordable dinner until we heard distance rumbles and saw some flashes of lightning. We quickly asked to have everything packed so we could return to the hotel. We couldn’t have got back sooner as it started pouring once we stepped into the lobby.

November 24, 2010

Indo-Pacific Tour 2010 - Toward Asia (Day 1)

In the summer of 2009, my aunt told us the good news – my cousin was to wed in Dec 2010. Since my cousin’s wedding would be in Hong Kong, and the fact that I haven’t visited my parents in a few years, I budgeted for flights to Hong Kong the following year. Around Dec 2009, I called my aunt and informed her that my sister and I would be coming back to Hong Kong to attend the wedding. She surprised us by saying that she will be happy to pay for our flights to Hong Kong. Wow! sister and I each had an extra $1500 in our budget. We put our heads together and thought…it would be a great idea to travel in Southeast Asia a little since we were across the Pacific already. The itinerary soon snowballed from just one country to a multi-borders Indo-Pacific tour!

Nov 24 – The start of a great journey

After 8 months of planning, the highly anticipated day finally arrived. We boarded our Air Canada flight in the morning. This would be a 15-hour direct flight from Toronto to Hong Kong. We were very fortunate that at the time we booked the tickets, we caught a seat sale. To make that deal sweeter, Air Canada gave customers a one-day 10% off bonus to celebrate one of our Canadian Winter Olympians getting Gold that day. We basically managed to pay only $1000 for our return flight. Score!

We would arrived in Hong Kong on Nov 25th just before 2pm (we lost a day crossing the International Date Line). Our parents met us at the airport where we had lunch and spent a few hours catching up. Closer to 6:30pm, we dropped off a couple pieces of luggage off with them, and prepared to check in again for our 8pm flight to Phuket, Thailand. This would be our start to a 2-week tour of the Indo-Pacific region.

This tour was only made possible thanks to Air Asia. This low-cost airline was a great option for the budget travelers. My sister and I also decided to stay at small and lower rated hotels to save as much money as possible.

Our short 3 hours flight to Phuket was smooth. Air Asia, although being a budget airline, was quite pleasant with good service and comfortable seats. Really, that is all that I needed. I’d rather save some money than spend it on the luxuries.

We arrived at Phuket at 10pm. Through internet research, we learned that it is important to bargain for anything in Asia. We stepped outside of the airport and we were immediately swarmed by taxi drivers. We had an idea how much it would cost for a ride to Phuket Town, so we bargained for a similar price quickly and made sure the price was agreed upon before we get into the car.

A 30-minute ride later, we arrived at our budget boutique hotel. It was really nothing to brag about, but it was clean, quiet and comfortable. We were only there for 2 nights so it was just want we needed.

September 26, 2010

A Whirlwind in Europe - Nantes (Day 13)

The night before, Stephane said I could wake up as early as I want to go fishing in the canal about 10 minutes walk from the house. When I woke up at 8am, the little kiddies were already up and about. As a responsible adult, I just couldn’t leave the house with the kiddies unsupervised.

When Mathieu, the oldest brother, woke up, I started packing my gear. Stephane also woke up at 10am, so I headed out the door for about 1.5 hours of fishing. My target was European perch (aka redfin perch). I had some small soft plastics and small red worms for livebait.

I started off working around some docked boats. The water was very murky and full of algae. The bottom was rather soft with very little vegetation. About 10 minutes into fishing, I had a quick hit on my Powerbait T-Tail…but the fish hit it so fast that there was no time to set the hook. I worked another 100 yards of canal without any hits. With only 30 minutes remaining on the clock, I decided to try fishing Ile de Versailles. There was a little dock at the tip of the island where it reached into deeper water.

When I got to the dock, there was a lot of baitfish in the area. These may actually be bleak. If only I had my fly rod because these little fish were taking mayflies stuck on the surface.

With baitfish in the area, there was also signs of larger fish since I saw two surface commotion. I tied on a splitshot rig and baited with a whole red worm. I took about 10 casts without any hits…but lost the worm on the cast. With only 2 minutes left on the clock, this was really my last cast. I casted as far as I could and worked the split shot rig very slowly on bottom. About 25 feet away from me, I felt a hit, then a better hit…and I set the hook. Fish on!

A short fight later, I found my target fish! The European perch fought harder than the Yellow Perch in North America.

7” European Perch (Perca fluviatilis)

The canal has a good population of zander and pike as well…but there was no time to fully appreciate the fishing this time. Next time I visit Stephane, I’ll give it a more thorough examination.

I returned to the house at 12pm and Christelle had just returned from the market with fresh fish and fresh bread. We made a great lunch with melon and strawberry (dipped in red wine) for appetizers, boiled fish on rice smothered with a very rich butter shallot sauce for the main course, and fresh French bread to soak up every last drop of that wonderful sauce. We also had fresh baked Cannales Bordelais for dessert. Although we had more red wine for lunch, I did remember that meal very well.

After lunch, Christelle, her daughter Lila-Marie, their guest student Zhu and I went to a theater festival to see a couple of 30 minute shows. The neighbourhood had 3 small theaters in the area and it was an open house at one of them. I forgot my camera so I had no pictures...but there will be a night picture to come.

When we returned, Stephane asked if I want to ride an elephant in Nantes. Riding an elephant? I was open for any idea so we drove to the riverside of the Loire. This was the elephant that greeted us.

This was a gigantic mechanical elephant where every conceivable body part moved with anatomical accuracy. The trunk even blew out steam!

Nantes is the home of sci-fi writer Jules Verne so the city had taken on the initiative to beautify the city with these wonderful, fantastical machines. They are actually building a gigantic carousel full of these fantastical animals where the riders could manually control the animals. It would be completed in 2012. Imagine this carousel but about 20 times larger.

This area was once a shipyard. Nantes was a famous ship building port. The modern ship building facilities had moved closer to the mouth and this area was now converted to a park. The old factory had been converted to a museum.

Some of the buildings were converted to restaurants with some fantasy sculptures as well.

All along the riverbank, scattered around Nantes, there were modern landscape art installations. This set of rings is illuminated at night with a rainbow of colours. Nantes is a great rejuvenating cities that is spending a lot of money to beautify the city and improving the quality of life for her residents.

I also visited Stephane’s lab. It’s only one year old and all the bench space and equipment were sparkling new.

We returned home for a quick crepe dinner. Crepe smeared with salted butter caramel is the $h!T! It was so very tasty! We also had some traditional crepe with eggs and cheese.

After dinner, we took a picture together. Stephane and Christelle are a wonderful couple. They adopted a Cambodian boy and girl and a Vietnam girl. As you can see, they have a very happy family.

Matthieu, Lila-Marie, Stephane, Anna-Iris, Christelle, me.

After dinner, Stephane, Christelle and I went to a Yiddish music concert at the theater. I was a great night of music and dance. Here I was, a Chinese-Canadian dancing among an entire group of French singing. It was a fitting end to my culture visit to Europe.

It was sad to say goodnight to Stephane and Christelle since I would be waking up at 4:30am the next morning to catch a train to Paris. They were super host and Stephane and I had became good friend working together in the past.

It was also sad that my Europe trip was coming to an end. My 13 days in Europe officially came to pass. I had rediscovered so much about my love for art, culture and history…things that I had often set aside in favour for fishing.

September 25, 2010

A Whirlwind in Europe - Nantes (Day 12)

Nantes is the third largest city in France according to my friend Stephane. Stephane is a clinician and senior scientist. We meet in 2006 when I was a co-op student at my current lab and Stephane was a visiting fellow. It was Stephane who invited me to attend the workshop in Ile de Berder. After our workshop, Stephane invited me to stay with him for a couple of days.

Nantes is about 1.5 hours from Ile de Berder. After dropping off the luggage, we had a quick lunch. Stephane’s wife Christelle was putting the youngest kid to bed for an afternoon nap, so Stephane took me to a local fishing store to get a 1-day freshwater license (saltwater fishing does not require a license). The shop was very well equipped with a fishing section and a hunting section. Unfortunately, I forgot what the store was called.

When we returned home, we sat around chatting while Christelle prepared a batter for Canneles Bordelais. When the batter was put into the fridge, we were ready to visit downtown Nantes with the kids.

Our first stop was Château des ducs de Bretagne, a Brittany castle dating back to 1207.

Drawbridge gate



Flying the Brittany colour

In the distance was La Tour LU, the tower from the former Lefèvre-Utile biscuit factory

Our next stop was the very beautiful Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul

Tomb of Francis II, Duke of Brittany

There were some buildings that had sculpted faces on the façade. According to Christelle, these sculpted faces dated back to the slave trade. Rich families who profited from slavery were able to decorate their buildings (on the right), while others who are not as wealthy had plain façade (on the right). It was an interesting mix of art and history.

We finished our tour at Église Sainte-Croix.

We returned to the house just in time for dinner. After some wine, I don’t remember what the name of the dish I had for dinner (there was salad, bread, wine, more wine, and some fish in a very buttery shallot sauce). It was absolutely tasty because Christelle was an exceptional cook (and baker).

September 22, 2010

A Whirlwind in Europe - Ile de Berder (Day 8 - 11)

Ile de Berder, France – Sep 22 – 25, 2010

This was the start of my workshop in France. After have exhausted my shutter finger in Rome I took very, very few pictures in Ile de Berder. I was also in seminars for 9 hours a day plus social / networking dinners for 2 hours each night. There was little time for photography. Fishing time also came at a premium.

It was rather unfortunate since our meals were worth a few pictures of their own. Ile de Berder and the Gulfe du Morbihan are seafood-producing areas. We had seafood for all lunches and dinners except for one meal when we had steak. We had fresh mussels, scallops, salmon mousse, shrimp, crabs, langosta, sea snails, conch, clams and fresh oysters. Talk about spoiled! LOL

On Sep 22, we arrived at Ile de Berder at 5pm. This region has fairly large tides. During my stay, the tide differences was more than 3 meters according to the tide charts. Ile de Berder is an island during the high tide, but the seabed would be completely exposed during low tide. In the picture below, the two rocky dyke bordered a paved road which was submerged during the high tide.

When I was looking at the map and at various pictures on Google, this location looked promising to hunt for European seabass.

I returned later at night to fish this area on the falling tide. It wasn’t until 9pm that we had finished dinner and there was only 2 hours until dead low tide. The area was extremely rocky and full of kelp. I was fishing the T&C swim grubs on 3/8oz jighead at the beginning. I needed the weight to fish in the heavy current generated by the falling tide. However, the lure was snagged and lost within 2 casts since the shallows had very slow current and low water. I tried to fish with a lighter jighead but the lure would wash through the current too quickly. I heard and saw two surface feeding signs so I fished the area with various lures for about 30 minutes. At the end, I put on a 1/8oz jighead with a Powerbait T-Tail that was trimmed to 1.5” long. I chose to cut the soft plastic shorter since I saw many small baitfish in the shallows around that size.

When I couldn't find anything biting at the dyke, it was time to try other fishing areas. Fortunately, there was a map that I could consult and I quickly found a beach on the other side of the small island. I tried a few casts with the T-Tail off the sand but the water was shallow and filled with kelp. About 50 feet to my right, there was an old dock. The top of the dock was wet but exposed. During high tide, this dock would be submerged.

After making my way to the dock carefully, I heard a couple of surface disturbance. Looking around with my headlamp, I saw many small baitfish in the shallows. I had fish for striped bass at Montauk before. The striped bass is a cousin of the European seabass and similarly these fish are opportunistic nocturnal feeders. Knowing that striped bass were cautious of light, I switched off my headlamp and waited for a minute. This also allowed my eyes time to adjust seeing in the dark. During my wait, I heard a topwater explosion quite far from shore. After my eyes had adjusted, I fired a cast as far as possible into the deeper water. As I was lifting my lure out of the water, I heard another topwater swirl to my right but closer to shore this time. Purely by reaction, I fired a cast in the direct and got picked up by a fish on the first crank! FISH ON!

It was fighting pretty well on the 8lb mono. After two spirited run, the fish had enough and simply coasted to shore. When I turned on my headlamp, I saw silver and was very surprised my first fish was also my most revered target fish!

12” European Seabass (Dicentrarchus labrax)

I let out a yelp so loud I think I woke up the neighbourhood LOL. I took my first seabass at around 10pm on the first day fishing for seabass! Awesome!

Since it had been a long day of travel and afternoon of seminars, I fished for another 15 minutes for no bites and decided to call it a night when the tide had bottomed out. I went to sleep very happy that night.

Sep 23

The next morning, I woke up at 5am with thought of fishing early. It was rather chilly outside so I stayed in bed until 5:30am. In full dark, I headed back to the dyke. Peak high tide was at 5:30am and I would be fishing the beginning phase of the falling tide in the morning.

There were a lot of surface feeding activities in the morning! Unfortunately, most of the fish were in the shallows far off to my left. There was a high stonewall on that shoreline. Trees and shrubs grew all the way up to the stonewall and the rocky beach was flooded on the high tide. There was no way to reach those feeding fish. Don’t be fooled…I did try fishing the area and lost a few lures to the rock and kelp.

Plan B was to head back to the beach where I had caught the seabass the night before. Similar to the dyke, there were a lot of surface activities. However, most of the fish were about 100 yards from shore where I could not reach. I had two rods with me so I rigged up the long surf rod with Gulp! Sandworm and fished it on the bottom rig using #14 octopus hooks. I was hoping to pick up a few small beach species such as wrasse, sole, flounder and seabream.

There was absolute no action on the surf rod or on my lures intended for seabass. However, when the sun rose, the surf rod started to get some action! There were many fast bites. However, the fish were either too small or too tentative that I couldn’t hook into any fish. I tried waiting for a good run before setting the hook, but most fish just pull line for about 3 seconds before dropping the bait. If I set the hook too quick, I wouldn’t hook up. I believe most hit were just small fish. When 8:30am came around, I had to return to my room for a shower to start the next day of seminars.

I had plans to fish that night…but after about 4 drinks during and after dinner, I was done for the night LOL.

Sep 24

It was 6am in the morning again when I woke up for the morning fishing session. I didn’t bother with the dyke but returned to the beach. This morning, there were very little surface activities for some reason. It took about 1 hour of casting before I got a hit in the blind. There were no surface activities 30 minutes when I got a hit. Again, my lure had just landed when I got hit. The fish fought like another seabass and it certainly was one. This one was between 13-14”…just a few centimeters short of the legal 36cm minimum slot keeper limit.

Fishing was rather slow, but the sunrise was beautiful.

I only took a couple of hits on the surf rod. Fish were just not active for some reason and the bites that I got were very short and fast. There was no enough time to even reach the rod! It was time to leave at 8:30am and the fishing session ended much too quickly!

There was no plan to fish this night since we had a boat cruise dinner that would last until 10pm. During dinner, we had a massive seafood platter with some fresh, live clams. I never had live clams and personally, I liked them cooked better. There were a lot of live clams left after dinner and well…the looked like bait to me LOL. I took about 10 of them and stuffed them into my pocket for the next morning’s fishing session. Why waste good bait? LOL.

Sep 25

This was my last fishing session on Ile de Berder. I had hopes of catching seabream and ballan wrasse here, but so far my fishing plans had not executed well. With live clams as bait, I had renewed enthusiasm. I had also found a new fishing location the day before on the walk back to my room.

My new location was a rocky outcrop that dropped steeply into 5-6 feet of water with a rocky bottom. There were some isolated clumps of kelp that was very fishable. Instead of fishing for seabass, I put all my concentration into the surf rod. This rocky environment was prime for ballan wrasse.

Again, the fishing in the dark was very poor on the surf rod. As the sun rose, I had a few rapid taps on the rod and set the hook on a little fish. This black goby loved the clam so much that it was able to take the #8 baitholder hook. Luckily, it was only hooked on the upper lip.

5” Black Goby (Gobius niger)

I caught another black goby about 15 minutes later.

At 8am, the tide was dropping fast and the current was rather strong. I started to bottom bounce my surf rod with a 1oz weight. On my third drift, I had a couple of taps and set the hook on another little fish. This one was a wrasse! At the time, I thought it was a juvenile ballan wrasse and I was very happy to have accomplished my goal. When I got home, I found out it was a Baillon's wrasse. Oh well, it was still a new species!

6” Baillon's Wrasse (Symphodus bailloni)

I caught another Baillon's wrasse before 9am. I actually missed two morning talks because I was reluctant to leave without catching a seabream. Oh well…you can’t catch them all.

And such was my fishing adventures at Ile de Berder. It was a very beautiful and tranquil holiday location. One day, I hope I can be back to fish the area some more. It appears that daytime yields more action from other fish species while nighttime was strictly seabass fishing. If only I had more time to fish during the day, I could only imagine the number of additional new species that could be caught.