The images we’ve seen on the internet and in films show a diver or snorkeler hovering next to a lumbering but adorable sea creature, that in its cuteness resembles a giant aquatic dog. A harmless giant next to the little human.  We wanted to experience this underwater meeting of the two species, so we asked for advice from the friendly lady running the resort where we were staying. She told us the shy dugongs (also known as sea cows or water hogs) can sometimes be seen from the highest point of the island, as they stay in shallow waters where they feed. We were hoping for less of a bird’s-eye view, so we persuaded her to rent us a kayak instead.

dugongs

We paddled out towards the area where these rare mammals are sometimes spotted. We were definitely not the best kayaking team, but we shared a strong desire to get close to these magnificent creatures that were driven to near extinction through habitat destruction and hunting. Dugongs used to be taken for the mystical and mythic mermaids.  Later they were wanted for their tears, which were believed to make a woman irresistible. So their numbers kept dropping, until sightings were limited to the Andaman Sea, and specifically to Koh Libong.

A few hours passed; we missed the best time for sightings (which is early in the morning), and we started to feel deflated and despondent. We were considering turning back and having another go the following day, when I suddenly spotted a “giant dolphin” coming out of the water and then sinking elegantly back in. In an instant I realized it was not a dolphin. The moment of the sighting was brief, but was followed with a lot of excitement and commotion, so the kayak started rocking and became hopelessly imbalanced, until we overturned and sank under the water ourselves. We emerged, realizing all our equipment sank with us and despite the attempts to retrieve it, the camera and goggles were lost.

A few days later we left Koh Libong, after a few more (unsuccessful) attempts to see the magical dugongs and some of the best snorkeling we’ve done on the west side of Thailand. We were headed to Trang to see the famous gory vegetarian festival. And of course, to buy a new waterproof camera.

Koh Libong and dugongs, farewell until the next time!

Koh Libong