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Posts Tagged ‘Thailand’

I Get It…Southern Thailand

Monday, November 19th, 2012

There is something to be said for Southern Thailand.  Yes, it is touristy and expensive.  We’re basically talking about being in the islands here, but there is something magical about it.  It is tropical and exotic, laden with raw, uncut beauty; places where the jungle meets the coast, where limestone structures jut upwards out of the deep blue sea, where white beaches cascade as far as the eye can see, where colorful coral reef can be seen from the water’s surface.

I found the limestone structures to be stunning.  Colors of grey and tan, streaked with black and white and red.  My first sight of these structures was from the plane.  I’d flown from Saigon to Phuket, set in the Andaman Islands on Thailand’s west side.  I could see the small islands set into clear aqua blue waters.  The coral reef was visible, too.  It reminded me so much of flying into the Keys, except that the islands were mountainous and concealed in jungle, rather than flat and covered in mangroves.  These islands are much larger than any of the Keys, too.  I was excited to be in this island paradise for some time.   Ready to get my dive on, I hadn’t dove in sooo long.  Ready to experience new things.  Ready to stay in one amazing chill place for some time.  Mission accomplished.

I flew into Phuket to meet Dore at Naiyang beach, just south of the airport.  We spent one night there.  I wouldn’t recommend Phuket for those who want to get away from regular life.  It is crowded and busy, but Naiyang is a nice small town flanked by state parks with quick airport access.  Makes for a lovely stretch of beach with a bay you can snorkel in, really good seafood, fun bars.  From Naiyang, we took a communal taxi south.  I love those things.  Basically they are extended pickup trucks with benches built in.  You jump on and off at the back for a fraction of what a taxi would cost.  We ended up in Phuket Town, where we stayed for one night before catching the ferry to Koh Phi Phi.  Next time, I’ll skip Phuket town and just head to the islands.

We landed in Phi Phi Town, and decided to stay in a guest house on the far side of town.  We’d been warned that it wouldn’t be quiet, but we thought “how loud could it be?”  Well, Phi Phi Town is a party place.  Young kids getting obliviated to booming music and coming home with the sun all loud, and for myself & Dore, not one bar we wanted to hang out it.  The following morning, we took a longtail, to Rantee Beach, the small and tranquil beach on the east side of the island. A longtail is about 30 feet long.  They are the local style of boat propelled by what looks like a weed whacker run by a lawnmower motor.  They’re cool boats, with high sides, and tend to be the style that serves as water taxis.  There were two guesthouses on Rantee, each hosting one of the only 2 restaurants.  We stayed at Sunrise Bungalows, which was run by a very cool Thai man named Momo.  Depending on the tide, the bungalows were right on the beach or water’s edge.  There were some very cool people staying there, too, so it made for a great time.  If one wanted to go to Phi Phi Town, there was a challenging 45 minute hike through the woods, to the Viewpoint, and then down 350 stairs, only to come back up again.  There is a really nice coral reef just off the shore of the guest house, too.  Really beautiful soft coral, nice fish variety, including clown fish and eels.  It was great to get to snorkel in a beautiful place.  One day, a group of 8 of us took a longtail trip to 3 different spots to snorkel.  It was brilliant.

Next stop was Koh Lanta.  We went with this great couple from Hawaii whom we’d met in Phi Phi.  Unfortunately, the day we arrived Tate became really sick from something he ate, so for the three days they were there, he was bed ridden and Sasha had to hang out with us J.  Needless to say, we had a great time.  Rented motos and toured around, stopped at a waterfall, did some shopping, did some eating, watched the sunset, etc…  Lots of beautiful jungle on Koh Lanta, but must go south.

From there, our plan was to head to the Rai Leh Peninsula.  Interesting thing about this location is that the three beaches located here are cut off from the main land by a huge rock wall.  The only way to get there is by longtail, so one feels like it is an island.  What an amazing place it is.  While I’d mentioned that there is limestone everywhere, here in Krabi Provence, it is especially stunning.  Loaded with crags and crevices, holes and holds, it makes sense that this is a destination for rock climbers.  Ao Ton Sai is the northwest beach, located in a bay.  It is the backpacker beach, too.  Very cool, chill atmosphere.  Beautiful surroundings.  A nice place to spend some time.  Relatively cheap, for the islands. Plus, really good food.  Must eat at Mama’s Chicken, and try the tacos at Andaman Nature Restaurant.

The peninsula is rather small.  It was easy to circumnavigate it.  A jungle trail led from Ton Sai to Rai Leh East in about 20 minutes.   East would be considered the “town” of the peninsula; ATM’s, some resorts, some backpacker stuff, only free wifi on peninsula.  There is no beach there, only mangroves, but there is an amazing wall for climbing, and the first place I did my climbs.  Then, head west again, and find yourself in Rai Leh West.  This is where the beautiful beaches and pristine water for swimming are.  There are two bays that make up Rai Leh West, Patong Beach and West.  This side is for the big spenders, really nice resorts costing hundreds a night, so makes sense that the beach is really great, too.  For pictures of the Andaman Islands, click here.

It was here in Ton Sai that we met some amazing people and ended up hanging together for 10 days.  The cool Spaniards from Amsterdam who got me excited to climb, the Swedish ex-Army party guys, and Sasha from Hawaii.  We made for a great crew and I hope our paths cross again.  We all traveled to Koh Phangan together for the full moon party.  You know you’re getting old when drinking huge buckets of alcoholic beverages just doesn’t excite you, getting as fucked up as possible has completely lost its draw, and you’d rather be starting your day, then ending your night, when the sun comes up.  All good though.  It was fun to dance, fun to see people having a good time together, and I made it until about 2am.  I felt like I’d accomplished the full moon party.  Supposedly, there are some really nice beaches on the east side of the island, which we never made it to.  Leaving some things to explore the next time I’m on Koh Phangan, not during the full moon.

Dore and I said farewell to the crew and headed to Koh Tao to do some diving.  People had started seeing whale sharks again, and I was really hoping that we just might.  For me, that is one of the things on the “I really hope to see” list.  We didn’t, but we did do 5 dives, and it was very cool.  I felt really comfortable, we did a night dive, and it was great.  I hadn’t been on a dive vacation in years.  Chumphon Pinnacle, a reef sitting in 90-120 feet of water, was one of the best dives I’ve ever done.  The coral structure, both hard and soft, is just spectacular.  The soft coral, the anemones, and fans, and other plant life were probably the greatest number I’ve seen in one place.  On the night dive were these small plants with long leafy branches that waved in the current.  The fish life was way cool.  Saw cobia, moray eels, and a crocodile fish; blue-spotted sting rays, huge hermit crabs, and red-banded shrimp; big groupers, little groupers, and lots of kinds of parrotfish. Then, add in the clownfish, the angelfish, and all the other tropicals.  It was awesome to be diving again, and not in a mud hole looking for lobster.  Three days after I left Koh Tao, Dore dove with a whale shark.  Freaking awesome.  For pictures of the Gulf of Thailand, click here.

At this point, Dore and I said “goodbye.”  Of course, not for good.  I will see her in Sydney in a couple of months, but there is a good chance that this will be the last time we travel together like this.  What an amazing journey it has been.  Among other things, it has certainly been a testament to mine & Dore’s friendship.  When you travel with a close friend for four months straight, you get to know them really well.  For all the times that were challenging and difficult, that we argued or had to get away from each other, I’ll forever cherish our friendship, and regard our travel compatibility highly.  We did good, D.  I miss you, Sista.

I bid adieu to Dore and the islands of the Gulf of Thailand.  It was an all-day ferry and bus excursion from Koh Tao to Phuket, so that I could fly north to Chiang Mai.  Next blog, Chiang Mai, Visa Run, and Pai.

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Posted in Food, Health, history, nature, travel, Uncategorized | 7 Comments »

Bangkok…Kingdom of Siam

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

Have you ever been at a place in your life where you’ve felt like you’ve had enough?  Things have been going along well, but you just need to stop, settle down, and not do for a while.  Well, I’ve been in SE Asia for a month now, and that’s how I’m feeling.  Not because it hasn’t been a wonderful adventure, but because each “short” bit of travel is in actuality a long trip, and I’m ready to stay still and not get on a bus for some time.  I made this decision on the 130 mile, yet 5 hour bus ride from Saigon to Mui Ne, a small, quiet surf resort on Vietnam’s southern coast.  I’m tired of bus rides, and ready to fly.  In saying that, I am preparing myself for two more bus rides in Vietnam.  I will spend a week here at the beach in Mui Ne, then Dore and I will part ways again, I take a “short” bus ride to Da Lat to explore jungle and waterfalls, and then a bus to Saigon to catch my flight, meeting up with Dore again in Phuket, Southern Thailand.

This decision came from the fact that I was starting to feel like I was rushing from place to place, and I never wanted to be the traveler who went just to say that I’ve been.  I know that when one has a year to travel, it seems like rushing wouldn’t be possible, but travel itself is not always quick and easy, and there is so much to see.  I’ve had a desire to travel throughout Vietnam, yet Hanoi, the main city in the north, is over 1000 miles away, and I realized that I will just have to come back to Vietnam.  I have my priorities, and right now Thailand happens to be one of them.  Thailand warrants the six weeks I have before flying from Bangkok to meet Matt in LA for 5 days at Thanksgiving.

Another thing which has had an influence is that I’ve been trying to figure out why India had such a profound effect on me, and while I’ve been struggling to find that feeling with everywhere I’ve been since.  For one, India is so itself.  It is not westernized, there is no “tourist circuit” created to make it easy for travelers to get from place to place.  One is forced to be a part of India, just as the Indians are.  You have to fight for your bus seat along with the throngs of people who have been doing it their whole lives.  Here in SE Asia, one could literally travel from city to city, and even country to country, without ever entering a bus station.  There are tourist buses which pick you up at your hotel or guest house and drop you in the town center at your destination.  It almost feels as if they want to protect tourists from experiencing the “real” thing.  The other thing is that I spent four months in India, and while it is a huge country, incredibly diverse from north to south in culture, language, and tradition, there is still an underlying thread that connects it all.  When in India, you know you are in India.  It gets into one in a way that can be felt.  For me, it entered my thoughts, my spirit, my soul.  So, I have to give Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Vietnam all a break.  Three weeks is just not enough time to get to know a place.

I arrived into Bangkok, from Sri Lanka, one month ago today.  Bangkok is a pulsing city; it is alive and energized, day and night.  It also offers so much of what great International cities offer; historic sites, interesting museums, eclectic and local cuisine, shopping, and live entertainment.  While there is the backpacker circuit found on Khao San Road, it is easy to avoid and immerse yourself with the local Bangkok culture.  The “must see” when visiting is the Grand Palace, the official residence of the Kings of Siam (now Thailand) from the late 1700’s til the early 1900’s.  It is still used for state business, but no longer the residence of the royal family.  The structures themselves are incredibly ornate, adorned in gold and lots of glittery glass mosaic.  Most famous for The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, carved from a single jade stone, it sits on a pedestal high above the ground, surrounded by all sorts of religious and decorative pieces.  The walls of this temple are a mural depicting Buddha’s life, his journey, his work; metaphorically representing honesty, faith, and devotion.  It is quite impressive.   There are several museums on the grounds and included in the ticket, such as the Armory and a textile museum.  The Queen, Queen Sirikit,  has long been a supporter of women’s independence in Thailand, and one of her projects is called Support.  She has helped underprivileged women all over Thailand to produce silk fabrics and textiles, and to tailor items.  Very noble.

I also visited Dusit Palace, which is home to 13 royal residences.  One of them, the Vimanmek Mansion, built in 1900, is assembled entirely of teak from a deconstructed palace from northern Thailand.  No nails or other hardware were used in the building of this Victorian structure which houses all sorts of family heirlooms. Ananta Samakhom Throne Hall now serves as a museum, which of courses displays several thrones, but more impressive to me were the screens carved from teak and woven from silk.  It is apparent that they were created by very skilled craftsmen as they are incredibly ornate and beautiful, depicting scenes of nature and creation.  The current king, Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX) happens to be an accomplished musician and photographer.  One of the smaller museums exhibits photos he took of his family, as well as photos of him playing music with the likes of Louis Armstrong and Benny Goodman. I really enjoyed viewing this because they indicate warmth and emotion within the family, and it’s cool that the King got to jam with Satchmo.

Read my last blog post, “Food,,,Glorious Food,” for more on Bangkok.

Link here for pictures of Bangkok.  Know that several of Bangkok’s sights do not allow for pictures to be taken inside, reason for no pictures of the Emerald Buddha, inside Vimanmek Mansion, and Throne Hall.

Cambodia blog coming soon…

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Posted in history, travel | 2 Comments »