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Our location as of 10/2/2012

Madison, WI, USA
Last updated 10/2/2012
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Relaxing in Khao Sok National Park

After the dive trip, May was nice enough to give us a ride to Khao Sok National Park. On the way, we made a couple of detours to see small waterfalls. (Even May thought the signs leading to them were confusing, so that made me feel a little better about how lost and confused Brad and I sometimes get.) We were taking pictures and enjoying the second one when Brad suddenly said, “There’s a leech on my foot.” That ended our time at the waterfall pretty quickly.

Once we got into curvy mountain roads, we started seeing many spirit houses on the side of the road. Spirit houses are miniature houses built for the spirits to live in. They almost look like Asian dollhouses. May explained that all houses and buildings have a spirit house in them and they are also built where people die in car accidents, so their spirits have somewhere to go. Apparently we were on a dangerous road.

Khao Sok is a huge park, but because it’s notorious for having so many leeches, we decided to only go to the leech-free area of Cheow Lan Lake. I don’t know why, but for some reason I was just expecting a small lake in the woods, like you would see in northern Wisconsin. I was pleasantly shocked to find a huge lake ringed by sheer limestone cliffs and jungle. It took over an hour to reach our accommodation: a rafthouse.

Small villages of rafthouses are moored all along the lake. They are literally small bamboo huts floating on the water. The place we stayed had newer, nicer looking houses along with the bamboo huts, but they were of course too expensive for us. Our hut just had a mattress on the floor and a fan that only worked when the electricity was turned on between 6:00 PM and midnight. I could see the lake through cracks in the floor and walls. Luckily we had a mosquito net with us, or it would have been pretty unbearable. Besides the huts, there was a small eating area, a toilet, and a bucket of water and scoop for bathing. That was about it.

Despite the ramshackle accommodation, we had a great time just relaxing and enjoying the scenery there for a couple of days. We could paddle around in free canoes whenever we felt like it, but we spent most of our time reading and swimming. The water was very clean and refreshing. Occasionally we could hear gibbons hooting and fish splashing along with the typical bird calls. It stormed both nights, so we just sat in our little hut, looking at the lightning and listening to the thunder echo back and forth among the cliffs.

I was a little nervous about getting back down to Phuket for our flight to Chiang Mai, but everything went smoothly. A little too smoothly, actually–we got to the airport six hours before our flight left! Oh well, at least we didn’t have to feel frazzled. We’ll get a post up about Chiang Mai soon, but in the meantime, check out Brad’s pictures from Khao Sok.

Diving the Andaman Sea

Scuba diving in Thailand was a great way to celebrate my birthday. We did a four day and four night live aboard with the Sea Dragon Dive Center out of Khao Lak. At first we weren’t sure if we would enjoy the trip, mainly because all of the dives were in small groups guided by a dive master and we generally prefer diving on our own. We were paired up with another young couple from Norway and the first dive with them did not go well, to say the least. The guy had poor buoyancy control and kept bumping into us while his girlfriend constantly cut in front of us to take pictures of the things we were looking at. I was afraid the whole trip was going to be a nightmare, but they (thankfully) got better. (Or at least he ran into us less and she just started wandering away from the group to take her pictures.)

The diving itself was excellent. The viz was not incredible, but good, and the water was nice and warm (around 82 degrees). I love being able to dive in just a short, thin wetsuit! We saw a good-sized gray reef shark in the Surin Islands. I’d say it was at least six feet long, but it was pretty far away from us and swam quickly, so we only got a short glimpse of it. Richelieu Rock is consistently ranked in the top ten dive sites in the world and was my favorite place so far. It was just teeming with interesting fish and life, but what really struck me was all the purple. There seemed to be more purple soft coral than anything else. It was very beautiful. Other highlights from the dives were sea turtles, octopi, eels, nudibranchs and (very poisonous) sea snakes. Speaking of poisonous creatures, Brad and I both got stung by jellyfish on separate dives. Luckily it wasn’t a very big deal, we just put some ointment on the rashes.

We met some really fun and interesting people on the boat, including Yan, a French Canadian who was constantly working on his computer, May, a Thai doctor who can’t eat spicy food, Mark, who owns a tattoo shop in London, and his girlfriend Fiona, who was very cool and left her fancy-sounding job to go travel the world. Another one of my favorite characters was the videographer, Phil, an Englishman who always wore a yellow and green shirt with “Bali” printed in the style of the AC/DC logo. The leader of the trip was a Frenchman named Mattias and his strong accent reminded me of Pepe le Pew. It was hard not to giggle during his dive briefings, especially when he said things like, “And now I will make ze dive briefing.”

Incidentally, Edward Norton was in the dive center just a few days before we got there. He didn’t go on the trip with us, but we still had quite the star-studded boat. Mark’s tattoo shop was featured on the reality show “London Ink” and recently Phil and Mattias co-starred in a soon-to-be-released film with Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor. I believe Phil was cast as “Walking Man” and Mattias was “Pair of Feet #3.” They said they would try to get us in at Hollywood parties, but they couldn’t make any guarantees.

Anyway, I’m very glad we did the dive trip. Unfortunately we don’t have any underwater pictures this time. We did buy the DVD that Phil made, so maybe we can get some still shots off of that. If that doesn’t work, you’ll just have to take my word for it that the diving was great. I would definitely recommend both the Andaman Sea area and the Sea Dragon Dive Center.

The Week in Thailand

We’re getting ready to go on a four-day Scuba trip out to the Similan and Surin Islands, so we don’t have time to write a blog post about what we’ve been up to the past week, but we have seen a lot of southern Thailand since Ko Mook. We’ll fill you in our Scuba when we get back; in the meantime feel free to check out some pictures from the past week:

  • Ko Phi Phi. Just a few of sunrise in this beautiful place. The island was too crowded for our tastes, but (outside the village) it was beautiful.
  • Phuket. We took a self-guided tour of the town’s colorful, historic buildings and temples.
  • Phang Nga Bay. We saw gravity-defying cliffs, caves, mangrove mazes, and the famous “James Bond Island” from The Man With the Golden Gun.

Ko Mook

Last night, we were very worried about how today would turn out. We planned to do a lot today: kayak to the famous emerald caves on Ko Mook, then take a ferry over to Ko Lanta and try to find a place to stay (since it’s peak season and we had no idea where we’d sleep). In the end though, today turned out better than we ever would have thought.

We got up very early and walked down to the beach to rent a kayak. Actually it ws a little too early for the place we rented from–only the kitchen workers were there, and they didn’t speak English–but we managed to get onto the water by 8 o’clock. It was a beautiful, sunny, calm day on the seas, and after a little bickering we got the hang of our tandem kayak. Getting to the emerald cave took us twenty minutes of leisurely kayaking around the huge cliff and to the mouth of the cave. We got our headlamp out and journeyed into the cave. After one wrong turn and a few tight squeezes, we finally found the opening to the hong, a beach completely surrounded by cliffs. Best yet, we were the only ones in this area, and it was amazing! (That’s why we went in the morning: in the afternoon the area is inundated with tour groups.) Pirates once hid treasure on this beach.

After fifteen minutes alone, a huge group of swimmers came streaming through to the beach, and we took that as a cue to leave. We enjoyed the bright emerald-colored water near the entrance on our way out, and paddled back to the beach delighted. We got ready and headed back down to the beach for our ferry.

We ended up waiting over two hours for the ferry to arrive (apparently it’s always late), and we weren’t happy because we took the slowest, cheapest ferry we could–three hours from Ko Mook. But when we arrived on the ferry we noticed everyone was in swim suits and sunning themselves on the top deck, not normal for a ferry. When the crew handed out snorkels, we understood: this was a??snorkeling??trip and we were going back to Ko Lanta with them!

We got to snorkel two sites. The snorkeling wasn’t great: the coral was almost all dead. But there were some schools of colorful tropical fish, mostly attracted by the crew throwing rice in the water. The sites were extremely over-snorkeled, which could account for all the dead coral. But the snorkeling was an unexpected and free activity to break up the long boat trip.

One worry left: finding a place to sleep in Ko Lanta. We walked down the main road and checked with about ten homestays, but they were either too expensive or fully booked. Right when we decided to go back and spend a night at a pricey place, an Irish guy eating dinner showed us where he was staying. It’s on the second floor above a restaurant, and it has a very old-timey feel, like staying in a Thai grandparent’s spare bedroom, and it’s a great price! So everything turned out just fine.

On another note, we’ll be scuba diving on a four day, four night liveaboard to the Similan and Surin Islands! These sites are on many top-ten lists of best diving sites in the world. We’re very excited to get back in the water.

Thailand Begins with a Bang

Happy New Year! We spent our New Year’s on Ko Lipe. Ko Lipe, a very small island in the Tarutao National Park island chain, reminded me of Gili T, except with motorbikes. It’s touristy, but the sand is soft and the water is teal. There is a community of chao ley (sea gypsies) living on Ko Lipe, but most of the island is dominated by little shops, cafes and bars.?? One of the first things I noticed are the motors of the narrow, wooden longboats.?? The propellers are attached to the end of a very long pole and someone has to stand at the back of the boat to turn the motor on and steer by maneuvering the pole around.?? I’m assuming this somehow helps them navigate, but it’s a little strange to see the propeller blades swinging all around both in and out of the water.

On New Year’s Eve, we went down to the beach where everyone was hanging out, drinking, talking, cheering and laughing. The bars along the beach had all sorts of lights strung up and were playing happy dance music. Best of all, tourists and locals alike were lighting paper lanterns and letting them fly off into the distance. As midnight came closer, more and more people were releasing lanterns. There was no big countdown, but at midnight fireworks exploded everywhere–over our heads, up the beach, down the beach, over the water, even a few unfortunate ones by our feet (luckily everyone was okay!). We just sat there, wiggling the powdery sand between our toes and watching the lanterns drift away and form new constellations in the sky. It was one of the best moments of our trip.

The next morning was quite different. It was one of those gray, rainy days that are perfect for sleeping in late, but we had to get up early and catch our boat to Ko Tarutao. We huddled under our umbrella on the beach for a while before a longboat could take us to the more modern speedboat. Once on board, I saw the guy in front of us put his lifejacket on and I kind of smirked at him. Nobody wants to be the dork in the lifejacket, you know? Five minutes into the boat ride and I had my lifejacket on, too. The waves were huge and our boat was flying off of them like they were ski jumps. Women were screaming, water was splashing everywhere and the boat was getting tossed around like it was a toy. I was holding on to my seat and my knees kept smacking the seat in front of me. I was sure the boat was either going to capsize or just sink. I even found myself mentally preparing for what I would do (kick my shoes off, drop my bags, help Brad put his jacket on…) when it happened. After a particularly bad drop, when the boat was freefalling through the air for a solid four or five seconds, the driver slowed down and we went pretty slowly the rest of the way. The waves were still bad, but at least we weren’t being painfully knocked around. It was one of the most terrifying moments of our trip.

Ko Tarutao was also very pretty. It kept raining the entire first day, but the next day was sunny and we spent the whole day walking. We saw many monkeys, butterflies, tropical birds and a few large lizard-type things. We also tried to hike to a waterfall, but the trail was very challenging and everything was slippery (probably from the rain). After we had each fallen twice, we decided to turn back. Two days later and I’m still bruised and sore.

Now we’re back on the mainland, in Trang, a small, nice, but not especially interesting town. (The ocean was as smooth as glass on the boat ride here.) Next we’re planning on island hopping until we get to Phuket. I’m really looking forward to doing some snorkeling and possibly kayaking and diving. I know we haven’t been here very long, but I already like Thailand a lot! So stay tuned and check out Brad’s pictures.