Archive for December, 2012

December 29, 2012

Packing for a month in Thailand

We made it to and from Thailand with just carry on day packs – and small ones at that! I’ve been overseas several times, now, and each trip finds me carrying less and less. There are a TON of advantages to traveling light:

  • The airlines can’t lose your stuff
  • You don’t have to wait at baggage claim
  • If it fits on your back, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want, without having to make a loop back to where you are staying to fetch your stuff
  • If you want something that you brought with you, you have it with you, solving the “I wish I had the sunscreen that is in my luggage” dilemma
  • You become adventurous, because if you don’t have something you need, you have to go and find it locally!

Here’s what our bags looked like, at the end of the trip. The only reason my jacket is on the outside is because after a month of living in the bottom of the bag – it needed airing!

All we needed for 4 weeks in Thailand

All we needed for 4 weeks in Thailand

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Caveats:

It was easy to pack light for our trip, due to the climate and because we didn’t plan on going anywhere that required fancy shoes or clothes. And it also helped that we didn’t have to bring dive gear (save for masks and snorkels). If you have to travel somewhere with a more varied climate or a varied set of social engagements – a small bag may not work!

 

My packing list looks longer than it is – it all fit into that red bag there on the left, with a bit of room to spare. So much, that I was able to bring home an entire bottle of single malt scotch, a PADI Adventure Dive book, and some snacks!

Clothing:

  • Underoos (just two -the lightweight washable kind)
  • Thin running socks
  • Wool socks for the plane
  • 2 short sleeve Tees
  • A rash guard for swimming/diving
  • Running shoes
  • Sandals
  • Long sleeve shirt for the plane/cold weather
  • Travel pants (Ex-Officio – lightweight, washable)
  • Lightwight jacket
  • Shorts
  • Hat

Gear:

  • First aid kit
  • Sunglasses
  • Kindle
  • Charger
  • Sleep sack
  • Camp towel
  • Flashlight
  • Mask
  • Snorkel
  • Power adapter
  • Laundry cord
  • Money belt
  • Compression/Velcro straps
  • Eye glasses
  • Phone
  • Extra mesh bag for laundry
  • Cash, credit card, passport, copy of Puja’s passport
  • Cards

Hygiene:

  • Toothbrush
  • Razor
  • Re-hydration tablets
  • Eco friendly multi-purpose soap

I used everything I brought, although in hindsight – I might have skipped bringing a coat and a long sleeve shirt – those didn’t see action save for the airplane. Ditto for the money belt – that proved to me more of a hassle than it was worth. The first time I went abroad, I had to carry all of my cash and plane tickets with me -but with ATMs and e-ticketing – in hindsight – I don’t think I’d bring one again, unless traveling somewhere that seemed unsafe.

During the trip, some things proved to be far handier than I thought:

Sleep sack: You know – just a thin cotton or satin sheet, folded in half and sewn on three sides. Perfect for adding a few degrees of warmth, or for when you aren’t sure how clean the bedding is. Since it was so warm in Thailand, a lot of the places where we stayed had a bottom sheet and a blanket. So the sleep sack made a perfect top sheet.

Laundry rope: Three braids of elastic, wound tight, with velco straps at the end – meaning you can string a laundry line almost anywhere. Between that and the soap – very easy to wash some clothes at night and have them by dry and wearable the next morning.

Compression/Velcro Straps: Used these ALL of the time – from tying a damp towel to the outside of the bag, to compressing what I already had, to improvising a belt – so glad I brought those along. Plus, they don’t take up much space!

Stuff I didn’t bring:

Toothpaste, sunscreen, shampoo, soap. All of those things are readily available. Sure, you might not get the brand that you want – but those things take up a ton of space. On top of that – most of the places where we stayed had travel samples -so we didn’t even have to purchase many of those items.

All in all – traveling light was the right choice – and I can’t wait to have the chance to pack for our next adventure!

 

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December 22, 2012

Koh Tao, and making our way to Bangkok

We made it to Koh Tao and found a near deserted beach place to stay.

On the first morning Puja and I were literally up at the crack of dawn to go diving. But as we walked up the hill to catch our ride we saw his tail lights – he arrived too early!

So, we went for a swim, breakfast, and then went into town with Gary and Iffet. Koh Tao is getting a reputation as another party island, but during the day it is quite nice. We walked the entire main Beach and found a gorgeous spot at the very end where we swam and snorkeled to our hearts content.

(We also booked a dive trip and ferry tickets for our trip towards home.)

Diving the next day was terrific, and very different from our previous dives. The ocean was quite calm, and the boat ride was just a few minutes from shore. Two dives and back to the beach in time for lunch!

We spotted many of the same fish that we had seen previously, but also spotted Christmas worms. They are variable colored worms that sit in and around the anemones and “pop” up and down!

And we saw a moray eel on the move, too – right up close. Very cool (and a bit scary) to see the entire thing and not just the head!

We went back to our quiet beach for one more round of swimming, and I swam with a school of fish that numbered close to 250! We all faced into the current and let the current move us around. Sort of like waiting at a bus stop.

We ended the evening with a Chang beer, our friends and a borrowed guitar. I played while looking out at the waves crash on the beach. As we left, the owner told us that he had heard me playing a Pink Floyd song, so I let him know that I was in Berlin for their epic concert as the Berlin Wall was quite literally coming down. So was he! Tiny world!

We were all up.for the sunset, but the cloud cover prevented us from capturing that on film. It very much felt like our last vacation day, as we are mostly spending the next day and a half getting to Bangkok for the flight home.

We had a final lunch and goodbye ice cream with Gary and Iffet, our good friends and companions for the past two weeks.

We made it to Bangkok in time for a fabulous walk in and around Chinatown, which included duck soup, donuts, and a fried rice noodle dish from one of the famous street food vendors!

Next up – home!

December 19, 2012

Similan Islands

Our escape from Koh Pipe took longer than expected, and we didn’t arrive in Phuket until 7 in the evening, and after watching the same Thai pop music videos on replay for 6 hours!

We took a taxi to the center of town, and they helped us find a hotel, books a 2 day 1 night tent trip to the Similan Islands, and pointed the way to good food!

As we were getting cash, the man from the travel shop spotted us, and double checked that we knew where we were going!

Our street food dinner was perhaps the best we’ve had, and we have had a LOT of very good food thus far. We skipped the Night Market, since our trip to the islands was due to commence at 6 the next morning.

The drive from Phuket to Koh Lak was uneventful, save for thinking we were departing from Phuket! Little did I know that once we boarded the boat that I would be in my swim trunks full time for the next 2 days:).

The Similans are a series of 9 islands and are part of a marine park, too. That means that there is very little infrastructure, and the Thai people and government seem committed to keeping them pristine while also promoting tourism. So far, I think, so good.

We stopped to snorkel on the way out – tons of fish, great visibility, no current.

Back on the boat, another snorkel spot (this one even better than the first), and then to Island 4 for swimming and lunch.

When we went to check in, we met “Moe”, our tour guide. We later learned that he is really “Mr Mong”, and his friendly laugh and mischievous grin did not prepare us for how helpful he would be!

There wasn’t a tent for us, after all, so we got a slight upgrade to a building. We settled in, and then went back to the boat for more snorkeling, followed by dinner on the boat. No pictures, but you can imagine: azure blue sea, rose and violet sunset, lush islands in the fore, and tasty Thai food.

After that – back to the beach for a final swim, shower and then bed!

We started the day with breakfast on the boat and more snorkeling. The crew was amused at my water entry method, which consisted of jumping from the upper deck, sans fins or life jacket. (hard to tread water with fins, and hard to go UNDER water with a life jacket.

When Puja and Iffet lined up on the top deck to jump, the crew turned out to cheer. Video once we return to the States!

During lunch, we asked Mr. Mong about getting to Khoa Tao, our next destination. Almost before we knew it, he had arranged for us to have dinner at his restaurant, the Blue Mist (where the staff spoke of him with great respect), a terrific boutique hotel at a bargain, and a car to take is from pier to hotel to restaurant and back.

Oh. And a car to take us to the pier the next morning. Mr. Mong is a big man on the island, I think!

After a shower and a rest we headed out to dinner. We were all a bit skeptical during the dark car ride through back roads – until we emerged behind the Blue Mist, walked through the kitchen, saw our pre-ordered dinner (huge tiger prawns and a salt cured, lemongrass and then grilled snapper) and spotted our table: beach front, best seat in the place and with a big reserved sign!

I will note that all of this happened without cash changing hands: three different drivers, a hotel, a restaurant. All on our combined honor. Beautiful.

As was dinner, completed with a duck curry, cold beer, spicy green papaya salad, and chicken with fried basil!

We may have finished the night with sticky rice with mango, fried banana, and a Pina Colada, but I’m not telling.

Mr. Mong’s brother in law drove us home, where our hotel owner was waiting up for is to be sure all went well.

What a great couple of days, made so by the beautiful Similan Islands, and the incredible Thai people.

December 18, 2012

Fat men with tits and speedo’s . . .

And woman whose asses are eating their bathing suits. And then cheesy, porn-like posing on, well – everything.

I could forgive that. But the behavior,

•Cigarette smoke everywhere. Which means cigarette butts in the pristine Andaman sea.

•Pushing to be first in line. Taking too much food and throwing it away.

•Touching and trying to take shells, monitor lizards, fish.

•Not listening to instructions. Sitting so the boat is tippy and refusing to budge.

•Shitting in the Andaman. No kidding. Saw the floaters and wished I was watching Caddyshack.

When I first traveled, it was Americans that were ugly, and I tried not to be them-tried to pack light, learn a few words follow directions.

So – pick your country. Who behaves like that on vacation, and maybe all of the time?

(more to come about the gorgeous Similan Islands!)

December 16, 2012

See you later, Koh Lipe!

Whew! Left just in time – the high tourist season is commencing and our peaceful spot is becoming less so.

Am writing after a LONG day of travel: scooter, long-tail, speedboat, minibus, big bus, taxi. Am now in Phuket, but leaving for Similan Islands tomorrow, after some of the best food thus far-and that is saying a lot!

Love the advertising here, too!

December 16, 2012

See you later, Koh Lipe!

Whew! Left just in time – the high tourist season is commencing and our peaceful spot is becoming less so.

Am writing after a LONG day of travel: scooter, long-tail, speedboat, minibus, big bus, taxi. Am now in Phuket, but leaving for Similan Islands tomorrow, after some of the best food thus far-and that is saying a lot!

Love the advertising here, too!

December 14, 2012

Koh Lipe pics

December 14, 2012

I lost my wife underwater (for a moment)

But found her shortly thereafter. But you can imagine the feeling of being a new diver, in current, and then not seeing your dive buddy!

There were 4 of us, and while Puja and I were buddies, I was closer to the instructor, and he and I thought that the OTHER instructor was behind her. Note to self: I need to behave more like sticky rice underwater, if you get what I mean.

Turns out that Puja hit an updraft, so when I turned to look, she was no longer in the same plane. Our dive was over and we were just about to start our ascent, so the instructor had me grab the line and wait. Meanwhile, Puja had figured out how to come back down, the photographer had also spotted her, and she joined us on the rope, and we ascended normally.

I don’t think she was in real danger, but there was real risk, even though it didn’t come true. So I will be a far better dive buddy next time.

By the way-motion sickness tablets are awesome! Both of us felt great out there on the high seas. We dove twice, to 32 meters, and saw barracuda, moray eel, grouper, and much more!

December 14, 2012

Trang, travel, trash and Koh Lipe

We’re on Koh Lipe with our good friends Gary and Iffet, whom.we last visited with in Kas, Turkey. All up – we are having a great time!
Our time in Au Nang was nice – great food, a really fun kayak trip, some caves, and of of course, walking through the aptly named walking market!
We left Au Nang in the hopes of making it all of the way to Lipe, but alas. (By the way, Koh means “island”, and Au means “gulf”). We made it as far as Trang, along with some folks that ha e us some good tips about where to go after Lipe.
We were dropped off nowhere near anything that looked familiar, and since Trang is usually a spot that you visit on the way to somewhere else, we had only a hint of a map. Puja navigated us to the train station, and Iffet spotted a travel shop and went to work! She is an Olympic calibre negotiator, and we soon bad all.of the details and best prices to get us both to Lipe and to a place to stay there. Along the way, we made friends with the owner, who soon shared a Trang cake with us – something like sponge came, and delicious.
We headed out to find a room for the night, and had just started to think a out going for a wander when the travel agent and her sister showed up! Turns out that there was a glitch with our reservation, so we decided to wing it when we arrived.
We headed out to the walking market, made a quick walk through to get the lay of the land, and then spent an hour or so exploring some of the non-market and non-tourist parts of town. That’s one of my favorite things – walk towards something interesting, just to see. We found a cool park, and were also just minutes too late for a pedicure! I shit you not – who travels with toenail clippers and such?
Back to the market where Puja found some very tasty rice noodles with delish veggies and sauce, and I ate most of a pineapple, followed by some exquisite fried chicken. Gary and Iffet found smoothies and other snacks, so we headed back to the hotel with a couple of beers and settled in for the night!
We had a quick breakfast the next morning and then went back to the travel shop for our lift to the high speed boat.
At one point I was pretty sure that I was going to have a chubby German sitting on my lap, but I was saved by having the luggage piled up in the tiny aisle instead. Before boarding, we booked our return trip, and had tons of fun teasing the owner a out our bargaining skills!
We’ve discovered that travel days can mean hurrying past lunch options, only to wait somewhere else, so we secured some cookies, water, soda, and Trang cake, just I’m case! The ride to the dock was a couple of hours, and as suspected, we had just enough time to snack on Trang cake before getting on the speed boat with a Chinese tour group that numbered close to fifty!
The speed boat ride was uneventful, we arrived offshore, transferred to a long-tail boat (a long narrow boat with a car or motorcycle engine strapped to a long shaft. The shaft ends in a propeller that can be dipped in the water, and swings about 270 degrees for steering).
We hopped out of the boat wandered until we found a place to stay (see first picture), went for a swim, and a cold beer!
We found the local walking street at dinner time, and it was truly a walking street – none of the ubiquitous scooters that we have seen everywhere in Thailand. Puja ordered a delish dinner for us and Iffet helped me get a good price on a new snorkel – the one I brought with me is floating around in the sea – came off when exiting my second dive in Koh Lanta.
Speaking of floating in the sea. Check out the pictures, because the pristine beach you see isn’t exactly truth I’m advertising. On our first morning we were dismayed to see a LOT of trash on the beach:
Plastic water bottles
Sunglasses
Glass beer and other bottles
Sandals
Asthma inhalers
Soda and beer cans
And a lot more. There were two or three guys from our resort raking and cleaning – probably 6-8 trash bags full of junk, and when they were done, the beach again looked great.
I went for a run later in the day though, and a lot of “resorts” aren’t as committed to the island. As a matter of speculation, it seems as if the very local people may have given up their beach property for the equivalent of a few beads. Not clear, to be sure – but between that and the crap (including my snorkel which I certainly didn’t mean to become trash) the paradise you see is rarely what it seems.
Don’t get me wrong – having a great time, and the Thai people have been stunningly wonderful. But climate change, trash from the first world, Malaysia, Philippines, tourism related developmenent – all come at a price. Our resort is green for Thailand. No hot water in the bungalow, they recycle, and so on. Happy to help them in their endeavors. But a word to the wise: your easy to buy water bottle in Seattle could easily show up here on the shore in Koh Lipe. So do think twice or thrice in your daily living; I know I will.
The rest of our first day was terrific – snorkeling and seeing amazing fish just a few meters from shore, that jog I mentioned, an almost cold beer, and then an exquisitely cooked fish for dinner
And another diving adventure slated for tomorrow!
Pictures include our friends Gary and Iffet figuring out their packs, Iffet and Rung, our best-friend travel agent, the pristine view from our guy, the not so pristine view the next day, Iffet, Puja chilling in the hammock.

December 8, 2012

Post dive day – scooter, curry, jogging and sunburn!

After a day of diving yesterday, we took it easy today: Slept in until 7.30, rented a scooter and drove to Old Town at the far end of the island, had a delish mango and mixed fruit shake, and an equally delish red curry.

Scooter was fun and a bit scary – my first time driving AND we drive on the opposite side of the road here in Thailand. Puja was a good sport and didn’t scream a single time.

Adding gas was sorta fun – took a few minutes to find the gas cap under the seat. And starting it gave us a scare at first – I wasn’t squeezing the brake hard enough and it wouldn’t start. A kind German couple helped us out!

We rode back to our place went for a swim, lay on the beach and then walked out (also on the beach) for dinner. We skipped the BBQ joints (had fabulous grilled barracuda last night) and had green curry instead.

During the day I noticed that my trip back from the dive, where I was doing my best not to vomit, led me to a horribly sloppy sunscreen application. My chest and side look like a fire hydrant. Luckily, they sell aloe, so I am hoping a few liberal applications of that will help.

Oh! Ran for the first time, along the beach. Probably looked quite silly – floppy hat, rash guard to prevent more sun exposure, board shorts. Yep – very hot look!

Oh! Also had a GREAT haircut in Old Town. The barber went all out – I think he used 5 different kinds of clippers, two scissors, and a straight razor!