So you will all be happy to know that Bryan and I are officially certified for scuba diving. The second day of the course we woke up and made our way to the classroom. We met our instructor and the other two couples in our group. Dan and Jenny were from Manchester and Francie and the other Dan were from Ireland. We got to know each other pretty well because we were together from 8-5 for three days.
I think one of the best memories I’ll have of this experience was having Renata as our instructor. Ranata is a tough and kind of scary woman from Germany. Although she was very strict and impatient, she was very competent in the water. Her personality was described as scary funny by one of the guys in our group. She was definitely a unique one.
Anywho, after we were assigned our SCUBA equipment we quickly made our way to the swimming pool where we began the process of understanding how it all worked. Once we had all our gear on we jumped in the pool for pretty much the rest of the day.
Before I go on any further I would like to express to those of you who don’t know already that one of my biggest fears in life is drowning. After jumping in the pool I quickly thought to myself “what was I thinking.” However, it was too late and I was not about to quit.
We had to perform several underwater exercises one at a time. A couple of them involved filling your mask with water and completely taking off your mask while controlling your breathing. This was the hardest exercise for me and I hated this one the most. Fortunately, I was not the only person who had trouble with this one. After talking with several people around the island I later learned that this exercise is the number one reason why people quit SCUBA certification. I accidentally got water up my nose and the I would panic and make my way to the top of the swimming pool to catch my breath. This is okay to do in the swimming pool, but very dangerous to do in the ocean.
After several exercises and hours in the pool, we washed our equipment and made our way back to the classroom for theory. We had two chapters and quizzes to complete everyday which was a bit of a drag for everyone.
Later, we went back to our room, and I prepared myself for the following day when I had to perform the exact same exercises in the big open water. Needless to say, I did not sleep at all that night.
The following morning came quickly. After morning theory, it was time for practice. We prepared our scuba equipment for the boat and made our way to the first open water dive destination known as Twins. SCUBA equipment is quite heavy if you’re not in the water, so it was a bit of a pain to walk around on the boat before jumping in the ocean. At this point, I was shaking non-stop. Once we had all jumped in the ocean we made our way to the back of the boat where we began our descent along a rope tied to a buoy floating at the top.
I was the first one to go down, equalizing every meter or so depending on how often I felt discomfort. Equalizing is when the pressure in the water around you becomes too great for the air in your body and you have to blow more air into your head in order to keep the pressure of the ocean similar to that of your head. It’s the exact same as when you go up in an airplane.
We went down 12 meters in the ocean before we left the rope. It was a great feeling to be that deep in the ocean and seeing things you would never be able to see just snorkeling. At this point, I was feeling somewhat calm but could not stop thinking about the mask exercises. Our first exercise was taking out our regulator. The requlator is your breathing device and you do this by continuously blowing out of your mouth until you have it back. Breathing in would be a HUGE mistake.Then we had to do an exercise where you signal to your buddy that you are low on air and need to use their alternate (octopus) breathing device, so you take your regulator out and use their secondary source. This is what you do if one person’s equipment stops working underwater.
Then the unavoidable came- performing mask exercises in the deep blue ocean.
The first one was filling your mask halfway with water and then blowing it back out of your mask. I completed this one successfully as did everyone else in the group.
The second exercise was completely flooding your mask with water.
My heart is pounding two times faster just writing about this – I accidentally got water up my nose, and so I did the worse thing you could do in the ocean, I panicked. Generally, when a person panics, they completely forget what to do and make a mad dash for the surface. I did this.
What you need to do is calm down and think about what to do next. I completely forgot what to do, in fact, I can’t even accurately describe to you what I did or how Ranata got me to calm down and breathe again into the regulator. All I remember is trying to shoot up to the top of the ocean as that is generally your first reaction when you can’t breath under water.
Doing this deep in the ocean is very dangerous and causes what is known as decompression sickness. Decompression sickness involves many things including dizziness, headaches, and possibly even paralysis. Also, if you go up too fast and forgot to let air out (scream, sing, etc) then the air in your lungs expands quickly because the water around you does not force it to compress. Your lungs can pop like a balloon. As you can imagine, Renata was not about to let this happen unless it caused danger upon her other students. So, she grabbed me, held me down, and made sure to keep my regulater in my mouth. I eventually calmed down and breathed into the regulator once again.
This was literally the scariest thing that has ever happened to me, or at least that I can remember.
Swimming underneath the ocean in your scuba gear is a wonderful experience and I was always calm doing so, It was the mask exercises that caused fear and panic.
We slowly made our way back up to the top, and prepared for the second dive. I was more calm the second time because I knew the mask exercises were done for the day.
That night our group went out for dinner and we had a lovely time reminiscing about the past two days with Ranata. She was definitely mean sometimes, but I am thankful for her competence in the ocean and knowing exactly what to do in those situations.
As much as I wanted to sleep that night, I could not. Thinking about what had happened earlier caused my heart to beat fast the whole night. I was not looking forward to the next day because I knew we had four new exercises to complete and one was mask. : (
We had to meet at 6 am the following morning in order to be one of the first divers in the water. Our first dive was 40 minutes out and we were going down to 18 meters this time. The first dive was a piece of cake because we had no exercises. We simply swam around and looked at beautiful fish, including Barracudas, Butterfly fish, and so much more. It was a wonderful dive. There were sharks deeper in the ocean, but we could not see them.
Our second dive was not as fun as the first dive simply because we had to take off our mask completely, put on sunglasses that Renata had, and do something silly for the camera (we had a professional videographer filming us for the day). While watching Dan, Francie, and the other Dan perfom this exercise, I was continuously telling myself that I could do it and to be calm. Renata swam over to me, handed me the sunglasses, and I just looked at her for a minute or two before taking off my mask in order to breath deeply and relax. The moment came when I finally took off my mask, put the sunglasses on, and did something stupid that I can’t quite remember. I was doing just fine until Ranata handed me my mask and I put it on. Unfortunately, the snorkel got in the way, and as a result, I started panicking. Once again, my first reaction was to swim up and once again Ranata held me down and helped me breathe into the regulator.
Once I finally had my mask on and I was breathing calmly, I swam over to Bryan grabbed his hands and looked at him with nervousness. He calmed me down by signaling to breathe deeply and slowly. He looked at me like everything was okay. I was thankful to have him there.
The next two exercises were a piece of cake compared to the mask ones. We had to sit on the bottom of the ocean holding our feet like buddha. Simple. Then we had to find our way to Renata using our compass. It was really funny because in the video that we watched later that night, Dan had no idea what he was doing with the compass and was off somewhere different from everyone else. He was lost. We all had a good laugh about that one.
After the exercises we simply swam around and looked at the fish until it was time to go up. We did see some clown fish (Nemo) and our first encounter with a dangerous animal.
I did not see the Trigger Fish, but Bryan did. The trigger fish was about three feet long and two feet tall and has a bite like a dog. It’s VERY territorial. The group saw it and simply swam the other way. It was busy munching on a school of small blue fish.
When going back up, you are not supposed to equalize even though you have the same discomfort when going down. However, some of us forgot and we equalized. This can cause decompression sickness, but it is not as serious as swimming to the top quickly – I think. : )
Anywho, we were done with the practice, and now it was time to take the final exam. We went back to the resort, ate lunch, and then took the exam. All of us passed with flying colors. The exam was multiple choice, with a couple of questions asking for pressure, meter, and time calculations that we used to determine how much “residual nitrogen” is in your body with the chart we received from the book. These charts let you calculate how much nitrogen you’ve breathed from the tank and avoid nitrogen narcosis. Those questions were somewhat difficult, but we all managed to get through them. Yay – We were done and certified. I couldn’t believe I made it through.
That night we all went out to celebrate by first watching the video of us scuba diving. It was put together nicely by the videographer with music and special effects. We could have bought one but it was a little too expensive (2500 baht – $80) so we passed. We took his card in case we decide to change our minds.
We then went to an Australian restaurant known as Choppers, Renata came along. It was very interesting talking to her because she has such a rough exterior, but is very much interested in finding someone she can spend her life with. It is hard for her to find someone because she is a 51 year old scuba instructor on an island working with very young people and tourists who only stay for a short while. I hope she finds someone soon.
The time came when we all said goodbye for the night, and Bryan and I made our way back home deciding what to do next. We literally had no idea where we were going until we arrived in Koh Samui.
We took a boat from Koh Tao to Koh Samui to and made our way to the airport thinking we were either going to Singapore or Koh Lanta. Unfortunately, the flights were booked for both destinations, so we went to the busy district of Koh Samui, found a travel agency, and decided to take a boat and bus to Koh Lanta that was far cheaper than flying. We decided to stay one day in Koh Samui to see what is was like. We are leaving the island tomorrow at 6 am and are very excited to see what Koh Lanta is like. Supposedly, the island is far less touristy and very beautiful. After that we will go to Singapore and then Bali.
One last thing – There are many workers on Koh Tao and Koh Samui who are from Myanmar (Burma), and so Bryan and I learned to say hello and thank you in Burmese. There has been a couple times where Bryan said thank you very much and the Burmese workers were so excited that someone spoke to them in their native language. It made my day everytime.
So we spent the majority of yesterday hanging out on the beach. I thought it was an absolutely beautiful day! The clouds were out and the sun wasn’t too hot. Leslie thought it was overcast. We also spent some time checking out different SCUBA schools to see if it was something we wanted to do.
We ended up deciding that we should give it a go, so we packed up our bags and headed back to the site of Leslie’s recovery. . . . Coral Grand Resort.
This time, we headed to the dive school and signed up to get our PADI lessens. There are about 16 different certification courses, with PADI being the most common. The open water certificate course we signed up for is a three and a half day course. At the end we’ll be licensed to go diving all over the world. It’s 9000 baht each for the course, but that includes lunch and accomodations. It seemed pretty expensive, but we figured it’s cheaper than home and something that’ll be a great experience.
Our room is “free” with the class, and is pretty nice. It’s got screens all around, a toilet that flushes the same as home, a table out front and a dresser that can actually hang clothes. We even unpacked all our stuff anticipating at least three nights in the same place.
We picked up a few more swimsuits before the class began. At 3:00 this afternoon, Leslie hand I headed back to school. She was a little disappointed because she thought she was done with homework and tests!
There was us, three people from Denmark, two Irish, two English and an Israeli. We then watched a couple movies that taught us about the various parts of the equipment (regulators, bouyancy control, etc). The movie was interesting because we watched in English with Danish subtitles. The Jewish woman had a book in Hebrew, but the Hebrew video tape had apparently busted a few days earlier.
The class will include four dives, two of 12 meters and two of 18. Tomorrow, we’ll meet the gang at 9am and split into two classes. Then, we’ll spend half the day in the classroom and half the day in the swimming pool before we head out to the open ocean the following day.
On another note, I’ve been working on my Thai and went into a store the other day attempting to start negotiating for a t-shirt in Thai. I attempted to ask how much she wanted for the shirt I was holding, but instead . . . I bungled it pretty badly. I held up the shirt and tried to say “make it cheaper” before I knew the price. However, I mispronounced it and I think I said a word that’s derogatory to women at the woman in the store.
Imagine a foreigner walking into a store, picking up a shirt, looking at a female saleswoman and saying, “B@(!”.
She immediately started laughing and cut the price by about 20%. I bought the shirt.
I started feeling a little better a couple days ago, and now I feel completely healthy again. Being sick and away from home was not as fun as I thought : ), but it was nice having Bryan there to take care of me. He did very well.
We are just hanging out on the beach today. We are still in the process of debating whether or not we are going to get certified for diving. We talked to an instructor who went into detail of what we can expect from the classes. I was a little worried at first because in order to become a certified diver you have to be able to open your eyes in the ocean. This did not sound like fun to me because contacts and salt water do not go hand in hand. Turns out if you wear contacts then you can keep your eyes closed. Good news for me, but Bryan is still a little nervous about it because he feels he is not a very good swimmer. ; ) I feel differently as I have seen him swim many times. If we decide to get certified it will take four days and 9,000 baht (about $250) per person. I believe it is a couple thousand dollars, if not more, to get certified in the States. We are feeling as though we will regret it if we don’t do it, so we will see what happens.
Koh Tao has been very relaxing, but after walking around the beach yesterday, we came to the realization that this place is a bit too touristy for us and want to experience more culture. Koh Tao is a lot like Hawaii, but with more Europeans. All of the restaurants and bungalows are a little too westernized for what we want to experience. If we decide not to get certified we will leave tomorrow, but we’re not sure where we will go next. We were thinking about going to Koh Phi Phi, but it is another island probably very similar to this one. We may make our way down to Malaysia or go straight to Singapore and then to Bali. We will let you know our plans. We may even go further south to a school where they teach you Thai. Who knows – We will see where the wind takes us.
So, we took off from Ko Phannang with the goal of catching up with Kersten and Mikael, after they to Ko Tao the day before we did.
The boat to Ko Tao saw us run into Aaron, Jenny and some young English people we had seen in Bangkok. Small world, eh? It was a lot slower, but a lot less rocky as the high-speed catamaran of Lomprayah (cruise company) gave way to the large-hulled Seastrom, which was a LOT easier. The lower deck was nicely air conditioned, but the upper deck saw us have the ability to hang our legs over the side while the main cabin blocked the sun. Aaron gave us some tips on where to stay once we reach Bali.
We lost the Englishmen when we left the boat, but told them we’d probably see them on the way to Ko Phi Phi
Leslie still was pretty hungry so we ducked into the first place we found. MAJOR MISTAKE!!!! There were some bugs around, but we decided that wasn’t that big of a deal and ate our respective dishes. I probably squished about 50 ants throughout the meal. We wouldn’t know until later, but this meal made Leslie sick.
Unaware of the bacteria in Leslie’s stomach, we headed back out of civilization by grabbing a “taxi” to Tanote Bay (east side of island). We expected to meet Kersten and Mikael there.
The internet connections are pretty slow in the places we’ve been, so we’ve given up on pictures for the time being. For those of you following along at home you can see a map of Ko Tao at www.thailandparadise.com/kohtaophotos/mapkohtao.gif.
The taxi was two benches along the side in the back of a pickup. The trip was shorter than it was from the port on Ko Phanang to the Treehouse, but even more treacherous. Water had carved out huge ruts in the road and noone has bothered to fill them it. To top it off, there was nowhere to hang onto in the back of the truck.
Our friends told us they were staying at Mountain Reef, so we went there. They were mostly full and offered us a dirty little bungalow for 300 baht. We decided to pass on that and went looking down the beach for other accomodations about 4pm. Meanwhile, the food from the earlier buggy-place began a battle with Leslie’s stomach.
We ended up staying in the biggest of the five hostels on the beach called Tanote Bay Resort. Our bungalow was the third row upand not obscured by trees in this picture. We got it for 400 baht a night (about $11). static.panoramio.com/photos/original/910956.jpg It was pretty nice, but there was no bug screen over the bed, no AC (a fan) and just wasn’t as nice as the Treehouse.
Renting some masks and fins let us make an attempt at snorkeling, but we failed due to muddy water, garbage and the lateness of the day. We decided to try again the next day.
We returned to the bungalow, dropped off our stuff and then went down to try and head to the Mountain Reef to find Kersten and Mikael. Turns out, they were in the lobby of our place getting some food! It’s the building with the red roof in that picture. It’s not common that “hey , I’ll find you in a few days somewhere on that beach” works that well!
A few hours over dinner allowed us to solve most of the world’s problems before deciding we would meet at 8:30 the next day to take a “taxi” to Haad (beach) Sai Ree (west side of island) to go on an all-day snorkeling adventure.
Mostly Germans and Nederlanders were in the hotel, though we’d heard there was another set of Americans. That night, we snuck down into the lobby at midnight to see if they were there.
Sure enough, the entire American delegation from the resort met to watch the inauguration of Barack Obama . . . all four of us. The other couple was Kate and Carl. Kate was from Florida, Carl from Colombus, Ohio and they were living in Shanghai. We watched the only TV in the place. The owner said he’d stay open for us, but he’d left. The worker who discovered us didn’t seem to mind though
We did get to see Obama’s speech, but everyone else was being talked over by the Thai announcers. It was definitely fun to see the speech though.
Unfortunately, Leslie took a turn for the worse. I met Kerstin and Mikael to tell them we were going to have to bail on them in the morning as Leslie was down in bed. We decided that drugs were the way to go.
We’ve got a small collection of travel-meds, which appears to be unnecessary because they’re available from all the pharmacies without a perscription. Thailand has the second best health-care system in SE Asia behind Singapore.
However, we were glad we had them because there was no pharmacy in Tanote Bay. Leslie started on the penicillin around noon and proceeded to sleep for most of the day.
I spent a good chunk of time reading on the hammock in front of our bungalow, but eventually got hungry and wanted Leslie to eat something. We settled on Tom Yum Soup, which was a chicken and vegetables spicy soup. Leslie had the broth and went back to sleep.
I then took the flippers we had rented the day before to go snorkeling. It was fun, but I didn’t stay out too long, because I wanted Leslie to be there when I first got to go snorkeling and felt a bit guilty.
On may way back I ran into Kate and Carl and hung out with them on the beach. I’d go in every hour or so to check on Leslie while I learned what it was like to be an expat in China. They seemed to enjoy it, but after a few years were starting to miss the States.
The big adventure was the garbage on the beach. It was GROSS because some large boat had dumped the garbage over the side a few nights before. It started with three Germans cleaning, but then the three of us joined and soon, about 35 tourists were cleaning the beach. It was spotless when we were done and showed that teamwork to complete a task can occur regardless of language barrier. I guess it was a pretty easy task though.
Around five, Leslie woke and I got her some more soup. She did pretty good, but we decided to leave the following morning to go to the more developed side of the island which had pharmacies and a plethora of clinics if it became necessary.
We didn’t see Kersten and Mikael again, but I sent ‘em a facebook message explaining what happened, so they’ll understand.
The next morning we booked it for Grand Coral Reef Resort (or something like that). I’d heard about that from some guys on the boat trying to sell me some dive lessons and it looked like the most modern.
When we got there, we saw that the nicest bungalows rat $2900 baht a night (about $80). We begged off those and ended up with a room for 1200 baht. It was by far the most modern we had. It had air conditioning, walls that kept out bugs, a television with two english-speaking channels (CNN and HBO), soap and shampoo provided by the resort and a toilet that could actually flush TP! It wasn’t their nicest room, but looked to be the place to let Leslie recover.
I sat on the beach and tried my thai to order, which kind of worked. “Ow nam yei nung kraut ga ru na” means “I would like a large bottled water, please”. It’s getting better.
Leslie stayed in bed for a few more hours, but the penicillin appears to have worked. She’ll stay on it for another day or so. We spent a lot of the day resting in bed and enjoying the AC. Leslie also let me watch the English Premier League review show . . . .in Thai.
We spent a bit of time in the water, where we met an english guy who told us about a cheap, nice place to stay called Blue Wind. On the way back from the water some Thai guys were playing soccer and saw me watching them and asked if I wanted to play.
A feeling-a-bit-better Leslie joked around with some English blokes about a dog that was gnawing on another dog’s leg as I played some beach football.
I didn’t have a shirt, because I was swimming, but they said it was okay. “It ok, it ok!” the spokesman said, ” We play no shirt on one and then shirt with farang (foreigner)!”
I did okay, but the ball bounces funny on the sand. After slipping and absolutely smashing a smaller opponent I decided to try and avoid contact (even though they were pretty rough). These guys were much better than the guys on Ko Panyang and played a pretty passing game with TINY goals with a goalkeeper. I dribbled at an opponent and was told “no no, no do that!” The passing was more important than making forward progress. I adapted and played on defense for about 45 minutes.
Suddenly, I felt a pain in my foot and looked down at the bottom. I’d been having fun and didn’t notice the three huge blood blisters that had formed on the bottom of my feet. I told everyone thank you and we went back to the room with me telling Leslie to slow down.
That night, we went to the BBQ on the beach that was being hosted by our place and destroyed our budget. I ordered three MONSTROUS king prawns and Leslie tried to order a bit of fish . . . . but ordered a whole bass. The meal ended up running about $30. It was pretty good, but Leslie didn’t like how the fish was done (thought it was under-cooked) so I ate it. I felt a bit iffy for a bit but am fine today.
Last night was the only night we’ve slept in a climate controlled room so far.
After checking out this morning and progressed down the beach to Blue Wave. We got a pretty good bungalow, which is almost as nice as the treehouse (mosquito net, real toilet, secure) for 450 baht. The front of the hostel is also a bakery, which makes everything smell good.
We were gonna leave Ko Tao quickly, but now we’re thinking we’ll stick around for a bit. We ate some breakfast and gave ‘em our laundry. We did some shopping to pick up some beach towels, looked for another little backpack and sunscreen. Sunscreen can run upwards of 480 baht ($15). Aloe Vera is also rediculous, but the Thais don’t use it . . . . so . . . . .
Leslie got some fisherman-style shorts to wear because all of her other clothes are in the wash.
We then went snorkeling around the area, which was pretty fun. We just headed out from the beach, but saw a load of tropical fish. The coral was pretty slick, too. The colors were great and I wish we could show some pictures. As my blisters appeared to want to come off we headed in.
Taking a shower to clean off I realized that the bungalow we were in was built for someone my size! I didn’t have to duck to use the shower and the mirror is pointed at me!
Leslie wanted to do some sunbathing, so I decided that it was about time to track down the ‘net. It’s been a bit longer than I thought, so I’m gonna go catch up with her for some food.
We’re debating whether we want to spend 1000 baht ($30) and go on a snorkeling trip around the island like we had planned with Kerstin and Mikael, or spend the 9000 baht each and do the four day PADI internation S.C.U.B.A. course that includes international licensing and accomodation. It’s a bit expensive, but could be a blast. We also might do either of those options on our next stop. Ko Phi Phi.
So, I just got done writing a pretty long blog, and then I lost it all. This will be a quick one because we have to catch the boat : (
We are about to leave Koh Phangan in an effort to make our way to Koh Tao. We are taking the same boat, so hopefully I won’t get sea sick. Last time it took me a whole day to recover.
The Treehouse was very beautiful and relaxing. The owners (Pamela and Kai) were some of the nicest people we have met. Since the treehouse is rather new for the island, there were only about six people that stayed there. As a result, we got to know many of them quite well. We met most Germans and a few English Lads.
There really isn’t a lot to write about because we mainly just relaxed, read, listened to music, ate good food, and got to know the people around us.
The total price for five nights, including food and drinks, was about 5700 baht (about $167). Such a good deal especially since we had one of the best views of the ocean and a very cool bungalow. Seriously, it was awesome.
There was one day where we decided to exlore the other side of the island with the goal to see what is what like and buy me a swim suit. Once we were there we decided that our side was much better and less expensive. It made us very happy.
It was quite funny because usually there is an official resort taxi that will leave the downtown area at 1 pm and 1 pm only. If you don’t catch that one, then it is much more expensive. Pamela offered to pick us up at 4 instead of 1 because she had to pick up her son from school anyway. Once we made it to the downtown area we waited for a good a couple hours and she still had not come. So, we decided to get on a taxi before it got dark (taxi drivers do not like to drive at night). We had to pay 800 baht, but we made it. When we arrived Pamela smiled at us, and then it hit her, she completely forgot to pick us up. Kai and she felt so bad, but it was priceless to see their facial expressions. As a result of their forgetfulness, they offered to pay for half of the taxi and they gave us free fish for dinner.
All and all, the Treehouse was a great time. We had plenty of days to relax and hang out, so we are now ready for more adventure.
I would recommend the Treehouse to anyone. It was way better than Hawaii and so (SO) much cheaper. If anyone is interested in learning more you can visit their website at www.tree-house.org
So Leslie has always had a desire to live in a boat on the water. Yesterday, that dream ended.
After the writing of the last blog the two of us ate some more Pad Thai and took off for the bus to Ko Phan-nang, a little island off the southeastern seaboard.
A man took us from Lamphu house to a little shop about two blocks away, where we sat with a bunch of farang (foreigners) waiting for the bus. We hung out with Dale and Meesha from England and Ben from Germany.
We got on a double decker bus and the five of us grabbed the bottom floor to ourselves, where we had loads of leg room around around 9 pm. We were informed that we had to sit in our numbered seat above, so had to head to the top floor with the commoners.
The bus was relatively comfortable, with seats reclining to almost laying position. Leslie had a woman behind her who was about 6’5″, so she asked her not to recline so much.
We slept as much as possible on our way to the port, but the bus did rock back and forth pretty heavily. The lights above us didn’t work, so my desire to read was short-circuited when the cabin lights went off. We slept as best we could, but it wasn’t very restful.
We stopped once where they let everyone off to go to the bathroom. At that point we talked to Dale, Ben and Meesha and agreed that once the lights went off we’d sneak to the bottom of the bus. The five of us met each other again a few minutes later as we found the bottom floor and slept better for the remainder of the bus ride.
About 5 am the lights came back on and the bus unloaded to allow us all off. The boat did not leave unitl 7am so we had some time to sit and chit-chat. At this point we lost track of Dale and Meesha and I chatted with Ben while Leslie got some shut-eye. We sat on comfortable little cots waiting for the sun to come up. Leslie woke up when a rooster appeared next to her making some noise. Ben gave me some tips on what to do once we reached Singapore as I took notes.
The boat arrived about 6:50 and we all got on. The sun was about 2/3 up and we walked about a quarter of a mile down a rickety little bridge. We made it onto the boat and sat next to Ben.
The boat was making three stops. First, Ko Tao, which is mainly for scuba-diving and snorkeling, then Ko Phanang, which is for relaxing and known for it’s full moon parties, then Ko Samui, which is developed with many western chain stores.
The boat was a pretty modern looking, double-decker catamaran (two pontoons). We could not really move around the boat to well, but it was fairly comfortable with a movie being shown (Hellboy 2). The seats were a little better than airline quality with three on the left, an aisle, five in the middle, another aisle and three on the right. It looked like it was about to be a comfortable voyage.
As we pulled out of the shore the staff started heading up and down the aisles and I thought that we were in for some food or a drink.
Then they started handing out barf-bags.
The boat took off at breakneck pace through waves that had to be fifteen meters high. At first I was worried about whether or not we’d make it, but then just got curious about how long it would be until the first person lost their lunch (or breakfast as the case may be). Ben had been on these trips before so I asked him. He said that it wouldn’t be long.
About two minutes later Geesha fell across my seat as she had the pleasure of being the first person to make the dash to the back of the boat. A steady stream of people followed as I put my hands in the air like a roller-coaster. It was quite a ride as I thought that the boat driver must really know what he’s doing.
A few times he caught a wave wrong and the whole boat came down with a jolt that I thought would knock my fillings loose. About 1/2 the boat ended up using the bags provided as Dale made his way after Geesha to the back of the boat.
The biggest problem was the chain-reaction that was created when someone used the barf-bag. It set off everybody else! The whole thing was a bit like a scene from a bag movie, but not as funny when you’re living it.
I did okay, and Leslie was a trooper, but did end up utilizing the tools provided. She didn’t feel well but stuck through it really well!
It finally calmed down as we neared the island about two and a half hours of pukey-travel later. We first reached Ko Tao, which was NOT our destination. We say Geesha and Dale exit and Geesha had a “thank you, God!” smile on her face. The subsequent trip to Ko Phanang was relatively calm, but we were all happy to reach shore.
Special thanks to Chalain Brazzel for telling us about the Treehouse Guesthouse. For those who don’t know, she’s Leslie’s friend who is teaching English as a second language in South Korea and recommended it as a place to stay on Ko Chang. However, it has closed down on Ko Chang and reopened on Ko Panang. It reopened the day we arrived.
We got off the boat and headed to the Yellow Cafe, which is a little town on the island. We ate some food and waited for the taxi, which the treehouse said would be there. It arrived at 1pm. There, we met Michael and Kristin from Munchen, Germany. Michael is an engineer and Kristin teaches English. They were off to a different hostel on the same beach called Mai Pen Rai, which means ¨Whatever¨.
The four of us crawled into the back of a pickup truck and headed to the western side of the island. The pickup “taxi” goes from Haan Sadet (Sadet Beach) to Thang Salah (the only city on the island) at 1pm. It goes from the beach to Thang Salah at 10am amd costs $150 ($5). That’s it.
If you miss that taxi then you have to hire a cab to take you along a very windy, dirty, pot-holey rode for 1000 baht ($33). It’s dark and dangerous at night and they do NOT want to do it. Many won’t even go for that. As a result, you get there and STAY there.
When we got to the beach we found Mai Pen Rai but could not find the Treehouse. Kristin and Michael checked into Mai Pen Rai. We eventually got directions from the taxi driver, who rolled his eyes at us. We had to walk to the end of the beach and down a path that was up to our thighs in water. It had been flooded earlier and the water has never been higher. We did make it though.
We officially became the second group to check into the Treehouse yesterday and it is GORGEOUS. There are 10 bungalows in the treehouse and they are just finishing it. When we walked up, Pamela (owner/operator) told us to dig in. There was a party for the work-crew lined up and a free buffet of some great food. We were REALLY hungry, so anything would have been great.
Pamela welcomed us to the main cabin that was covered with about 20 chairs and a kitchen. There´s an attached deck with knee high tables and pillows. It´s a good little hangout spot with a german couple perpetually drinking beer and the bustle of a new hostel almost complete.
After eating, Pamela showed us three Bungalows. We chose the one on the very end for 550 a night (about $18). It has electricity from 6pm at night and is BRAND NEW. It still smells a bit like paint.
It´s got a porch out front and is situated on a large rock sitting on the beach. The rock is about 100 feet tall and sticking right out of a little bay. It´s all wood and painted yellow and blue. The sheets are brand new and there´s a great mosquito net to keep the bugs out. It has running water and we´ve figured out that you can get a lukewarm shower if you take it in the afternoon.
Today, we woke up and did nothing. We went to the main building of the Treehouse and noticed how much progress has been made. As opposed to having no menu, they have three pieces of paper scribbled and taped to the desk. Pamela was busily making signs that point to the treehouse as she helped the two kids through their homework. The kids are German-Thai, most of the people on Haan Sadet are German.
There´s a bunch of dogs running around that are well taken care of for a change, who are begging for food most of the time. We sat on a bluff and read a book. That changed when we made the trek back to Mai Pen Rai and found Michael and Kristin. We sat with them and hung out for about five hours.
Mai Pen Rai is on a beach with two other hostels. It is the ¨main area¨and has two restaurants, the taxi, a small shop and this computer. Treehouse has only the bungalow and a restaurant. Treehouse has five people staying and about 12 workers while the ¨main area¨has about 200 people total.
Every time we go from one to the other we have to go through the path that is flooded by two and a half feet of water (depending on the tide).
There were five big things that happened today as we sat on the beach by Mai Pen Rai.
we ordered a cocunut smoothie
we ordered a pineapple smoothie
I dug a hole in the sand as a make shift armchair
Leslie listened to her IPod
I changed into my swim trunks.
As dusk approached the we went to the Treehouse for dinner with Michael and Kristin where they told us about their trip in Vietnam. They then headed off to a BBQ at Mai Pen Rai while we went to our Bungalow.
I then proceeded to make a jerk of myself.
We saw some of the workers playing football-soccer, so I asked if I could join. They said I could and they were kind impressed, saying ¨farang´´farang´´ to get me to give them the ball. They were burning bushes around a part they were clearing to make the next hostel.
I then cracked a shot from distance . . . .and hit the firë. The plastic ball we were using burst and I used the Thai I know. Kor Thot! Kor A’Pai! I said, which means Sorry! Excuse me! They laughed, but I felt bad.
I then went back to the bungalow and found some older workers on a rock in front. We communicated to the best of our ability, which was mostly numbers and learning to say ¨water¨ and ¨bird¨. Leslie read and relaxed in our bungalow.
Six o’clock rolled around, I excused myself and we made the trek through the dark over to Mai Pen Rai in order to use the internet and let everyone know we didn´t die, we were just in a place where there´s no power most of the day!
We´ve talked about heading to the other side of the island tomorrow, but we´ll see what happens, we´ve found a great beach and are in no rush to do anything!
To answer your question Jenn, ¨Pad Thai¨is a wide variety of stuff over here. We´ve had thick noodles, thin noodles and a bunch of vegetables that I don´t even recognize . We really haven´t had two that taste the same. A few have been close to what we get and some are pretty different. Some are better, some are worse. Most have these little green squashes that are kind of tough to chew and some things that look like peas, but don´t taste anything like that. All in all it´s pretty good, but it depends on who makes it. We´ve had Pad Thai that costs from 25 baht from a little stand to 120 baht ($4) from a restaurant. The best we´ve had is the cheap stuff from the street vendor.
I also want to give a shout out to Andreas, who was the Swedish man we met at Thanon Khao San a few days ago. His travel blog is www.ettlivithailand.blogspot.com.
We´ll probably start a link page to people we meet at some point. Ben from the boat´s got one, too, but his is in German, so not so much.
We just got back from an hour long foot massage, and it was only 200 baht ($6). It was quite nice after walking around Bangkok all day.
Yesterday was a great day, but that was partially because we did not ride on any tuk-tuks. We woke up and made our way to the river taxi in order to spend most of the day looking at temples. The first temple we saw was called wot pho (wot or wat means buddhist temple). This is where one can see the big resting buddha. We took about a thousand pictures in and around the temple and then made our way to the Grand Palace.
Prior to yesterday, we had tried a couple times to see the Grand Palace, but every time some unknown stranger approached us right before we made it to the front and told us that either we did not have the right clothes on or that is was only open for Thai people at that time. However, these are people who are trying to get you to ride the tuk tuks in order to take you to a further temple. Their goal is to take you to a tailor or jewerly store because they receive high commission when doing so. Anywho, we learned our lesson and we were not about to let anyone fool us. The Grand Palace opens to the public at 830 am and if you are dressed inappropriately they will give you something to wear for free. In short, the grand palace was beautiful. This is where we saw the emerald buddha. It was amazing. I wish I could have taken pictures of the emerald buddha but it was strictly prohibited. Other than that, we have so many pictures of the Grand Palace. We just bought a USB for our camera, so we will post pictures when possible.
After the Grand Palace we ate lunch by the river and met a 65 year old man from Australia who has worked for the Lonely Planet as a researcher for several years. He was very interesting to talk to, and he gave us very good advice. After lunch we made our way to the next temple known as Wat Arun, also known as the Temple of Dawn. I loved this temple because you can climb up the temple from the outside. It was very steep and I think I scared a couple chinese ladies because they thought I was about to fall. I would have not fallen, but it was funny to see their faces. We all laughed when I got to the top. Again, a very beautiful temple.
Yesterday was also laundry day, so we took a bag full of clothes to drop off at a laundry mat. I think it was about 125 baht for a load. Usually, you are supposed to pick the laundry up a couple hours later, but we arrived in the late afternoon and as a result we left it there over night. Bryan had to buy another pair of pants because he had only brought one. He purchased what is known as fisherman pants for 120 baht. He looks very cute in them.
We then went over to Thanon Khao Son, which is a major tourist district. We ate dinner and met a man from Sweden. We talked for a good hour or two about our travels and ended up giving each other our travel blog URLs. It seems as if everyone has one now. Bryan ended up buying a rather nice pair of sunglasses for a 120 baht from a guy walking by our table.
Bryan and I now have a technique for bargaining with the vendors. We call it good cop bad cop, and this is where the other person says “we can get it cheaper somewhere else” or something to that effect. I don’t think it really works, but we will let you know in a couple days.
Jenn, to answer your question about Thai food, yes it is very good. However, the people here never give us spice. I don’t think they understand that we can handle it. We just have to make sure we ask for spicy and sometimes they bring it that way and sometimes they don’t.
We are headed south in about an hour and a half to an island called Ko Phan ngan. We are going by bus and then by boat. It will take us about 11 hours. We will let you all know when we have arrived.
We woke up this morning in Wild Orchid Villa and took the first of what we assume will be many cold showers after watching Man United play Chelsea the night before with some folks we met. They’d been traveling awhile so gave us some helpful tips. I chatted with Colin or Carl. It was only one person, but I couldn’t tell which his name was due to a thick Irish/Australian accent. He’s born in Ireland and has lived in Australia for a few year. Leslie was fine “watching the match” because she chatted with Carl’s friend who didn’t like soccer.
We’ve moved from the Wild Orchid Villa about 30 meters down the way to Lamphu House, which is the hostel we originally wanted to stay in. It’s the “our pick” in the Lonely Planet guide that EVERYONE travels with.The place is great with a bed frame made out of eight inch round tree branches, a table, mirror and actual closet in-room. Fan and AC cost extra. We got a fan, but all the AC rooms were already booked.
We didn’t go to a restaurant for breakfast, but got pad thai for 25 baht (80 cents) from a stand on the street. It was better than the stuff we paid 90 baht for in the restaurant yesterday.
To answer your question, Mom, a Tuk-tuk is a three wheeled, motorized vehicle. Imagine a motorcycle with a bench seat in the back with the whole thing covered by a thin piece of plastic. Some have radios and CD players, others are more plain. You can hail them like a taxi then \you have to negotiate a fare. There are no meteres.
Tuk-tuks combine with two wheeled motor-bikes (not quite motorcycles, but close), buses and cars to make the Bangkok traffic situation an exciting experience. Traffic lanes are definitely more of a suggestion than a rule. One of my favorites was a father driving a motorbike, his wife between his legs, their daughter standing in front of the mother and the kids’ doll hanging over the handlebars. Everyone is VERY close together. There was a father with a daughter between his legs eating a popsicle and I could have reached out of the tuk-tuk and grabbed the popsicle quite easily.
Tailors, jewelry shops and other places pay tuk-tuk drivers to bring tourists into the shop. As a result, we’ve been dropped off at 3 tailors so far. Yesterday we didnt’ mind it so much, but today it got on our nerves.
The guys we chatted with at the football match told us “MBK” was a good place to get a cell phone which we wanted to be able to book hostels and in case of emergency, so we hopped a tuk-tuk to get there.
The first driver pawned us off to a second guy. I don’t think he was happy with the price of 100 baht all the way across town to MBK. I think that it was a little far for the tuk-tuk and maybe we should have taken a taxi. It became apparent that something was amiss when our driver whipped out a hospital-style mask to cover his mouth. The fumes got to us and I got a little dizzy. Next time we’ll take non-Tuk-tuk transportation to go that far.
MBK was a seven floor mall that was absolutely monstrous. Honestly, Leslie and I weren’t all that impressed. We’re not really mall-going types. The first three floors were dedicated to clothes, fourth was phones, fifth was food, sixth . . . .
We got ourselves a cellphone, so can make calls now. In Asia, you but the phone and then can put minutes on it by purchasing them at a 7-11. No plans.
Leslie got a small mirror, a brush and a hat as well. I still need to find a good keep-the-sun-off-me hat. The biggest thing we forgot is the cord to connect the camera to the USB device on the computer. (hence no pictures on the blog) We forgot to look for one at MBK. Oh well, we’ll get them soon enough.
We then left and went across the street to 7-11. 7-11 is EVERYWHERE and is incredibly handy. We’ve bought a few drugstore type things from them, but mostly bottled-water, which is available for 7 baht (2 cents). They’re also a reliable place to break a large bill if necessary.
We then met a guy in front of the 7-11 who was quite nice. He owned the shop and was going to meet his girlfriend and wanted us to walk with him in order to practice his English and take us to the “domestic”, which I think was a budget tourist agency, but we weren’t sure what it was.
He ended up taking us to the National Stadium, and a row of football (soccer) stores. We stopped at that point for two reason. First, we were in the football stores! Second, we didn’t want to follow him without knowing where we were going. He realized we were a bit sketched out and looked sad. It was probably okay, but no need to take a risk. . . . and we were at the football stadium!
It was EXACTLY the place where I could get a load of cheap jerseys for our Bellingham City FC team. However, the people working there didn’t speak enough english to understand “I need 100 of these”. I’ll try again later. I was nervous that I wasn’t going to be able to find jerseys in our budget, but I’ve found those. Now, I need to figure out how to place a bulk order with someone who doesn’t speak English anhd isn’t prepared for a bulk order from a farang (foreigner). I’m not sure it’s going to happen but we’re gonna try.
We then started making our way home, slowly. The Tuk-tuk drivers kept wanting to take us to tailors and jewelry stores. What was okay yesterday for 20 baht+ a few stops ended up frustrating the heck out of me today. We’d agree upon 40 baht, then they’d say “2 stops”. We’d say “no stops”. It rose the price and a few drivers actually made us get out because we wouldn’t go to the tailor. Just raise the price a few baht!!
It makes we wonder what the jewelry stores and tailors are actually giving the tuk-tuks.
Some travel days go well (yesterday), others don’t (today). We ended up walking a lot more than we wanted . . . again. We got directions many times and everyone told us “just walk that way . . . ten minutes”. We were ten minutes away for two hours.
My favorite “friendly-Thai guy” oi the day was a guy we found outside the ministry of defense. He had just gotten off work (at 3) and was waiting for his family to pick him up. He directed us to a few temples and was generally a friendly guy. When we said we were from the USA he started saying good things about Obama. I have a roll of Obama stickers in my pocket so I tore one off and gave it to him. He was stoked.
We chit-chatted for a bit and he directed us back towards Banglampu (our hostel area). It was the right way, but took us through a five-way intersection. The chaos of Tuk-tuks, buses, motorcycles, cars, taxis et-al comes through the intersection in a way that is definitely NOT legal in the USA. Passengers do not have the right of way. Crossing the street in Bangkok is not a job for part-timers.
As a result, we’d find locals and hug closely behind them while crossing. One guy pretended not to notice, then gave us a “come on” motion with his hand when he crossed. We made it, but it was more adventurous in ways that I’d prefer not be in the future!
Tired and sore, we made it back to Banglampu. I tried to order some sticky rice with mango, but ended up getting two mango smoothies due to the language barrier. They were okay. Leslie proved to be much better than me by actually getting what she ordered!
Sticky rice is quickly becoming a favorite. I have a feeling that sticky rice is about to become a theme
We then got some curry and Leslie headed back to the hostel for a nap. I headed to the basement of Lamphu house and bought two tickets for an AC bus/boat combination that will take us to Ko Phan-Ngen on Wednesday for $48. It was one of the higher-end packaged. The price was better than I expected . I woke up Leslie and told her we had tickets and I was gonna go write a blog. She said to wake her up in 30 minutes. It’s been 40. Later.
We have had a successful second day here in Bangkok. We left our hostel (Sukhumvit On Nut) knowing exactly where to find the sky train. The night before we were lost getting back to the hostel, but it turns out the train was approximately a five minute walk to where we needed to be.
So far Thailand has been pretty easy getting around. We have traveled by taxi, train, tuk-tuk, and river boat. Tuk-tuk has been our favorite so far and it has only been about 20 baht (.65). Today our driver took us to five different spots including the happy buddha. He waited for us each time, and we only had to pay 40 baht. Many of the tuk-tuk drivers will ask you to go in a jewerly shop or fitting shopping area for five to ten minutes which means they get free gas or some other coupon. Today we didn’t mind doing that so much because he took us to where we wanted to go for a good price.
The people here have been wonderful so far. They love talking with the tourists, but like to get to know you a little bit before they give you helpful information.
Today we found a hostel in the Banglampu district and we have absolutely loved it. We originally wanted to stay in a hostel called Lamphu House (recommended by Lonely Planet), but they were completely full. We then found a hostel further down and booked it for 200 baht (about 6 1/2 dollars), however it was a bit shady, so we decided later to switch to one down the road for 250 baht. This place is much cleaner and smells better : )
We are loving it here so far, and it has been a blast meeting people from all over the world. Wish I could write more, but I’m running out of time.
We will probably be in Bangkok for another day or two, and then we are heading south to an island or two.
So, we took off from Seattle at noon on a Thursday and arrived on Saturday at 1am in Bangkok after a layover in Seoul.
The flight itself wasn’t too bad. Although it took 30 hours, the food was pretty good.
We arrived in Bangkok just in time to spend too much money on our first Taxi ride. We spent 500 baht ($15) getting from the airport to our hostel, which was probably about 300 baht too much. Oh well, live and learn.
The guy we agreed to a ride with ended up directing us to another person who drove the van. We had no way to communicate with him, but did end up at the hostel around 3:00 am. It was completely booked, but the owner allowed us to sleep on a mattress pulled into a room usuaully used for language classes.
Leslie liked that room better than the one we had the next night.
We woke the next morning to try and find some foold, with little luck at first. We meandered down Sukhumvit on foot, trying to find our way downtown. We were just looking for a a bit of food, but couldn’t find anywhere that gave us enough information in english to order.
There were large cooked birds hanging in storefronts and a sidewalk about a foot and a half wide that was either broken or incomplete, it didn’t really matter which. We were the only non-Asian people to be seen and there was absolutely no English. Crossing the street was a non-starter, so when we found a cross-street we doubled back, found an overhead bridge and used that.
Storefronts were about ten feet wide, usually with a person or two out front. Some had meets and vegetables hanging out front as people conversed out front.
We also got the opportunity to pass through our first pack of wild dogs, and second. . . and third. . .
After about an hour of walking through the area with stomachs empty we sat down to take a look at the map. A dog ended up taking a little more interest in us then we wanted. We hailed a cab and told ‘em to take us to Chatuchak Market, which was the first thing I thought I could pronounce that I found in the guide book. This cost us around 180 baht, ($6), and was about as far as airport to hostel.
Chatuchak is a gigantic weekend market. We started by trying to find some food and saw a cart with some vegetables on it. We ducked down a side ally that looked like there was food down there. Leslie saw a cart that looked good and decided to approach the vendor there.
She asked how we go about getting food, at which point the woman behind the cart said in near-perfect English, “Well, this is back of store, you want food you go to front of store”. At this point we realized we had ducked into a service alley.
We went where indicated and got Pad Thai. We explored the market for a few hours and found $4 soccer jerseys, $5 Chuck Taylors and $20 northface backpacks. Leslie ended up getting a pair of pants.
We then attempted to find somewhere on the river, so started walking West, which looked like a little ways. An hour later we realized we had no idea where we were going and hailed a cab. The first cab couldn’t understand us, so we got right back out.
The second apparently didn’t understand us either as we asked to go to a park and ended up at a huge mall. We found a bench to try to figure out what to do next and after a bit of discussion, found that the woman next to us was listening in. “Yeah, we’re lost” I told her and we learned that she was from Portland.
She informed us that she’d been there for a few weeks. She’d spend 1000 baht on her first Taxi, so we didn’t feel so bad. She also showed us how to use the SkyTrain and Metro. 240 baht ($8) for two all-day passes. Much better.
In retrospect, we owe that cab driver a favor. He didn’t understand us, but figured out that nobody else would either and took us to a transportation hub. I’m guessing we grabbed the taxi from next to a skytrain station.
We took the metro to the river and found a river taxi that spends all day hopping up and down the river. We’ll do that tomorrow.
We meandered looking for a place to eat, but didn’t find much. Eventually we grabbed a wooden-floored bus and went whipping through town, we had no idea where we were going but it was fun. It was small and cramped. I hit my head on the roof. It was 15 baht.
We ended up getting out because Leslie saw what she thought was a restaurant, we ended up in China town in front of a Chinese opera. The guy working at the operahouse talked to us a bit and then the guy a little down the street. He helped us get a Tuk-Tuk for 20 baht that took us to a state-run tourist station. We’re heading back there next week to buy tickets to South Thailand.
He then took us to a tailor for unbeknownst reasons. I think it was because he was taking us to a seafood restaurant and he didn’t think we were dressed up enough.
Then, off to the restaurant where we got food with some odd spice in it. I liked it, Leslie, not so much. Mine was kinda fun because it came in a pineapple.
At that point it was about four and we headed back to the hostel as we were completely tired and still not completely adjusted to the time-change. Finding our way back was no easy feat, as the train didn’t go all the way and we made the mistake of assuming that the side-streets were numbered the same on both sides of the street.
One more cab ride and we found our way to an adjacent alley. We made it back, but it definitely was more work then we wanted.
We were going to read books and hang out at the hostel, but instead fell asleep about 6pm. As a result, it’s now 3:30, but that’s not too bad as Inter v. Cagiari is on the tube.
I did manage to make it into the dog house one more time though. I thought I’d make Leslie feel better by locking the door as I came downstairs. I didn’t realize, but I accidentally locked her in.
A nice Japanese (I think) guy came downstairs while I was writing this thing and muddled through that Leslie couldn’t get downstairs. I let her out, but she informed me that she has now been in jail for a bit. I got demerits for that one.
I’m gonna try to get some more sleep though. Don’t worry everyone, we’re doing great.