Tag Archives: holiday

Holiday Season ‘Down Under’

I hadn’t planned on visiting Australia initially because I’d learned from fellow travelers that it was a very expensive country to visit.  However, it was while I was in Malaysia volunteering at the animal shelter that I just happened to receive an email from a good friend of mine whom I’d known back in New Mexico.  We had lost touch over the years despite attempts on both our ends to keep in touch, but alas he found me:)  And as chance would have it, he was living in Sydney!  So of course I had to go see him!!

The timing of it all to this day still fascinates me.  It’s just further proof in my book that everything happens the way it should.  After a couple of email exchanges I made plans to see him and spend Christmas and New Years with him and his partner:)

I arrived in the ‘land down under’ mid-December and was greeted at the airport with the loving embrace and friendly faces of my friend and his partner.  After a quick nibble out, we headed back to their place where I met their two kids, Willow and Bear, two absolutely adorable pups!!  We stayed up quite late that first night (and for the next several nights) with bottles of vino and beer, catching up on all things past and present.  What a truly amazing and still surreal time!

They showed me around all the hotspots of Sydney; Bondi beach (pronounced Bond-eye, not Bondy), the Opera House (of course!), the harbor area, Mansly, the Botanical Gardens and the Watson Bay area where sailboats dotted a quiet bay eclipsed by beautiful homes gently sloping from the water.  It was all so picturesque and beautiful!  We even ventured a bit further out on the weekends for little road trips to the Blue Mountains where we viewed the Three Sisters.

The thing that surprised me about the Opera house was that the roof was made of tiles!  From all the pictures I had seen prior to seeing it first-hand,  the roof simply looked white and I hadn’t noticed anything particularly remarkable about it.  However up close, it was impressive to see that the roof was in fact made of white and beige tiles and that they formed very specific patterns giving each shell a unique and artistic flare.  In addition, again from pictures, I had always imagined that the Opera house was a singular building and each layered ‘armadillo shell’ was part of the design to enhance acoustics for that one stage.  I had no idea that in fact there are multiple stages allowing several productions to occur within the same season.  Just goes to show you that you never really know about something until you get up close and personal with it;)

The Botanical Gardens were absolutely darling!  They seemed to go on forever and though they were basically next door to the heart of downtown Sydney, they had a quiet and calm about them that made you feel miles away from the hustle and bustle of the city life.  2016 just so happens to also be the 200th birthday of the gardens, so that’s pretty cool:)

The Blue Mountains too were a surprise as I had no idea such lush green life and landscapes could be found in Oz.  Again, most of the pictures I had seen of Australia boasted the main highlights of the Barrier Reef, the Opera House or the Outback where the land is red and lacking plant life.  But in the Blue Mountains, I could have mistaken us for being in Virgina near the Blue Ridge!  Simply beautiful!

The only odd thing to me was knowing that it was only a week away from Christmas, yet not really seeing any sort of Christmas decorations anywhere!  There were a few scattered here and there, but nothing like I was accustomed to seeing in the States around Christmas time.  However, that didn’t stop us from doing some decorating ourselves:)  J’s mom had sent him a Christmas tree, so on or about the day before Christmas, we got our drinks on (which put us all in a jolly mood) and set up the Christmas tree and other decorations to get the place looking festive!  A few gifts were exchanged, delicious food was cooked, and we all reveled in the joys of being with good friends.

Christmas Day passed and New Years was quickly approaching, so the next big thing was to decide how to ring in the New Year.  We settled on trying for one of the free spots at a park on the harbor (Mrs. Macquarie’s Chair).  The only trouble was that once capacity for the park was reached, they closed it off therefore not allowing any new people in.  And because this venue was free to enter (and honestly was one of the best in my opinion as it had a fantastic view of the harbor, the bridge and the opera house) the lines would no doubt be long.  The chances of getting in at all were unpredictable!

‘A’ (J’s partner) had to work New Year’s Day, so that left ‘J ‘and I to try for a park place where ‘A’ would meet us later.  We made it there around 10am to find a line that wove back and forth and forth and back with what looked like thousands waiting to get in!  We got in at the back of the makeshift line and thus began the slow and arduous task of walking a few feet every couple of minutes, slowly inching our way to the entrance gates.  Luckily we came prepared however with water, snacks and sunscreen.

I should mention at this point that the Norwegian couple I had met back in Kuala Lumpur were also in Sydney for New Year’s.  We had reconnected via email and arranged to meet at the park.  After about an hour or so, they arrived with another friend in tow and they joined ‘J’ and I in line (which still had only moved a couple hundred feet or so, lol!!).  The mood around us was festive and it was funny to see how many people had already started hitting the beers hard!  Personally it was just too hot in the direct sun for that in my opinion, plus having to find a bathroom would have been its own kind of torture!!

The hours ticked away as we crept closer and closer toward the finish line… Finally, about 4 hours later we were in!  While there were already thousands of people in the park, it didn’t feel as crowded as I would have thought which I was very grateful for!  We scouted a place to sit under a nice shady tree, then sent one of the fellas to the nearby food and drink kiosks for some cold beers!  We sat around enjoying the cold beers and continued chit-chatting and all was absolutely perfect, save for one thing…

‘A’ was still at work… The plan we had hoped for was that he would be able to get off work a bit early, then head to the park where he could hopefully hop in line with us and make it in before the park reached capacity.  However, at this point it was already past 2pm.  The line that had formed behind us seemed longer than the line we had initially started in, and according to the online information, the park had already almost reached capacity and would soon be closed off.  Not happy news!!  As the time ticked on it seemed less and less likely that he would be able to make it to the park.

Seriously a huge conundrum!!  I didn’t want ‘A’ to have to spend New Year’s alone, especially without his partner!!  But I also didn’t want to leave our park spot.  We debated back and forth what to do and eventually settled on me staying in the park, and ‘J’ leaving the park to be with ‘A’.  In addition ‘J’ had started not to feel so hot, as even though he kept reapplying sunscreen the entire time we stood in line, he still managed to get a pretty bad sunburn!!  So as he wasn’t feeling the best he said he was fine with leaving to be with ‘A’.  Though I know I shouldn’t, I do still feel guilty for having stayed behind because I wanted the three of us to be together for New Years.  But as ‘A’ and ‘J’ said, they had “been there, done that” with Sydney’s firework show.  It wasn’t so important for them to see them again, but since it was a first for me, they said I should definitely see them.

So I hung back with my friends from Norway and rang in the New Year watching fireworks shower off the Sydney harbor bridge and light up the harbor waters.  It was such a beautiful sight!  I love everything about fireworks; the sounds, smells and sight of them.  Being so up close and personal to such a spectacular show was unbelievable.  I’m so thankful for the chance to have been able to be there!

After the show, I parted ways with my Norwegian friends and met up with ‘J’ and ‘A’ and we headed home to comfort the pups.  Though we were not able to spend New Year’s night together, we did have our own New Year celebration a bit later.  Popping a bottle of champagne we wrote down things we no longer wanted to be burdened with in our lives and set them on fire Zozobra style!

On to Summer Camp in January

Back to Australia

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Hangover to Koh Ngai (Hai)

The time had come to leave Ko Lanta (Lantaaaah) and do some more Thai island hopping.  Ko Ngai, pronounced “Hai” was the next destination.  Up until this point in our travels together, Anna and I would enjoy drinking nightly and so far had been very tame about it.  No hangovers, no overdoing it, we had been behaving!  A couple of days before we left Ko Lanta, there was a Buddhist holiday for 2 days where booze were not allowed to be sold in any stores.  You could still get them in restaurants however, but in honor of the holiday, we decided to abstain ourselves.

However… The night before we left Ko Lanta, which was no longer one of the holiday days, we went a teeny bit overboard.  I guess you could say we were making up for lost time!  We were due to leave the next morning at 8am for a taxi boat… And we ended up staying up the night before drinking until about 2am, then chatting away until about 4am.  Or maybe it was 5… So needless to say, when the alarm went off at an ungodly hour of the morning (7ish) we were not happy campers!!  The only good thing that we did do was pack our things before falling asleep, so all that was really necessary was to drag our rears to the front office with all our things and wait for the taxi.

While we did manage to make the taxi relatively on time, it was just painful to be awake at all!  I wasn’t so hung over from the booze as I was just grumpy and not feeling well due to lack of sleep.  After a very long delay in picking up more people from other hotels, we made it to the taxi boat and headed out.  All morning it had been sunny, but about 10 minutes into our boat ride it began pouring rain!  The poor taxi boat driver looked miserable in the back getting soaking wet!!  Yet somehow he was still able to light and smoke a cigarette…

Moving on, we made it to Ko Ngai (Hai) probably 40 minutes later.  The taxi boat driver ran us onshore and Anna and I got off.  As it turned out, all the other people on the taxi boat were on an island hopping snorkeling tour, so they were heading to a different island first.  Made me wonder how good the snorkeling would be with all the rain around, but I digress.

We were dropped off on the shore of a cheap place (our request of course) and got settled into one of the bungalows.  Well, it really wasn’t that simple.  Anna and I were both still exhausted and grumpy to ridiculous levels.  We barely spoke to each other all morning, neither of us wanted to make any decisions, everything seemed ugly and miserable.  Everything was annoying.  Everything sucked.  We were just plain out of ourselves.  So at first we had turned down the “horrible” cheap bungalows and tried to go elsewhere but were stopped shortly after leaving by an english speaking local who said that every other hotel/bungalow (literally) on the island was MUCH more expensive… I’m talking into the thousands per night!  So really it was (at first) with GREAT reluctance that we settled into the Koh Ngai Villa.

Food was the next agenda item.  Neither of us was really hungry, but we knew it had to be done.  We wandered next door to another hotel where they served food and ordered.  I found a teeny roach in my soup, and honestly would normally not have said anything (it’s just one of those things you get used to picking out and setting aside when traveling) but because I was so darn grumpy still, I pointed out the little critter to the staff.  Mind you, I still continued eating the soup because, well why not?  And I wasn’t expecting anything to come out of it, I just wanted to let them know about it.  But when the bill came, they said they wouldn’t charge me for the dish (though I tried to pay still) and that they had decided to close down for the rest of the low season because they felt like they were “losing face”… I felt absolutely a million times worse after hearing that for even pointing out the bug!!  It broke my heart!  But certainly they will be back up and running again in time for high season.

It wasn’t until the next morning, when we woke up sober and well rested that we really realized what an absolutely beautiful little island we were on!  The water was clear and warm, and had this gentle current that ran parallel to the shore where you could literally swim in it and not actually go anywhere!  Great exercise!!  The beaches were white and clean and the beach dogs were all so very friendly.  It was quiet and serene and every evening the tide would go out so far that you could walk all the way to the Southern tip of the island to watch the sunsets.  We even ended up really liking our bungalow and “princess bed” at the Koh Ngai Villa!  It’s amazing how your view can shift so easily when you aren’t really yourself!  In any event, I would recommend this island for a visit, though I would also recommend showing up for it sober;)

On to Koh Muk (Mook)

Back to Thailand

Songkran 2015

When we first arrived in Prachuap, we had only paid for 2 nights because the owner said that for the 13th (what would have been our 3rd night) all the rooms were booked.  You see, Songkran, the Thai New Year (also known as the Water Festival) was just around the corner so many Thai’s were traveling to their favorite vacation spots to celebrate the occasion.  So while for the first day here was simply spent lounging on the beach, the second was dedicated to trying to find somewhere else to be for the night of the 13th.  As we wandered the main road trying to find accommodations for the 13th (and were constantly told ‘no space’) we kept thinking more and more outside of the box with suggestions like “well, if it’s only for that one night that there’s no availability at the Ban Thai Hut, then we can just ask if we can store our bags there and sleep on the beach!  No worries!”.

As fate would have it however there WAS space at our hut, it was just that the price was going to be increased for the nights of the 13th and 14th.  Of course for Holidays they would up the price…  Even though the price hike was annoying, it was really a God-send that we didn’t have to go anywhere because on the morning of the 13th (when we would have had to pack up and move locations) we woke up to an absolutely HUGE thunderstorm that rocked on with lightning and thunder for most of the day.  We kept laughing at the prospect that we had thought to sleep on the beach… Lol!

April 14th was the official day to celebrate the Thai New Year.  However in most places, especially larger cities such as Chaing Mai and Bangkok, they choose to celebrate for an entire week.  Songkran, as mentioned above is also known as the water festival, and is aptly named because for the duration of the celebration days of Songkran people go crazy with water fights!  Buckets of water are thrown on passersby, cars, motorcyclists, bicyclists, basically anything with a pulse (though they don’t target the dogs thankfully!! :)).  If you aren’t hit by a bucket of water, you will be hit by a hose, or a water gun, or by a truck driving by with people in the bed of the truck chucking out water all around.  It’s absolute water mayham!!  I loved it!!!!

There are a couple of confusions surrounding the Holiday however…  Well, the first isn’t a confusion as much as a concern really.  But apparently the number of motorcyclist deaths DOUBLE each year during Songkran because of crashes related to people chucking water on them while they drive!!  I did see a news report from Bangkok this year however saying the death toll was down more than 20% from last year, so that’s good…

Getting into the actual confusion bit about the Holiday; Songkran is the Thai New Year.  Yet on January 1st, their year turns over.  They went from the year 2557 to 2558 on January 1st.  So………..  The question remains in what way is Songkran the Thai New Year?  I have yet to have this explained to me nor to find anyone who actually knows the answer to this (and I refuse to Google it just yet as I’m curious to actually find someone who knows).  What I have heard from some is that Songkran is more of a “last chance” for water “festival” meaning that mid-April marks the beginning of their dry season where not so much rain can be expected for months until the monsoon season hits…  Still confusing is that they also celebrate the Chinese New Year… So essentially it seems in Thailand that they celebrate the Western New Year (January 1st) when their physical calendar year also changes, they celebrate the Chinese New Year, AND Songkran which is their “actual” New Year and/or perhaps just a water celebration before the dry season…  Anyone else confused?

Moving along, the actual day of Songkran (April 14th) was overcast but not rainy and in this sleepy little town of Prachuap, it was rather low-key.  About a 5 minute walk from our place were 5 kids set up on the side of the road equipped with a hose, large buckets, smaller buckets (for use to chuck water) and several water guns.  When there wasn’t any traffic to pummel with water they simply turned on each other or scooped up small buckets of water to pour on themselves, lol!!  It was great fun watching them and all the smiles on the faces of those going by who were hit with water.  And it was even more fun watching the random truck pull up and start a water fight from the bed with the kids on the street.

We watched this activity for several hours drinking beers and chatting in between.  At one point I went back to the hut for my camera and saw some guys painting each other up with some festive paint (a new part of the Songkran tradition apparently) and after asking if I could take their picture, they proceeded to give me the blessing of slathering some paint on me too 🙂

Back at the bar where we were drinking, we met a couple for the UK who had been living in Prachuap for a while, and they invited us to “the wall” for some more drinks.  The Wall is literally the sea wall along the main road of Prachuap on the South side of the pier that splits the bay.  We had yet to go to that side, so took the opportunity (in our already quite intoxicated states as we had missed eating breakfast and lunch) to go.  We hoped in the bed of the truck and headed over to the wall.  I was furiously trying to take pictures along the way and totally neglected to think about the prospect that while the Songkran celebration was quite docile along our little local strip of the bay, it would potentially not be the same on the other side of the pier where it was known to be more touristy.

Just as we pulled up in the heart of the area we had to stop in the road because of traffic.  It was then that I realized how much celebration was going on and tried to as quickly as possible to put my camera away when I was hit from head to toe with a bucket of ice-cold water!!  Yup, they don’t care what you have on you, what you are wearing, what precious things you have that you may not want to get wet; if you are out and about, no matter your state, you will be soaked!!  They even have special bags they sell for phones and tablets so you can take pictures but keep them dry, lol!!  I was soaked and my camera also got hit through, but in the spirit of it all (I was warned it could happen) all I could do was laugh and enjoy the great cheer!  But needless to say the picture-taking came to an abrupt end!!

We got some more drinks and I purchased a roll of toilet paper to dry my camera with and simply sat on the wall chatting for hours!  The conversations lasted long after the sun went down until we were past the point of being in any way sober and were then in desperate need of food!  We parted ways with our “wall” friends and headed to find food and pass out accordingly.  Good times!  Another Happy New Year it was! 🙂

On to Wat A Cave!

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A Real Gem

I’ve debated several times whether to actually give away the location of this next place we traveled to (are still are after a week, with no plans to jump up and leave just yet)…  I honestly can’t believe it hasn’t been discovered more!  While there are a handful of Europeans living here, foreigners are a very uncommon sight.  Thai tourists and locals (of course) are the ruling majority.  It’s just my kind of place to really feel like a part of the culture and life!

We bought tickets for the mini-bus to this gem of a place from Hua Hin, and though were told it would only be an hour wait for the bus to arrive, it turned into almost 2 before we even got on.  And when we did get on, the bus was so full that literally 2 of the passengers had people sitting on their laps, all the seats were taken AND 3 people had to stand (rather uncomfortably by the looks of it) in the aisle of the bus.  Essentially a bus equipped to seat 14 passengers had 19 PLUS our huge travel bags (which are about the size of a small human).  Luckily within the hour or so however people started exiting the bus, so space opened up a tiny bit to at least allow everyone to have their own seat.  I suspect that the bus was so crowded because of the upcoming Holiday of Songkran.

Once we arrived, we set off on motorbike taxis to a place called Ban Thai Hut, where we were told had cheap accommodations.  We settled on a tiny hut complete with a bed, bathroom, fan and TV (which we’ve yet to actually plug in or turn on) just a short walk across the street from the beach.  The place is absolutely darling, and while very rustic (there are some parts of the room we fear to put too much weight on just in case the floor falls through) it has been suiting our needs quite well.

Prachuap Khiri Khan is the name of this adorable town.  It consists of 3 semi-circular bays separated by jutting hills and islands.  Farthest to the North is the little Ao Noi bay then the Prachuap Khiri Khan bay and finally Ao Manao.  Each location offers so many outdoor things to do that it just boggles my mind when the locals say tourists only stay here for a couple of days because “there isn’t much to do”.  Seriously??  They have a Wat inside a cave in Ao Noi, beautiful beaches on all three bays, hikes to a Wat on the top of a hill in Prachuap, a hike to another tiny Wat at the top of another hill (Khao Lommuak) which gives the highest panoramic view of the entire area, plus snorkeling (I still have to check that out myself!) and within driving distance several day trips could be planned to surrounding National Parks!  There is so much to do around here that when you add in days to just relax and beach, you would need at least a week to get it all done leisurely!

But I digress…  This place really is darling though!  I would recommend it over and over but hope that even when it does get properly discovered, the integrity of the place as it currently is doesn’t get destroyed.  The weather is always delightful (though admittedly quite hot), the beaches are never overcrowded, the beach water is deliciously warm and refreshing and there is a ridiculous amount of fun sea life to play with (hermit crabs, clams, sand dollars, etc).  Seriously, what more could one ask for?

On to Songkran 2015

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