Tag Archives: ocean

Ko Muk (Mook)

While getting to Koh Ngai (Hai) was easy and cheap, leaving the island was a very different story!  Since it was low season (therefore very little traffic to and from the island except on tour boats that would take you back to Ko Lanta) the opportunities to leave the island were very limited.  Basically it all came down to “if and when” a local taxi boat operator wanted to take us to the next island .  And the price was not cheap either… Of course they could basically charge whatever they wanted (despite our attempts to negotiate) because hey, it’s an island.  You got here, but if you want to get off you’re gonna have to pay what they say to pay or not leave at all!

So it was one semi-stormy mid-afternoon that we decided to head out for Koh Mook (Muk) at the not so bargain price of 1500 baht.  It was just Anna and I so of course the price was pumped a bit. Had there been more people going it would have been cheaper for the individual, obviously.  Funnily enough however we did spot an older couple with a younger child who had arrived on the island in the morning and wondered whether they were staying or going on to Koh Muk.  Neither myself nor Anna were brave enough to approach them to ask whether they were staying or going, but as it turned out, they were on their way to Koh Muk, so had we asked them we could have possibly gotten a cheaper ride there… In any event…

We loaded up on our private longtail taxi boat and headed out on the stormy sea.  The two crew men (brothers- one driver, one look-out) were chatty and quite entertaining as we headed into what originally looked like a calm enough sea.  Pah-ah-ti (wrong spelling but phonetically sound and means “sun” in Thai) was the older and more “experienced driving boats” brother.  When we set out he said his younger brother needed more practice in rougher seas, so he let him drive first, but “not to worry, if the sea gets really bad I will take over”…   The closer we got into the open sea, no longer that sheltered from the neighboring islands, the rougher it got.  Anna wasn’t feeling so hot, but I didn’t mind it so much until Pah-ah-ti climbed from the front to the back to take over driving… Not a good sign!!  The waves got larger and more turbulent.  Sea water splashed over the sides and we were often hit with sea spray from the sides and front of the boat as it crashed into the oncoming waves.  A couple of times it was a bit worrisome (especially when the engine noise of the boat suddenly changed to include an ominous clanking noise) but eventually we made it to the north side of the island and banked onshore.

The motor on the boat was killed and Pah-ah-ti hopped out with us to help us ask whether there was any accommodations available there.  Being low season there too however, all the accommodations were closed and we were directed to go to the east side of the island to Coco Lodge.  Back in the boat we went, however when the engine went to start, well, it didn’t… The brothers fussed over it for 10-15 minutes (mostly by simply hitting the side of the motor with a wrench) until deciding there was something very wrong with the engine and that they would need a mechanic.  Thankfully the engine died when on land and not in the middle of the ocean when the odd noises started coming from it!  And thankfully it was low tide at the time, so Pah-ah-ti, Anna and myself were able to walk (with bags in tow) around the edges of the island, through the sea gypsy village and over to Coco’s Lodge.

Pah-ah-ti bid his farewells and headed further into town to get parts for the boat while Anna and I settled into Coco Lodge.  Now, throughout my travels in Thailand I had stayed at many very nice and cozy places that were also very cheap .  But none had even come close to the quaintness, comfort, style and class that we found at Coco’s Lodge.  The owner and his wife were unbelievably accommodating and the individual bamboo huts were immaculate and very comfortable.

I’m going to have to side track for a bit here just to further sing the praises of Coco’s Lodge.  The location (right on the beach and a 5 minute walk to the pier) was superb.  The food in their restaurant was absolutely delicious (from the massaman curry to the fruit pancakes for breakfast).  When it rained (which was quite often during our time there) the owner or his wife would come around to the bungalows and offer us umbrellas.  A cleaning staff cleaned our room EVERY DAY (something I hadn’t encountered anywhere else in Thailand).  All palm trees located above each bungalow were completely bare of coconuts, so none could fall on the roofs!  The beds were the most comfortable I’d ever slept on.  The rooms themselves had touches of personal details (like seashells lovingly placed in the bathrooms as decoration) that made the place feel like home.  The ever-increasing number of dogs that decided to live there during our stay were all friendly and lovable and while none actually belonged to the place, they would still give them food scraps from left over dishes.  Any time Anna and I were chilling for a long period of time in the restaurant after eating (due to adverse weather and not much else to do) board and card games were offered to us for entertainment.  In other words, just about anything and everything one could imagine needing in a place was offered there!  And all of this hospitality came at only 500 baht per night!!  It blew me away!  I 100% recommend Coco’s Lodge for anyone looking to travel to Koh Muk!!

Moving on however, the main reason Anna and I picked Koh Muk as our next island stay was so we could visit the famed Emerald cave.  Though we stayed on the island for the remaining time that Anna was able to visit (then I stayed on myself for another several days after she departed for Scotland) we never actually made it to the Emerald cave.  This was NOT because we were too drunk or hung over to, but rather because the weather never cooperated and none of the tours were running there.  See, to get to the Emerald cave, the tides have to be just right (low) and then you have to swim with a guide 80 meters through a cave until you reach the other end (the Emerald lake).  So with all the stormy weather we had daily, even with the tides being low, it just wasn’t safe to swim through the cave and visit the lake… Or perhaps lagoon would be a better description?  In any event, we did still enjoy our time there walking the island to the various points, enjoying cocktails on the beach (of course!) or just chilling at our bungalow, playing games and hanging with the dogs.

The island itself I will say was quite a conundrum.  It too had been hit by a tsunami years ago and while some parts of the island had recovered nicely, other more inland parts were very shabby and trashy.  One sea village a bit inland in particular had feet upon feet of trash piled under the homes (luckily on stilts) with seemingly no efforts or cares to clean up.  I will admit when we first arrived on the island, neither myself nor Anna were really sure we liked the place.  But alas, it grew on us.  And while we still marveled as to why no efforts were put (in some areas) into cleaning the place up, I guess it just became part of the character of the island that eventually you just overlook.  Last point, about Koh Muk: the beaches weren’t really all that to write home about.  This may have been due to the bad weather stirring up the ocean waters so they didn’t look clear, but also there were some areas where there were warnings about strong currents.  So needless to say not much swimming was really enjoyed while there.  Oh yea, and while there aren’t ANY ATMs on the island, there is one coffee shop that will allow you to withdraw money for a 7% (or maybe it was 10…) fee.  So just be sure you bring enough cash for your stay there!!

Sadly, it was time for Anna to get back on to mainland Thailand and head to Bangkok to get home, while I stayed on several more days catching up on blogging about our trip so far.  My next destination: Ko Lipe!

P.S. As some may notice, most all pictures were taken on one of the ONLY sunny days there, lol!

On to The Beauty of Koh Lipe

Back to Thailand

Advertisements

Bang Saphan

On the Gulf coast of Thailand, halfway between Prachuap Khiri Khan and Chumphon (where transfer to Koh Tao in the Gulf of Thailand can be found) is the beautifully picturesque and quiet town of Bang Saphan.  I had heard of this place as a recommendation from Sai and Charlie in Sangkhlaburi and am so grateful for it!

I will admit right off the bat that I barely spent any real amount of time in the town itself, and well basically the reason for that was because once I had arrived at the bungalows I’d chosen, I simply didn’t want to leave!  That and I was about 4 km south of the actual town, and since I didn’t have a motorbike, there was no real big draw for me to go into town.  But I’m getting ahead.

I took the mini-bus from Prachuap, which was only about 80 baht and an hour and a half or so later was dropped off on the side of the road for Bang Saphan.  The drop off location for the mini-bus was about 4 km west of the town, so I had to get a ride in.  There was a motorbike taxi standing by, so I hopped on and asked to go to Lola’s Bungalows.  I had read up on this guesthouse from a posting on Travelfish and since it said it was their top pick and cheaply priced, I thought why not?  But as the bungalows were 4 km south of town, it ended up being quite an expensive trip there via motorbike!  Frankly there could have been a cheaper way to go, but being in the heat of the day and not very many other options just hanging about, I went ahead with the motorbike.

Once I arrived, I was already in love!  The property didn’t even have a sign up but it was evident how popular it was.  About 20 or so individual bungalows were on the property that were situated only several dozens of feet from a stunning beach!  I was shown to a bungalow and for 300 baht a night, set my things down and got ready for the beach!  What I thought was cute about this place (other than the amazing location) was how when I tried to pay for the bungalow, they simply waved me off and said to do so whenever I decided to leave.  I like that kind of trust in people!

In any event, I had only planned on being there max 5 days, but ended up staying 2 full weeks!  Most of the bungalows were occupied by couples or families that had been staying there already for weeks themselves and or were planning to be there for a month at least.  I guess that’s why the property owners didn’t want money up-front as they were probably used to people coming in and then wanting to stay on!

Along the beach were several eateries, including my personal favorite called Roy Tawan all of a 3 minute walk along the beach south from the bungalows, that had THE BEST chicken club sandwich I’d tasted in a very long time!!  I was seriously addicted to it!!  And for every meal they would start you off with fresh bananas and give sliced mango for dessert!  So for about $1.50 I was very fully and quite healthily satiated!  Another favorite spot I had was the Why Not Bar just a bit further south along the beach where about the only nightlife could be found.  The people there were so friendly and welcoming, I just adored it!

I spent my two weeks at Lola’s getting myself back into an exercise regime, lounging on the many hammocks along the beach reading books, walking daily anywhere from 2-6km through the lush and beautiful land filled with a variety of life to various stores for my food needs (they had a fridge in the room) or to the Thursday and Saturday evening market at the nearby Wat, hanging out at the Why Not Bar, eating a ridiculous amount of Club sandwiches from Roy Tawan, taking brief dips in the ocean (only brief and I will explain why later), gazing at the night sky, eating yet another ridiculous amount of ridiculously fresh and juicy mangos on my front porch, exploring new ways to walk to the neighborhood stores (one dirt path included cutting through a cow pasture), chatting with neighbors and making local friends, enjoying the sights and sounds of approaching storms, listening to some guided meditations on YouTube before falling asleep nightly and generally otherwise relaxing and unwinding.

I saw my first flying squirrels there and though they were impossible to take images of, since they only came out at night and moved too quickly to capture, they were still a delight to watch!  Another thing I’d heard about but had never witnessed before Bang Saphan was coconut collectors using monkeys to cut off and throw down the coconuts!  Some workers also had long bamboo sticks with a knife at the end that they would use to cut off coconuts, but far more had several macaques with them that would easily climb to the top and chuck down several coconuts.  I hope and could only assume the animals were treated well!

I mentioned above that I only spent brief time swimming in the ocean, and the reason for that was first because there were several jellyfish in the area.  Every time I walked out into the ocean I could spot several bobbing along looking harmless enough, yet I wasn’t going to test how much their sting might hurt!  Of course I could have simply walked past the area they were bobbing in as the deeper you got the fewer jellyfish there were, however once getting past the gauntlet of jellyfish, another gauntlet of sorts had to be passed.  See, this particular beach had hundreds upon hundreds of sand dollars in the sand.  You could feel them under your feet as you walked, their little bodies crunching under the weight of my feet and I just couldn’t stomach damaging them just so I could get out deep enough to where I could start to actually swim or float.  So, between the jellyfish and not wanting to potentially kill dozens of sand dollars with each trip in and out of the ocean, I simply opted to hang beside the ocean instead:)

Another first that I witnessed one Saturday when I went for an early lunch at Roy Tawan was a bird singing competition… A bird  singing competition… Yes… Let me set the scene: I arrived at Roy Tawan and sat at a little table awaiting my food when I spotted in the grass section nearby a metal structure with about 12 cages hanging.  Each cage had a bird in it and there was even another bird cage (with a bird inside) hanging in the shade about 20 feet from the other 12 on the metal structure.  One man was sitting under the shade with the bird and he had a cylinder vase filled with water that he would drop the shell of what looked like half of a coconut that had a small hole in the bottom.  Once the coconut shell filled with water and sunk to the bottom, he would blow a whistle and retrieve the coconut.  At this point, two men whom had been standing on opposite sides of the 12 hanging bird cages would approach a cage and make a mark on a piece of paper hanging from the bottom of each cage.  Then they would step back and seemingly watch the next cage.  The whistle was blown again, the coconut shell was dropped (their way of timing!) and the whistle blew again to signal time, the men would make their mark on the next bird cage and move on.

Now, mind you during this entire time all the birds were singing away.  The air was filled with birds singing as well as with some people on the side lines making sounds that sounded like encouragement to one bird or another.  I asked the local woman at Roy Tawan what on earth was going on and she simply said it was a bird singing competition!  The birds in the 12 cages were trying to mimic the song of the single bird in the shade.  The two men making marks were judges and they were scoring which birds sang the best in comparison to the one bird!  Just as I was wondering how in the world these judges could hear only the sound of the one bird they were supposed to be watching for judging and drown out the other 11 birds singing their hearts out, she added “I don’t understand this competition, it seems very silly to me”!  LOL!!

I honestly could have stayed another 2 weeks at Lola’s but alas, it was time to move on!  I think I had gotten my fill of relaxation and was ready to try a new spot.  My next destination was for the island of Koh Tao:)

On To Koh Tao Island

Back to Thailand

Things to Love about Thailand

I’ve been traveling in Thailand now for over 5 months now, so I thought perhaps now is the best time to break out with a few things I love or at least find the most interesting about Thailand:)

It will be a working list and isn’t in any particular order with the exception of the first one.  🙂

#1: NO SHOES!!!
I absolutely adore how before entering any building, home or place of work you must first remove your shoes!  This goes for just about every place, with the exception of some grocery stores (though no one would squawk if you didn’t have your shoes on) and with some restaurants as well.  But for the most part (including in the vet clinic where I volunteered) you have to kick off your shoes before entering.  I will admit sometimes it’s a pain to do so (if you are wearing anything other than flip  flops) but otherwise, the no shoe rule is my favorite cultural behavior and one that I will be using wherever I end up for good:) I love, love, LOVE it!!

No Shoes
No Shoes

#2: Nature
The diversity of the landscapes here are extraordinary!  From the beaches to jungle to islands, mountains, rivers and lakes, Thailand seems to have just about every kind of terrain one would want to find.

#3: House Geckos
I just adore these creatures!  They are simply a much larger version of regular geckos and they are quite beneficial to have in the home since they take care of the majority of other insects in the home (including spiders, yay!!).  They also make the cutest and most interesting sound.  They start off with a quick series of chitters, then make a series of staccato sounds in repetition.  When I first heard their sound I thought I was crazy because it sounded like they were saying “F you” in slow repetition.  However, I’ve come across many other travelers and very-well-spoken-in-English-locals who have also pointed this out, so I guess I wasn’t as crazy as I thought, LOL!

#4: Animals
I know I just wrote about the geckos, and they technically would qualify in the animal section as well, but I just love those little buggers so much that they got their own section.  However, I do also adore the large variety of other kinds of animals here in Thailand.  From elephants, street dogs and cats, variety of monkeys, flying squirrels, regular squirrels, lizards, birds, the diversity is so rich!  You just never know what you are going to find!  The sea life is also beautifully diverse and lush!  From corals to sting rays, sharks, nudibranchs, sea cucumbers, and a huge variety of fish, it’s amazingly impressive!

#5: Kind & Honest People
The people are generous and kind, patient and welcoming.  I have yet to run into a rude local here and though I’ve heard from other fellow travelers that it all depends on where you go, in my opinion and experience the people have been nothing but kind.  In addition to the generous and kind nature of the people here, they are also very honest.  In particular when it comes to money.  I’ve been other places where I’ve handed over too much money (from being tired or just not thinking the correct exchange rate) and they’ve gone on their way with the extra money in hand.  Here, there have been several occasions where I’ve handed over too much and they immediately return whatever over I’ve paid, even if it’s just a single baht!  I’ve gotten so comfortable with their honesty that there have also been several times when my mind wasn’t working properly to understand how much I owed in Thai that I’ve simply held a bunch of bills and let them pick what they needed.  I love that kind of honesty as it makes one feel more comfortable in their surroundings!!  Now, that’s not to say some people won’t try to overcharge you for something (cab ride, etc) but if you ask upfront what something will cost, they stick by it.

#6: No sleazy men
Traveling in Latin American countries, one thing I had to get used to that also really annoyed me at times, but just had to learn to ignore, was the cat calls, whistles, stares and hissing sounds (they literally sounded like snakes to be honest) men would constantly make toward any female as you walked by.  Here, no such behavior exists!  The men are much more respectful in that way and even to the point where I sometimes wondered why I wasn’t getting any looks from locals, and it simply is because their culture, unlike others, is to not display emotions of affection in any way in public.  Hence, no cat calls, uncomfortable stares or hissing sounds!

#7: Packaging with plastic bags
This one I personally struggle with from the environmental perspective and really wish they would cut back on their use of plastic bags, but I do also find it interesting and entertaining how they package to-go food or drink items.  Coffee, sodas, rice, soups, and more are packaged in a plastic bag tied off with a rubber band for take away.  Other items like rice and pad thai are put in styrofoam containers, so it’s one evil for the environment versus the other… While I can understand the simplicity and ease of using plastic bags, I wish in general they would cut back because they insist in using a ton of bags for very few items.  I’m always refusing bags (as I generally bring my own or just don’t need one) but you really have to be on the ball to say you don’t want a bag as they are very quick to snatch one out.  The straws also drive me nuts (though technically from the hygienic perspective it’s better) as they will give you one for each can or bottle purchased (including for beers) so if I walked in and bought 2 bottles of water and a soda they would put in 3 straws!

#8: Built to last
Another thing that really impresses me about Thailand is the construction of their homes and buildings.  Yes, there are several homes that are made entirely from bamboo and other wood (though bamboo is a very highly resilient wood to begin with!) but many homes, stores and general buildings are built to a very high quality standard and are built to last!  It’s amazing watching them construct a home or other building because their scaffolding is simply rickety looking pieces of wood that you wouldn’t think would hold people walking or working around them, yet the finished product is brick and concrete with tile throughout.

#9: Muay Thai
Whether it’s enjoying an evening out watching fights or joining in training yourself, Muay Thai is entertaining, engaging and a real real-kicker!  Granted not all fights are created equal as some are much more entertaining or gruesome than others, but all the fighters have a real sportsmanship about them that isn’t as easily found in countless other sports.  What I love the most is the fights where it’s evident that the competitors are friends.  They encourage each other between fighting rounds but when the bell goes off, all bets are off and “may the best fighter win” kicks in.  Another thing I love about Muay Thai is the sense of tradition and culture.  The fighters respect the ring, the judges, their opponent and their God.  The more I train in Muay Thai, the more I understand the fights as I watch and questions I had before while watching fights are now answered because of my own training.  I won’t go into that here, but will in a future post for sure!

To be continued…

Back to Thailand

Wat A Cave!

While there are several fabulous things to do while in Prachuap Khiri Khan, Thailand, perhaps one of my favorites was visiting the Ao Noi Wat.  ‘Wat’ simply means Temple, but what sets this one apart from every other Wat I’ve been to so far is that it is located inside a cave!  In college I took a biospeleology class in college where we went all over the state of Texas and even into Mexico to different caves and the idea of finally getting back into one was thrilling!  Mind you, this particular cave wasn’t one that required to wiggle on your belly to get from one point to the next as it is quite large and easy to simply walk through.

I headed out about mid-day on my own to track down the Ao Noi Wat with a bottle of water, my camera and favorite all around walking shoes, my Keens.  The walk there really wasn’t all that interesting per se, since it literally was just walking along the side of the road.  The views however became more and more breathtaking as I got closer to the Khao Ta Lai Forest Park.  The beauty of the hills jutting out from the ocean was so beautiful and picturesque, I had a hard time continuing without stopping to take a gazillion pictures!

I walked past the over 150 year old fishing community of Ban Ta Monglai toward the Ao Noi community as the sun beat down on my skin making me wish for shade!  I knew I was going in the right direction, but I also knew the Wat was located in a cave, so some form of hill had to be ahead.  But as I walked past the fishing community and the Khao Ta Lai Forest Park, the hills disappeared.  The only ones visible were about 11 kilometers away in Myanmar (Burma)!  I continued to trek on however stopping every now and again to ask locals which direction the Wat was, and armed with the confidence that even they were still pointing for me to continue on, I figured some hill structure would have to show up soon.

As I didn’t have a watch with me, I honestly don’t even know how much further on I walked until some hills became visible again and until I finally hit Wat Ao Noi.  I was drenched in sweat from the sun and had been guzzling water as if my life depended on it (which let’s face it, it does!).  Finally I arrived at the base of the Wat and started an over 300 step climb to the entrance of the Wat.  The views of the town and beaches as I climbed were spectacular!  I will say that while most of the stairs up were in good condition, there were a few bits that had me worried as they were split in half and sliding toward the edge of the cliff.  Up and up I went until finally coming to the entrance where a box with 2 rechargeable flashlights sat.  A little sign said they were for the borrowing, and just to plug them back in when done.

Of course, the one thing I SHOULD have thought and known to bring (a flashlight) I didn’t, so it was really quite nice that they provided them there :).  I headed into the cave armed with my flashlight out of the sun and into the darkness.  I was literally the only person in the Wat and I won’t lie, at some points little bits and flashes of the movie “The Descent” went through my mind that at times freaked me out.  An especially heart-pounding moment was after I left the only naturally lit area of the cave and headed to the first reclining Buddha.  As I grappled with my camera while attempting also hold onto the rather large flashlight, the light flickered on something alive on the cave floor.  I immediately scanned the light back to what I had seen to discover 2 little black dogs!!  They lived in the cave!!

I sighed a sigh of relief upon seeing them as I called them over for a pat, but then had another second of slight panic as I wondered whether they could be rabid!  I mean, bats can carry rabies, bats live in caves and who knew whether the dogs had been vaccinated or if anyone actually took care of these dogs…  Luckily however they were very friendly and showed no signs of being rabid and quite frankly their presence made it easier to be the only one in the cave.  Because surely if some crazy creature crawled out of some crevice to attack me, they would bark first to alert me, right?? 😉

I carried along the length of the cave past the first reclining Buddha and to my surprise found a second next to a series of about a dozen large Buddha’s in seated position.  Along to the right of the seated Buddha’s was another walkway that led to another large area where tons of visitors had stacked rocks in a variety of patterns, making their mark to show they were there.  And in the very back of this last large room sat yet another Buddha watching over the whole show.

I spent probably twenty minutes (it’s not THAT large a cave) walking around and searching for various other avenues to explore while listening to the nothing sound of caves, linked in with little chitters from bats above every now and again.  I will say my favorite thing about caves is the nothingness.  There is no sound most of the time and when the lights are turned off, you could hold your hand an inch in front of your face and still not see it.  There is such a peace about caves that is so very hard to find anywhere else and being back in the environment again was so very delightful.

As I headed out of the cave, my two little protectors followed.  At the entrance I noticed that indeed there was dog food scattered about the entrance around two blue dog bowls (I hadn’t noticed this detail before) but I also noticed there didn’t seem to be any water source for them.  As one of the dishes was empty, I poured it full with water.  One seemed to be quite thirsty, the other not so much so again it was a good sign that they were being taken care of somehow.

I headed back to the ground floor as the dogs chose to remain behind and wait for the next cave guests.  Back on solid ground I visited the actual Wat of Ao Noi.  The Cave is simply where there are several Buddha statues, but the actual Wat isn’t in the cave, yet decoratively set along the base of the cave hill near a pond, the ocean and a monk community.  After visiting the Wat, I headed back toward my guesthouse back in Prachuap, stopping along the way at a very delicious (I should have gotten the name!!) restaurant with some of the best khao pad gai (chicken fried rice) I’d tasted anywhere.

I was quite shocked to learn that the whole trip only took me about 5 hours or so, including a leisure lunch!  I am generally quite a fast walker by nature, but even this surprised me!  One not so good outcome from having walked as far and as fast as I had, however was my feet.  It had been a long time since I’d actually worn my Keens and by the time all was said and done with the walking for the day, I’d developed quite a large blister on the bottom of my foot.  Luckily it hadn’t popped, but I wasn’t so sure the same could be said after the walk we had planned for the next day at Khao Lommuak…

On to Hiking Khao Lommuak

Back to Thailand

Hua Hin Days

The next day, having risen at the rear-crack of morning (also known as 11 am) we bounded out for something to eat before hitting up the beach.  Now, again, we had been so very starved of food selection while living in Sangkhlaburi, so food or eating or snacking or anything to do with any food topic seriously took up most of our consideration!  I also wanted some coffee, so we found a place down the street, on the way to the beach, called The Coffee Club.  They also served food of course!

Now, another thing about me… I never, I mean NEVER take pictures of my food.  I’ve never understood it before… I understand plating can be quite well done and very picturesque, but in general have never understood why people take pictures of their food.  However, on this occasion, after having looked at their menu and seeing that they had a grilled chicken sandwich that included AVOCADO (I seriously almost fainted when I saw that and then nearly cried!!!) I couldn’t help but take a picture of both the menu AND the food once it arrived.  I mean, come on!  It was even served on ciabatta bread!!!   I again almost cried at seeing REAL bread again!!  So yes, I’m now a photographer of food…

OMG!!!!!
OMG!!!!!

In any event, we spent the rest of that day lounging on the beach with some beers and I proceeded to get one of the worst burns I’ve had in a long time!  Not just along my shoulders, but my stomach and high up on my thighs as well.  It’s now been almost a week since that burn, and though I’ve been slathering myself with coconut oil and pure aloe vera, I’m still red and a bit itchy, lol!  The day basically just passed on the beach (rough life I know) then we went off for a few happy hour cocktails on one of the beach bars along the pier.  We sipped on several cocktails, talking away the hours when we were suddenly visited by some interesting guests on the roof of the next bar over.

Yes, three macaques decided to see what all the happy hour fuss was about!  I wasn’t sure what to expect from them because they can be quite violent at times, but these three just seemed to keep to themselves, accepting bits of food they wanted from sharing people.  Once dinner time came around, we opted for the Spanish Tapas restaurant  It did not disappoint!!  We ordered a liter of homemade sangria and had about 6 different dishes between us!  It was quite a treat that neither of us had had in a long time.  We were supposed to have left the next day but Jo heard that there was a Muay Thai fight the next night, so we decided to extend our stay for a night in order to catch it.

When we rose that next day, it seemed to just be a comedy of errors.  Of course, despite my burns we still had to go to the beach to hang out and swim for a bit.  We didn’t last that long though as the heat of the day felt twice as hot on my skin and as there wasn’t any shade to sit under, I could only bear it so long.  From the brief beach time, we went off to scout where the fighting was to take place but when we got there, we found out they only had fights 2 nights a week (Thursdays and Saturdays- and we were on a Friday).  Dejected by that, our next thought was to go get some food (again with the food, I know!! ;)).  Jo had seen something on TripAdvisor about a mexican food place that got great reviews along Dechanuchit Alley, near Prapokkiao (street?).  So off we went in search of that…

Another brick wall was hit as even though we were using the GPS app on TripAdvisor to find the place, it seemingly didn’t exist.  However, the street where it was supposed to exist on was an absolute bustle of energy!  There were restaurants lined one after another along this strip of road and though they were each already quite spacious, the street was being turned into an extension of the restaurants so people could sit in the street and other general shop owners were setting up for a street market!

At this point I was seriously kicking myself for not bringing my camera because it seriously was a sight to see!  Hundreds of people walked about busily setting up their shops.  I mean not a single person was simply hanging about (except us).  Everyone had a job to do and there were even people who set up a little lemonade stand and walked up and down the road selling cups of lemonade to the workers.  Jo and I got a coffee from a shop nearby Ko’s restaurant and simply watched the life around us.

Interestingly for us, a bar was even being set up on the street just next to where we sat!  So of course, even though at this point neither of us had had any breakfast or lunch, we just HAD to get some cocktails once the bar opened up!  As we sat on the street downing some beverages, a banner caught my eye several food stalls down.  I went to get a closer look and (suspenseful music here) lo and behold it was an advertisement for a Muay Thai fighting match TONIGHT!!  Yay!!!  So essentially, had it not been for us wandering to find the non-existent Mexican food place, and for us to decide to hang out with coffee to watch the street wake up for nighttime activities, and for us to decide on having a few cocktails at the street bar, then I never would have seen the advert for the Muay Thai!!  We took this as a very good sign that we were supposed to see a fight on this night!

After our several cocktails (and a free whisky shot) we stumbled our way to the site of the fight (the name escapes me now, go figure!) bought our tickets (800 baht each!!) and finally had some food at the Italian place next door.  Though all the events of the day seemed to just line up in random ways so that we could see a Muay Thai fight, after having seen the 7 fights, I still call the day a comedy of errors.  I say that because only about 3 of the 7 fights were actually worth watching.  It was a disappointment and honestly we saw better fights over New Year’s in Sangkhlaburi than what we watched there.  Oh well!  And we weren’t the only ones who felt cheated as there was another couple in 7-11 (where we went after for more booze) who were talking about how lack-luster the fights were and how disappointed they were.  I mean, come on, for 800 baht we were expecting some really good fights!  Not seemingly mismatched, gloves on, not highly ranked matches!  Oh well.  Just goes to show not everything turns out as you’d like. 🙂

On to A Real Gem

Back to Thailand

Arriving in Hua Hin

The bus ride to Hua Hin was mainly uneventful.  I say that because I had gotten a wee bit tipsy before meeting Jo at the bus station and therefore don’t recall most of the trip.  However, at one point between little naps, the inevitable sensation that always creeps up when one drinks started to kick in… Yes, I REALLY needed a bathroom!!  I had heard that the trip was only a couple of hours, so I figured I would be ok…  But just like all mini-bus journeys in Thailand: whatever time you are given for the trip, double it!  However, given that, what’s also nice about the mini-buses is that they inevitably always take a bathroom break about halfway or just an hour shy of reaching the destination.  Thank goodness for this!!

I seriously was starting to worry whether my poor bladder would hold up!  I kept asking the driver “hong nam??” (room water literally) in hopes he would hear the absolute desperation in my voice and make a potential emergency stop just for me.  “Ha nittie” (5 minutes) is all he kept saying as I kept praying that THIS time it really would be ‘ha nittie’…  Sure enough we did (eventually) make a stop at a gas station for food, drinks and bathrooms (hooray!!!).  Fully content (and about a quarter less body weight in water) we continued on the last little bit to the coast.

It’s amazing how much you miss something and don’t ever recall that you do until you are faced with it again… I speak of the ocean.  We pulled up at a random junction near the clock tower (which is really a HUGE poster of the King with a teeny clock at the top) where the driver said to us “falangs” (foreigners) and pointed for us to get out.  True to my style (and thankfully Jo’s too) we didn’t have any place planned to stay just yet.  Jo used her phone to track down a potential place to stay and we headed off in the direction It showed, which was also in the direction of the water.

About 10 minutes later we hit Naret Damri Alley, a bustling tourist street full of every possible worldwide cuisine restaurants that you could possibly imagine.  I mean they had German, French, Spanish Tapas, Italian, Norwegian, Swiss (seriously!!), Greek, American, Indian, Finnish, and more!!  Having come from and lived in the small town of Sangkhlaburi where the most exciting thing was pad thai or fried rice, we just about fainted when we saw all these delicious food options!!  Keeping ourselves in check (wiping the drool from our chins as we walked by each place) we first found a place to stay.  Memory Guesthouse just down the street from Dechanuchit Alley on Naret Damri Alley was where we decided to settle for 400 baht a night.  We paid for 2 nights, settled in and then headed out for some FOOD!!  We opted for an Indian restaurant just across the street and dined as if we had never had food before!

At this point the sun had already set so going to the beach wasn’t an option as far as tanning was concerned.  So instead we got a couple of beers and headed out just to scout where the beach actually was from us.  First we went the wrong way down N.D. Alley to basically a dead-end, along the way checking out and continuously being shocked even more so by the array of differing cuisines available.  We turned around and went the other way down N.D. Alley, past our guesthouse toward the Hilton.  We reached what looked like another dead-end (a parking lot near what looked like a Chinese Temple of sorts) but continued on as I was determined that there HAD to be a beach nearby!

 

Luckily, just around the corner from the Chinese Temple, the land opened up and a vast beach lay ahead of us.  The water was severely choppy and there was absolutely no way to swim in it, so we just dipped our toes in for a bit (gloriously warm water!!) then sat on the beach drinking and talking.  We watched the moon rise, a fabulous red-orange glow coming over the horizon through bits of hazy clouds and eventually headed back for some rest.

On to Hua Hin Days

Back to Thailand

Beach Adventure

The next morning started bright and early.  The couple that had arrived the day before had set out for their private tour of Corcovado Park with “F” and the Belgian boys had already set out the day before for the park, so it was only Jul and I at the hostel with Berta.  Jul had actually gotten up in the morning on this day and since we were the only two there, we ended up joining forces to explore new areas of the town.

After a breakfast of coffee and fresh, delicious pineapple, we decided to go on a hike to a beach about 7 kilometers from the town.  Jul had heard of the beach from others as a particularly nice one so we opted to give it a shot.  Berta suggested that we ride bikes there, which in retrospect ended up being advice that we should have followed but of course didn’t, thus beginning the grand adventure for the day….

We took off on foot heading South toward the road that led to the beach.  However, instead of taking the “long way” (i.e. correct road), we thought to take what we thought would be a shortcut.  Instead we ended up at a deadend and had no choice but to trespass on private properties, cross fields with knee-high grasses (perfect for snakes to hide in) and shimmy under barbwire fences to get back on the road we should have just taken in the first place.   In any event, after perhaps a half hour of “misguided” time we got back on track and set off for the rest of the hike.

We crossed property after property, some brand new, others quite old and shabby, through back roads of the Osa Peninsula.  Not too much wildlife was spotted on our walk but certainly some interesting sights.  The first was of a young girl, probably 3 years old standing in the front yard swinging a machete around as if it were a stick she was playing with.  Amazing our cultural differences!!  While that sight nearly gave me a heart-attack, I very much doubt locals would flutter an eyelash at it.  The other sight was quite humorous.  As we walked past one of the older and poorer homes there were two young boys on the front porch, probably 4 or so.  One was squatting on the porch playing with something on the ground and the other was proudly standing at the front of the porch buck naked and peeing off the edge into the grass below.  The best part of that was that all the while he was peeing, he was watching us walk by and had the biggest smile across his face as he waved excitedly to us.  We chuckled to ourselves and simply waved back, returning the greeting in waves that we were given!

I’m not entirely sure how much time it took to get to the beach, just that we finally made it at some point and it couldn’t have come at a better time!  We were both getting rather tired from walking the entire way (we tried hitchhiking several times with no success) and welcomed the rest that the water and beach provided.  We took some time to swim in the water relax and rejuvenate our spirits.  Looking back now, I can’t really say that this particular beach was really that spectacular, but I do recall that the waves were quite impressive as many avid surfers were also out enjoying the gift of the waves.  Either way though the coolness of the water was definitely welcome after the long walk there!!

After some time swimming both Jul and I were quite hungry and decided to find somewhere to eat.  We walked along the beach, thinking that surely there would be somewhere that we could grab something… Unfortunately we were quite wrong in thinking this as well!!  We walked and walked and walked along the beach reaching one place after another that was either closed, didn’t serve food, served food but at a phenomenal expense, or simply wasn’t a restraunt!!  By the time we thought to give up the hunt we figured that we were probably almost back to the town of Puerto Jimenez and that we should just continue on along the beach because surely we would end up there soon!

Wrong again!!  Or rather, we forgot one teeny tiny detail… Yes, the beach did eventually connect from where we were on the beach (7 Km South) to the beach along the town of Puerto Jimenez, but it was separated by a river about 2-300 meters wide!!  So there we were, we had finally made it back to a point on the beach where we could see the town but all we had to do was cross the river… Now, had we hit it at the right time, the tide would have been low enough to simply walk or wade across, but of course since it was late in the evening (yes even the sun was starting to fade so it was about 4:30-5 pm at this point with us both only having eaten breakfast and thankfully a glass of water offered by a nice home owner along our way back) the tide was quite high making it impossible to walk or wade through…

So we had a choice: either walk all the way back down the beach, back to the road on which we had walked earlier to the town which would have certainly taken us several hours and we would have had to walk in the dark, OR swim across the mouth of the river to the mangroves and private house across the way.

We chose plan B… Swim across the mouth of the river.  I had luckily brought a plastic bag with me that contained sunscreen and stuffed my clothes (keeping the bathing suit on of course) and shoes in it.  After everything was secure, I walked into the water with my bag overhead and started to swim.  The plan was to swim to the mangroves that were closer to us than the shore and after who knows how long of kicking and paddling and back-stroking and praying we both made it to the mangroves!  We stopped there for several minutes just trying to catch our breath and rest for a little while.  While I obviously do know how to swim, I hadn’t done that much swimming in a long time and this particular swim was quite challenging as I had to keep one arm overhead holding all my clothes and the current from the river kept pushing us (or trying to) out toward the ocean.

But the worst was definitely over and I was quite thankful for it!!  Truthfully there were several moments while I was kicking my way across where I thought “WTF was I thinking?!?!?!”  and several times I wondered if I should just turn back!!  And there were several times that I wondered what kind of critters were swimming in the waters with or below me, but luckily I kept with it and little by little keeping patient and calm I made it across!

We weren’t out of trouble just yet though as the mangroves were submerged in the river water quite a bit as well, and I still couldn’t reach the bottom of the river/ocean so had to hold myself above water my clinging onto the mangroves and standing on large exposed roots.  And Jul had so wonderfully mentioned that snakes and potentially crocs could be found in the mangroves so there was definitely much more motivation to get the heck out of there!!  So while I was exhausted, I wasn’t going to hang around any longer than I had to!!  After a few minutes of gathering our strength back up, we made our way around the mangroves, half swimming-half clinging to the submerged trees and finally made it to shore!!

Three children were playing in the shallow water of shore that we ended up on and at one point stopped to point us out and giggle at the silly gringos who seemingly came from nowhere but now appeared with blood-shot red faces almost crawling out onto the land.  I had never been so happy to be on land before!  We made it to a little bench and sat for a few minutes, laughing at how crazy what we had just done was!!

To be honest I don’t recall the rest of the night, only that I’m sure I slept well and that I was quite thankful all turned out well!!  What an adventure that day turned out to be!!  I do recall chuckling with Jul at one point on how each day seemed to hold an interesting new adventure, and lo and behold, the next day too had a little adventure in store for us yet again…

On to Sea Kayaking

Back to Costa Rica

Manuel Antonio

All the way down to Manuel Antonio I chatted up with the two fellow travelers, henceforth known as “B” and “A”.  They were from the States and were traveling friends down in Costa Rica for vacation.  Together we made our long journey through a long lay-over in Puntarenas and a drive through Jaco (which has been recommended to me by several people who have previously visited Costa Rica but locals have said not to travel there and frankly consider it one of the scars of the Country because of the large party and drug atmosphere there) and finally arrived late in the afternoon to our final destination of Manuel Antonio.

Upon exiting the bus (a small 15 minute and 250 colones ride from Quepos) we were instantly “attacked” by several people trying to get us to go to whichever hotel or hostel they worked for.  Backpackers are targets for these workers who get commission for every person they bring to whatever hotel or hostel there is in the area.  At first we were quite reluctant to follow the advice of the individuals who met us as most looked drugged out and some reeked of alcohol.  Nonetheless, since it was a backpackers hostel they were recommending to take us to, we followed.

We were led to the Costa Linda Backpackers, about a 500 meter walk from the beach and a 300 meter walk to the Manuel Antonio National Park and after checking out the accommodations decided it was a nice enough place to stay for the weekend.  We had also agreed on the way down that we would share a room while staying there to cut down on our costs.  For the first night we were able to score a private room with a private bath for $15 per person, but as this room was reserved for the next few nights, we had to move to another private room with shared bathrooms for $10 per person per night for the remainder of our stay.

Despite the initial sketchiness of the place, this area turned out to be one of the best places I had visited so far.  But I am getting ahead of myself…

As it was late in the evening with the sun already starting to set, there really wasn’t a ton to do except, well what else but get drunk!!  Ok, one other little factor played into our decision to leave the exploration to the next day, and that was that within an hour or two of us arriving there a fantastic thunderstorm erupted!!  So since we were bound to stay under shelter by a beautiful storm we opted to stay in the restaurant that was just at the entrance and part of the Backpackers to toast the day and the beauty around us.  I really don’t recall how much beers were at this location, but I do recall them being cheap as we had several rounds that night toasting the lightning and thunder as it clapped and struck around us and chatting the night away.

As all the drinkers out there know, once you get started the inevitable million trips to the bathroom begins.  I had not yet “broken the seal” but had need to at one point and borrowed the keys to our room so I could use the bathroom.  I happily made my way into the room, went into the bathroom and even though I was the only one in there, I closed the door to the bathroom…

BIG MISTAKE!!!  Or well, perhaps really it was much better that I did as you will soon learn… You see, behind that door on the wall was (no joke here) a spider with a leg span of about 5 inches!!!  I know that as an arachnophobia our memories and stories tend to make these fearful creatures out to be much larger than they actually are, but in this case I’m not exaggerating!  And this wasn’t one of those large daddy long-legs with large leg spans but teeny bodies… No sir!  This one had a long but slender body!!

So there I was, one hand on the button of my pants, my eyes focused steadily on the spider, my body frozen in fear.  Thoughts began to pass through my drunken brain… “What do I do?!?!?!”… “Perhaps I can just pee really, really fast then tell someone about it when I leave cause I really, REALLY need to pee!!”.  The showdown continued for probably another 30 seconds like this with me staring at the spider and the spider staring back… I was about 2 seconds from just peeing really fast then leaving when the spider moved a single leg about 2 millimeters to the right.  And that’s all it took, I was out of there!!  I flung the door open and ran as fast as I could to the exit of our room, out the hall and back to my friends at the table who were still chatting along happily.  I sat for a moment wringing my hands waiting for a moment to interrupt their conversation.  Then I shyly told them that we have a HUGE spider in our room and that I need it removed immediately!!!  I of course told them too that I was arachnophobic and was sorry to make such a deal out of it, but it had to go!  “B” got all excited as he was quite interested to see the large arachnid (Lord only knows why!!) and he said he would go take care of it.

While he was gone, “A” and I exchanged stories of fears, which for privacy purposes I won’t reveal hers here but I will say it was quite an unusal one!  We continued to chat until “B” finally came back and said “sorry it took so long, I first wanted to get some pictures of the spider, and then it took quite some time to get him out of the room as it kept trying to bite me!”  Thankfully he didn’t go into too many other gross details of how he removed the spider but as my relief for knowing the spider was out of the room set in, my now even more extreme need to pee returned!!  But before even thinking of returning to the room, I had to know exactly where the spider was taken too…  “B” then informed me that since it was so hard to get it out, he was only able to get it as far as the hallway… “I’m sorry, WHAT?!?!?!?!  You mean it’s in the HALLWAY right OUTSIDE OUR ROOM?!?!?!?!”  This made me even more paranoid and though I really didn’t want to have to go back to the bathroom, my body was telling me otherwise.  So I begged “B” to come with me and walk ahead of me to the room just in case the arachnid was in the hallway or on a wall of the hallway on the way to the room.  Such a nice person he was as he acquiesced and allowed me safe passage back to our room so I could finally relieve my bladder:)

The night continued much happier and arachnid-free from there as we continued to fiesta the night away until we all finally crashed and slept soundly.  We awoke to a stormy morning the next day and therefore opted to wait to go to the National Park until the next day when we hoped the weather would cooperate.  After breakfast and taking a picture of a “cute little guest” (see below picture) we moved into our new hostel room (private room with shared communal bath), met a local lizard who was always hanging out in one area and whom I fondly named Miguel, and generally hung around waiting for the storm to recede.

“A” had to get to a bank for more money, so about mid-day when the rain finally stopped, we all headed on a walk back up toward Quepos where the only ATMs were found.  Along the way we spotted several Capuchin Monkeys making their way across man-made ropes that stretched from one side of the road to the other.  These ropes are part of the “Children Saving the Rainforest” project and can be found throughout Costa Rica.  When electrical wires were first being erected to provide electricity to various areas, the monkeys thinking they were useful items to climb across to get to where they wanted to go, would often get electrocuted and die when they gripped them.  This was quite a large problem in the beginning, but it was quickly remedied as the “Rainforest” group stepped in with their fantastic idea of providing safe and non-electrical passages for the monkeys to use.

After our walk back up into town and a nice lunch and beer, we headed back to Manuel Antonio and A and I spent the rest of our afternoon “butt surfing” in the ocean!!  Now for those who don’t know what this is, Butt surfing is where you sit in shallow areas of the beach and allow the coming waves to toss you around the shallow beach as if you were simply a grain of sand.  It really is quite amazing the power of the Ocean as we literally were tossed and pushed and pulled and pommelled by the tiniest of waves!!  Due to the anywhere from small to large rocks and pebbles on the beach however, at times it was quite painful!!  But still fun nonetheless:)

Our night was spent again with good food, good conversation and company, and of course many great beverages.  If our hopes were to come true, the next day would be a sunny one so we could visit the Manuel Antonio National Park.

Back to Costa Rica

Pictures of Puntarenas and Manuel Antonio (including Costa Linda Backpackers Hostel and critters of the area):

San Jose

I should start by saying that I really didn’t have a plan.  None of this trip was planned exactly.  The farthest I ever got with “planning” was that I was going to sell everything, quit my job and travel out of the Country.  But that was it.  Seriously, nothing beyond there.  So when I landed in the San Jose airport (located in Alajuela) I didn’t have any further idea of where I was going to even sleep that night or what my next move was…

Many would find that crazy especially since I had the time to figure it all out, but in my mind I was just interested in the experience and the challenge of having to figure it out as I went along.  I have always done my best work when thrown into the deep end of the pool and in a way, planning to NOT have a plan was my own personal ocean:)
Walking out of the airport I was immediately ambushed by tons of eager faces and voices all asking “Taxi???”.  I turned them down and asked someone nearby where the bus station was instead.  My thoughts were to get out of San Jose immediately and get out to a more typical Costa Rica town: more nature, less city!  As I made my way toward the buses I suddenly thought “well, one night wouldn’t hurt and I could use it to get my barring”.  So I headed back to the taxis and met a couple of other people who were asking if I wanted to share a cab to San Jose.  I took this as a sign that ok, I could stay one night in San Jose!

In retrospect, had I really understood that the airport was in Alajuela (which I did have a foggy memory of my brother telling me that, yet it somehow wasn’t solidified in my mind) I would have just gotten a taxi to downtown Alajuela…

In any event, about a half our later we were in San Jose and had dropped off my two taxi buddies at their various locations.  The taxi driver then turned to me and (all in Spanish) said- “where are you off to?”  I replied that I had no idea, but asked what he would suggest?  I stated that I wanted somewhere cheap- the cheaper the better in my mind!  He politely stated however that he would much prefer I stayed somewhere a little more pricey, but it would be in an area he considered safe for a single traveler.  I acquiesced and was taken to a little B&B near the downtown area.

After settling in I spent the rest of the afternoon getting lost and trying to get directions on where downtown actually was!  I ran into a few people on the street who I trusted to ask questions of and they assisted me very kindly- but each person also emphatically told me to either get back to my B&B prior to the night-time or take a taxi back.  “Muy peligroso” was what I was told.  Mainly because the drug addicts come out at night and petty crimes apparently aren’t unusual in San Jose.  Though there are crimes everywhere, I took the locals advice to heart and made sure I was back at the B&B by 6pm (yes, it gets dark here by 6pm everyday, year round!).

San Jose was a bustling, constantly moving city!  There were people everywhere!!  In the markets, hanging out in the parks, moving on foot or in their cars or on bikes going to their destinations.  Movement everywhere you looked!  Buildings weren’t very tall but they were everywhere all squished together as far as the eye could see, thus blocking any real view of the beautiful nature that surrounds the city.  McDonald’s, Quizno’s, Pizza Hut and other U.S. food chains were also everywhere!  I hate to admit, but as I was getting a little tired from all the travels and walking around all afternoon, I did drift to a Quizno’s for dinner.  The shame, I know!!  But crowds and areas with lots of hustle and bustle tend to wear me out fast and it was nice to get a little food that I could relate to, so to speak.  I knew there would be plenty of time to taste local flavors and I was certainly looking forward to that, but for the time I was happy with the Quizno’s.

After my bite to eat I did a little internet research at my B&B for Volcan Poas.  My cousin, who is a “seasoned” Costa Rica traveler said it was a good day trip from San Jose, so I decided to check out what was available there (hostels and such) for a trip the next day.  I found a few hostels online and took down their information so I could look them up once there.  I also had to get the bus situation understood because San Jose has 4, yes 4 different bus stations all in different locations from one another.  Depending on where you want to go to, that decides which bus terminal you need to show up to.

As I settled into the B&B to sleep, a huge thunderstorm settled in overhead… Now for those of you who know me, you know that I absolutely ADORE thunderstorms!!! In fact, so much that whether a place has thunderstorms on a fairly consistent basis is actually a deciding factor for me on whether I will plan to live there or not.  I know, I know- sounds absolutely nuts picking a place to live based on thunderstorms, but hey, I follow my passions no matter what form they take!

On to Volcan Poas

Back to Costa Rica