Monday, January 30, 2012

Fun Days in BKK continues

Amber:  Our trip is definitely focused on trying new experiences and seeing new sights but some times it just seems to focus on food!  We love the food here; be it is sticky rice with mango served on the street for breakfast (that while we ate we saw a rat crawl out of the gutter), or anything else you can find on Khaosan Road (spring rolls, pad thai, fried rice, fresh squeezed mandarin orange juice, and bbq or fried chicken legs to list a few we have tried)  We went in search of MBK to look for a camera for Tim and got stuck at the food court at the mall next door and eating a variety of breads with an assortment of toppings, a pork and chicken on a skewer, toasted bread with powdered sugar and cinnamon, and then a very disappointing chicken Caesar wrap.  We are craving bread!  On our adventure of going to Chinatown we experienced fish balls (fish paste in a dough ball with a sweet spicy sauce) duck over noodles (actually amazing), won tons, bbq pork, fried bread with strawberry sauce, grilled prawns, and fresh pomegranate juice.  Today we visited with Tim's friend Cindy back at the mall district by MBK and had a very elegant meal of Thai food.  Cindy is an excellent host and the food we shared was amazing!  We started with little crispy won tons, bbq chicken in banana leaves, a baked fish paste, tom yum soup with coconut milk, a refreshing lemon grass drink and continued on to sharing three entrees and finished with gelato and jelly covered water chestnuts.  All very new to us but good just the same!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Fun Days in Bangkok

Tim: Arrived back in Bangkok to meet up with our friend Cindy Chao who is from Singapore. She is visiting BKK for a friends wedding. She has been very busy the last couple of days, so Amber and I have not had a chance to meet up with her yet. The plan is to meet her for lunch tomorrow. We have been roaming around Bangkok for the last couple days.
Went on an adventure to search out the ferry boat to the mega mall area of Bangkok. Took us about 30 minutes to find the right pier, but we eventually succeeded. The ferry is hardly a ferry more of a glorified floating log with an abnoxious smog spitting motor. There is no ramp on gang way onto the boat. You have to jump onto the side and duck under the tarp roof. The sides of the boat have a tarp runner along the sides which is pulled down when pulling into the pier, but when traveling at higher speeds along the river it is a passengers job to pull up the tarp to keep the sewer what from the canal from swamping your lap.
While trying to find the ferry Amber and I spotted a giant Monitor lizard swimming in the canal. I was over 3 and a half feet long with its tall. It was fun to watch.
We also experience the biggest down pour of rain since we have been here. It rained for about 2 hours. Luckily Amber and I were inside during the rain storm, but went outside right afterwards to find some of the streets flooded.
The mega malls were an experience. Huge! Makes the 5th Avenue mall in Anchorage look like a blade of grass in a football field. Found an awesome upscale food court and tried so amazing Thai pastries and other food. I bought Amber a dress for 200 baht ($6.25).
While we were at the mall we went to our first theater movie while in Asia. We watched the new Underworld movie in 4DX. We didn't know exactly what we were getting into when we went in. The 4DX experience included seats that vibrated and shook in time with the action of the movie. There were also sprays of water that squirted you in the face in time with the vampire and werewolf blood sprays. This was combined with the 3D and IMAX screen. Definitely a sensory overload!
My battery is getting low, so I will post now. More to follow.

Back to BKK

Amber:  After screaming my head off by jumping from a 15' cliff into the ocean twice, I was already turning red.  As Tim mentioned, I was a little chicken about jumping, so was on top of a rock cliff for quite some time.  An hour... or so.  Looking back after actually jumping, Justin is right; I'm a little embarassed about how easy it was and how not high 15' is! By the time we had riden the motor scooter back to our room I was beginning to see the beginning of sun burn that went from my ankles to ears. I put on my first pair of pants and a hooded, long sleaved top since arriving on Koh Tao and we limped off to dinner with Justin and Joe at Porto Bello, a delitious Itialian resturant.  We introduced Joe to baked brie, much to Tim's happiness as it's his all time favorite.  I refrained from having any Chong with dinner or going out with Tim and co after and went back to the room to apply as much aloe as possible and lay face down on the bed, fan on full blast, after inspecting the bed for any grain of sand that may cause damage to the glowing red that was my entire backside.  Tim had been a much smarter Alaskan and had worn shorts and a tee shirt to snorkel and cliff dive in - I had worn one of my Patagonia bikinis.  Which was the only white part on my body, the rest was red to more red. 
Sadly, I dedicated an entire day on beautiful Koh Tao to sun burn recovery and staied inside my room watching really bad television and liberally applying aloe while the sun was out.  Once it had safely gone down, Tim came from haining out with Fai and the guys and took me up to Fai's bungalow on the moter scooter to play cards and sip on a Chong.  Fai had an ice pack for my glowing skin, love her, which made beating the guys at the card game Up and Down the river for the third time all the sweeter!
The next day I was feeling much better and we decided it was time to get me on my own motor scooter.  Once one was aquired, we met up with Justin and Joe, rented snorkels and fins, and took off for the east side of Koh Tao.  I was a little wobbely to start out with, but my confidence was building by the time we got to the top of a steep, steep hill that was no longer pavement but washed out dirt.  Justin and Joe cautiously proceeded down the hill, and as it was no worse than the ones that Tim and I had ridden tandome on previously, I inched my way down.  Thinking I had mastered the art of motor scootering in the rough, I passed an elderly man and his dog only to find myself flipped over the motor scooter, with my ankle stuck under the bike.  How embarassing to have the old guy come over and lecture me to get off the bike, park it and walk the rest of the way!  At least he and Tim were kind enough to get the bike off of me so I could dust myself off, climb back on it and roll the rest of the way down the hill to where Justin and Joe had parked.  The waves on the beach were high and it was a little breezy, so we decided that we should return to the west side of the island and snorkel there, but first to have lunch on the beach. 
As it turns out, that was a horrible idea.  Justin had a bag of soup for lunch and as we approached an empty resort near the ocean a small Thai man came barreling across the varanda sputtering "you bring food?  get off my beach!" at a higher and higher volume as he got closer to us.  He ended up grabbing Justin and physically shoving him away from the beach as the four of us stared in shock.  Tim asked him if he actually owned the beach and he screamed that yes, he did.  As it turns out, Fai informed us later, that he did not own the beach.  Just the property leading up to it.  Either way, we decided that we would rather not stay.  As we drove back up the hill we watched as other travelers apporached the beach and the man angerly searched their bags for food as well.
We ended up snorkeling from the beach down from Ban's and it turned out to still be on the choppy side.  The snorkels we rented were shorter than ones we had in the past, so due to the waves we kept sucking in water.  As the visibility was also affected by the waves, we saw far fewer fish and after a bit decided to turn around and head home.  Fai was able to meet up with us and we took a taxi to a beautiful Thai resturant where Fai guided us through some exellent Thai cuisine.  As it was Tim's and my last night in Koh Tao, Fai, Justin and Joe joined us at our pool and we plaied one last game of Up and Down the River.  Justin and I tied... but I beat him due to a high card draw!  Still the Koh Tao champ!!
The next morning we packed everything up and took the motor scooters back.  As it turns out, the small crash that I did caused some scratches on the bike that neither Tim or I had noticed.  While minor, they ended up costing us about 200 US!  Not sure how to resolve the issue other than pay it, I ended up out the money. Sad, as we are on a tight $30 a day budget! 
We boarded the catamaran back to Chumpon and our first two hours of our return to Bangkok were fairly painless.  It was the 8 hours in a bus that appeared to have air conditioning working for every seat but ours that was a little grueling.  Once we arrived in Bangkok at 8:00pm we began our search for housing.  We began at a place that Tim had seen during our earlier stay that was 400 baht and included tv, hot shower and a flush toilet.  They had a room, so we went up to take a peek.  Garbage lined the stair well and black mold was creeping up the wall in the bed room.  I told Tim no way and we went on to search for another bargin, only cleaner.  It was after about an hour that we realized that it was Friday night and 9:00pm was a horrible time to be looking for a room on Khaosan Road or Ram Butri.  We went down both Khaosan and Ram Butri and the party was full force and crowded as well as many dark alleys only to be told that they were full.  At most of the places we asked I was secretly glad that they were full.  We finally found a guest house that had a room!  It was very basic, but for 350 baht it was clean and we were happy.  The shower was shared as was the toilet, and the fan was extremely loud but we were tired and our back packs were heavy.  We had some street food, got a Chang from the Seven as well as a water, put our ear plugs in and went to bed. 

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Snorkeling and Cliff Jumping at Hin Wong Bay

Tim: My parents gave Amber and I some Thai cell phones for use in Thailand, went snorkeling at Shark Bay and I left the cell phone in my board shorts. No more cell phone:( I also seemed to have broken my point and shoot camera as well. We tried to use the camera in a water proof camera bag under water, and this broke the zoom function. Oh well, I'll just have to get another one. As for phones, Justin set us up with a place that unlocks iphones, so both Amber and I have working iphones!
Yesterday we went snorkeling with Justin and Joe at Hin Wong Bay. We drove the motor scooters to the other side of the island. All but the main roads are pretty rough. I'm heavy enough that when Amber and I are riding on the same motor scooter we can often not make it up the steep hills so Amber has to get off and hike up the hills. We are working on getting Amber pratice riding here own motor scooter. It is only 150 baht ($.4.90) per day to rent a motor scooter here.
The snorkeling was awesome! The visibility was much better in Hin Wong Bay than it was in Shark Bay. We could see more than 30 feet in the crystal clear water. There were large boulders along the beach that we snorkeled around. It was really amazing. We also went in search of some cliffs that we could jump off of. We looked around for more than an hour without finding a very good location. We settled on rock outcropping that provided a jump off point of 15 feet. I went first. I had everyone scout out of the deapest point to jump in. I ended up being an easy jump. I went first then Justing and Joe followed. Amber on the other hand hesitated for a long long long long time! We decided Amber hesitated for about an hour in the blistering sun before she jumped. So after Amber made her first jump, we went right back up and jumped again.

Spent the evening at Fai's (our diving instructor) house up on the hill in Ko Tao. The pictures are the view from our balcony.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Lazy Day on Koh Tao

Amber:  Today has been the most relaxing day of our travels so far.  We slept in, then had espresso and banana pancakes for breakfast. Concerned that we would do nothing if we didn't do something, Tim convinced me to leave the room in search of adventure on our orange motor scooter.  Today we went East where the road went from paved to steep and rutted heavily from the last rain.  Having driven as far as we could on the bike, we left it on the side of the road and continued to the beach on foot.  The beach was beautiful as was the hike through the palm forrest and flowers to get to it. Having gotten fairly sunburned yesterday we opted to wear shorts and tees, with no swimming wear.  Big mistake at one in the afternoon after a long hike down a steep path!  The ocean was so inviting, but we decided to stay dry and not dive in.  The hike back up to the bike was grueling and hot.  On the way up the winding path we came to an agreement that from here on out we will save the hiking for 7am when the sun has just risen and the temperatures are lower.  With a nap at mid day, of course! 
Content that we had accomplished an adventure for the day, Tim has put in ear plugs and is taking a nap.  We plan on going to the same little place that had 1/2 off on pastsa for dinner tonight as on Mondays they have 1/2 off on pizzas! 

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Shark Bay

Amber:  We bought our first two bottles of aloe and after sun lotion after spending all day soaking in the 84'F clear sunny skys yesterday.  I began my day reading Rolf Potts's "Marco Polo Didn't Go There" pool side while I waited for Tim to get up, then we went and had the best coffee I've had in Thailand while briefly catching up with my sister on the phone.  As it was so hot out, even at 10am, Tim and I found a resturant with a fan and 50% off pastas on Sundays!  It was a coincedence about the coffee, but after drinking 7/11's coffee, this was an amazing espresso!  We decided that the best way to cool down was to drive around on our motor scooter, hoping that 30mph would create a bit of a breeze while we toured the island.  We found a beautiful overlook, but the road was so steep that the motor scooter didn't have enough guts to drive up the incline with both Tim and I on it, so I ended up huffing and puffing up the hill to enjoy our first view point.  I have got to learn how to drive a motor scooter so Tim can hike and I can drive!!!  We decided to go up even further, and ditched the moter scooter.  The incline was the steepest road or even trail Tim and I have ever seen, it was like doing Flat Top but with no switch backs, in flip flops and blazing sun!  We finished our climb by going through the jungle up a rickety wooden latter and ending on a huge granet rock face that was too steep to continue on in sweaty flip flops.  The view was amazing and a good vantage point to see our dive sights.
We were supposed to meet up with Ricko, Justin, Joe, and Fai and go to Shark Bay, literally in search of sharks to swim with, at two, but got a text from everyone but Joe saying they were a little under the weather, so wouldn't be venturing out into shark infested waters.  At this point, we were hiding from the sun in our room and had discovered pixar movies playing on the tv!  I would have happily nestled in and finished Indespicable Me but Joe called and still wanted to go snorkeling, so we ventred back out into the sun, 15spf liberally applied. 
Shark Bay is beautiful in itself, but the fact that we were going to go find some sharks and go swim with them was so cool!  We rented some fins, snorkels and a mask and hiked down to the ocean.  Finding a nice little beach to stoe our belongings at we dove in.  Initially the water was clowdy, but the fish were plentiful.  Once we swam out away from the beach the visibility cleared up and we were able to follow huge balls of feeding fish.  It was probably 15 minutes before Joe saw the first shark, Tim and I missed it but after swiming the lenght of the bay we were able to find two nice sized shark and swim behind them for a minute or so.  They were about 3' long and fast!  It was fun to swim with them, but it seemed to defy all logic for us to actually want to be swiming with them and intentionally follow them, not swim as fast as we could in the opposite direction!!  In all we either saw six shark, or the same two, three times.  Baracuda like this bay and we were able to spot several.  They like to sit right at the surface and are fairly indifferent to one swiming right up to them.  Most of the fish were fairly small in Shark Bay but a big parrot fish cruised by us just as we were thinking about going to go shore, we decided to follow it for a bit.  It lead us to a sea turtle!  Koh Tao means Turtle Island, but we havn't seen a turtle yet during our stay.  This one was bigger than any we have seen before, and petty docile.  We were able to swim with the turtle for about three minutes before he moved towards deeper water and we decided that two hours was enough time in the ocean for one day. 

Tim: Went to a Mexican restaurant for dinner tonight. The food was ok. Both Amber and I think that they used mayonaise as a substitute for sour cream, so the taste was a little off from what we would expect from Mexican food. Many of the beach side restaurants have a movie showing on a large projector screen in the evenings. This evening the movie was Bridesmaids. We stayed until the movie was over, then went to a beach bar for a couple of beers. Tonight was New Year's Eve before the Chinese New Year, so there were a lot of Chinese people out celibrating with fireworks and chines laterns on the beach. Amber and I even set one off for good luck. Its 10:45 am, and Amber and I are still in the room after our excess sun exposure yesterday. Getting ready to explore the other side of the island on the motor bike after some breakfast.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Finished PADI Open Water Course

Tim: This morning was our last day of the PADI Open Water Course. We went for two dives this morning starting at 8:00 am. As usual saw lots of fish: sting ray, morrey eel, porcupine fish, barracuda, pipe fish, grouper, etc... Went down to 18 meters. Both Amber and I are feeling really comfortable in the water now and I'm sure we will do many more dives before our trip is done.

Went out to Italian food last night with Rico, Justin, Joe, and our dive instructor Fai. The food was actually really good. Amber road on the motor scooter with Fai, The boys got separated temporarily and we parked our bikes and went into a restaurant called El Gringo. Something about the name didn't ring Italian to me. Amber and Fai still hadn't showed up when Rico and Justin had ordered a beer. Rico gave Fai a phone call to see where they were at only to find out that were were in the wrong restaurant. Farangos the Italian restaurant was the next restaurant down, not the Mexican place we were sitting in. The beer drinking by Rico and Justin for most of the day may have lead to the mix up.

After a nice dinner of Lasagne and Pizza, we all went back to where Amber and I are staying. There is a nice pool with chairs and tables around. We made some cocktails with Thai Whiskey (Sam Song) and played a card game (up and down the river). Overall a really enjoyable day!

Amber:  Tim is walking up to where we had pizza last night to rent a moter scooter.  Rico usually gets his from there and they are supposed to be the best value on the island; 150 baht a day.  Being as we are done with the our open water diver certificate, tomorrow we are going to cruise around the island and see if we want to stay else where than at Ban's.  Better price is always good, but our location is centeralized and clean. 
Diving was really fun today - we practiced taking our maskes completely off under water and putting them back on.  Surprisngly, I did better with the whole mask removal than the trial partial.  We also did cesa, which is where you hypotheically run out of air and need to surface with out your buddys air supply.  I was fairly certain that I would run out of air half way to the surface, freak out, and have to do the whole test over again.  Nope!  I passed first try, as did Tim.  The fish here are amazing, or maybe it's just that we can actually get down to where they are swimming and haing out for a bit!  There are so many different types, and they are everywhere, so it's hard to pick your favorite.  The morey eel and the sting ray are pretty cool.  The first dive today I got a bloody nose, but other than that, both of us did well.  We are hooked, and considering doing our advaned dive certificate so we can be cool like Justin, Ricko and Joe and go to 30m and swim with the big kids (and fish)!
Tim got a professional hair cut after 6 months of cutting it on his own.  For 200 baht - about $6 US!  Gotta love how frugal the man is!  For 200 baht, it definately looks like a real hair dresser cut it, not Tim, with a mirror and hand sheers! 

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Beautiful Ko Tao

Tim: We made it to Ko Tao without incident.  We took a truck taxi from our guest house to the pier in Ko Samet. We took the boat from Ko Samet to Ban Fe where we got a van to Bangkok. Then we took an 8 hour night bus from Bangkok to Champon, waited for two hours, then caught the speed boat to Ko Tao (2 hours).  While waiting for the bus in Khao San, Bangkok we spotted some huge rats only a few feet away from where we were sitting. Amber was disgusted and moved to a different spot.
Ko Tao is beautiful! It looks like a paradise from a dream. Amazing clear water with palm trees crawling up the sides of the island. In contrast the sandy beaches were nicer in Ko Samet, but Ko Samet was rather dirty with trash filling the sides of roads and alley ways. The diving culture in Ko Tao has made for a very clean environment with little trash. Ko Tao has a very large diving poplulation as diving is the largest past time here. We came here on the recommendation of our friends Justin and Rico, who took their PADI dive training here in Ko Tao from their Thai friend Fai. Amber and I also signed up for the PADI course, and today is our second day. After some classroom work, we got in two open water dives yesterday afternoon. It was amazing! Both of us are having a great time. Pictures to follow. Amber and I have been having so much fun that we haven't taken any pictures since we have been in Ko Tao.
Amber:  Ko Tao is beautiful!  We got in early two days ago after a long bus ride and a speed boat out to an absutely georgous island.  The palm trees streatch up into the jungle on the hillsides and the huge granet boulders that surround the white sand beaches are amazing.  We have a cute little room at the resourt where we are learning how to scuba dive, complete with fan, flush toilet and cold water shower.  We even have a tv in!  It is right next to a pool/hot tub and very quiet. 
Scuba is really fun!  Instead of being terrified of dieing from drowning, its been a very relaxed and enjoable.  We watched some videos and did a few quizzes the first day here then yesterday Fai took us into the pool and we did some trial runs on what to do if your mask fills with water, you loose your respirator, your buddy runs out of air, etc.  From there we were able to go out into the open ocean and pull ourselves down a rope to a coral pillar surrounded by fish.  Our ears both did well, Tim actually did better than I did and he's had some pretty bad issues with diving in the past.  Right before we surfaced, we were surrounded by a huge school of baracudas! Our second dive we saw more fish and sting rays.  Both of our dives were not very deep; just 12m so we were able to stay down about 35 min each time.  Very cool to be on the bottum and be able to see the surface way above you and not have to go back up for air! 
We went to a traditionl Thai BBQ for dinner after our dives (and crisping ourselves for the first time since getting here) and stuffed our selves on BBQ chicken, baccon, pork and veggies and had a few Chang with Fai, Air (a young Thai girl doing the course with us) Rico, Justin and Joe then went back to our pool side for a game of Up and Down the river with the guys.  Early to bed and now we are up having breakfast and hiding from a small rain storm.  We have class today that will just be lecture then tomorrow more diving!!!!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Last Night in Ko Samet

Tim: It is our last night here in Ko Samet. It has been very relaxing. We have been running both mornings we have been here then jumping into the ocean as soon as we are done; a good way to start the morning! Relaxed today, laid on the beach, did some reading. We did laundry for the first time this trip in our bathroom sink. Had laundry lined up to dry all over the room, but it worked out well.
Amber:  our first accommodations on Koh Samet were so horrible that by this morning I really didn't care much for the entire island.  We moved today to a clean, cool little room that has a *gasp* flush toilet, hot water shower AND air conditioning.  With no ants except for the one that I killed as soon as it crawled from my back pack.  All for 6 US more than we were paying at the prior accommodations.  After doing all the laundry that had been exposed to the first place we called home here on the island, Tim and I took a small, air conditioned nap and then went down for a little sun bathing, walk along the beach at sun set then had our first whole sea bass grilled in garlic and pepper.  It was very tasty, Tim even ate most of the head.  He avoided the eye balls tho, my Mom would have been disappointed. 
I bought some very light weight 'barefoot' Merill shoes just before heading overseas and after two runs my calves are nearly dead and I think my left toes are sevierly bruised.  So much for new technology - I want my built in orthotics Brookes running sneakers!  We are heading back to BKK tomorrow but we will go for one more run in the morning.  Instead of going up the dusty roads that are riddled in pebbles, trucks and trash, we plan on sticking to the sandy shores of Koh Samet and taking a swim between laps.  Why didn't we think of this sooner?