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Friday, March 26, 2010

Thailand. The Finale!

Finally, the end! I know some of you must've been wondering when this day would come. Anyways, I must apologize to those of you who look at my horizontal images and wonder where the right side of it went. I'm trying to find out and fix the problem, but I've got to get my hands on a PC first (because I think it all shows up on Mac's). For now though, if you can fool around with the screen resolution, that might help.

Now onward to Koh Samui! This wasn't the island we had intended to visit, but we were glad things happened the way they did. I must preface that we only spent one full day here, mostly just lounging on the beach and swimming in the ocean water since we were so spent from the crazy ordeal the day before. Therefore, only one beach pic.
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The rest of the day was caught on video by Drew, so just a few little snippets of our day at Nora Beach Resort. We hung out on the beach and enjoyed a few laughs with one of the Thai women selling food and trinkets. Then we explored the ocean floors which were filled with huge sea cucumbers on this side of the island. (Please note: I'm only kidding when I said "Hello dinner." Though sea cucumber is a delicacy in China and a common dish at Chinese weddings, I can never eat one without feeling bad because they're so cute! Actually, the main reason is because they don't taste good to me, since I have tried it before. Heh heh.)

Like most girls, I have an aversion to dead animals. Thus, the sad whine at the end.

Happy campers after a very restful stay in Koh Samui.
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One of the best things about this island was their airport. It's like the Disneyland of airports! Outdoors, beautiful landscaping, coffee shops, restaurants, boutiques, bars. If we had known that, we'd have come to the airport sooner!
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Whoever put together that bougainvillea has some major talent. This is Drew's goal for 2010.
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Beautiful flowers everywhere.
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The nicest men's restrooms ever. There's sliding glass doors that open up to a huge fish tank!
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Ok, I think that's probably more airport photos than anyone wants to see, but sometimes a city's airport is a good reflection of the town itself. Good job Koh Samui!

Our last stop in Thailand was Khao Yai National Park, the country's oldest and second largest national park. There's a huge variety of flora and fauna here including great hornbills, elephants, bears, and sadly, only a few elusive tigers.
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We did a night safari our first day and saw some barking deer and three porcupines. Day 2, we went on a hike through the forest with our semi-informative, semi-scaredycat guide named Lek. (I'll explain the scaredycat part later.)
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I loves me the strangler fig. It grows by wrapping itself around a host tree and growing upwards till its foliage overshadows that of the host tree. Eventually the host tree dies, leaving the the fig & its elaborate roots.
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Macaques hanging out throughout the forest.
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Bear claws. There were some trees just covered with claw marks. It amazes me how bears can climb trees so well.
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Relatively fresh elephant poo. Our goal for the day was to see some elephants.
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At one point, Drew noticed a caterpillar on his shirt and asked Lek "What does it become?" The answer from Lek..."a butterfly". DUH!!!!!
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It was hilarious because Drew had meant what type of butterfly, but I just loved the simple answer - cracked me up! Here's Lek holding out a gorgeous blue butterfly. Note the obligatory long pinky nail grown on every Southeast Asian man's hands.
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Lianas. These were almost the death of me that day. And this is why I think our guide was a big scaredy-cat.
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We had heard from others at the park headquarters that there was a male elephant nearby in the jungle. So we trekked into the forest looking for it. Lek, our guide, had told Drew to leave his backpack in the truck in case we have to run for our lives if the elephant should charge at us. I decided to strap my camera around my body since I wanted to snap a few. We couldn't find the elephant on our first try.

Walking back out to the parking lot, Lek told another guide we were looking for an elephant in the forest. This other guide (let's call him Elephant man), along with his three tourists, decided to go look for it. We followed. We walked into the thick forest (I didn't take any pics because it was so dense in there) and Elephant man proceeds to make loud elephant noises. In my mind I was thinking, what the hell is he doing? I was ok with trying to quietly sneak up to take a peek at an elephant, but I didn't sign up to attract a male elephant that might charge at me! Whatever. We ended up hearing leaves crackle and followed Elephant man till we saw the elephant! I was half excited and half scared because at any moment we'd have to bolt, so I didn't take any pics. Plus I was about 50ft away from it, and there were too many things in the way so I could only see its ear flapping around. So the order of appearance from the actual male elephant, who was busy eating leaves, was Elephant man (25ft away), his 3 tourists and Drew (40ft), me (50ft), and Lek (55ft). What was my guide doing behind me?

Anyway, onto the reason why the liana was almost the death of me. At one point during our elephant stakeout, every guy in front of me turned around and started jamming my way, which freaked me out, so I turned around and, according to Drew, took off like Marion Jones in the Summer Olympics. I seriously felt like I was running for my life. Adrenaline was pumping through my body like crazy as I pushed branches aside and jumped over roots. Then, my life flashed before my eyes, and I thought I was going to die by elephant when one of my legs got caught in a liana!!!! I kept on trying to run, but couldn't move because the wooden vine wouldn't break. Visions of being picked up by the elephant's trunk and whacked around a few times flowed through my head. Finally, I turned around to free my leg and noticed that everyone had stopped running and there was no elephant in sight. False alarm. Apparently, Drew and the other guys had stopped running way back. Meanwhile, our guide was even further off than I was!

They called Lek and me back to continue the stakeout. I walked back with my whole entire body shaking. We all stood and watched again. After about a minute, I thought to myself, all I can see is his one elephant ear waving back and forth (because it was so far away and hidden behind a huge boulder and dense forest), why am I standing here risking my life again? At that point, I said, "I'm outta here. Meet you guys in the parking lot."

On our way back to the hotel, we passed by some docile non-charging cattle going for a walk.
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It was so nice to be back at our resort after a long day's hike and that traumatic experience. If you're ever in Thailand and can do it, stay at Kirimaya in Khao Yai. It was my absolute favorite resort while in Thailand!
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The view off our balcony was amazing.
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One of my favorite pics and subjects.
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Finally, the end to our day, and the end of this Thailand saga. I hope you all enjoyed it and hop on a plane to Thailand soon!
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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Thailand. The Detour.

After 4 days on Koh Phi Phi, we were set to go to Koh Tao, an island on the other side of the mainland. The plan was:
1. Boat from Koh Phi Phi to Phuket (mainland city)
2. Taxi to Phuket airport
3. Fly to Koh Samui (island)
4. Boat to Koh Tao
Of course, sometimes things don't go according to plan. The guy who booked our boat to the mainland (known from now on as He Who Shall Not Be Named), booked our boat ride to the WRONG part of the mainland! So instead of docking in Phuket, we docked in Krabi because He Who Shall Not Be Named thought for some reason that we were flying out of the Krabi airport. So, long story short, we fumed at HWSNBN for a while as we missed our flight to Koh Samui that morning, and thus missed the ferry boat to Koh Tao. (And we had already booked a hotel for 2 nites on Koh Tao).

Thank goodness for the nice taxi driver and his travel agent wife, who helped us change our flight to an afternoon one, so we at least made it to Koh Samui that night. We still had a few hours to spare though, so we decided to take a Thai cooking class before we flew out that afternoon. This was like a little blessing in disguise I guess because it was a great experience. We love Thai food and to learn how to cook it so that I can make Thai meals at home is awesome!

We went to Aonang Thai Cookery.
and had a grand ol' time with Sow, the chef.
I want you for Aonang Thai Cookery School!
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So excited! We got to choose five dishes that we wanted to make.
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The kitchen. There was only 3 of us learning that day.
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With Sow, our chef and trainer.
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Chopped lemongrass. An ingredient in a lot of Thai and Vietnamese dishes.
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Making Penang curry.
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My man in the kitchen. I love it! Though he says he's forgotten how to make any of the dishes we learned that day. It's ok, he's still a great dishwasher! =)
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Tom Yum Soup. Yum!
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About to enjoy the fruits of our labor. (All of the dishes were surprisingly relatively easy to make.)
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Our huge lunch with five dishes per person! We had tom yum soup, pad thai, penang curry, chicken cashew, and spring rolls. So good and so full afterward.
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Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Thailand. Part III

I had REALLY wanted to go to a floating market this time around while in Thailand. Unfortunately, I found out when I got there that they mainly happen on the weekends, and we weren't going to be around Bangkok on the weekend. So we did the next best thing we could. Hired a taxi driver to take us out to a market on the river bank. It's not as photogenic as the floating markets, but Don Wai market had enough interesting food items to satisfy our food desires.
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Fruits galore!!! We had every single one of these fruits, but my favorite are the longans on the top left. It was definitely the season for them, and they were so sweet & juicy. Yum! Jackfruit (top right) was not really in season, so they didn't taste as good as they should have.
Middle left: mini-mangoes were so-so.
Middle right: Dragonfruit. This fruit always looks so much better than it tastes to me. It's got a very light, mild fragrance to it with a slight sweetness. I'm sure it tastes very refreshing served cold on a hot day, but it doesn't make the cut onto my favorite fruit list.
Bottom left: Rose apple. It's also got a light fragrant taste to it. A bit juicier and sweeter than the dragonfruit. Definitely a nice, healthy snack.
Bottom right: Salacca. I guess this one is an acquired taste. I actually can't remember too much except that it was weird and neither of us liked it. Even so, if you're ever in Thailand, try it all!

After exploring the market, we took a little boat tour down the river.
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Tons and tons of ginormous catfish in these waters! I'm sure they eventually end up on the dining table, but there's so many that there's no need to worry about a shortage. On the boat ride, they sold rolls of bread so we could feed the fish. Environmentalists would probably say it's not good for the ecosystem, but it was what all the Thai people were doing, so we did it. (I know, I know...if your friend jumps off a bridge...)
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It was quite interesting to see these big fancy houses being constructed next to tiny little shacks on the river.
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A delicious Thai lunch with our driver, Mr. Prasat, as he referred to himself when I asked him his name. He's actually much friendlier than this picture shows, and we found out a lot about the Thai culture and government from him, even though our Thai was non-existent and his English was limited.
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I thought this was a cute way to display the table numbers in this restaurant.
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Day 3: Koh Phi Phi
And off we go! Flying within Thailand on their local airlines was extremely cheap. On Day 3, we flew down to Phuket, and then took a boat over to Koh Phi Phi.
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When I was in Phi Phi back in '98, there was some protest to Hollywood coming over to film the movie, The Beach, with Leonardo DiCaprio because they were going to bulldoze and re-landscape part of the beach. Needless to say, Hollywood won and the movie was filmed on Maya Bay, which has now become a big tourist attraction.

We didn't go to Maya Bay, but there was no need since the beach and water right off our hotel was beautiful enough. We even rented snorkel gear one day and snorkeled right off of our hotel's beach. The water was the perfect temperature and sooooo crystal clear!
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We stayed on the north side of the island, far away from the main village area, so each time we wanted to go to town, we had to take a 45 minute long-tail boat ride over.
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Flowers and/or cloth are tied to the front of the boat to appease the sea spirits.
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The view from our hotel room. Happy, happy, joy, joy!
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The restaurant next to our hotel had a muay thai boxing ring. We didn't see a fight here, but we did see one in the village where most of the tourists hang out. The Thai people are so smart that they don't even need to hire fighters. They have workers walk around with a sign that says "Free bucket of beer if you volunteer to fight" and it was a night of endless amateur muay thai fighting by a lot of drunk tourists.
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Koh Phi Phi was where I got certified for scuba diving twelve years ago and to this day is still the best diving I've done so far. The coral reefs and marine life down there are absolutely amazing. I wish I had gills so that I could just hang out down there all day. Imagine Finding Nemo times ten!
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The scuba company gave me a little point and shoot so the quality isn't that great (especially the color!), but I'm happy to be able to document most of what I saw. The best was the purple and black sea snake (bottom left). Actually, I love all the different anemones and clown fish as well, not to mention tons of other colorful fish swimming around.
Another sea snake!
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I love how so many of the fish don't even care that you're there. They'll just swim right past your face with no fear.
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If you ever have a few days to spend on an island in Thailand (preferably on the Andaman Coast side), get scuba certified! You get to see so much more than if you snorkel.

I'll leave this post with an image of our last sunrise on Koh Phi Phi.
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