Monday, March 19, 2012

Hiking an Island

Our backs are baked but we're determined to see more of the island. We decided to go on a hike that takes us from our side to the other side (considering the island is one mountain that you have to go up and over it's more difficult than it sounds).

The above map is kind of big but I want to be able to describe where we hiked. We were at CoCo Cottage Resort. We walked down the beach about 3/4 of a mile past Fantasy Resort where we turned off and started going through the jungle. We came out at Koh Ngai Resort and Spa then went around the little point at the middle, bottom of the island to the larger point on the left. 

We were nervous for a little while because of the isolation and knowing that if something were to happen medical assistance would be hours, if not a day, away. We were uneasy with the unfamiliar flora but comforted ourselves with the fact that there wouldn't be any large predators (besides the dogs) on an island. After hiking for half an hour we came out to this beautiful yet hot plain of grasses, with towering palms and piles of coconuts. 

By this time we were rather hot and miserable, unsure of which trail to take. We decided to go near the sea and see if there was an area we could swim at. And there was. I wore my swimsuit under my clothes and Casey hiked in swim trunks so we stripped off and dove in. Even that water was warm so we went further to try to cool off.

There was a rather dilapidated resort where we got some more water and asked for directions to the viewpoint we had heard about. A lady told us it would be about 15 minutes. We started off and kept getting distracted by beautiful scenes.

After an hour of steep climbs, beach combing (we love all the sea glass), avoiding fallen ants nests (terrified me!) we arrived at a beautiful viewpoint. I had quickly overheated even with the liter of water I'd had and sat down, deciding I'd risk the tree ants. The view was worth it. 

The picture above shows the last part of my irritated face while Casey was trying to take a picture. I just had to sit for a while.

Like I said, it was beautiful and worth the work. I can honestly say, however, that I have never sweated more in my life.

On our way back this guy...

and one of his friends decided to make the hike with us. We quickly realized these dogs go all over the island and use these trails probably more than people. The two dogs would dart off into the jungle and come up behind us so suddenly. One time I almost jumped up a tree and probably would have if I didn't suspect the tree to be more dangerous.

There was a reunion of dogs at that point, where Batdog wanted to tell the other three dogs that he had adopted us and the two hiking with us didn't like that, so we quickly got out of the way and let them discuss with growls and whines.

That evening we were seriously worn out. We took it easy, just sitting on the beach and having a leisurely dinner.

Above is the lounge/lobby/restaurant we spent plenty of time in relaxing. Below is our bungalow we loved, despite the scary poisonous millipede bug I had to dance around one night in the bathroom.

We left early the next morning and spent a tiring day traveling. 45 minutes by boat to the pier, another 45 in a van to Trang Airport, a little over an hour flight to Bangkok, a short layover where we had to recheck bags, another hour flight to Chiang Mai, and then a 20 minute drive to our hotel. We sat down for a while and then went out where I fell in love with Chiang Mai.

Some more of Koh Ngai

This is probably going to be longer than planned, followed by other posts.

On our second full day at the island we woke up for a few minutes to watch the sunrise. 

After sleeping in we rented a kayak and went up the edge of our island. We were told it takes about 2.5 hours to go all the way around the island. Let's bring up a few points before I go further. 1) We're from Utah where there are rivers (or streams, creeks, puddles, and one big lake). We like to float downstream. Oceans have big waves, which brings me to the second point. 2) We're wimps. And finally 3) We're on vacation and don't want to work, which includes strenuous paddling against waves and currents. Therefore we went maybe half a mile up the beach and found a little cove to pull off in. There we grabbed our snorkeling gear and fins and waded out to some beautiful coral and fish. 

There were big purple clams, little white fish that sucked up sand from a hole and spit it (I watched those for several minutes), the ones that Casey believed were going to eat him, angel fish, these sea urchins (which also terrified Casey), and many many more. After a while we went back to the beach, sat in the shade, reapplied sunscreen, and tried to avoid watching the old nude Swiss couple in their boat sneaking along. We got back in the kayak and decided to try to go up to the point of the island. We were almost there, fighting the current that was much stronger with all the rocks, and turned back-again running into the nudes. We got back and swam in the sea where we noticed we were getting rather crisp. During lunch a thunderstorm rolled in (incredible thunder!) and we ate lunch while watching it. It only lasted about 30 minutes.

It was beautiful and awe inspiring, with the waves going from a smooth glass sea to a furious monster in a matter of minutes. It cooled things off and we enjoyed the rest of the evening walking up to see the other resorts. When we got back from dinner, one of the island dogs (we named him Batdog) followed us back and slept on our bungalow porch while we read.

See the ears? Thus, Batdog. He'd sneak up on us in the dark as we were walking and scare us. The dogs are all friendly, just stealthy. The rest of our night was basically hell. Our backs had been severely sunburned from snorkeling (despite the copious amounts of sunscreen we applied) and it was difficult to sleep. Casey's back was worse than mine and is currently peeling. He's now known as Casey-snake. 

The next day, despite the discomfort (that's too benign of a word for it), we hiked around. Next post. :)

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Koh Ngai and Snorkeling

After several hours of traveling we arrived at our island, Koh Ngai (which is redundant because "koh" means "island" in Thai). It's paradise, literally. The only thing better would be having family here with us. As I write this I'm looking over an ocean as smooth as glass with Jack Johnson singing from the bar behind me. Casey's under a umbrella reading (or looking at the sea because it's hard to look away from it), and I'm making friends with the bugs.

 The night we got in we were exhausted so we swam for a while, slept, ate dinner, walked around, and then slept for another 10 hours. This morning we got breakfast and then got ready to snorkel. Our first stop was at Koh Mook, a half hour ride by longtail boat. At Koh Mook is this, a beautiful hidden wonder known as the Emerald Cave or Tham Morakot. After swimming 80 meters or so through a dark cave with glowing green waters (emerald) you come into an amazing hidden beach that looks straight up and is completely isolated from the outside. Pirates use to hide their treasure here while there are rare and unique species taking refuge in this cove. 

Our next stop took us to a small island, where we dove in to see the wonderful and colorful fish. We went to three islands like this, the second being Koh Kradan where we stopped to eat lunch. The last island had a shallow cove that allowed for many more diverse fish (I think the shallowness protected them from predators). Most of the corral we saw was dead but it provided a contrasting backdrop for the vibrant, iridescent fish. I kept seeing one and calling it my favorite; then I'd see a new one and that would be my favorite! I still can't decide what one is my favorite because they're all so beautiful.

Enough talking. Here are some pictures. We didn't have a waterproof camera (I'm going to try to get some pictures from another women on the trip-there were 8 of us) but I have others!

Where we ate lunch, at Koh Kradan.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Bangkok: Jim Thompson House and Other Stuff

On Saturday I noticed something was definitely not right with my leg. I woke up sore and that's all I thought it was, "Wow, I'm out of shape if climbing a few wats did this to me but it will be gone in a day." It steadily got worse, but I didn't say much to Casey about it because I didn't want him to think I was a complete wimp from soreness. He talked me into going to this Jim Thompson place-something to do with silk-and I complained thinking it would be another boring museum.

 (On a side note because I forgot to post about it. At Wat Phra Kaew they had a little museum with all the weapons of Siam. Casey was ridiculously excited, like any boy, about this. It was hot and stifling to me.) 

Anyways, I didn't want to be bored but as soon as we walked down the street and turned into the drive I was awestruck. 

I wasn't sure what to expect as I had let Casey do the research. We paid 150 baht total to get in (I got a discount for being younger than 25), which is about 5 bucks. The history goes as follows (I'm summarizing poorly):
Jim Thompson was an army officer from Delaware who was sent to Asia. As an officer in Bangkok he fell in love with Thailand and returned after discharged to live there permanently.
He devoted himself to reviving the silk industry and was a very gifted designer and colorist. His house (where we visited) combined traditional Thai architecture through six teak buildings. The house is a full story above ground and building techniques are consistent with centuries old design.
Mr. Thompson later donated the house in 1959 to the public so that all proceeds would be donated to Thai charities and could be appreciated by all. In 1967 Mr. Thompson was visiting Malaysia and went for a walk in the jungle. He never returned and no one (or so it is said) knows what happened to him. His company and heritage live on.

And now on to the pictures. It's such a beautiful place that I wanted to share it with all, as I can see why Mr. Thompson did.

Below is his private gardens.

Fish were in HUGE pots all over. There was one we pet... uhh... touched. He must be use to it though because he just sat there.

The red building in the background belongs to the estate; the beige one further back is outside of the property-probably apartments.

There were orchids in more HUGE pots all over. 

He's a professional... The yellow balls below are the silk worms in their cocoons. They're unstrung one strand at a time.

A weaver thingy.

I was really excited to see the turtles.

More flowers!

See the leaves below in the top of the picture? They're about 5 feet tall!

Fishy fishy fishy.

We ate lunch at the restaurant afterwards. They had one of my favorites desserts/snacks! Mango with sticky rice! Yum! 

It was a beautiful experience and I'm glad Casey talked me into going. That evening we went further down on the MRT to the factory outlet, where we bought 2 meters of silk to make pillow shams with. 

Today, Sunday, we went to the downtown Bangkok ward where Casey saw a few people he knew. I'll talk about that in the next post if I can get online in Trang. :)

Bangkok: Wats

The past few days have been exhilarating yet exhausting. I'll try to type less and just let the pictures do the talking. On Friday we went to Wat Phra Kaew, a Buddhist temple and palace complex considered the holiest place in Thailand. (Think Temple Square for Utah...). Before we went in we got on a longtail boat that took us all around the canals and to see another wat, Wat Arun.

Wat Arun from the boat. We got off and climbed this wat. A rather strenuous climb... Strenuous enough that about where I'm standing in this picture (this was on the way up) my leg decided it didn't like me on the way down. It felt like my entire left thigh had a charlie horse. That quickly disappeared an then it just felt tight. I wasn't sure what had happened but thought I just over-exerted it and had a lactic acid build up. After a few minutes it felt fine.
The wat was ornate and beautiful, covered in colorful porcelain and actually moved from the other side of the river by King Rama I. 

We honestly didn't mean to get the random Buddha head in this picture but it works.

View from the wat looking over Chao Phraya River.

We then got back on the boat and went around the canals until we came back to Wat Phra Kaew. By this time Casey was experiencing some heat stroke so we sat down and slowly wandered through any shaded area while consuming copious amounts of liquid and mango.

The canals were gross but unique and truly showed a side of Bangkok not visible from anywhere else. Some houses were nice with gated communities and speed boats. Others were mere huts two feet above the water. It was interesting to see some one so wealthy living next to such squander, though. We would not see that in America. The longtail terrified me whenever it turned. I closed my eyes and told myself I can swim well, no matter how filthy the water is. Hopefully this video works. It doesn't look awful but I thought I'd be in the water any second.

Anyways, back to Wat Phra Kaew. Casey's overheating (despite the amounts of human antifreeze we put in him), the sun is out (it was supposed to be overcast), and I'm sweating so much that I don't have to go to the bathroom despite the 2 liters of water I've drank. I'll just bombard you with photos. :)

The picture below is right before we went in to the actual wat that houses the Emerald Buddha (which is really jade...). It has a huge history of theft and prestige but is considered very holy. No pictures are allowed to be taken inside but you are asked to kneel or sit down. Many people were praying, bowing, or worshiping. It reminded me that every religion has a truth. Buddhism teaches about light-about doing good and receiving good in return. There was a certain spirit there that I think would be in any place where something is so revered. 

The temple itself is very ornate. I thought of the Baroque period and wondered if they were influenced by this style as the western world was meeting up with the east at this time.

Below is Casey taking one of the breaks we so desperately needed.

There were these statue guys all over that reminded us of the third "Pirates of the Caribbean," dudes on the ship that are half fish. 

This is one of the palaces. The royal family use to live here but moved when they realized it was more beneficial as a tourist place.

One of the guards (like the Buckingham Palace guys) who Casey tried to get to laugh. Apparently he did last time he was here. I can't imagine standing in that full clothing in this heat! We had to wear pants or skirts to our ankles and closed toed shoes. I'll admit it bothered me when others tried to be disrespectful and get away with immodest clothes. I don't care if someone is immodest but when a tourist comes to a sacred place and is asked to respectful then they should be.

This was a small side garden we found with a cat (there all over) who was drinking, or possibly fishing, from one of the small ponds.

After this wat (we spent a few hours there) we came back in a taxi (at least to the end of the MRT line) and collapsed at the hotel. The ride in the taxi took 45 minutes and that was when the heat stroke hit me. I was nauseous and couldn't cool off. We got mildly burned but the funny thing was Casey's forehead where his hair covered!

I'll try to post once more before we leave tomorrow morning for Trang (yay beaches!). The next place we went has been my favorite so it might deserve an entire post. :)