Sunday, January 29, 2006

Da na... Da Na ...DA NA!

Swimming with sharks? Yeah sure no problem....Wait did I just say that?

The sign read something along the lines of 'swim with black tip sharks...600 baht'
Dan said Cool! I said yeah...sure.
However with a bit of advice we were told that we could go for ourselves. I was not too sure how thrilled I was. We rented a kayak and by the time we got to our destination it was late in the day, worse yet the visibility was very poor and we were battling huge 3m swells! So I not only was to get over of my fear of deep water, but also my fear of the scary ocean swells, and oh yeah...Sharks. I was too chicken shit to get in the water.
But alas I would have another try.
The thought of swimming with sharks scared and thrilled me. I thought 'wow that would be so cool' but also 'what are you crazy?'
Two days later we again rented a kayak and went to 'shark bay' to try and find the black tip creatures lurking somewhere deep down.
We were much more lucky on our second try, the water was calm and the visibility was amazing. We could easily see the bottom from where we were at least 5m deep. The hardest part for me was to actually get in the water. I just kept telling myself that I may never get this opportunity in I went.
With a bit of advice from some other snorkelers we were able to see the sharks in about 30 minutes from when we first got in the water. It was amazing! We saw up to 6 at once and strangely enough I really wasn't scared, after I saw the first one, I wanted to see more, I was mesmerized and intrigued. They swim so cautious and slow through the water, majestic even. I think that I was not so afraid when we finally saw them because I was imagining the worst...huge boat sized, teeth baring giants coming towards me at a threatening pace. As soon as I saw that they are not so big and are actually scared of you...I relaxed a bit. But what a thrill! It was definitely a highlight of staying on Koh Tao, along with pretty much everything else. One of the great things about being on vacation is that you can read...any book you want! We have been reading a lot lately, one of my favorites that I finished was "the Time Travelers Wife"-very sweet and nicely written. I also read "The Divinci Code" to see what it was all about, a gripping tale but a bit fantastic for my taste. Next will be "Memoirs of a Geisha" and I'm trying to find Alex Garlands "The Tesseract".
Well now is the time to leave here and we are going to Ranong on the Andaman coast and I look forward to seeing the Surin islands where there is supposed to be amazing snorkeling. We will be heading straight to Koh Chang right from Ranong but there is not even electricity there so I will be out of contact for a while.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Beach life

Presently on Koa Tao, a small (6km long 2km wide) island of clear turquoise waters, coral, plentiful sea life and white sand beaches.
Our guest house (of course with ocean views) is 10m from the shore and its even quiet we often have the whole cove to snorkel in by ourselves. How much? Oh 300 Baht a night ($7.50US).
I know I know too good to be true right?

I can hardly believe it myself.
I am seriously loving this...Maybe too much...I could live here. Not particularity on this island but in this sort of environment for sure.

Well I am waiting for pictures to upload I will tell you about our last night in Bangkok with Bee.
Cathy met Bee in Japan and gave us his contact because he lives in Bangkok, so we were finally able to meet up with him on the last night we had in Bangkok before we came here. We went first to 'the gas station' and I though oh a pub called 'the gas station' but no, it was actually tables and chairs set up around the closed gas station. The mood was very nice, and Bee brought his friend Paul, a traveler from Ireland. All in all it was a great time of talking and happy drunkenness. Till about 5am or so. It was the best night in Bangkok that I have had, Bee is hilarious, along with his friend Paul too. More pics

Bee, amazingly this is before consumption

...No, no oflicer I haven't been drinking...

Ok now back to the beach

Beautiful sunsets anyone? Cause we have see a few...


Amazed yet? K how about some more



and now check out the view

Just out our bungalow window

From the shore


There is also jungle too

this is near the main pier.

Some interesting things:

Yeah, that's about how we understood it too

How to be a real Dan
I love this! I always wanted to train my Dan, now this place offers both courses and training

Don't get me wrong, the island doesn't come with out its own paradox'. There is so much rapid growth here the island is hardly coping, garbage and fresh water are a problem. It is possible that in just a few years the seemingly pristine nature of this magnificent place could be jeopardized just by people visiting it and unrestricted growth. This has definitely been (and still is) a problem on some of the more popular and touristic islands. But right now I will revel in the greatness of it all.

Monday, January 16, 2006

When Adventure Calls

A crazy sort of idea was put into our heads a few weeks back from the owner of Cave Lodge, John. He suggested that we get a few innertubes and float lazily down the river the goes through Um Pang and end up in a Karen village three days later. He said that the scenery is stunning and it would be an adventure.

Maybe its because John has been through so many adventures and life threatening experiences in his lifetime that we are reading about in his very interesting book, called Caves Coffins and Chaos (you can borrow when we get back) but the words "dangerous" or "rapids" did not really surface from his description.
We went into Um Pang with a mission, we wanted this trip if at all possible and determination proved an adventure for sure.

We met Tui on the five hour songthew ride into Um Pang that happens to include some 1200 stomach squeezing, head-spinning turns in 150km; that's an average of 8 curves per km! We ended up staying at a guesthouse that Tui helps run and this proved indispensable to us because of all the help he was in the days to come. The next day we caught a ride in to see Ti Lor Su waterfall and told of our plans to go down the river. Tui thought that we were crazy for wanting to go on the river alone, but was excited for us and helped us for an entire day to gather supplies.

Three innertubes were needed for the trip, one for gear, two for us but alas after visiting all the garages in town we could only find two tubes that were big enough. Tui convinced us to take a bamboo raft, hard could it be really...right...
After talking to some guides we planned our rout. Many of them were convinced that we could not do the trip alone, and that a guide would be much better. WE think well of course because the guides really want to sell us a trip down the river. They said that it could be dangerous and that there were four sets of class two rapids that we would have to go through. From our trip down the Pai river on inflatable kayak we knew that class two rapids really are not so big, and we thought if we need to we will just go around... Somehow. We were not wanting to settle and go on an expensive rubber boat ride down the river. It was difficult to trust the word of someone who is trying to sell you something, we wanted to see for ourselves.

The nervousness really started to sink in when we saw our ready prepared bamboo raft. It had to have been 7 meters long, seemingly much longer than the ones that we took through Cave Lod weeks before (that 20 minute stint sitting on the raft was the extent of our bamboo rafting experience). As we tied down our gear, the Thai guides looked on in amazement at what we were proposing to do. They did insist that we take paddles (we were very thankful later) and not just use the Bamboo poles that were quickly found useless when the river just downstream merged into the Mae Klong and our 3 meter long poles could not reach the bottom.

Excitement and adventure in our minds we pushed from the shore somehow confident even though we had no clue really what we were doing. The scenery was immediately awing but we also soon learned the unyielding nature of the bamboo raft. Steering was basically impossible with our non-existent skills, the current constantly pushing and pulling the raft sideways. We were doing ok until the river started rounding corners into overhang limestone rock cliffs. The problem was that the raft was being pulled into the cliffs' undercut-bank (the fastest part of the river in a meander) but the rushing water kept going under disappearing to re-emerge who knows where. Adrenaline racing through our veins we paddled as hard as possible to escape a possible-but not probable situation where the river sucks us under the overhang. Panicked we managed with some difficulty to come ashore downstream and weigh our options. We spent well over an hour on shore before building the courage to go back on the river, our goal for the day was to get to a waterfall downstream. In irony we got stuck immediately between a rock and the cliff overhang with the raft completely perpendicular to the river and threatening to flip us over but we dislodged and kept going.

When we got to the waterfall we were amazed. The small spout of water cascades over a limestone cliff to a mist in the river. Water dropped from hundreds of stalactites hanging almost eerily from the cliff wall. Breath-taking, this is where we spent our first night. Even stranger was the creepy sounds that occasionally came from the cliff sounding like thunder inside. It is very possible that there are caves inside but we could not explain the noise, it seemed that the whole thing may just give up and fall into the river. But this was just another factor that made our trip unique and exciting. The second day we only went down the river maybe 1 hour to some hot springs, a very nice spot but inundated with hordes of Thai tourists. Many Thais (mostly from Bangkok) make the river trip by packing into a rubber raft. Waking up on a Saturday at the springs dozens of groups of tourists are all over. We figured that at least 50 boats went down the river most would shout 'hello!' 'where you from?' or just cheer us on. We noticed enviably how easy the rubber rafts would steer. We found out on the last day that our problem was that not only were we trying to steer the boat backwards, but that we were in the wrong position to steer from. This news delighted us at the new possibilities of rafting. We also gave in and had two guides take us through the set of rapids just down the river from the springs. I thought we might flip but we were fine and made the rest of the day alone with hard paddling at parts but no incident or danger. We made it to Ta Pa Leut, a drop off point for the Thai tourists where the boats are then taken back to Um Pang, our ticket back.

We only went about half of the distance we intended, but to go more would mean to brave more rapids-alone and spend another night that we didn't plan on. I feel confident that we could have completed the entire journey even if we were to go for a swim but the pride of getting to where we were was enough for me. Especially as the Thai guides congratulated us with big thumbs up.

Not exactly the relaxing trip that I had envisioned but an amazing experience in determination and adventure. I could never forget this and I would not change anything.

Now for the visual aspect:

Squishy Squishy...the ride to Um Pang, now thats one full pick-up! The people you can't see are on the roof


The famous Ti Lor Su waterfall, it is much more impressive in the rainy season with twice the flow of water but the surrounding jungle is some of the thickest in Thailand and it was really neat to walk around in

Awww so cute

A part of Ti Lor Su

Jungle around the waterfall -check out that buttress!

The water was a gorgeous turquoise it reminded me of Seaton Lake in Lillooet.

Tarzan Dan!

Now for our trip, I was not able to take so many pictures because of the risk of my camera getting wet it was quadruple bagged and sealed in one of the plastic buckets-not very accessible.

innertube repair

Waiting (I just like this picture of myself)

Planning our rout, that's Tui on the right

Day one, about to depart

Ti Lo Jow Waterfall

A closer look

Cool stalactites

All this just across the river from our campsite


This is where I slept, by the way I love our hammock tents!

We actually managed to cook rice over the fire-not burnt or soggy!

'the beast' as I like to call it

It wasn't until after our trip that another person at the guest house informed us that we were not actually allowed to go on the river by ourselves, and that a guide was mandatory. He also told us that because the area is a large national park, many tigers still live here and he said that they can be a threat. However I do not believe that tigers in Thailand are a lot more of a threat than say bears or cougars back home (basically you would be lucky just to see them). Our trip would not have had the same adventure and discovery factor if we did have a guide and I feel very fortunate that we were able to do what we did.

So now we are back in stuffy overwhelming Bangkok en route to the south and BEACHES!! (I'm just a little excited)

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Another World

Walking over the bridge to Myanmar was like some sort of warp in time and space. Although the two countries are simply separated by a river, the differences are striking. From paved roads and modern vehicles to dust and trucks that you might find in some junk yard 30 years ago. There were hardly any motorized vehicles, but mostly samlaaws (a push bike with a cart in front that you sit in). The street was wide and the stores were not organized. Aside from the people who want to be your guide and follow you around explaining anything they knew in bad English though you try and politely turn them down, and the countless samlaaw drivers that want to take you for a ride, the people and children were quite shy and all smiles.

It seems strange how different two countries can be even though they are so close. It almost made me feel uneasy, I guess that I have become accustomed to many of the Thai ways of life that to see and experience a culture so different was shocking.

The small slice of Myanmar was interesting, however the political situation there is far from favorable with its military government. Apparently the citizens are forbidden to talk about politics to any foreigner. One traveler told us that on his day trip in Myanmar, the guide he had when asked about politics, looked around and smiled nervously, speaking through his teeth said 'they will kill me'. It is also very difficult to ensure that your money is going to the people and not to support the government. With this information we have decided that we will not be traveling further into Myanmar.

Here are some pictures to show some of the differences.

There are more interesting photos but I don't have time to post them now so here is the link

Saturday, January 07, 2006

In the Ruins

Sukhothai was pretty cool. Historically it was the first capital of Thailand and much of the city that is left over was built in the 12th and 13th centuries. It is in Sukhothai that King Ramkhamhaeng helped expand the kingdom to larger than the size of Thailand now in an era now known as the golden age of prosperity. He is also
credited-with some controversy for the creation of the first Thai alphabet. The early kings of Sukhothai adopted Theravada Buddhism and many of the buildings are centered around huge (some gigantic) statues of Buddha. More info is here.

We rented bicycles to ride around the old city (where most of the ruins are, as opposed to the new city where our guest house was they are about 15 km apart, but that is not very interesting). I haven't ridden a one speed bike in so long and I'm thankful for my 21 speed at home. There were tones of tourists because of the New Years holiday and riding on the roads and paths to the ruins with manicured lawns that surrounded the mammoth ancient stone structures, with so many other people, oddly enough it was the ruins that seemed out of place. Many of the structures have been restored to some degree and I came to prefer the ruins that were more out of the way and that have been overgrown and mostly ignored by other tourists. At these places I really got a feeling of 'old'.

There are so many Wats that we did not remember all the names but most had the large pillars which are the rumnants of the wihaan (a room used for meeting and prayer)and a chedi (a bell shaped structure that usually held relics from Buddha).


For a sense of scale








Seriously huge Buddha- What Chao Pra



Elephant Wat




The ruins were definitely impressive, the almost overwhelming feeling of how massive they are when looking up the ancient stones that were so meticulously placed gives a real feeling of awe. I can hardly wait to see the ruins of Ankor Wat in Cambodia.

We also went to see a modern Wat near New Sukhothai. In our guesthouse there was an article that explains the history of the wat and some insight into some of the legends of Buddha and Sukhothai kings. The wat had several statues that depicted stories that were explained in the article as well as many other statues.


Wat Thewet

This is hell, the sculptor saw it in a dream. Alcoholics get scalding liquid down their throats, those who kill animals get their head turned into that animal, girls who have an abortion get a worm that eats them, and those who are violent get 'grotesquely' enlarged hands.



The other thing that we did in Sukhothai is go and see a bat cave. Dan saw a sign advertising this and he got all excited, so we inquired. The guide told us that he could take us (of course) and that we could maybe go by ourselves but he didn't know how to explain to us where it was. So we went with him and made it just before the bats started to come out of the cave. This was so cool! The bats came out of the cave in a long stream, moving in unison in a line across the sky swooping one way then another. You could hear the flapping of thousands of wings and the small squeals that they make. After the 'show' one of the rangers took us in the cave, and whoa did it ever stink! He led us inside to a replica of a Buddha statue that was placed there in the Sukhothai period. He was very impressed that we were so interested in the bats and that we were taking pictures. Our guide had never even been inside the cave. He explained that Thai tourists are very 'safe' and would never go do something like that. The ranger even succeeded in grossing me out by picking up a dead bat and squeezing it so that the maggots came out...ewww! Interestingly their were many saks of guano lining the cave, apparently it is sold as fertilizer.
The bat show was over quite quickly but was amazing to see, so amazing that Dan was able to convince me to go back and camp there the next night. I was very excited to be able to use our tents for the first time on our trip.
We left late and sped to get to see the show in time but 15 km away Dan's motorbike got a flat tire. I stayed and got the tire fixed because I knew that the bats meant more to Dan than me. -This was no show of heroics, it cost a lot to spend the night at the park with 400 Bhat on the motorcycles 200 Bhat on entrance to the park plus food and gas and time. I didn't want to spend a whole extra day just because we missed the show that night. The repair to the tire was only 100 Bhat though so that was good.

Here are some of the bat pics
Now that's a lot of bats


Unfortunately the only Batman there was Dan


Well those were our adventures in Sukhothai and now we are back in Mae Sot so that we can cross the border tomorrow and then make our way to Um Pang. Don't expect a post for a while because there is no internet in Um Pang. Hope You are all doing well, let me know what's going on in your lives...