Saturday, December 31, 2011

December 23-27

December 23-27
We traveled back to Phuket by bus on the 23rd and settled in with a massive meal of fried chicken. Christmas eve was spent lounging and going out for a Thai Feast with Chris's parents Sue and Steve. Then it was off for a few drinks by the sea with a live band. On Christmas morning Chris cooked a big fried breakfast and we all went to the beach for a morning swim. The afternoon was spent lounging by the pool and eatting a delicious Turkey lunch. Boxing day was spent beach side with another feast and lounging around the rocky coast. I am so grateful to be adopted by families like the Smiths over and over again. I'm often thousands of miles away from my own family, but hospitality, celebration, and love always find me. The day made me miss and feel so grateful for all my family and adopted families. Love to the Peirce family, the Sadaris women, Cinda and Bill Richman, and everyone who has given me a bed and a meal along the way.

Koh Rok pictures

Koh Rok boat trip

December 14-23

I met Lucy and Chris on Koh Lanta on December 14. It is an island near Koh Jum and Krabi town where I spent time earlier in my trip. We checked into a big bungalow at a laid back resort called Where Else. Traditional round that huts with open air bathrooms sit in a palm grove and the property continues towards the beach. An excellent beach bat filled with hammocks, and different hight bathrooms Amex it easy to spend the days reading and lounging in different ways. The food was excellent, I gorged on giant king prawns.

The next morning our outfitter from Freedom Adventures took us to the pier to board their converted fishing boat for an overnight camping and snorkeling trip. The three of us were the only ones booked in the tour so essentially it was a private charter with a crew of three very friendly Thai guys. Two hours later we arrived in Koh Rok, a national marine park with loads of shallow protected reef to explore. After our first dive the boat anchored near a beach and we ate a tasty lunch of stir fried squid, greens, rice, fried barracuda,and jungle curry. Afterwards we combed the beach and built a sculpture of bamboo and worm eaten driftwood beauties. The rain started to drizzle so we decided to pitch the tents and clean up before Ned, our English speaking guide cooked us dinner on the beach over a small fire. We drank beer on a beach mat and feasted on more curried barracuda, barbecued squid, and delicious marinated chicken. Ned, our English speaking guide, played his guitar and sang Thai songs to us by the fire. It was a beautiful night and I slept so well in the tent with the pattering of rain dripping from the trees.

The next morning was met with a rainy tent breakdown, and a breakfast feast on the boat. I took another long snorkel around the reef. It felt so good to be free diving after so many months away from the warmth and clarity of tropical water. So many fish! We spent the rest of the laughing in the shallow water along the beach, and ate another beautiful lunch before we hunkering down for a bumpy ride back to Koh Lanta. We spent that night back at Where Else and enjoyed more delicious food and the rowdy enthusiasm of a group of Spaniards.

The next morning Chris took the ferry back to Phuket, but Lucy and I spent another day around Where Else reading and lounging by the sea. The next morning we caught a minibus to Trang, a provincial inland capital city three hours away. We decided to make the jump to trang to explore the food, markets, and to book a trip to the large waterfall in the northeast corner of the province. We also wanted to escape the building crowds and price hikes leading up to the Western Holidays. After wondering around town and through the smelly wet market we bought some fried chicken by the train station and retreated to our air conditioned hotel room for a nap and a regroup. That night we wondered around the night markets eating all sorts of food on sticks, bags, and bowls. Food glorious food.

The next morning we went to bustling Dim Sum restaurant and selected all kinds of unrecognizable plates to be steamed and gobbled up. We waddled out of there after a giant plate of crispy pork, fried chicken, six steamed Dim Sum plates, teeth rattling sweet Thai coffee, and hot tea to settle our stomachs. We bought a picnic lunch for the day and hired a driver to take us to Ting Toe waterfall about an hour outside the city. A short hike up a dilapidating trail and we made it to the base of the falls and swam in a raging pool of water. The falls go down several levels and fall a total of 320 meters. I couldn't resist climbing the rocks up to the first level and sat in a shallow pool of rushing water. I carefully descended, but lost my footing at one point and got a pretty good scape on my upper thigh. But the view from the waterfall and the incredible sensation of the water rushing around me was well worth the sore bum. I think Lucy and our guide's jaws dropped a little when I feel, but I recovered pretty quickly and kept swimming and hobbling around for the rest of the afternoon. It was a gorgeous natural wonder off the beaten tourist path. After another nap and a trip to the pharmacy for a bandage we headed out to another local restaurant for curried fish and fried morning glory in bean sauce. Trang was a refreshingly authentic switch from the basic menus on the beaches. We did a little more wondering and found a shaved ice stand for dessert.

The next morning we caught a minibus and a long tail to Koh Mook, an island in the Trang Island chain. After checking into our room and having lunch at a restaurant built into the cliffs on the far end of the beach I spent the afternoon lounging in my hammock. Lucy and I shared a delicious curry at our resort and called it a day. Early the next morning we hired a longtail to take us along the coast of the island to Emerald Cove. The cove is a natural wonder encircled by high limestone rock faces only accessible by swimming 60 meters through a dark cave. We experienced 15 minuets of meditative silence in this beautiful place before the first tour group arrived in kayaks. I was blow away by the beauty and sacred feeling of this place. Supposedly pirates once used it as a temporary hiding place for their loot.

I took bother trip to the cove by kayak when Chris arrived the next day. We had an excellent time lounging and hanging out on Koh Mook.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tiger cave Temple

I spent the morning researching and banging out some details for the next leg of my trip. I'm headed to Koh Lanta tomorrow to meet my friend Chris and go on an over night boat/camping trip. After running a few errands and eating a delicious $1 vegetarian lunch I took a Suranghat to Wat Tham Seua (Tiger Cave Temple). The Wat itself was under construction, but path off to one side offered a look into the unique huts built into a rock face where monks sleep and live. Plus a little green after a day on a bus is always welcome. Monkeys sit everywhere waiting for people to feed them, or to raid well covered garbage cans. The Wat is built on a historical sight where tigers once lived among the caves. A large Budah statue and several shrines sit at the top of a very tall set of cliffs. I dared to take the 1,200 steps to the top, stopping several times and finishing with the encouraging smiles of a middle age Thai man as my companion. I'm not sure if the hight and the physical strain is suppose to help you prepare for your prayers at the top, or is just a consequence of geography. Either way my calf muscles were tight and raging after the stair-o-than. I did make it to the top and the statue and views were rewarding.

A group of very young novist monks laughed and took pictures at the top. Virtually all Buddust men in Thailand spend some small amount of time as monks. These were laughing teenagers spending more time documenting each other at the top then saying prayers. They hid cellphones in the pockets amongst their robes and kept checking in to the outside world. These young men were probably not in it for the long hall, but I could be wrong. I saw a old motorbike taxi driver fall to his knees and bow to them in the parking lot. I guess their journey, like all the travelers and locals I observe, is unknown to me.

Amanda Mar
Krabi Town, Thailand

Monday, December 12, 2011

Bus ride recovery

I left Koh Payam on the 9am speedboat filled with Thais, a few tourists, and two very small fluffy dogs. One was a western, well groomed, but collarless maltese. The pet of two Midwestern retires. He wore brown leather Velcro New Balances and above his red face and gray hair a ball cap embroidered with the Oldsmobile logo. She wore circulation pantyhose, Dr. Shoals slipons and black, embroidered, TJ-max capri pants. The man I assumed to be their son was slightly alternative, bearded, black cap, thick rimmed glasses, and heavy leather sandals. His Thai wife linked arms with him and petted the dog in his lap, she wore rubber sandals with Bambi Characters on them. The other scrawny puppy sat shivering in a half toothless Thai mans lap next to me. His curly hair and small frame reminded me of a new born cow. This is just an example of my people watching, an act that consumes most of my travel days. A hundred bits of fiction could start from the truth you seek in people sitting across from you on public transportation. My writing mind is training me to take notice of little details. I could describe the characters on the bus ride and the high pitched pop music that made my ears feel like bleeding through my ear plugs on my 6 hour bus ride to Krabi. But maybe you had to there..... But I would like to express my public gratitude for Steve Jobs and his grand devices that pump music into earbuds at extraordinary volumes.

I arrived in the rain, but in this country there is always an English speaker making small commissions with a cellphone. A door to door taxi appears for $1.50 in less then ten minuets. After checking into my familiar guest house I wondered to a massage parlor to try to recoup from the days travel. I choose the competition of the one I went to last time, and quickly found out this massage would be a completely different animal then my, "it's my first time" massage I got a month ago. The first half hour was a pleasant foot massage with nice stretches and lotions, but as she worked her way up my body pulling, stretching, and twisting I was far from relaxed. My mind wondered to all kinds of life tasks....bills paid, dollars converted, presents to a distraction from kneading fingers and stretching muscles. Little alerts of pain and feet and hands placed in pockets of bent limbs and pelvic bones kept my mind alert during the 90 minuets. I felt great afterwards. A lot of water, some street food at the night market, and an early night helped me recover from my recovery.

Amanda Mar
Krabi Town, Thailand

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Coffee Observations

Good Morning

Blog December 7, 2011

The varnish on the weathered teak table is soft and worn away completely around big knots in the boards. The simple thick table legs sink a few inches into the sand, but keep their shin. An equally weathered aluminum expresso pot holds rich Italian coffee, a novelty reserved for tourist in this tea drinking culture. I pour this rich dark gift into a small pyrex cup with a clear handle and mix in steamed milk and big brown sugar crystals. My morning begins by the sea with my heart beating under the power of the caffeine injection.

A tire-swing hangs from a fraying nylon rope attached to a low hanging cashew tree whose roots cling to the sandy earth as its trunk and branches reach towards the sea at an unnatural angle. Orchids make their home in the branch joints. The table sits a few feet above the tide thanks to a sea wall built from limestone boulders set in concrete. A half moon bay of sandy beach transitions from mangroves to a thin strip of rocky shoreline that slopes up to rainforest where sea eagles hover like watchful guardians. Miles away beyond the bay and the thin maritime boarder mountainous Berma sits like a ghost in the low hanging morning haze.

The resort restaurant sits beneath stunted caesarian pines. A neatly thatched roof is suspended from concrete pillars molded and painted to mimic the trunks of trees and driftwood branches spring out from the columns to add to the facade. A simple mosaic of pebbles and flat slate stones is set into the uneven concrete floor. Well fashioned teak tables with high backed chairs bring order and hints of class to the beach side eatery. Lightbulbs disguised in bamboo lanterns come on with the generator between 6-10pm.

A pack of short legged dogs with gray bandanas tided around their scruffy necks patrol the beach and grounds. An aging British couple laugh and fall into the water for a blissful morning swim. German murmuring quickly turns into jovial breakfast laughter at the next table. A middle aged women from the resort next-door rolls around in the shallow water like a sensual child. I wonder if she is she hoping, like so many beach goers, to be cured by the sea, sun, salt, and sand? A tan, fit, european man wearing kaki cargo shorts, a neo green sleeveless shirt, and a fanny pack marches up and down the beach with music blaring in his ears and red wraparound sunglasses shielding his eyes. He marches and dances unselfconsciously up and down the beach several times a day. A bald speedo clad German carries a kayak to the water and vigorously sets out for his ritual aerobic morning paddle. The rest of the resort characters willfully retreat to the row of beach chairs shaded by juvenile palms and give into easy fiction.

In a moment the restaurant is on its feet pointing as a family of sea otters dips and surface as they hunt for breakfast. I count six of the slick creatures methodically fishing and moving as a unite towards the north end of Buffalo Bay. I retreat back to my Bungalow in the trees to spend a few hours writing. On the path I encounter three different types of butterfly. I've set up a nice little writing studio for myself with a low table, pillows, shade, and a view of the bay. My restless spell is passing and I've put off making any big leaps and booked four more days at this bungalow. My friend Chris has expressed interest in coming with me to Cambodia around the first of the year, and the offer of a big, manly, well traveled companion on this more difficult leg of travel is hard to resist. So for now I'm spending four focused days of writing before I decide.

Amanda Mar
Koh Payam, Ranong Province, Thailand

Monday, December 5, 2011

Lazy day

November 5, 2011

Day five on Koh Payam. This half gray lazy day has made me feel a little lonely. I woke up early and shared breakfast with two women I met the night before and our easy conversation over espresso on the beach was a good start to the day. I moved down the beach to a nicer bungalow with a sociable restaurant where I've been taking most of my meals. The bungalow is spacious with a massive bed and a huge balcony with a lounging area and private views of the sea. A stone indoor/outdoor shower lets you see the bay as you cringe under the relief off a cold shower. White sheets and bolster pillows add to the love nest in the trees vibe. Why am I here alone in this place of peace and beauty? Of corse all my reasons for paradise solitude are warranted, but walking into the bungalow today and napping to the sounds of the waves I had to question why the other side of my room-sized bed is vacant.

So what will cure my romantic blues? A trip to the killing fields in Panam Pen, Cambodia and sweaty days of temple touring at Angkor Wat of corse. As early as Wendesday I plan to take a ferry and a bus to the North\south transition town of Champon to book transportation through Bangkok and on to Cambodia. For now it's time for me to shake up my beach side meditation and follow the well beaten backpacker path. I'm feeling compelled to seek out a more cultural experience and meet the crowd of fellow travelers away from the beachside holiday destinations in the south of Thailand. I could be retreating back here indefinitely in ten days or my itchy feet could carry me to Chang Mai for New Years and on to Loas. As always I'm playing my hand as it comes.

For now I'm at a beautiful resort on a white sand beach with a very large beer in front of me as the sun sets into a strip of rainforest.

Amanda Mar
Koh Payam, Ranong Province, Thailand

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Build and they will come

Koh payam is waiting in dread and anticipation for a big mainstream tourist boom to happen. A short gangly bar tender behind a wooden bamboo and drift wood bar brought it up in the first five minuets of conversation today. Locals fear the power grid will open the gates. His tangled hair is knotted on top of his head, he wears a red, yellow and green zip up hoodie and tattered cut off jeans. His eyes are slightly bloodshot from last nights drink and the mornings smoke remedy. The roofs is thatched and tribute paintings and prints of Bob Marley hang in every direction. I've encountered bars like this across southern Thailand, this one is called Rasta Baby. I'm not sure how I feel about them. For the most part there is a tired sound track and while the drift wood is authentic the rasta colors ring like a false gimmick. I'm sure there are moments of music and celebration which make these lost reggae bars come to life, but in the light of day the bar just makes me pine for islanders instead of Thais and friends instead of fat Germans in speedos.

Before my conversation with the Thai want-to-be rasta I already felt and saw the vibrations of development everywhere. There are several concrete midrange resorts under construction on the beach where I'm staying. For this island the age of the bamboo hut for 6 dollars a night is being threatened. Though its not here yet the residuals from boom time interest gives this place a build and they will come attitude. For now the resorts are half full at best and I chose a clean, well constructed wooden bungalow with a tiled bathroom and soft bed for $13 over the molding bamboo options. Maybe I'm one of those flash packers they have been waiting for, because yesterdays I stopped into one of the new midrange places and enjoyed some wifi, a clean delicious meal, and beer was still just $1.50. I sat down at a similar place weeks ago in Railey and got up and left after a glance at the prices. For now Koh Payam is a bargain and on the cusp of the main stream.

Today I kayaked a beautiful stretch of relatively untouched rock coast where rainforest meets the sea. I watched sea eagles soar over head and swoop down to catch their lunch. I could see small schools of reef fish along the rocks. The rain came down and the waves and current were at my back and life felt very right. I fear more development on my own island of Abaco I fear for Koh Payam. How far will she be stretched? It seems the Thais are aware of the value of theae natural resources and they have wide expanses of national parka. But on islands like Koh Payam with wide white beaches and little regulation it is possible to be gobbled whole by the beast of burden, the tourist dollar.

Amanda Mar
Koh Payam, Ranong Province, Thailand

Friday, December 2, 2011

Payam day 2

December 3, 2011
Day two on Koh Payam. I hiked to the other side of the island for a coffee at the Eco lodge on the island. After reading abut it I thought about staying the, but today I found it with negative vibrations, but I found a little cove with no buildings on it to spend a few hours listening to music and writing. Then I wondered along the coast towards the village. I passed a small temple built on a pier and several large scale statues of Buddah. There were two shirtless monks shoveling sand and listening to scratchy pop music on an old school radio. I wondered through a past town to what appeared to be an upscale resort. But this is Thailand, so beer and lunch still coast 10 dollars even in breezy cushioned comfort. I'm still trying to work out the snorkeling trip, I think we are six people and they are waiting for ten, so maybe in the next days. I think I'll rent a kayak for the day tomorrow and get a different prospective on the island.

Ive been looking at the colander a lot today thinking about the next two months and feeling my feet itch to see, do, and go. I'm thinking about taking a trip to Angkor Wat in Cambodia before Christmas. This probably means a bus to bangkok and then a flight. It's something I'm feeling more compelled to see and I'm worried if I out it off to January I won't find a week to do it. I'm still planning on beaching it up here for the next four or five days, but I might make a bigger hop after that.

Amanda Mar
Koh Payam, Ranong Province, Thailand

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Koh Payam

December 1, 2011
I made the hop from Koh Chang to Koh Payam this morning. It is a similar island, but it has a few more people and I'm hoping it will be a little more social. I'm getting a little bored with beach life (did you ever think I would say that) after almost a month in Southern Thailand. I'm asking myself what else I want to get out of this first leg of my trip. There is a snorkeling trip I'm trying to book from here that goes over night to a national park and takes you to several protective reefs. I'm not a diver, but I don't think I should leave the islands without seeing some reef. So I'm here on another quiet beach with my thoughts, books and notebooks. Meeting people, thinking, writing, and beginning to feel a little lonely. I can't help imagining my family, friends, or Sean here with me. Wondering how the experience would be different with a partner, but mostly enjoying my solitude and contemplation. The beach in Koh Payam is white and the water is crystal and the jungle is ringing with birds and monkeys. It is a bit of paradise unattainable in North America but found so cheaply and easily here in Thailand.

Know that I am safe and happy and sleeping in a bright and clean bungalow by the sea. Living each day as it comes and approaching the half way point in my sabbatical and remembering the friends, spaces, and places I've already loved and enjoyed so much.

Amanda Mar