Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Holiday cheer

Tomorrow I will begin a five day volunteer program in the Northern Andaman coast. I will be staying in a small village called Ban Talae Nok (far off the tourist trail) and most likely not have Internet access. I want to send my love and wish you all a Merry Christmas! Drink some eggnog for me please! <3

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Turtle Island

I spent the past seven days on Koh Tao... This is a dreamy place with a young funkiness and rugged greenery lining the white sand beaches. There are many places to lounge and meet other travelers- many hammocks strung between palm trees and open air restaurants showing films nightly. Most travelers go to Koh Tao for the exceptional diving. After taking two days of "classes", I'm officially an advanced diver. This course included five specialty dives, the night dive being the most special experience. Halfway through, our teacher instructed us to turn off our torches. We sat in a circle on the sandy ocean floor in total darkness. When we waved our hands, tiny phosphorescent particles glistened in the night. To intensify the strange feeling we began swimming with our flashlights off, glowing with each movement.

Monthly reef clean with Scuba Junction.
A pile of rubbish retreived from Sairee Reef. This is a small portion of what we found. Nightly fire dancing on the beach at Lotus Bar.
Another gorgeous sunset.
Sairee Beach. Koh Tao.

Monday, December 15, 2008

My mom and I spent the remaining five nights of this memorable vacation together sight seeing, zooming around on a vespa, indulging, and relaxing on the island of Ko Samui. Absolute paradise.
Infinity pool at the classy Anantara Hotel."Big Buddha"
Traditional thai dancers on Bo Phut beach.
Dinner at one of the many restaurants on the beach (my camera made an interesting effect with the flame)
The luxurious part of our vacation began in Hua Hin, five hours southeast of Bangkok. We literally stumbled upon the glamorous Anantara Resort. It sits on the beach shore, quite isolated from the noisy town center. We planned on only staying one night, but loved it so much, we had to extend to three nights. We spent our time lounging by the pool and beach, strolling through the Hua Hin night market, eating excellent ethnically-varied cuisine and elephant riding.

Happy arrivals in Hua Hin, the ultimate lap of luxury. Morning yoga session on grassy lawn.

Beautiful teak interior in the lobby of Anantara Resort.
Mom and I going for a ride on a 25 year old pregnant female elephant.

It's been a while since I've had any kind of connection into cyberspace... For the next few entries I will post pictures from the past two weeks spent with my mom in Thailand.... yes, she made it for a visit to "the land of smiles" afterall! Lucky for her, she was able to secure a spot on the very first plane into Suvarnabhumi airport following the closure. After much complication around planning where to meet, we decided on the Sukhumvit district of Bangkok. This area didn't appear very scenic, so we moved to the Arun Residence (in Ko Ratanakosin) with an amazing view of Wat Arun from it's rooftop bar. While in this temple district we noticed the drastic contrast between wealthy (mainly Thai tourists) and impoverished people in the surrounding area. Although culturally interesting, it was time to move onto the next city.

Photos in and around Bangkok:
Wat Arun at sunset.
Part of a mosaic wall, made up of cut plates, glass and stone - Wat Arun.
Looking down at my mom from the steep flight of stairs, leading up to top ledge.

Private long boat tour of the waterways near Bangkok - "Venice of the East"Old man playing an instrument at Taling Chan market.

Floating market just outside of Bangkok.
Orange and dragonfruit juices sold from a riverside vender.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Ziplining north of Chiang Mai.

Sights around Chiang Mai....

That's my image reflected in the mirror.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Chiang Mai and the airport crisis

The bus from Sukhothai to Chiang Mai took five hours. Immediately upon arrival, I noticed the immense diversity (especially in dining options) compared to the other cities I've visited during my travels. It seems as though there's a sparkling temple around every corner and an overwhelming amount of options for outdoor excursions and trekking.
I found a room in the Siri Guesthouse, where the owner is possibly the most genuinely kind and friendly Thai person I've met so far on my trip. Upon arrival he was blasting Dire Straits "Sultan's of Swing" on his stereo, I felt right at home. Yesterday I had a full day of mountain biking and river rafting in the jungle just south of Chiang Mai. For the mountain biking portion, I was lucky enough to have a private guide. He and I biked on a rocky dirt path, snaking along the Mae Ping river. The jungle was stunning.
When we arrived at the rafting camp, the crew was cooking lunch and strumming acoustic guitar (belting out "No Woman No Cry", mumbling through some of the lyrics). We filled our bellies with tasty stir-fry, rice and fruit, then geared up for the river. During our voyage, we came to realize our guide was a bit crazy. At one point on the rapids, he started playing air guitar with his paddle and laughing hysterically while our boat was hoisted up against a rock in the midst of raging rapids.
Unfortunately I left my camera at the guesthouse, but a girl I met on the outing took many photos. I'll post those as soon as she emails them to me.
I'm currently in Chiang Mai, making every attempt to take it slow and enjoy the moment. Today I plan on strolling around the Sunday Walking Market. Tomorrow I will be ziplining, like a gibbon through the jungle canopy:)
For those who haven't heard about the Bangkok airport crisis, read this article (this explains the most current situation):
My mom is scheduled to fly into Bangkok on Dec. 3rd. She's working with the airline to hopefully reroute for a direct flight to Chiang Mai. We had planned to stay in the North for a week then head to the Gulf of Thailand for a week, but it may not be as easy now with Bangkok airport closure. I'll keep you all posted.

The following photos I snapped in Sukhothai ((means the dawn of happiness:)) Historical Park. Two words: breathtaking, magnificent.

Elephant - is the national symbol of Thailand. Regarded as the beast of burden.
Wat Si Chum Chapel. Buddha with me if front showing the massive size.
View from Wat Mahathat.
Me on a bicycle in front of the Royal Palace.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Lightening the load -> freedom turns out my bag was much too heavy, it didn't allow me the mobility I desire. So, I sent home about ten lbs. of stuff and feel a lightness that people only sing about in songs. Have you noticed how many song lyrics are written on this subject? I fully understand them now! There's a freedom that goes along with simplicity.

I have to say, traveling to Asia is the best decision I've ever made for myself (maybe right up there with finishing my undergrad degree). Being here I feel like a child again, in that everything I see is novel and fascinating. While riding the local bus yesterday from Konchanaburi to Lopburi, I was completely entertained with watching people, the countryside of sprawling green pastures, sugar cane and banana fields, ancient ruins, small hut villages and colorful markets. I didn't even listen to my ipod for a six hour journey.

Let me recount my travels so far.... I stayed in Bangkok for two nights, visited a few temples and rode the Chao Phraya Express (river shuttle) to see Wat Pho where there are more than 1,000 Buddha images and the massive Reclining Buddha resides. This Buddha is most grand in person, pictures could never do it justice. Plated with gold and mother of pearl, it's mass fills the entire room. On my final night in Bangkok I hailed a tuk-tuk to see the famous backpackers enclave, Khao San Road. This place is a whirlwind of the senses and that scene from The Beach (where Leonardo goes to Khao San) is very similar to what I saw and experienced. The most interesting part about this visit was the royal funeral, which was broadcasted on all Thai televisions. Every person in the city sported black clothing, in mourning the princess' death. I tried to see inside the Grand Palace, but the gates were locked for the funeral procession. That evening numerous city blocks were closed off from traffic, where tens of thousands came to pay their respects. On the city streets large screen TVs projected traditional Thai dancing and even puppetry. Like I said, fascinating.

From Bangkok I went to Ayutthaya which is a short hour and a half train ride. This town is referred to as the sacred city because it's scattered with remnants of an ancient kingdom dating back to 1350. I rented a bicycle to maneuver through the modern city built up around the crumbling ruins. Many are very much intact, with the exception of most of the Buddha statues which were decapitated by invaders for use in antique trading.

Having seen enough of Ayutthaya and wanting to get out into nature, I decided to venture onto Kanchanaburi. I heard from several other travelers that this was a place not to be missed. After four sweaty hours on a non air-con bus, arrived at my destination and landed my bag in the Sugar Cane Guesthouse on the river Kwai. Ended up spending four nights split between a bungalow room and a room perched on a floating bamboo raft, absolutely serene. While in this town I visited a tiger temple, the famous Death Railway Bridge, took a full day cooking course with a trip to the market and a hike up a seven tiered waterfall called Erawan Falls.

After all of that action, I jumped on a bus heading through Suphanburi and up to Lopburi. I have to be really careful when I ask for directions because many of the names of cities sound the same, especially when vocalized with a Thai accent! Once our bus arrived at the Lopburi bus station I found a mototaxi driver to take me to the Asia Lopburi Hotel where I'm currently staying. I'm right in the center of old town and within walking distance of all the ancient temples. The town is crawling with hundreds of Macaque monkeys, swinging from telephone polls and scaling building walls.

Tomorrow I will head north to Sukhothai another ancient city on the way to Chaing Mai and Pai. So much to look forward to! Below I've posted some pictures highlighting what I've seen and experienced so far.
Bus ride with the locals.
Neighborhood shrine. These are all over Thailand. This one was especially decked out.
Reclining Buddah in Wat Pho.
Buddha head remnants in Ayutthya.
Ruin I found while bicycling in Ayutthaya. It wasn't actually hard to find, the city is covered with them:)This is me feeding my new (captive) elephant friend bananas for 20 baht. I actually felt bad for him because one of his legs were chained to the ground and he kept tugging on the chain with his trunk. Kinda sad really.Visit to the Tiger Temple. I got the chance to pet multiple full grown and baby tigers. Kanchanaburi morning market. This was the aesthetically pleasing portion, further inside Thai people were selling eel, pig heads and butchered rabbits. This is suprising to me, considering the Buddhist religion is against harm or death to any living being. Noi's cooking course. I prepared five traditional Thai dishes. They turned out yummy! We had a feast at the end!Sunset over River Kwai.

Erawan Falls.
Frisky monkeys in Lopburi, they're everywhere! These girls from Eastern Thailand were extremely curious about me and awed by the fact that I'm traveling alone. They were determined to get my picture- all giggles and very sweet. I'm the exotic one?! :)