Sunday, January 24, 2010

Goodbye, Ko Chang. Hello, Vietnam!

Well, it has been about ten days since my last post and honestly, I don't think I will blog more than every ten days or so.  There are two reasons for this:

  1. I can't seem to find the time to sit down and actually develop cohesive sentences; and,
  2. It seems like it would be more enjoyable for my friends and followers to see fewer posts but mmore detail.  Do you agree?
Anyway, after Ko Tao, I spent two nights in Bangkok which actually is always a fun city though not quite as relaxing as some of my beach stomps.  Friday night, I went to a great wine bar on the 37th floor of the Sofitel Hotel on Silom Road.  Great, reasonably priced wine but the food was overpriced and really not to my taste.  Saturday night, on the Bed Supperclub ( with my friend Lisa who works at the hotel I stayed at. Fairly expensive at 800 baht (25 USD) per person, but in line with US clubs.  Big dance floor, great tunes and on the upper level overlooking the dance floor, guess what???? Beds!

Monday, toured around Bangkok and stumbled upon the Myanmar Embassy.  (This is for you, Hsan!)

Tuesday, took a motor coach five hours south of Bangkok to the small town of Ban Phe.  Ban Phe's claim to fame is that it is the jumping off point for the ferry to the island of Ko Samet.  I was in Ban Phe to check out the facilities and people at the Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL) International School where I am considering going for the month of March to get my TEFL certification.  Fairly impressed with the people and the facilities are nice. The fact that Ban Phe is so far from anything is a little disheartening though.  The next town is a small town called Trat, a rough three-hour "local" bus ride.  I waited 2 hours for the bus to show up in Ban Phe, causing me to miss the last ferry to the island of Ko Tao.  The night in Trat proved to be a really cool experience though.  A 200 baht (7 USD) per night room across the street from a cool restaurant called Pier 122.   I never got the reason for the name but the whole seabass grilled at 200 baht was unbelievable and the owner, a sweet, feisty woman named Joo was so welcoming.

I was the only one at the restaurant at 9:30 so she ended up sitting with me, chatting away and sharing two beers.  Her husband is an architect who travels a lot (Joo: "If he's home for more than four days, I telll him it's time to go").  He designed their home/restaurant.

In the morning, I had breakfast at Joo's other business, a small internet cafe and had the world's best banana pancakes.

The ferry to the island of Ko Chang  took about an hour.  A massive ferry with many cars and a few people, or so it seemed.  This is the main transport for all the goods consumed on Ko Chang.  (BTW, "chang" means "elephant" in thai).

Ko Chang is a beautiful island with great beaches, yummy food and happy people.  I spent a lot of time on the beach, swimming in the warm water and basically enjoying every sunset possible.

After a considerable amount of sun for two days and a hankering to do something interesting, I took the advice of my great friend Svend who spent his and his wife Charity's honeymoon on Ko Chang (among other places in Thailand) and went searching for a way to get signed up for an eco-friendly elephant trek.  That is where I met a great gal named Sea.  I know, I know...I make friends easily.

Well, Sea signed me up and decided to go on the elephant trek with me.  So, Friday at noon, we were picked up at her tour booth  and headed off thirty minutes away around the island to the elephant trek.  These animals are amazing.  each elephant has a dedicated trainer/rider who is responsible for the elephant's care.  This place has ten elephants, the youngest of which is 13 years old.  Did you know an elephant costs 1,000,000 baht or $30,000 USD?  Or, that elephants commonly live as long as humans, sometimes eighty or ninety years?   The trekking place only has four tours daily so that the elephants are not overworked.

So, there were about ten people in all on our trek.  It begins with following the elephants to the river where the riders take them for a bath.  Those on the tour are then encouraged to hop in and scrub the elephants with a common scrub brush - the harder, the better I was told.

Because I was with Sea, the tour broker and the only native Thai on the group, I think we got preferential treatment.  After bathing the elephants, we walked with them back up to where the riding of them started.   But, on the way up, our rider asked if she or I wanted to ride with him (and without any sort of harness...poor risk management!).  Sea declined but I jumped at the opportunity to try this.  The elephant knelled down and the rider instructed me to step on his leg and hop up.  Trust me, this is way easier said than done.

But I made it.  A ten minute ride atop this behemoth ensued.  (My ass still hurts two days later!)

By the way, the elephant proceeded to eat continuously along the way.

When we made it back to camp, the group of riders were basically relaxing playing pingpong and checkers with makeshift equipment.  Bottle caps for checkers and a piece of wood for the pingpong net.

The one hour ride atop the elephant was amazing.  Sea kept giving me all sorts of info which she gleaned from the rider as they chatted away in thai to each other. After the ride, we were able to feed them green bananas. Funniest part of the whole things was when I went to give our rider a tip and he said give it to the elephant.  The elephant opened the end of his trunk and took the money and raised it up to the rider.  Way too funny how well-trained these wonderful animals are.

The trip closed with fresh coconut juice from the fruit itself and the meat of the cocunut thanks to the steady aim of the wonderful staff member tasked with chopping open the coconuts.

Many thanks to Svend for urging me to go and to Sea for being such a gracious tourguide.

Well, an hour in the wi-fi enabled restaurant is enough for now.  Back to Bangkok tomorrow for two days then to Ho Chi Mnh City in Vietnam.  I hope all is well with all of my friends back in the States.  Hope you've enjoyed and please post your comments.

Love Always,

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Map of Travels (Thanks, Svend!)

My good friend Svend was kind enough to track my trtavels thus far.  :-)


Friday, January 15, 2010

Koh Tao to Bangkok and on to Ban Phe

Well, I made it out of Koh Tao where I went to go for two days and stayed for 8.  The slow pace of the small island was just what the doctor ordered for the first leg of this journey.   A place where I could relax, gather my thoughts and get lost in some amazing scenery, food and people.

The kindness of the people, especially May and her family who operate the small thai restaurant where I ate at least once every day was typical of the people on Koh Tao in general.  Friendly, kind, and helpful and always smiling.  They say Thailand is the "Land of Smiles" and this was no truer than on Koh Tao.

The island is covered with beautiful and secluded beaches.  The snorkeling was amazing.  I snorkeled with sharks, saw numerous large schools of colorful fish.  I need to learn more about the fish I see while diving and snorkeling and I think I have time for that here.  :-)

Sairee Beach is just north Mae Hat beach and a little more commercialized but beautiful nonetheless.  The beach is bordered by a small walkway lined with shops and restaurants that look over the ocean.  Internet shops, dive shops, restaurants, bars and lodging at 400 baht/night ($13 USD) are all over the place.

The scenery on the way back from Koh Tao was beautiful, but I could have done without the 2 hour ferry ride back to Ko Samui.  The seas were horrible.  I normally have no issues with motion sickness as my sailing friends from the San Francisco Bay will tell you, but these were baddddddd.

Now, I am back in Bangkok and getting ready to go to the small beach town of Ban Phe where I have a meeting set up at a school to tour their facilities and meet with their Director to determine if this is where I want to do my TEFL certification course.  Ban Phe is a 2 hour bus ride from Bangkok.  From there, I will decide whether to go north to Chiang Mai or south to the island of Ko Chang.  Decisions, decisions....

Be well, my friends.  Thanks for taking the time to check this out.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Fun at the Funky Monkey Bar

Poi, Bong and Goong from my new local hangout where everybody knows my name - pe mike.
Alice getting some work done after lunch. lol.

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Chillin' on Ko Tao

Well, I decided to come to Ko Tao to relax and maybe dive for two days.  I am now into day four here with no end in sight.  It's a quaint, litle fishing village that has learned how to make tourists feel comfortable and relaxed.  The business of my "former" life stateside is starting to slowly peel away.  Forgetting shoes in restaurants for 18 hours, awaking with the roosters, slowing down to watch geckos feed, butterflies flutter and waves ebb and flow.

My posts have thus far been infrequent because honestly, there hasn't been much notable to tell you all and ddin't want to bore you.  One things though which has been frequent is amazingly good cheap food.  Thai green curry with shrimp for 60 baht or two dollars.  It was prepared by a wonderful woman named Mae who runs a small outdoor restaurant.  I've had most lunches there and try to time it so that I get to watch the interaction between Mae and her two daughters, Nancy (8) and Alice (5).  The family is so strong here and they obviously love and enjoy each other.  The laughter comes easily to them.

 Well, it's Sunday morning and the rainstorms just hit.  Incredibly hard-pouring rain that lasts for about ten minutes.  Then, the sun comes out and the storm is just a emory.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

fresh pineapple anyone? 50 baht or USD $1.60. Mmmmmm...
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