Ahhhh…Thailand

I write this last Thailand adventure post with great new insights and outlooks on the world. Its many wonders, its varied contrasts, and the people that make it go round. Thailand was a paradise which left nothing to the imagination. On this adventure of a lifetime memories were created that are ever ingrained into my memory and my heart.

The time spent with Mom, Dad, and Bri was legendary. We conquered a part of the world that we never dreamed we would get the chance to experience together — as a family. From driving around the island to the streets of Bangkok we got to experience Thailand’s beauty first hand. I will never forget standing above a city, of so much beauty at 63 floors high, with my beautiful family. Celebrating not only B’s birthday but ourselves, our family, and our spirits for unknown adventures. I must stop to thank Mom and Dad for giving me this gift. From a young age I was extremely fortunate to have the doors to the world open wide for my exploration. They distilled in me a passion for adventure and a desire to experience cultures very different from my own.

Onward to an adventure of freedom, independence, love, and friendship. Chris and I gave ourselves the opportunity to experience Thailand from many different perspectives. From that of the local Thais, the tourists, the expats, and the foreign citizens. We learned not only about ourselves but each other and the rest of the world. We tested our boundaries and our limits — able to overcome them all. But mostly I will always hold dear to my heart the love and friendship that continued to grow on our very own Thailand Adventure.

I believe that if Chris and I didn’t have a few unfinished commitments and such great families to go home to we would have stayed in paradise for much longer. However driving down the 5 from Carlsbad to Pacific Beach this morning was a great reminder– that we too live in a paradise that some may find just as exotic as I did Thailand. Life is the adventure that you make of it.

PADI Certification Opens Up A Whole New World

A new community and underwater world has opened it doors for us. Yesterday, Chris and I completed our Open Water Scuba Diving Course, becoming PADI Certified Divers. We are now fully able and entitled to dive any where in the world on our very own (granted we had the equipment) to the depth of 18 meters. With more than 130,000 PADI Professionals and around 5700 PADI Dive Shops and Resorts operating in more than 180 countries and territories.

Diving indeed is a rare experience, one that only 2% of the world have ever gotten to explore. We have learned over these past few days what a great community the dive population is. We have all traveled near and far across the world in search of adventure, adrenaline, and passions for the environment. No matter who you turn to or who your diving buddy may be in the future, you will undoubtedly having something in common with them.

Our diving adventures as you have read began in the pool at a maximum depth of 1.5 meters, we have now been to the ocean floor of 18 meters in dive spots around Koh Tao. Rumored to be some of the best diving (not to mention cheapest) in the world. We visited four dive sites on our 5 open water dives. Mango Bay, Japanese Garden, Green Rock, and Hin Wong Pinnacle. We were lucky to see some rare underwater sighting such as soft purple coral, a moray eel, huge barracuda fish (normally only come out at night). On our dives we did happen to come across about 7 titan trigger fish. This fish is rather large and known to be very territorial. Here in Thailand they are called the “rabid dogs” of the sea. They dig holes in the ocean floor and lay their nest snuggled and protected from the oceans currents. They then set up their territory which resembles an upside down triangle from the ocean floor to the ocean surface. Often times to many, people unknowingly pass through a trigger fish territory. They will find a rather large fish biting through their fins and unwilling to let go. Luckily we were able to see several but avoid this unfortunate fish defense.

Underwater can often times resemble what you see above water. We were able to explore a sunken Thaitanic (boat)nestled in to the ocean floor for the rest of eternity. We helped save a coral reef by turning over the mushroom corals that have been kicked over by other divers or incidentally been flipped over. In turn when flipped over they are unable to get sunlight and begin to die. I flipped about 5, Chris however flipped about 15, I believe I saw him smile very wide into his regulator (source of oxygen).

I have come away from this experience having completed something I never before even thought of as a possibility (at least for me in my life). It was extremely hard at times constantly leading you out of your comfort zones. Yet I was determined to experience something that meant so much to Chris. I was his “buddy” (in diving you must always dive with a buddy) for 5 dives and trusted him entirely with my safety and my life. Which means he did me as well. We rose from 66 ft yesterday at the ocean floor estatic with accomplishment. Myself for completing this course, Chris for beginning a life of diving — and I think being extremely pleased that I completed it along side him.

Bubble, Bubble. Breathe In. Breathe Out.

Bubble, Bubble, Bubble. Breathe in. Breath out. Bubble, Bubble, Bubble. Breath In. Breath Out. The silence of the bottom of the pool. The weightlessness of our bodies. The bizarre feeling of breathing underwater. The defiance of all common sense. The funny faces and extreme happiness of Chris and most surprisingly myself underwater. Yes that is right. You heard me correctly. This part of the journey that I have so anxiously been dreading for 6 months is actually not that bad.

We arrived in Koh Tao yesterday afternoon, pleasantly surprised to find this island perfect for our liking. Much more relaxed and chilled out than Koh Phangan. Full of small restaurants and bars with the traditional Thai floor seating that allows for a relaxed meal and drinks. We checking into are 3 room guest house, complete with private pool, satellite tv, air conditioning, and prime location. We were instructed that scuba orientation started in 1 hour and we must be in attendance. My stomach twists and turns with pain and fear. We go to the orientation in which we talk and watch a short video. Which all makes me more nervous than before. Chris is great. He tells me I am going to do wonderful and we will support me no matter what. The nervousness is kicked as the orientation ends and I walk outside to find a Buffet BBQ complete with full fresh fish– tuna, mackerel, squid, tiger prawns (8- 10 inches big) and everything under the sun. We dine with extravagance for 560 Bht.

This morning we woke to head to the classroom for a learning session, some quizzes, and training. The afternoon was spent in the pool underwater learning the essential skill of diving. As I said before –Bubble, Bubble, Bubble. Breathe in. Breath out. Bubble, Bubble, Bubble. Breath In. Breath Out. The silence of the bottom of the pool. The weightlessness of our bodies. The bizarre feeling of breathing underwater. The defiance of all common sense. The funny faces and extreme happiness of Chris and most surprisingly myself underwater. It was defiantly nerve racking and difficult, but rewarding.

Tomorrow we are off to a shallow bay for our of 6 open water dives. We will spend the afternoon diving perhaps 5 to 6 meters surrounded by underwater life and excitement.

An Island of Adventure

Koh Phangan, historical for it’s world wide phenomenon of a party — The Full Moon Party. A extravagant event that rages into the night on a pristine Thai beach. It has been rumored that over 30,000 people have been in attendance a one full moon party. This party once a mellow beach gathering set to watch the sunrise has turned into an every month thing. Complete with fire throwers, buckets of alcohol, and who knows what other kinds of mischief. We however are here a few weeks to late as the party ended early in the morning at sunrise on August 7th.

This island however is still full of adventure and mischief even by daylight. On our travels to Koh Phangan we experienced a chain of Thais who “helped” us get from one place to the next. For instance for 650BHT each person, we were set up to take a van for 2 1/2 hours to Surat Thani (the port city) and then get on a speed ferry (3 hours) to Koh Phangan. I’ll make a long story short. Minivan picks us up at our hotel — it has 11 seats. 6 people including ourselves are in the minivan, we are feeling good about the two hour ride. We get settled put our head phones on and let our minds wander. 20 minutes later we are stopped and being instructed to get out. New minivan. We get in the new mini van this time with 2 extra people. Okay Okay not to bad. Headphones in. We are dosing off — STOP. 5 more people squish into the minivan. We are now 13 in a minivan that fits 11 and still have 2 hours and 10 minutes to go. Chris and I are laughing as we have begun to think only positive thoughts about the way Thais use methods of transportation. We laugh and make friends with a couple from Spain. The minivan ride is cramped and stuffy but we make it out alive, only to be dropped off at a random extremely dirty tourist office/restaurant. We are instructed that we now wait 1 hour and 1/2 for a bus to take us to the port. Another 1 hour bus! The time ticks by slowly. We are instructed to board a huge bus. As we climb aboard we realize there are no more seats. Everyone on this bus looks just as confused as we. What better way for the bus driver to make a few extra baht that pick up a bunch of backpackers! We arrive at the port where a Thai man jumps out an buys 5 ferry tickets for the ferry that leaves in 4 minutes. We run to the ferry and make it just before it pulls away. Ahh at last on the water to Koh Phangan. We weasel our way up to the very small VIP seating with air conditioning and sit in luxury (secretly that is)!

On arrival we experience the similar hoarding of all tourists. We manage our way through — haggle with a taxi driver who quotes the 4 of us 600 bht for the ride, however we talk him down to 200. We apparently have begun to get the hang of this game. He lets us off 10 minutes later at our secluded beach front resort complete with an on the beach restaurant, beach side bungalows, and hammocks swaying on every tree. We feel a sense of pride and happiness that we have once again made it to our destination. Although a struggle, always unforgettable.

Our time on Koh Phangan was an adventure from arriving to departing, we became great friends with Raquel and Igor, our new Spanish buds (who happen to live in the city of Spain, where the running of the bulls takes place.) A trip to Spain may soon be in order.

The following morning we are searching for an adventure. We want to see the island but skip the recommended tours. What better way than to take a unscaled map and rent a jeep. I see the glitter in Chris’ eye as the jeep gets mentioned. He is in search for an adrenaline rush and unknown to him an enormous challenge. There is no other way to describe this moment– he mans up takes the keys, the right hand drivers seat, the left hand stick, the Spanish Igor (navigator) and two girl in the bed of the truck and out on the sandy road we go.

A stop at a waterfall with no water was deamed necessary, a high on the hill Chinese temple, a small island connected by a sand bank for snorkeling, Haad Yao beach, the resort for a shower, and Haad Rin Beach for dinner (infamous for the full moon party/nightlife) were all in order. Our drive started smoothly. I felt the wind blow through my hair and winced a few times as the locals zoomed around us on the two way streets. Yet the day was beautiful– full of laughs, fish, new cultures, and new experiences.

However I must mention the extreme challenges Chris faced on our morning and difficult evening (in the pitch dark) around the island. There are a few too many hills on Koh Phangan. So much so that there is only a road on the west side of the island as the east is to hilly to actually build roads. So picture roads with DANGER and WARNING signs followed by 10%, 20%, and even 30% downgrade signs. This is no exaggeration folks! I have proof on arrival home. Chris laughed his fear away, as cringed so hard I thought I would die. This man of mine shocked us all and most importantly got us home alive with an amazing story to tell. The four of us had a blast and will never forget the extremity of this unexpected day.

A Hint of Tragedy

The day we left Krabi I let my mind wonder to what I had been thinking in the back of it the entire time we visited this part of the country. This area of Thailand was very different from others we have seen and experienced. The people here seemed harder in their facial expressions. Tougher in their attitudes. What I have come to realize is that in any disaster whether it be a natural or an inflicted one– people are forever changed. They experience extreme loss, a new sense of community and aid. Through these experiences they become stronger. The 2004 tsunami hit this part of Thailand dramatically. You can still to this day, 5 years later, see the effects and the regrowth. This is their home. They have not abandoned it but worked hard to make it better than it was in the past without losing its charm. Similar to the natural and inflicted disasters we have experienced in the U.S. — Katrina, September 11th. No one has deserted NYC or Louisiana– they have come back to the places they have cherished and loved in their hearts to recreate a new life for themselves.

These people at one time might have lived in fear, but today they walk with their heads held high and a sense pride in their hearts. They embody the strength that it has taken to recreate the magical beauty that lies in the south of Thailand and the Andaman Coast.

On The Set of A Movie

Today was one of those days that I talked about in the very beginning of my trip. It is best if you begin everyday without expectations. However that slipped our minds last night when we booked a full day excursion to a deserted island. Complete with green lagoons, white sand beaches, reefs and fish galore. Chris had thoughts of the moments he would spend here in his dreams last night. We were instructed to wait outside the hotel this morning at 8:30. 8:30, 8:45. 9:15. Okay this is no longer a Thai timing issue. We had reception call the tour agency and regretfully they informed us that the captain had seen that only two were signed up and decided he didn’t want to go. He never bothered to inform the travel agency. Chris was extremely disappointed as this was a last full day in Krabi paradise. We walked to the agency to get our money back and see if there was anything else to do that day. However all the tours and trips had already left for the day. Chris was so sad, all he wanted to do was snorkel his little heart out on a deserted island. Was that to much to ask?
I am beginning overly dramatic. Anyhow I had seen a trip the other day that left at 11:30 to James Bond Island, a Muslim fishing village in the middle of a national park, and a caved in Buddha with monkeys. Our lovely tour agent set it up and we were to test our luck once again. The minivan was to pick us up at 11:00. We cleared all negative energy from our bodies and thought happy thoughts. Our guys showed up at 11:00 on the dot! We were off to experience the sights today!

Longtail Boat Leads to Hard To Get To Oasis

Eager and looking forward to what many travelers have described as indescribable– we left Khao Sok a day early and headed for Ao Nang. A small beach oasis in the Krabi province. We arrived just before sunset to find our hotel nicely situated on the beach. A lovely alternative to our past treehouse. No creepy crawlies and outdoor toilets. Ao Nang is similar to Khao Sok but with limestone cliffs yet the ocean at their feet. Bringing a beautiful contrast to this picture perfect place. White sand beach, crystal blue/green water, and limestone cliffs covered with trees and plants of various shades of green, red, and grey. Google ‘Railey Beach’ and you may begin to understand what I am describing.

This morning, our first day in paradise, we were on a mission to find a beautiful beach and do some snorkeling. Here this is not hard to come by. Climb aboard a longtail boat and 10 minutes later your on a small fairly empty tropical oasis that you had no idea existed. Railey Beach was our oasis today. A small beach in a cove, secluded by limestone cliffs, only accessible by longtail boat. We spent the morning kayaking in crystal waters around some of these cliffs. Found a small patch of sand on one. Beached our boat and jumped in. Chris was in heaven swimming rapidly after fish and the sea life below trying to either capture them on camera or be one himself. I am not sure. To those of you that know. I on the other hand am more like a land breathing mammal. I will hang out in the water often, but do not feel I am at one with the ocean and its creatures. However, today in this paradise how could I pass up the opportunity. I dove in and side by side we explored the reef and its inhabitants. The day was remarkable and in many ways unbelievable. I never dreamed of such paradise.