Monday, September 30, 2013

pandan, how we love thee

While traveling around Thailand we have run into a new favorite treat of ours - Pandan. It comes in all shapes and sizes and is used much like chocolate in all sorts of sweets. Its taste is hard to describe-- it's not totally sweet. The closest we've come up with is that it tastes like a cross between green tea ice cream and coconut. It's made from a leaf called Pandan, and supposedly is a South East Asian staple.

Little Pandan cakes (think Little Debbie) have been a constant companion of ours when traveling or just hanging around our place. We first purchased them in Thong Sala because we thought it would be funny to try something different and it's been love every since. For Andrew's Birthday, he wanted a Pandan cake and Maggie was able to find him one in Chaing Mai... and it was delicious.

The bunny, squirrel, and deer medallions are a bonus

strange day in bangkok

We were leaving Bangkok for Chiang Mai on the night bus that left at 6:00pm, but we had to be out of our place at noon - so we had some time to kill. We did the normal tourist thing and walked up on down Khaosan Road, took a picture with Thai Ronald - but the whole street seemed more empty than it should be. We figured it was just because it was the middle of the day.

So we headed back to our place on Rambuttri Road to find a bar to hang out at until it was time to leave. This is when the fun started. We realized why Khaosan Road was so empty: the Thai Police were doing a sweep of the area with a 100+ cops looking for illegal street vendors. The cops poured down our street in cars, trucks and scooters, taking down any street vendor's shop that was still left and seizing all of their inventory. The restaurant we had frequented the last few days (that was quite established) was even torn down and hauled away.

As we sat at a bar watching all of this happen, we realized a cloud of smoke was slowly make its way toward us from the other end of the street. At first we thought something in the Wat (Buddhist Temple) on the other side of the street was on fire but it kept crawling closer and closer until we were right in the middle of it. This is when we realized the Wat was fogging for mosquitoes. Even the cops stopped what they were doing while the fog dissipated, and we spent a few minutes with our noses in our shirts. 

So what looked like it was going to be a boring few hours tuned into quite an eventful few hours which goes to show you never know what to expect when in Bangkok.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

no sleep till bangkok... well maybe a little

We made the journey back to Bangkok from the beaches in the south--specifically from Ao Nang. It was a multi-legged journey that ended up taking us a total of 32 hours from Guest House to Guest House.

The first leg was a ride in the back of a truck (called a songthaew here--it's a truck with two benches in the back) from Ao Nang to the Krabi bus station which was around a half hour journey.

Thai bus stations are a tad different than an American bus station. As they would say "Same, Same... But Different."

Krabi bus station
Once at the bus station we got our sticker (Farang Badge) that lets everyone (who doesn't speak English) along the trek know where we are going so they can make sure we are on the right train, bus or boat. 

Getting a combo ticket like this (in our case, bus-->bus, but they can involve ferries, trains, etc) is a really popular way for farang (foreigners) to travel in SE Asia. It takes a lot of the planning and guesswork out of getting from place to place (for a price, of course, but sometimes it's worth it. Like here, we just took the bus part, and did the train ourselves.) These combo tickets are part group tour and part kindergarten field trip. Everyone on the same route gets the same color sticker, so the Thai bus drivers can go around the bus station and say, "You! There!" and hopefully, everyone gets to where they're going.

The bus took us back to the East Coast of Thailand to Thong Sala, where we had originally caught the night ferry to Koh Phangan, and where all the trains to the north stop. It was about a 3 hour journey with a stop in the middle of nowhere for about 6 of us to get off and climb into a minivan for the rest of the journey to the Thong Sala train station (since the rest of the 30 or so people on the bus--the ones with different colored stickers--were going to the islands, which is a completely different place many miles outside of the city).

Once we got to the train station and got our tickets we had 6 hours to kill before our train was supposed to leave. We passed the time with a few meals and some work before finding out that the train was delayed another 2 hours. So around 11:30pm we climbed onto the night train to Bangkok, which was supposed to be a 9 hour journey.

Bedtime in the upper bunk (photo taken from the opposite upper bunk)

After a fairly good night's sleep we awoke thinking we should be close to Bangkok... boy were we wrong. We were still nine hours away, because...we never really figured out why. So we had a whole day to kill on the train, and our laptops were dead at least half that time.

But hey, at least we weren't our seatmates across the aisle--they had a flight to catch that evening, and figured with the train getting in early in the morning, they'd be safe. Oops...

Really, though, the train was pretty nice. And we needed more practice sitting still and doing nothing anyway...

A shack with satellite out the window of the train

The lower bunks turn into two facing seats

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

beautiful phra nang beach

We'd been in a town called Ao Nang for a few days, which did have its plusses (we managed to negotiate a really nice room with AC and great internet for cheap! and monkeys!) but also had its minuses (very package-touristy=expensive and full of annoying touts trying to sell you things). We'd heard there was a beautiful beach just down the coast, which all the guidebooks called the rock climbing capital of Thailand for its dramatic limestone karsts rising out of the Andaman Sea. So we hopped on a boat (which was the only way to get there--no roads in or out) and headed to Railay.

Well, the books weren't wrong. Phra Nang, one of the beaches just off the main Railay beach, was one of the most beautiful beaches we'd ever seen.

The town itself...we didn't really like it. Bad juju, if you will. But we loved the beach. Maggie was so enchanted with it that after we went one afternoon, we planned to go again early the next morning when there weren't so many tourists around, and we managed to make it even after Maggie fell victim to food poisoning the night before. (Don't worry, I'm fine! -M)

We're glad we did go back, because we had the beach all to ourselves. 

That's Maggie, in the lower left

Beach of our own in the early morning

We took pictures on the beach, swam under the limestone formations, and even found a cave we could swim into (under the overhang in the photos--we couldn't swim with the camera, so no pictures of the cave while it was filled with water, but this is from near it, later, when the tide was out).

Low tide, from under the cliff

Water ran in streams off the top of the cliffs, so in little areas all around, you could swim under it, and if you looked up, you could watch the streams of individual huge droplets falling from hundreds of feet up to land all around you--it almost looked unreal. I (Maggie) called it fairy water, and of course I couldn't get a good picture.

Taking a swim, watching the fairy water

It was even kind of funny.

A fertility shrine in a cave on the beach. Guess how we knew what kind of shrine it was.

Too bad the town wasn't nicer--it was maybe our least favorite town, but most favorite beach.  


We decided to take the short trip by boat to the beach town of Railay. It is not accessible by road because of the step cliffs that surround it so a boat is the only way to get there. On the boat ride over, Maggie was unfortunate enough to get the seat where all of waves crashed onto the boat - thoroughly soaking her. Luckily for me and our bags, she was a nice wave blocker and we stayed nice and dry.

Even though Maggie fell in love with one of the beaches there, we didn't stay all that long. There was just a vibe to the town that didn't sit well with us. We decided that its inaccessibility lead to stir crazy locals. We had a place with a good view (seems to be an old story now) but it was a tad more rustic than we were feeling up to (and no internet).

What one does when there is no internet

Thursday, September 12, 2013

ao nang monkey trail

Apparently we couldn't stay away from the beach for long, because from Krabi, we've moved to a beach town about twenty minutes away called Ao Nang. Besides finally learning what the rainy season in Thailand is like (yesterday we hardly left our hotel room it was pouring so hard and so constantly! Luckily, we have a lot of work to do right now...) we discovered that there's a trail connecting Ao Nang to a resort in Pai Plong Bay that's supposedly full of monkeys (hence the name). 

So in the evening between rain storms, we headed to the far South West corner of Ao Nang beach where the trail started. We walked most of the trail and thought we might not see any monkeys after all. We were wrong. We were just there at the wrong time. The monkeys seem to follow the Thai who work in Pai Plong Bay, who feed them every day as they go and come from work. So as we were seeing our first monkey, the workers were walking back to Ao Nang and along with them came a whole troupe of monkeys. If we had waited at Ao Nang beach until around quitting time (if you to, it was about 5:15pm), we wouldn't have had to walk the trail at all. Around that time all the monkeys were on Ao Nang beach as they followed the workers home, and stayed to ham it up for tourists.

The first monkey we came across happened to be a one eyed monkey

              Left: Two baby monkeys                                                   Right: Salvador Dali monkey, look close at the mustache

The troupe passing us by back towards Ao Nang beach

The monkeys on Ao Nang beach, with a limestone karst in the background

Anderw and a monkey shake hands after coming to an agreement.

They seem to really like coconuts and fight over them continually

Andrew's new monkey friend

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

krabi town

We left Thong Sala to venture to the other side of Thailand and ended up for a few nights in Krabi. It is the major port city for getting to Koh Phi Phi and a break from our laid back beach towns. It was a nice enough town and off of the major tourist route so we got to see an authentic Thai city. There were a few night markets where we partook in some good Thai food. The area around the town is known for it's limestone karsts (large rocky hills), a few of which we could see from our third story balcony (in the distance, below).

an island of our own

One of the things on the adventure list was to be the only people on an island and at our place in Thong Sala there was a perfect opportunity. Just outside of the bay we were staying in was an small island (visible in one of the pictures about our place in Thong Sala) and all along the beach we could rent kayaks. It ended up only being a fifteen minute paddle out to the island which had a amazing secluded bay on it that was perfect for lounging in (and drinking a beer).  We actually felt a little adventurous doing it because to get to the island we had to cross the channel all the ferries took to get to Koh Phangan. So on the way out we were paddling our little hearts out as a ferry barreled down on us, but luckily we got out of its way before it ran over us.

A view back out our bungalow (blue roof on the far right) from the island

Thursday, September 5, 2013

thong sala by scooter

We rented a scooter for a day and drove around Thong Sala, exploring the beach farther north. The roads around Thong Sala aren't very busy so it was a good place to remember how to drive on the left side of the road. Even Maggie drove for a bit.

Happy Hour Thong Sala style.

four year aniversary

It was our 4 year anniversary so we decided to celebrate Thong Sala style. We got a bottle of Thai wine and headed out to the point of the bay to watch the sunset.

After our sunset bottle of wine we went into town and ate at a Mexican restaurant called Ando Loco that was run by a guy from Chicago. It was actually very good and they had a chipotle sauce that was maybe one of the best we had ever had (so good we actually asked them how they made it. Unfortunately, all they could tell us was, chiles, sugar, vinegar, other things!).

paradise in thong sala

We moved a few miles north on Koh Phangan to the big city of Thong Sala. We were looking for a place where they catered to locals as well as tourists (and at least had a market). Luckily enough we found a place one beach north of Thong Sala that had not only a kitchen but also a refrigerator (luxury), called the Best View Guest House.
It's only about a 15min walk into Thong Sala, where there is plenty of street food and markets.

Our place from the beach. It's the one on the far right.

The view from our front porch.

The outside accommodations.

View down the beach from in front of our place.
The islands the lie just outside of our bay. The bay is so shallow you can walk half way there.

A sunset from the beach in front of our place.