Thursday, February 12, 2009

Last Night in Bangkok

Sounds like the title of a bad movie. Yes, I’m in the big city now. It was really, really hard to leave Ton Sai. My second to last day was a beach day. All I wanted to do was play volleyball so I headed to Rai Lei beach. The net was down however and no one was playing. I wasn’t about to spend a nights lodging on a ball so I just swam and worked on my tan. It was low tide when I walked back and I saw an older woman beating at the exposed rock. She showed me she was breaking the mussel shells to get at the flesh.

Crabs make these beautiful spirals all over the beach:When I got back to Ton Sai I went for a massage. Dha was recommended and she was incredible! It was the best massage of my trip and not only felt like a massage but also a yoga class and a trip to the chiropractor. She could tell I was sore from climbing and she hit spots I had no idea were sore. I only wish I’d known about her earlier. That night I had a cheap dinner at the chicken lady. There are two street food stands that they call the chicken ladies. Apparently they make the best chicken, but I love the som tom- papaya salad.

My last day was amazing. In the morning I met Canadian Phil, American Scott and Agnes from Cypress to go climbing. We took a boat over to Eagle rock for some great climbs. I did four routes. The last one was a challenge, but everyone gave me words of encouragement and I eventually made it up. It was great to end with my best day of climbing.
Time flew by and we had to get back to the beach for a yoga class. It was low tide so we just walked. It was also full moon and I’d never seen the tide so low. The one channel the boats usually use to get to shore in was dried up.

We made it in time for the acrobatic yoga class taught by a couple Americans. I’d never heard of it before. Two people pair up and do a combination of therapeutic stretching and acrobatic moves. It was awesome! One of the instructors “flew” me (check out photo) and it was incredible. I can’t wait to check it out back in Seattle.

So after stretching on the beach at sunset, we showered up for dinner. I wanted a certain dish for my last meal- panang curry fish. Yum. And a mango shake. Dinner conversation was of course about climbing routes around the world. Agnes and I lamented the fact that the group hadn’t formed earlier. After dinner Ton Sai threw me a party. That and it was full moon ;). We headed to Sawadee bar. The slack line was hopping and everyone was out. Tha from the bar spun fire sticks on the slack line and blew everyone away. The water was blue from the bright, bright moon. It was a great night. The next morning I got on the long tail boat one last time. I haven't wanted to leave a lot of my destinations, but this time was particularly hard. I will definitely return to Ton Sai.

The trip to Bangkok was made easy because two Canadians were on my flight. We shared taxis and I landed right on Khao San Road- the famous backpacker street. Bangkok is huge and noisy, but I like it.

So great:Famous Khao San Road:
The next day I had the privilege of being shown around town by a local. The sister of my friend Yok from high school was very kind to meet me for the day. We met at the Royal Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. Lha looks just like Yok and has a beautiful smile. The palace is huge and very impressive. We saw the emerald Buddha and the many golden stupas. The weapons museum was amazing.

After wondering the grounds for a few hours we took a taxi to her family’s house and restaurant. It was great to meet Yok’s family and they fed me delicious shrimp fried rice and soup. Yok called from Vermont to make sure we’d met up.
After lunch Lha and I went to Wat Po with the huge gold reclining Buddha. It was very impressive. I asked to go to a market and we certainly did. It was never-ending and packed with people. Fabrics, beads, clothes, food etc lined the small alleyway. It was fun. View of market from above:
We also hit up the mall before heading back to her house. They fed me peanuts and water and I got to meet Yok’s adorable 7 year-old sister. Lha walked me to the bus through the flower market and didn’t leave until I was on the right bus. They were all so sweet and it was really nice to have their hospitality in this big city. Thanks Yok!
This evening I did some more shopping, got some street food and will shortly head for a massage. I can’t believe I get back on a plane tomorrow. Back to reality. Thanks for tagging along.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Monkey Attack!

So one day of diving was not enough. The next day I went again because we went off of Ko Phi Phi where the visibility is even better. This time we had a big boat with more people. The trip out took about 1.5 hours and the ride was beautiful as we passed the different islands. This time I wasn’t nervous and couldn’t wait to get in the water.
There were four of us this time led again by Marie. We descended 18m and saw beautiful corral and fish. We saw a huge manta shrimp, a big lobster, lots of Nemos (so cute with dad, mom and baby to each anemone), trigger fish, lion fish, a sting ray, sea cucumbers, nudibranchs and much more. Nudibranch: We didn’t see any turtles or sharks unfortunately. We went through a swim through, which was really cool and followed the corral gardens around and around. The visibility was around 15m. After an hour we resurfaced for lunch. The next dive wasn’t around an island, but just a rock that’s only visible in low tide: It was a sandier dive with less corral, but more chances of seeing a shark. We circled around the rock checking out eels and worms. I was finding this dive a little less exciting than the others… until we found the shark! Towards the end of the dive we came upon a leopard shark lying in the sand. He was pretty big and had his little symbiotic fish friend on his left fin. He just sat there as we took turns getting within a meter or so and taking a photo. I didn’t want to leave him, but we had to hurry since our air was getting low. The boat ride back was perfect as we sat on the bow in the sun eating pineapple.

Some people rightly call this place fat camp. The trails are steep and most spend their days diving and climbing. My bungalow is way up the hill and is often exhausting at the end of the day, but it’s good for me. That evening after diving I hiked up the hill feeling tired and happy. But when I got to my bungalow it had obviously been raided. The mosquito net was down, my tripod was tipped over and stuff was everywhere. The only logical answer was monkeys. Damn monkeys! They trashed my place looking for food or perhaps just for fun. There was no food for them to find and after looking around I don’t think they took anything. I’d heard about them chewing passports and spitting them out or stealing cell phones so I guess I got lucky. But sand was in my bed and bigger holes had been ripped in the mosquito net. All apart of the Ton Sai experience I guess.

That night was Akem’s last night so we all headed to Sawadee Bar. He requested Sublime and the usual slack-lining and drinking followed. The crew from the dive showed up and it was a great time. I got the impulse to share the tricks I’d learned in the Akha village so I borrowed a pool cue. It was really fun teaching everyone the tricks and people added to them as well. I have no idea how late I was up, but I didn’t leave until the electricity went out at the bar.
The next day ended up being a beach day. I followed a group heading to Phra Nang beach. It’s at the tip of the peninsula past Rai Lei. It has beautiful white sand and a huge rock protruding from the sea just off shore.
It also has lots of tourists- resort tourists. It’s odd to see fancy resorts in Rai Lei, just around the corner from Ton Sai. I much prefer the atmosphere at Ton Sai with no resorts or people trying to sell you things. The swimming was nice and I ordered some phad thai from a long tail boat.
I felt like I was burning in the sun so I headed back to read my book in the quiet shade. That night I met up with Marie and ended up eating dinner with a bunch of Frenchies. Well, two French and two Swiss. It was wonderful to speak French. After good food and then a game of Shithead (cards) at the Experience Bar (Jimmy Hendricks inspired) with my diving buddy, I headed for bed.

The following two days I did get to climb. The first time with Michel my neighbor from Montreal. In the afternoon we headed to Cobra wall. You can only dryly walk there during low tide and the start of the climbs are up on a narrow shelf. Seeing as falling would be painful, I didn’t lead climb, but ascended three 6a’s. I didn’t feel super strong and now see why people say climbing in Thailand is harder than other places. The next day I couldn’t find anyone to partner with. So I did some yoga on the beach. The beach is the perfect place for yoga with the waves rolling in and the breeze keeping you cool. Afterwards I wondered back to the wall to see if I could find someone. The Frenchies were going to rest, but introduced me to Sebastian from Finland. We headed to The Nest. The first climb was good, but I couldn’t’ get the second one. Maybe it’s the heat that makes me weak ;).

My plan was to venture out from this place and see more of Southern Thailand. Now that it’s Monday and I have to fly to Bangkok on Weds, I don’t’ think that’s going to happen. Every time I thought about leaving I couldn’t think of a reason why I would. Besides everyone tells me this is the best place anyway. I will miss it. Even the monkeys.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Where the f* am I?

That's what I had to ask myself when I arrived in Ton Sai. Because it's paradise! I flew from Udon Thani to Bangkok and then to Krabi on Sunday. From Krabi I took a long tail boat to Ton Sai beach.

As the boat approached the beach only accessible by boat or a steep hike, I was speechless. It goes from a perfect little beach to jungle to mountains. Huge limestone cliffs jut up all around.
Ton Sai: This little town is packed with climbers. You can sit in a restaurant on the beach and watch people climb. Reggae music is playing everywhere and chill bars line the beach. I followed my hand-written map that Ashley made me up the hill to Jungle Hut guesthouse. The only bungalows available were way up the steep hill. As I lugged my huge bag up a group of folks sitting on their porch made me promise to come by when I was checked in. Turned out to be 4 Americans and one Canadian. I was shocked to see so many Americans. They were a rowdy bunch who river guide back home. So instead of checking out the town or going swimming that first night, I sat on the porch socializing. At Sawadee Bar later I met Akem from Germany who mentioned he and friends were climbing a certain route for some good photos ops the next day. I asked if I could tag along and take pics and we said we'd meet at noon. The bar played great music, people were attempting the slack line, a guy through fire on the beach, the waves rolled in and breeze was steady. That's when I had to ask myself where the f* I was.

My first night in my bungalow I slept really well because I was so tired. I woke to this:

I also woke up to a huge spider bite, a swollen eye lid and holes in my underwear undoubtedly chewed by a rat. But I slept through it all. I'd been warned about the monkeys breaking in, making a mess and stealing things, but not the rats. I headed for breakfast down by the beach and got to see some monkeys. They were the nice non-stealing kind and were jumping around eating in the trees above me. So cute! There are also many adorable kittens here- monkeys, kittens and climbers, what else could I ask for?
I checked out the climbing on the beach and spent an hour just laying in the sand and going for a swim. I met Akem for lunch and went with him and a Bulgarian couple to take photos of them climbing. Someone was already on the route so we did some other climbs first. They were really nice and did some easy stuff so I could partake. I climbed Groove Tube, which was awesome! You climb up a rounded half-tube in the rock and then look down at the incredible view. I got to do another great climb there before we headed for the cave. The cave has a 7a+ (=hard) route along the top of it that makes for great silhouettes. I was very excited to be shooting and watching these great climbers. Then they said I had to try it. So I did it:
Ha I wish! That's as far as I got. But it did make for a great pic and at least I got a hand on it. I also had a fun swing when I fell off. We headed for a sunset beer and later got some great BBQ fish for dinner.

The next day Akem was extremely nice and took me climbing. He taught me how to lead climb so that I can lead my own routes instead of having to have someone else put the rope up for me. That means you clip into bolts along the way. It's a bit scarier because if you fall above the last bolt you'll fall at least that far. Akem was a great teacher and I started on really easy routes. We hiked over the mountain to the other side to a wall called Diamond Cave. It was packed with climbing school folks, but we found a spot. I led three routes no problem. It was scary at parts when you think you just can't fall, but it felt amazing to finish successfully. The fourth route was a bit harder and I only got half way up. I know I could have done the move, but I was too afraid of falling at that spot. I can't wait to go again! Today I went scuba diving. It's half moon and the conditions are great. So I just did a local dive. It'd been three years since I dove in Oz so I needed a refresher. Maria my Swiss dive master was awesome! She made me feel very assured and calm. We took a long boat out to a small rock island and after going over everything jumped in. She made me do some skills just 2 meters deep and I was able to remember how to clear my mask and regulator. We dove for about a hour only going 12 meters deep. We saw lots of beautiful fish and coral. We saw a lion fish, shrimp fish and large barracuda. It was great! I felt very comfortable back in the water. After lunch on the boat we did a second dive at another little island. This time was even better. We swam through schools and schools of fish. They were all around me moving different directions. It was incredible to look up and watch them move like one big fish. We saw two Morea eels. I spotted the second one and he was huge! We saw beautiful nudibranchs as well. I think I'm hooked. I might go again tomorrow to Phi Phi island where it's even better visibility and you see reef sharks and more fish. Wish I had pics to show.

This place really is paradise. There's hiking, climbing, diving, swimming and relaxing. Everyone I meet has been coming back for years and I can see why.