Riding Giants – Learning How to Surf in Bali

 I’m from California.  Meaning its pretty much implied that I know how to surf.

Well I don’t.

The surfboard looks like its going to knock me over, which it did, multiple times...

I’ve tried to learn multiple times, but my stubbornness and fear of being underwater stood in my way.  Plus the water in California is freezing and the waves are slightly out of my range.

Thus, I made it my mission to finally stand up on a surfboard in Bali.

My friend Stephanie, who was only a little bit more experienced than I, and I rented a board for the day on Kuta Beach.  She set out first because my nerves were getting the best of me and came back twenty minutes later after being ruled by the small waves, which didn’t give me much confidence.

Paddling out only to get rocked moments later

I paddled out, trying to remember what I had been taught six years earlier.  Well, it didn’t work because I completely wiped out over and over and over again.  Discouraged, I waded out of the water only to find that one of the fins had come off!  There is no way that it should have fallen off that fast!

I grabbed the guy that had sold us the board and brought him over to see the damage.  I told him that it should not have fallen off after twenty minutes in the water and he just kept saying, “I see you.  I see you.  You in the water.  You cannot stand up.  You just fall.  You cannot stand up!”  I told him that I was aware I could not stand up, but he still repeated, “You in the water!  You cannot stand up!  You need lessons!  I show you!”

I'm almost standing! I'm pretty sure I got there and then plummetted promptly

I ignored him, he eventually walked away, and we were stuck with a board with only one fin, which didn’t really bother us because we couldn’t stand up anyways.

But we pressed on.

And later that day, after an incident of my shoulder sublexing yet again, I am pleased to say I stood up…for about 2 seconds.  But nonetheless, I stood up and a couple days later when we rented a board again, it became a little bit easier.  And by a little bit, I mean I still wiped out 75% of the time. 

I'm so excited that I stood up for the first time!

Actually, make that 85%, but I was ok with that.

I conquered the waves of Bali!  Now onto the icy waters of the Pacific.

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Lazy Lovina

The beautiful black sand beaches of Lovina

After thouroughly exploring Ubud, we headed up to the quiet beach town of Lovina.  And when I say quiet, I definitely mean quiet.  There was barely anyone there.  We seemed to be one of maybe four or five people staying in our hotel, which was off of the main street of town, but still it was a pretty nice place.  I went for a walk on the beach when we arrived and pretty much had the place to myself!  It reminded me of the good ole’ days on Ko Jum.  I could walk for miles and barely see one person. The sand was also black, which I had never seen before, and although I didn’t go into the water (it was extremely murky and definitely uninviting) it was an absolutely beautiful sight.  There were beautiful clouds, boats speckled the water, and the beach seemed to stretch on forever. 

One of the statues at the temple near our hotel

At night, we walked down to the main stretch of town and it literally felt deserted.  We asked where all the people were and the answer we received was that June and July were Lovina’s busy season, definitely not April.  There were rows of cute little restaurants, each with one or two people in them, and shops full of sarongs and trinkets, but that’s about it.  We ate at a great little Italian restaurant and then decided to head back since the nightlife wasn’t too hopping. 

The Banjar Hot Springs near Lovina

Our last day in Lovina was unfortunately cloudy for the most part, which discouraged me because I of course wanted to work on my tan!  It was a lazy morning and then we rented motorbikes (with drivers of course) to the Banjar Hot Springs.  I was expecting this grandiose and intricate collection of pools, but what I got was one big pool with a couple on the side and the smell of eggs filling the air.  The hot spring was nice and warm and I spent some time in the water, but it honestly wasn’t anything too special.  I was hoping to hike around in the hills surrounding the hot springs, but there was no direct access from the area.  Supposedly there are some trails around, but we were unable to find them.  

I can see that Lovina is an up in coming place.  Construction sites for nice hotels, bungalows, and apartment buildings line the quiet beach and people will be filling the sand and water in no time.  I’m glad I got to see it when it was quiet and relaxing and free of drunk travelers doing stupid things!

Cruisin’ the Phi Phi Islands

If you have ever seen the movie “The Beach,” then you have seen the Ko Phi Phi Islands in Krabi, Thailand.  If you haven’t, then you are missing out on seeing one of the most beautiful places in the world.  Of course, instead of watching the movie, you can go there.  Which is what I did, and despite the hoards of people, beer cans strewn about, and constant chatter, it truly is a breathtaking sight.

From the Good Dream Guesthouse in Krabi town, I booked a Phi Phi Islands day trip by speedboat.  I was picked up around 8:15 the next morning and taxied to Ao Nang where I was joined by twenty other passengers or so on the boat.  I had heard that a speedboat ride in the Andaman Sea was quite an exciting one and I was reminded of that advice the first time I was vaulted off of my seat and got at least three inches of air.  Let’s just say, the 45-minute boat ride was not a relaxing one and I decided I would high-jack a seat in the front of the boat after our first stop (which ended up being much more violent, but I did get to feel the wind, so it was a necessary trade-off).

My little piece of Paradise

Our first destination was Bamboo Island and it was absolutely stunning.  The beach where we landed was extremely crowded so I decided to go on a short walk and found myself on a deserted, albeit small, stretch of the island and set up came here for the hour we were allotted on the island.  I posed in pictures (as a photographer I bring my tripod everywhere I go, and yeah scenery is great and all, but I want to be in the pictures!), swam, and sunned myself on the white sand beach.   I would have loved to stay on that island all day, but of course, there was more to see and do.

Viking Cave

The speed boat of terror’s next stop was the Viking Cave on Phi Phi Ley Island, where thousands of swallows take up residence.  I believe on some tours you are able to go inside this enormous cave, but we were not able to partake in this excursion.  We floated outside the cave for about five minute and then were on our way.  I would have loved to explore the inside, although caves definitely have an eerie, if not creepy, feeling to them. 

Entering the Lagoon

The Phi Phi Ley Lagoon was next.  We did a quick drive through, adeptly navigating through the other speedboats and longtails that had decided to do the same thing.  It was breathtaking.  Immense rock walls plunging into vividly clear blue water.  We were surrounded by the pure beauty of nature.  I love lagoons.  There is just a wonderful peacefulness about them.  There’s no beach for people to hoard onto.  Just boats and although there were about ten boats or so in the lagoon, it still was gorgeous.  But most of the time, a lagoon can be completely blown out of the water by a beautiful bay, and that is exactly what Maya Bay does to Phi Phi Ley Lagoon. 

All the snorkelers in Maya Bay

We pulled into Maya Bay a few minutes later, and I have to say I was disappointed.  I wasn’t expecting the amount of people, boats, and just all around “civilization” that encompassed the water and beach.  We stopped to snorkel and I have never been in the water with that many people.  The water was extremely clear and I spotted some fish I hadn’t seen before, but I was constantly being kicked or ran into by fellow snorkelers.  Definitely took away from the allure a little bit. 

Longtail Boats in Maya Bay

After about thirty minutes in the water, we landed on the beach and were allotted another thirty minutes to enjoy the bay.  From the beach, the bay was exactly everything I had picture.  It was stunning.  Of course, it was spotted with people and boats, but I forgot about all that.  How can you not when you’re looking at something so beautiful?  I would have loved to see it empty, and my friend informed me that you can actually go overnight camping there and thus see the bay empty in the morning.  I would have absolutely loved that.  That will definitely be on my list of things to do when I come back.

Amazingly soft sand! I love it!

We stopped on Phi Phi Don for a great buffet lunch that consisted of some cashew chicken, rice, fish sticks  and spaghetti.  I’m one that must mix all of my food, but this was definitely the one exception (although I did have all three).  We had an hour to explore the beaches, shops, restaurants, and bars of Ton Sai Bay and I took this time to finally relax in the sand.   It felt so great and its at times like these when I just relish in the fact that I’m on a tropical island.  Phi Phi, albeit crowded, took my breath away.  I loved every second I was there and it has made me yearn to go back.  Camping will definitely be my accommodation of choice because Phi Phi’s popularity has hiked hotel and guesthouses prices up and I’m not into the whole get completely plastered and hook up scene. 

What a beautiful fish! Sorry the quality isn't the greatest!

Our final stop was coral “island,” which wasn’t an island at all, just a bunch of coral off the coast of Phi Phi.  It was much less crowded and even though I was exhausted from the day and eager to get back, the snorkeling was once again awesome.  Although Ko Tao is known for its diving and snorkeling, I would have to say I saw more fish and prettier coral on this outing than I did on my snorkeling day trip on Ko Tao.

I had the most amazing day cruisin’ the Phi Phi Islands and it rounded up my amazing weekend in Krabi, probably my favorite place in Thailand!

Check out my Photo of the Day from the Phi Phi Islands!

Conquering the Rock in Railay

Krabi was one of my first trips when I arrived in the South. I loved everything about it, especially the opportunities to explore anything and everything under the sun. There are countless day trips available to book at the numerous travel agencies and guesthouses ranging from kayaking around Hong Island to Elephant treking in Khao Sok to day trips exploring the neighboring islands of Krabi.  I, of course, want to do them all, but time permitting I have had to pick and choose the ones that are at the top of my list. 

The first time I was down in Krabi I did the 4 Island tour (Chicken Island, Poda Island, Tup Island, and Phranang Cave, Railay) and the 5 Island tour, which is also known as the Hong Island Tour (and not really 5 islands).  But there were so many more that I wanted to do!

The guide showing me how to tie my knot. By the end of the day, he didn't have to show me anymore!

I had heard so much about rock climbing on Railay Beach and I told myself that I would come back and do that before I left Thailand.  This weekend I had the opportunity to do just that and it was one of the best experiences I have had!

I signed up for the half day trip with King Climbers, which is supposed to be one of the best groups to climb with.  I was advised that the half day was more than enough climbing for someone who doesn’t do it everyday and boy am I glad I only did the half day!  I ended up being completely beat at the end of the day and sore for days after!

This may look like I'm posing, but I can assure you it is "in action"

I also had the option of climbing in the afternoon.  Much much better than the morning session, which required me to wake up at 7 in the morning after a long day/night of traveling!  I immediately took this option and enjoyed my morning of sleeping in and reading by the river.  I was picked up by the King Climbers truck, was taxied over to the Railay Beach peir, and boarded a 15-minute longtail boat ride to Railay.

While getting fitted for my climbing gear, I met a fellow Californian (which NEVER happens.  I not only rarely meet Americans, but I double rarely meet someone from California!), Cat, who had been traveling for a couple months in SE Asia.  She had just gotten engaged in Cambodia and I begged her to tell me the story!  I love hearing engagement stories and hers was a great one!  We instantly became friends and vowed that we would take pictures of each other while we were scaling the rocks.  Our climbing group consisted of two Norwegians, who had never climbed before, two Californians, and a Finnish guy, Peter, who had climbed in the morning session as well. 

I'm pretty sure I'm on the easy part right now, right before I got stuck

We began with one of the easiest climbs and I started out with a bang.  Peter was blaying me and apparently he wasn’t too ready, because I slipped in the first couple seconds (sweaty palms, I was nervous ok!  I haven’t climbed in a long time!) and  plummeted the four feet and came inches from smacking into the ground.

But I got right back up and scaled that rock!  It wasn’t the hardest thing in the world, but it still felt so great to make it up to the top.  I haven’t had a challenge like that in a long time and it felt amazing to be “athletic” again!

The next one was a different story. 

The first part was pretty easy, in the sense that it didn’t take me too long to figure out my next foot or hand hold.  I was using many of the muscles I haven’t used in ages and it felt so great to “feel the burn” for the first time in months! 

But then I reached a sort of “impasse.”  I kept trying to find a foot hold and then a hand hold and then a different foot hold and then a different hand hold, but nothing seemed to be working.  I was only about 6-8 feet away from the top, but I just felt like I couldn’t do it.  My arms started shaking and my legs were barely holding me on the mountain.  I kept slipping and swinging back and forth and finally came to a point where I yelled down indicating that I was finished. 

But they didn’t let me down. 

Thanking everyone after I landed on my "hard" climb

I heard, “JUST RELAX!!” from one of the Norwegians and “YOU CAN DO IT!” from Cat.  “TAKE YOUR TIME” from Peter and “YOU’RE ALMOST THERE!” from the other Norwegian were what I heard right before I decided I was going to make it.  I put all my energy and spirit  into that rock.  I took a deep breath and released all the tension from my shoulders.  I stopped focusing on my quivering arms and just told myself I was going to do it and soon enough I made it to the top.  When I landed on the ground, everyone was cheering and clapping, and through an exhausted inhale I thanked them for getting me to the top.  I couldn’t have done it without the support of four complete strangers. 

And that’s what traveling is all about. 

Making relationships with people from different countries that you’ll probably never see again.  But that doesn’t matter because for those few moments you spend with them, they’re you’re best friend and they’re all you need. 

Rock climbing on Railay Beach was one of the most fun days I have had here.  It truly challenged my mind, my body and my spirit and I have had a huge smile on my face ever since.  I would definitely recommend it and when I make it back to Krabi someday, maybe I’ll do the full day.

Just hanging with my climbing guide (that's Cat in the background)

My life is like a Corona Commercial

Or a Beer Chang commercial, since I’m in Thailand and all.

I get to go to tropical islands on the weekend.  What do you get to do?!?

Ko Tao

Living in the South of Thailand most definitely has its perks.  Having a four day work week makes those perks much more attainable.  There’s nothing like spending your weekend spread out on a lounge chair with a good book as the soft ocean breeze tousles your hair and the warm sand sifts through your toes.  There’s nothing better than the feeling of being under that clear, blue water and resurfacing to a beautiful rock formation surrounded by colorful coral and tropical fish.  Or hiking through a slender mountainous path where giant lizards and quick moving snakes stand in between you and your destination.    

And I’m only describing the daytime!

Nighttime is when the island comes alive.  Echos of animals or insects that sound like they could eat you and that give a rhythmic soundtrack to the tropical surroundings.  The sky peppered with millions of stars and galaxies that force you to ponder other worlds and the meaning of life.  The slow wading of the ocean’s miniscule waves and a darkness that only allows you to barely see your hand.   

It’s at times like these, when I’m taking it all in, that I feel completely engrossed in nature.  As cliché as this sounds, I feel one with the island.

Sometimes I still can’t believe I’m sitting in Thailand that sometimes the language is the only thing that brings me down to earth.  This far-off dream used to only be a blip on the horizon and now here I am, traveling to islands on my weekends, when before the idea of an exciting weekend was standing in long lines at Hollywood clubs and paying $20 for a watered-down drink. 

I think I prefer the islands.

Phuket – The Ultimate Tourist Destination (and not in a good way)

When people think of tourist destinations in Thailand, Phuket is one of the first hot spots to check out. Although it is the biggest island in Thailand, after my latest trip, I would most definitely say its not the best. Because of its popularity, it has been over-run by tourists and the allure of a tropical island has been stripped away.  Beautiful white sand beaches are covered in lounge chairs and umbrellas adverstising Western Union to the local banks to Subway. Streets are filled with vendors that have no problem pestering and following you in hopes of making a sale.  Guesthouses are expensive and although the food is good, it is truly an investment. 

The coastline on Patong Beach

I originally did not want to go to Patong beach, which is the “main” popular beach on Phuket Island.  I knew that it was filled of backpackers looking to party and get into trouble.  This isn’t the type of scene I’m looking for, but after futher review of the islands accomodations, I concluded that it might be the cheapest.  There are other beaches that are supposed to be more quiet and secluded, but high-end resorts have monolpolized those areas and they were not an option for me on my small budget. 

I arrived in Phuket Airport on Thursday morning, after my first domestic flight in Thailand from Bangkok on Air Asia.  It was filled of Thais trying to coax you into their taxi or tuk tuk in hopes that you pay a high price in return.  Because I am not new to Thailand, I know that 700 baht to get anywhere is quite the premium.  I ended up taking a mini-bus for 150 baht to Patong Beach.  I orginally wanted to go to Kata Beach because I had read in Lonely Planet that it was more my speed, but when perusing the guesthouses and resorts there, I was told that it was way too expensive, especially this time of year which is considered high time.

A scarf saleswoman on the crowded beach

On our way to Patong Beach, the minibus stopped at a booking agency and this is where I discussed accomodations options.  The cheapest place the lady could find for me was 1,300 baht at Golden Beach Guesthouse!  That was way more than I was accustomed to paying, but since I was meeting my friend Adam there, I knew that I was only going to be paying half.  I also decided that I could look around and see if there were any cheaper places, but when I reached my destination it was pouring rain, and I decided against that.  The room wasn’t too bad and I was a little jet-lagged so I took a nap before Adam arrived. 

Later, we decided to explore a little a discovered the overly crowded beach and rows and rows of stalls catered to swindling tourists.  I thought it was hilarious that the only things I pretty much took pictures of were hilarious signs that we spotted instead of beautiful scenery and breathtaking beaches.  Instead, people watching was our pasttime and wherever we went to dinner, we were always sure to get a table that had the best view of the passersby.  And boy did we see a lot of great ones.

The sexiest man on the beach

 

The next couple days were full of relaxing on the beach and exploring the town, if you can even relax when a screaming baby is a few meters away and a naked two year old is running around.  The one thing we cannot fathom is why in the world would you bring your newborn on a vacation.  The kids aren’t going to remember it and the parents are most definitely not going to get all they want out of their vacation!  It just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense!

A touch of beauty amidst chaos

The food was definitely a high point of the trip and I sampled a few amazing drink concoctions as well.  We went to a great mexican restaurant on the main road and although it was nothing like California Mexican food, it definitely hit the spot and gave me a litte taste of home. 

On my way back to Lang Suan, I had the chance to tour the other beaches in the minibus and much to my surprise they looked a lot like Patong.   It doesn’t look like there is much seclusion on Phuket!  I’m definitely glad I went there, just to see how it was, but I will most definitely choose other islands over going back!

Getting a Work Out on Ko Tao

Ko Tao or “turtle island” is an island right off the coast of Chumphon in the Surat Thani Province in Southern Thailand.   It is known for its beautifully clear water, which makes it a prime dive and snorkel destination.  It is full of dive shops and avid scuba divers looking to see the wonderful world of underwater sealife.  Despite my desire to see turtles, sharks and other colorful and large sea creatures, I am extremely frightened of being underwater, and being meters below sea level does not appeal to me. 

Thus, I went to Ko Tao looking for a relaxing weekend in the sun.  I had scoped out the place a few days before and realized that because its quite small, it is very accessible on foot.  There are hiking trails and although most of the roads are not paved, most of the island can be reached with a short hike.  Well, hike is an understatement…

On my way to serenity, although this is pretty close

I arrived to Ko Tao early on in morning.  Luckily, there is a boat leaving Lang Suan (the tiny town I live in about an hour south of Chumphon) to the island that only takes 2 hours and takes off around 7AM.  Ferries and boats are also available in Chumphon and a night ferry is available from Surat Thani. 

Scaling rocks, smacking trees aside... What a time

When I arrived into the Mae Hat peir, I was quickly pestered by tuk tuk drivers and resort managers willing me to come with them to Sairee beach, the most popular and in turn the most crowded beach on the island.  On the map to my right, I noticed a little dotted line leading to more secluded (and cheaper) places to stay.  This was the path I chose to take.  Five minutes later, I was pretty much climbing a mountain and forging myself through a very faded trail and overgrown brush.  The one time I forget my shoes!  My trip to Ko Tao was definitely a testiment to how trusty Rainbow Sandals can be. 

I had a huge smile across my face the entire time.  I love hiking and I loved that there was a huge possibility I was lost.  The trail was not easily marked and there were plenty of times when I had to make the executive decision on which way to go, left or right, up or down, through those trees or across the pile of boulders.  I loved that I had no idea where I was going or where I was going to end up.  I loved that I had no clue what I was looking for or what it was going to look like when I got there.  To put it plainly, I loved it. 

Sai Thong Resort

I made it to a secluded beach covered in little bungalows called Sai Thong Resort.  It was perfect!  I checked in and was led to a little bungalow a ways up the hill.  As soon as I saw the hammock I knew I was in heaven!  I dropped my backpack  and jumped into the hammock to relax after my hard trek through the wilderness.  But I wasn’t done.  There was way more forging ahead of me.  There was still a dotted line on the map that I hadn’t followed and I wanted to reach the next town, Chalok Baan Kao, that day so I could set up a snorkeling trip. 

So I set out again.  This trail was much more difficult to follow and it included large boulders and steep inclines, but once again I found myself on a little secluded beach near the Sunset Bungalows and decided to take a dip in the crystal clear water.  The ocean in Thailand is absolutely heavenly.  It is the perfect refreshment from the hot sun. 

After an ample amount of time relaxing, I set out for the town.  Lots of hiking later on what they call “roads” I reached a place called Viewpoint resort and stopped to have lunch.  My table was located right on the rocks with the perfect view of the beautiful Chalok Baan Kao Bay.

This is supposed to be a road?!

After an amazing lunch of sweet and sour chicken, I headed into the town to find a place to set up a snorkeling trip.  I found a shop and put down the money to buy the trip.  He asked me where I was staying and much to my dismay my bungalows were too far for them to pick me up in the morning!  I had to do the hike again early in the morning!!  This didn’t discourage me one bit.  I enjoyed the hike and because I haven’t worked out too much in Thailand, I took it as a wonderful challenge.

The next morning I woke up around 7 and made my way into town.  The hike was rough and difficult, especially in the morning, but it was a good rough and difficult.  I truly enjoyed it and once again had a smile plastered across my face.  Apparently, I was forgotten because I waited for about an hour at the booking agency and then was rushed to the boat with everyone starting at me like I was the late one.  And by rushed, I mean I had to jump aboard a motorcycle taxi, and a motorcycle taxi on the mountainous Ko Tao, is an adventure I wasn’t ready for.  But, as always, I survived, and made it to the boat, with another crazy adventure under my belt. 

I spotted a Rainbow Fish!

The day of snorkeling was exhausting, but completely worth it.  At the first stop, Shark Island, I learned about “sea lice.”  According to a website on staying safe at the beach, “Sea lice are actually the microscopic larvae of jellyfish and other ocean stingers which contain the same nematocysts (stinging cells) as mommy and daddy.”  I felt like my body was on fire!  The first sting was surprising.  I literally said out loud, “What in the world was that!!” Then as I decided to follow the path of some big fish, I must have swam into a swarm of them, because I felt them on every inch of my body!  The snorkeling was amazing there, huge fish, beautiful coral, but I had to get out of the water as soon as I could! 

The rest of the day was magnificent!  We circled the entire island and ended up on the little island off the coast called Ko Nang Yuan.  With two hours to kill on the small island, I quickly climbed the hundreds of stairs to a breathtaking lookout, knowing that I would soon be swimming in the crystal blue water and relaxing in the white sand.  What an amazing sight.   I would have loved to see the island when it was empty and uninhabited, but then again I probably wouldn’t be standing there if it was deserted.

Ko Nang Yuan - Simply breathtaking

Ko Tao is has so much to offer.  Dive excursions and snorkeling trips are incredibly easy to find.  The sun is strong and the beaches are beautiful.  It is the perfect stop for adventurous travelers!  I will be going back soon!!