Exploring Ubud and Beyond

Ubud is full of artistic culture and creativity, but its also surrounded by some beautiful scenery.  Lonely Planet provides some wonderful walking tours around the town and we decided to embark on a couple of them on different days.

That monkey is sticking his tongue out at me!

On our first full day in Ubud, we followed the “Monkey Forest & Penestanan Walking Tour” through the rice terraces behind Ubud.  The tour began with a walk through the monkey forest, which is infested with conniving and mischievous monkeys ready to pounce at your first wrong move.  They seemed to be interested in cameras, although I was successful in keeping mine hidden somehow, and I saw countless people with monkeys clinging to their shorts or trying to climb on their backs (I was extremely lucky to not have had to experience this, although one made a lunge for Matt’s shorts , which he skillfully eluded).  The Monkey Forest was peaceful, green and I could barely see the sky it was so lush.

The rice fields directly around Ubud

After thoroughly exploring the forest, we exited the opposite side and made our way through the small towns of Ubud suburbia, finally making it to the rice terraces.  The Lonely Planet guided us through the rice terraces where we were supposed to exit on to the main road.  Well after some wandering around in the mud and the muck of the rice paddies, we finally heard the road, but weren’t exactly sure how to get there.  I made a comment how I bet we’ll end up in someone’s backyard (because we practically were already in one walking through the rice fields) and sure enough, a few minutes later, we happened across an extremely surprised lady doing housework.  She kindly led us through her yard and pointed us to the street, which led us back to the main town.

His crazy fingers!

Later that night, we attended a Traditional Balinese dance at the Ubud Palace.  It was absolutely incredible and completely different than anything else.  The way their fingers and hands gracefully twitched to the music and the way their eyes moved side to side with the beat made it one of the most unique dances I have ever seen.  The costumes were gorgeous and I never wanted it to end!  I’m hoping that they have something like this in the Los Angeles area so that I can go again when I get home!

The rice terraces by the river

Our next adventure was what Lonely Planet liked to call the Penestanan & Sayan Walking Tour.  It was quoted to take about six hours so we definitely had to mentally prepare for this one.  We found ourselves wandering around a small town looking for the “small road” that would bring us to the rice terraces and then on to the jungle/river.  We walked around aimlessly for a short while when a cute old man approached us stating he knew the way (it reminded me a little bit of Jafar when he dressed up as an old man and told Aladdin about the Cave of Wonders, yeah I’m a dork, I know).  As soon as he led us down the path, he was talking about the compensation he was going to receive for this valiant task.  I went from saying this was a cute little old man to what the heck jerk!  We found our way past the rice terraces and to the river, after once again receiving help from a tip-wanting “friendly” Indonesian.

The beautiful river banks

We trudged along the beautiful banks of the river watching river rafters brave the rapids and scaling rocks and foliage.  At the end of the trail, we found ourselves faced with a gate blocking the path.  There were drops on either side of this gate and all the rope and chicken wire made it clear that the resident was through with travelers meandering through his yard. Yet, there was no way we were going to turn around and walk all the way back (it had taken us a good hour and half at least to get to this point).  I figured out how to open the gate and we sneaked on through, gladly not running into the fellow and a little nervous that he was going to pull out a shotgun of some sort. About forty minutes and an incredibly exorbitant amount of stairs later, we made it back to the street and after a delicious lunch, we stumbled back into Ubud.

The amazing Jatileuwih rice terraces

The next day we hired a car to take us up to the rice terraces of Jatileuwih.  They have been nominated for UNESCO status and there’s a very good reason for that.  I have never seen more green in my life.  My eyes were on complete green overload.  I’m used to beautiful beaches and forests, but I’ve never seen anything like this: Rows and rows of rice terraces with a backdrop of a volcano-like mountain surrounded by blue sky and fluffy clouds.  We took a good two hours or so to make our way through the terraces successfully reaching the bottom and witnessing phenomenal views.  Although my feet were completely under water at times making me slip all over the place, it was one of the best and most unique hikes I’ve ever done.   Our driver also followed us on our trek and explained the rice growing process to us, which we had been wondering about ever since we saw our first rice terrace in Ubud.  It was an amazing day and definitely worth the two hour drive north.

Ubud was absolutely unbelievable.  I know I could have spent weeks there just exploring all the shops and art galleries!  What a perfect place for me!


A City on Water – Kompong Khleang

I definitely needed a break from the temples today and decided to take an excursion to one of the floating villages.  A few couchsurfers and I got the tip from a local couchsurfer telling us not to go to the nearby village of Chong Khneas, telling us that it was solely developed for tourists and a complete trap.  Thus, we headed out to the distant Kompong Khleang 35 km away from Siem Reap.

Look how high those stilts are!!

The tuk tuk drive out to the village was peaceful and we saw a lot of the countryside.  The road into the town was a tough dirt road, which ended up being our downfall later that evening.  The houses that lined the path were all on stilts to protect themselves during the wet season.  I was impressed by the height, probably 5-6 meters tall, but nothing compared to those along the river bank, which towered almost 10 meters.

A couple of the children who hounded me for 1000 riel

We were told that a boat should be $15 and when we were quoted the price of $20 each (utterly ridiculous!) we decided to take a walk through the village to get them to reconsider their offer.  I was hounded by the adorable children asking me for 1000 riel, 1000 riel, 1000 riel.  I fell in love with them right away and I was actually disappointed I didn’t have any riel with me, although that probably wouldn’t have been the best idea to cultivate their ideas that tourists should give them money.  I loved the feel of the little town, there was even a little ice cream cart going around.  All the houses were hoisted up on huge stilts, townies were lazing around, and life in the village seemed to be pretty good. 

On the river heading to the floating village

After much negotiation, we lowered the price to $35 for the entire boat and were soon puttering down the river towards the Tonlé Sap lake.   There were so many great photographic opportunities along the river, many boats passing, pigs playing around in the mud, children splashing in the water, and field workers coming home from a hard days work.

About 20 minutes later, we were faced with the opening to the huge lake and soon enough encountered the floating village for the first time.   

A cluster of homes in the floating village

What an incredible way to live!  Taking a boat to the market.  To see your friends.  To have dinner.  Pretty much, taking a boat to do anything.  We spotted pigs, dogs, and chickens hanging on these large house boats.  Some houses were bigger than others.  Some were by themselves while others were located in clusters.  Live moved around just like it would on land.

Watching the sunset from our boat

We passed through the village and decided to take a break to watch the sunset.  It was crazy.  The ocean and the sky melded into one and it literally looked like we were at the edge of the earth.  It was a really eerie feeling.  Not know what was out there and the toxic green water of the lake made us wonder what was beneath us as well.  It was pretty cloudy so the sunset wasn’t too dramatic, but it was still an incredibly peaceful setting to be in.  Chilling in a lake, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, in a floating village, in Cambodia somewhere.  Who would have thought I would be here??

A closeup of one of the floating houses

We got a little more up close and personal view of the village on the way back and actually stopped a store to get some fuel.  Unfortunately, it was getting dark and I was unable to use a shutterspeed fast enough to counteract the movement of the boat (I don’t like using flash in these situations because I believe that it is intrusive) so I didn’t get as many up close shots as I would have liked.

We made it back to the village and were soon on our way back to Siem Reap.  Or so we thought.  A few minutes down the road our driver pulled over and told us to get out.  Panic rushed through my body as I thought he was going to leave us in the pitch darkness, in the middle of nowhere, and no way to get back, but then I remembered, we hadn’t paid him yet, so there was no way he would leave.  He pointed to his tire and we noticed it was completely flat.  Great.

About an hour and a half later, and after I intently watched the way they attempted to fix this tire, first by sewing, then some weird goop like substance, then a patch, and ultimately just changing out the tire completely, we were on our way back to Siem Reap again.  While we were waiting, we had stopped in a small area of town where the boys were viciously playing around whipping a wet towel at each other.  Boys will be boys anywhere in the world.  I stayed far away for I wanted no part in that and wished I could have meandered around a bit more, but alas the town had barely any electricity, and wandering around would surely get me lost.

It was an absolutely amazing experience, although I would have loved to spend more time on the lake weaving through the houses and checking out everything they had there, but then again, I wouldn’t want someone sneaking through my backyard.

Delving into the Culture of Phnom Penh

I had heard that Phnom Penh was a city that a traveler could get stuck in for awhile.  Even though there aren’t as many tourist sites as say Bangkok, it is the allure of the city and the way of life that draws people in!  I wanted to experience it for myself, of course while I hit the main Lonely Planet stops. 

My first destination in Cambodia’s capital was the Tuol Sleng Museum.  The museum was once an elementary school, but after being taken over by the Khmer Rouge, it was tragically transformed into buildings full of torture chambers, Security Prison 21 (S-21).  It was their version of a concentration camp, and since I haven’t been to any of the concentration camps in Europe yet, this came as a huge shock to me. 

Inside one of the cells in Building A

When I entered my first room, I found a disheveled bed, some torture equipment, shackles, and a picture on the wall of someone who had died in this very spot.  A chill shot down my spine.  I have never been in a place of death.  The atrocities that had occurred here are unimaginable and as I slowly moved through each and every room, I tried not to imagine the horrors that these walls must remember.  That was just Building A. 

Building B was next and the entire first floor consisted of rooms lined with photos of victims.  Some were just mug shots.  Others were taken after they had been tortured.  And others were taken when they were already dead.   I tried to rush through these rooms, but I couldn’t.  I wanted to see everyone (although I tried to avoid the pictures of the dead).  I wanted to commiserate with the victims.  Their terror filled faces were tragic.  I had never seen anything like it.  The second floor housed rows and rows of tiny brick cells, some not even a meter across and about two meters deep, with remnants of shackles left strewn about in the small chambers. 

Apparently the barbed wire was to prevent the prisoners from committing suicide

Building C was a museum with pictures of actual Khmer Rouge combatants who participated in the horrors at S-21.  They were just kids!  Some of the commentaries were by family members of the deceased and others were from the soldiers themselves (of course older and wiser now).  Most of them claimed they didn’t know better, which I’m sure is true, and others had joined out of sheer fear for their lives.  There was also a room that contained actual torture apparatuses accompanied by pictures of them being used.  Quite disturbing if you ask me, but then again it went along with the theme of the rest of the museum. 

The Memorial Stupa for the Victims

After being tortured, the victims were taken to the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek, my next stop.  The memorial began with a stupa filled with skulls that were found in the fields.  This was utterly mind boggling.  I have never been in the presence of that many human remains.  Underneath the skulls was a pile of clothes that had been scattered throughout the graves.  It just put personalities to the people and really put it into perspective who these people were.  Scared.  Confused.  Terrified.  Mothers were killed with their sons and daughters in the hands.  Children were killed to avoid the revenge they would surely seek for their parents.

I took a walk around the complex (there is a path that follows the border of the site) I wanted to focus on revering the dead.  Even though these weren’t my ancestors, they are someone’s ancestors, and being in Cambodia, I wanted to really understand the history that has made the country what it is today.  On the outskirts, I was hounded by children begging for money and asking if I wanted to take their picture.  Although this has happened to me hundreds of times before, it made me furious.  Here I am trying to honor their dead, and they are asking me for 1000 riel. 

The main gravesites at the Killing Fields

Anyways, despite that speedbump, I made it to the gravesites.   They were deep holes in the earth and I couldn’t imagine being the one to have discovered the thousands of people who had been buried there.  To finish up the tour, I ended with the museum which talked about those responsible for the atrocities at S-21 and Choeung Ek.  Some of them admitted to it, while others denied what they did was wrong.  Some of them died before justice would prevail, while others are undergoing trial.  It was hard looking at the faces of evil and I quickly left.

The corridors of the Russian Market

To see the brighter side of Phnom Penh, I headed over to the Russian Market, which was the market to go to in the capital.  Extremely similar to the Chatuchak Weekend in Market in Bangkok, although considerably smaller, the Russian Market was rows and rows of knick-knacks, clothes, luggage, fruit, and pretty much anything imaginable under the sun.  Of course, I kept finding countless treasures worth buying and after buying a bracelet from Paper wear by Friends  (Fashion Jewelry made from 100% recycled paper and made by parents in vulnerable communities of Cambodia, Lao and Thailand) and an adorable monkey puppet for my five-month old nephew, I had to leave as quickly as possible or else my luggage was going to be even heavier!

The entrance to the Royal Palace

My last notable “Place to See” in Phnom Penh was the Royal Palace and the Silver Pagoda, which was definitely nothing to write home about and $6.25 that I will never get back.  I honestly didn’t find anything too special about the place and there were way too many prohibited areas to make it worthwhile.  The palace grounds was peppered with buildings/temples with buddhas and other ancient pieces received by the Royal family and the Silver Pagoda was a beautiful temple with a golden standing Buddha and an Emerald Buddha.

Along the Tonle Sap River

A little disappointed, I decided to take a walk along the Tonle Sap River and check out the scene down there.  It was bustling with people enjoying the sunset, dancing to boom boxes, selling cockroaches, and eating noodle soup.  The local setting down there was a little chaotic with countless beggars, of course taxi, tuk tuk and moto drivers, children offering to pose for pictures for money, while travelers chose from the many restaurants, shops and bars along Samdach Sothearos Blvd.

I thouroughly enjoyed my short time in Phonm Penh.  It would have been great to spend more time there getting to know the city better, but because there are so many amazing things to see in Cambodia, I had to move on.  I definitely hope I’ll be back one day!

I also had the opportunity to volunteer on my last day in the city, but I will write another post about that.   

Penang, Malaysia – A UNESCO World Heritage Site

My second day in Penang was just as wonderful and eventful as the first.  This city just feels so alive 100% of the time and people are constantly on the move.  It is full of traffic jams and crazy driving, much like in Thailand, but the narrow streets and no real sense of urgency (a sense that I have discovered is all over Thailand) give it a smaller city vibe.

The Burmese Temple Buddha

We started off with a visit to the Dharmikarama Burmese Temple.  I have yet to see a Burmese temple so this was definitely interesting to me.  The Buddhas were slightly different than the traditional Thai Buddhas that I had seen in Bangkok and Lang Suan and there was a hall with Buddha statues from all over the world.  Each country has a different way they like to place the hands (also known as a mudra) and it was interesting to see them all together in one room.   

We crossed the street over to the Thai Temple, Wat Chaiyamangkararam, home of the Sleeping Buddha.  This statue was very different from the Sleeping Buddha at Wat Pho in Bangkok and in no way similar to any Buddha I had seen before.  It was in color!  The lips were red and it looked to be made out of porcelain rather than a harsh bronze. 

The reclining Buddha in the Thai Temple

It looked pretty almost with its sly grin and dreamy eyes.  The Buddha was also surrounded by monk memorials with the ashes of the monks actually inside the statues.  Some of them had the pictures of the actual monks as well.  We were walking around the temple and I was asking Sin Kok what certain statues meant and what they were for and we came across a grandfatherlike clock.  I asked him what the symbolized and he looked at me and said, “Basically its for if anyone is curious about the time!”  It was a definite had to be there moment, but hilarious at the same time.  I was convinced that there was an old tradition or something having to do with a big clock, but no, instead of a clock on the wall, they chose the ornate version of our common time telling apparatus. 

We took a quick seaside drive down Gurney Drive, which is peppered with high end hotels, millionaire homes, and a large shopping mall.  It was fun to look at a more posh side of Penang although I know I would never choose to stay there when visiting.  I have loved staying in Air Hitam with Sin Kok and his father because it gives me a real sense of Penang life.  I have been learning so much about the Malay culture and because Sin Kok is Chinese, he also gives me insights into the Chinese culture as well.  He is constantly quizzing me on Malay phrases he has taught me, which I still stumble over, and he is eager to help me feel comfortable in a culture that is worlds apart from mine. 

A few of the houses at the Clan Jetties

We met up with another one of Sin Kok’s friends, Fiona, and after a delicious lunch in another hawker center (definitely my favorite place to eat, who needs restaurants when you can try a little bit of everything), we explored the Traditional Clan Jetties, where houses were built on stilts to save money on land prices and taxes (if a house was built in the water the owner was exempt from land tax).  It was like another world around there.  The community seemed extremely tight knit, probably because the houses were so close together.  It was so interesting to look between the houses and see water and fish.  What an incredible way to live!  Some of the houses were actually pretty nice, while others were a little ragged, probably ones that hadn’t been remodeled for years.  I liked the older ones better because they fit the setting perfectly.

A food stall in Little India

We then took a stroll through Little India, which is bustling with food carts, men hard at working making the flower adornments which are placed as an offering in a Hindu temple, dilapidated but extremely quaint buildings, and constant chatter and smiles.  Like the rest of Georgetown, and really the entire island of Penang, Little India had an inundating feel of pure culture and life. 

A visitor to the Kuan Yin Temple

Next to Little India was the Kuan Yin Temple, the oldest temple in Penang.  It was alive with people lighting incense and laying offerings in front of various statues.  I loved the feeling of the old temple.  The tradition seeped through its walls and I could see that it was an extremely popular place to pay respects, more so than the newer temples.  I hope future renovations (I’m assuming its on some list of eventual renovations for the UNESCO site) don’t steal this temples uniqueness or erase its history. 

A view of the Old Anglican Church

Nearby was the old Anglican Church, St. George Church.  Malaysia was colonized by the British and their influence can be seen in most of the government buildings and throughout the city of Penang.  The church was very traditional and I loved the fact that it was merely meters from a Buddhist temple around the corner, a Muslim Mosque down the street and a Hindu temple across the street.  It just adds to the extreme diversity that defines Penang. 

The front of the Jiang Teochew Ancestral Temple

Our last stop before we took a rest was the Han Jiang Teochew Ancestral Temple, the recipient of the 2006 Award of Merit Unesco Asia-Pacific for Culture Heritage Conservation.  It had finished renovations and there was an exhibit in each room showing the before and after pictures (I tended to like the before pictures, but the place was utterly beautiful).   This temple wasn’t too crowded and was very peaceful. 

The Goddess of Mercy Pavilion

To round off the night we took another excursion up to the Kek Lok Si Temple because we had not made it up to the Goddess of Mercy Pavilion yet (if you don’t drive up, you have to take a little trolley and there was a huge line, so we decided to come another night).  The pavilion was definitely the place to be.  It was absolutely beautiful and crowds of people were hoarding around the statue to pay their respects.  And this statue was huge.  Straining my neck to get a good look at it, the lights surrounding the statue gave her a very heavenly feel and I was struck with awe at the beauty of the pavilion. Once again, I was lucky to have been able to visit Kek Lok Si during Chinese New Year, although I know it is still beautiful any other time of the year.

My third day in Penang was my day of rest.  It was the last day of Chinese New Year and Sin Kok was having a potluck with all of his friends in celebration.  We went shopping in the morning and I sat and chatted with him in the kitchen while he cooked his shark fin soup.  I felt so welcomed by all of his friends and was extremely happy when a few of them took the time to sit down and talk to me (most of the time they were rattling away in Chinese, which of course is understandable, I know how I get when I’m around all my best friends).  It was so amazing to feel the community that they had and witness a huge part of their culture.  I have really learned to appreciate the Chinese culture a lot more after my stay with my new friends!

Monday was my last day in Penang and I was truly sad to leave.  I have had so much fun with Sin Kok and his friends and I have absolutely fallen in love with the island.  It was more culture on one street corner than I have in my town in Lang Suan and has provided me with one of the best learning experiences I have had in Asia so far!

We started off my last day with a trip to the transfer route in the Heritage Area , where the Muslim Indian population host the most famous place for Roti Canai in Penang.  Eaten with a tomato paste sauce, I had one cooked with egg and a plain one and it definitely earned its title.  I also had a pull tea, which was a type of milk tea, and it too was the best I had had in Penang, as well as in the rest of Southeast Asia. 

A tower at the Kapitan Keling Mosque

After stuffing our faces (I am convinced that being in Asia has made me fat, there is way too much good food and I never want to stop eating!) we headed to the Kapitan Keling Mosque.   Located on the Street of Harmony, which is named because of all the different religious entities represented on the street, the Moorish architecture of the mosque is stunning.  It is unlike any other mosque in the city and is definitely a place to explore.  I had to don a headdress and costume to go in and although I was sweating profusely it was worth it.  I had never been in a mosque before and I was truly lucky to be able to set foot in the Kapitan Keling Mosque. 

In the entrance to the Khoo Kongsi temple

After stopping to get a ban chang kaoy, a Chinese pancake, (once again, another reason why I’m no longer skinny) we explored the Tuapek Kong, also known as the Grand Uncle Temple and then moved on to the famous Khoo Kongsi temple, or Clan temple, the heritage jewel of Penang.  The afternoon sun was super harsh so it was difficult to get a good picture of the temple from the front, but take my word for it, it was gorgeous.  It is the largest clan temple in Penang and has a traditional theatre stage for events, a museum, and three beautiful rooms adorned with Khoo family relics and accolades.

Sunset over Balik Pulau

We took a quick stroll through the Protestant Cemetery, where Francis Light the establisher of the city of Penang is buried along with many of the prominent colonial Englishmen.  After a quick stop and getting scared out of my mind by Sin Kok at the Snake Temple, Sin Kok suggested that we drive up to see the sunset.  Everyone knows I never pass up a good sunset so I happily obliged.  It was a long drive, but definitely not something I would never have seen as a normal tourist.   We made it to the hilltop and looked over Balik Pulau and enjoyed the beauty while eating some Thai food (that is the restaurant at the top of the hill).  I love just sitting and enjoying nature and the beauty of a country that I have only just discovered.  Once again, its at these moments where I just can’t believe that I’m in Malaysia!  Its just so beautiful, amazing and new to me. 

Penang was wonderful.  I was extremely sad to leave but now I must move on to Kuala Lumpur!  I wish I had more time to explore Malaysia because I can see that it has so much more to offer.  Oh well, guess that gives me an excuse to come back!!

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!

Exploring Lang Suan

I decided to stay in Lang Suan this weekend despite my plans to head down to Krabi to do a day trip to Ko Phi Phi and a rock climbing day trip to Railay.  With only a few short weeks left here, I’ve started to think that I’ve been neglecting my home.  For the next three months or so I’m not going to have a home.  I have taken for granted the luxury of being able to come back to my own space after traveling on the weekends and the idea has started to daunt me a little bit.   Thus, I realized that there are still undiscovered gems of my temporary home that I have yet to explore.  And they’re only a short bike ride away.

Well they’re a bike ride away.

The first destination was the temple located in a cave (not really sure what the name of it is since everything in Lang Suan is not catered towards tourists and thus is completely in Thai).  We headed down the paved road past the new International School they’re building (it looks super nice, but once again the sign out front is all in Thai so we’re not exactly sure if the rumor we heard about it being an International School is true.)  We took a turn down a small dirt road and headed towards the cave.  It was one of the most beautiful bike rides I’ve taken yet!  It weaves through windy roads shaded by trees and past palm tree forests, where the only sounds I can hear are the wind blowing through the trees, my tire crunching through the gravel, and the various calls of birds and unknown insects.   Not many people venture down this road, especially farangs, so we garner weird looks from passing motorists, asking us with their eyes, “What in the world are you doing down here?!”

The temple in the cave was nothing too incredibly special, but it was perfect.  It had multiple Buddha statues and I just loved the way I felt when I was in there.  There’s just something about a sacred place located in the side of a mountain.  I closed my eyes and pictured my happiness (now I know “happiness” is not something tangible, but the feeling can be so strong sometimes that transforms into a real thing).  I pictured how happy I was at this moment, how happy I have been in Thailand.  And then I asked that my happiness continue.  That I find more things to add to my contentment.  That I never feel lost again and I can always bring myself back to this feeling I have right now.  I looked out over Lang Suan (we had to climb thirty stairs or so to get there and it gave us a great view of the town) and relished in the fact that I was there.  That this was my home for however brief a period it was.  It was my home and it still is for a few more weeks at least.

On Saturday there is a market at Paknam (the beach in Lang Suan).  Paknam is a good 7-8 km away and we usually drive (one of the Thai teachers we hang out with has a car), but today we decided to take a nice slow and long bike ride to visit the market (mostly because we couldn’t get a hold of Ta Ta).  It was a beautiful day and although it’s extremely hot, the breeze caused by riding a bike was perfect.

We arrived completely drenched in sweat, but excited to explore the market.   Our first order of business was to grab a beer, which was extremely difficult to handle as I was snapping photograph after photograph.  Of course, I was getting some baffled looks, but it’s hard to tell if it’s because I’m a farang or because I’m carrying this strangely, big camera.   Probably a little bit of both. 

I loved looking at all the food the merchants were selling.  There were lots of booths piled high with dried fish heads and who knows what else having to do with fish (this was alarmingly gross to James since he holds a strong hatred towards anything fishy).  I spotted an unrecognized crustacean and was offered a taste test in response to my confused looks.  The thing looked vile so I laughed it off, said no thank you, and bolted right out of there.   

We spotted two of our M1 students (mine was female and his was male) together perusing the aisles of the market.  We immediately assumed that they were together and excitedly gossiped about how cute it would be if they were an item.  It was one of my extremely quiet students who I loved and James seemed to approve of his student, so we decided that it was a cute match.  Around each turn we seemed to run into them again and again and with each chance run-in their embarrassment augmented.   It was so cute!

I had been craving an ice cream cone for weeks now and I happily got one on two different occasions.  I had James snap a picture of me with it and as I smiled widely holding my cone up, he remarked, “Yeah we’re doing a really good job blending in aren’t we?”  I didn’t care!  I was so excited to have cookies & cream ice cream on a cone!

All in all, we had a really fun day strolling through aisles and aisles of food, deserts, clothing and trinkets and I felt a little closer to Lang Suan!

Check out the Picture of the Day from the Saturday Market!  (and no it was not in the above gallery!)

My Inspiration

“Each day is a new canvas to paint upon. Make sure your picture is full of life and happiness, and at the end of the day you don’t look at it and wish you had painted something different.”

As many of my readers already know, I have been bit by the travel bug.  And that bug was most definitely a mosquito, because I know this bite isn’t going to go away for a long time.  I have absolutely loved traveling through Thailand and being immersed in the culture.  I have met interesting travelers, I’ve seen breathtaking beaches and historical monuments, and I’ve pushed myself farther than I ever thought I could.  I’ve learned who I used to be, who I am now, and who I have the potential of being and this is all a result of blurring the lines of my limits and taking chances.

Well, I know it won’t stop here.  My passion for photography has grown exponentially and my mind keeps racing through all the places I want to go and all the places I want to capture and share with the world.

I thank the National Geographic Website for this growing inspiration.  I have spent all my waking time these days furiously writing, photographing, reading moving articles, and gazing at unimaginable photographs.  I’ve surrounded myself with creativity so that I can stir my own and in the last couple days I have been glued to the Nat Geo website.

Reading about writer’s encounters in far off cultures and seeing pictures from places that don’t even look like they belong on this planet, have made me yearn to be there myself.  I’ve read articles about the lost nomads in India and the perils of Patagonia in southern Chile.   I’ve seen pictures of Carnival in Brazil and the unbelievable islands of Dubai.  I want to be there.  I want to capture those moments.  I want people to be looking at my photographs one day with that wandering spirit.

So, thank you National Geographic for being my muse.  For pushing me to be better and for giving me something to aspire to.

Future Travel Plans

In early March, I will be traveling to Malaysia and Singapore.  In mid-March, I will be venturing up to Northern Thailand and in April through May, I will be exploring Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam.  Hopefully, heading to Europe with a good friend in July or August for an adventure of a lifetime!