status

Lonely Beach, Lazy Beach

Back to Thailand.  Since we had already spent a few weeks in northern Thailand when we first came to Southeast Asia, and our flight back to the States was leaving from Bangkok, we planned to spend the remainder of our weeks abroad in the south of Thailand along the coast and on some islands.

Ko Chang PO box

We decided to start at Koh Chang, mostly because we were leaving Cambodia via the border crossing west of Siem Reap and we could go there directly without having to go all the way back to Bangkok to connect to other transportation.  From Siem Reap, it was a two hour minibus ride to the border town of Poipet, three hours waiting in line at the border, another six hours in a minibus crammed to the max with bodies and luggage, and an hour ferry ride.  The ferry ride was actually not what we had in mind; we wanted to spend the night in Trat and then take the ferry over to the island in the morning.  But as we approached the outskirts of Trat, our driver announced that he wasn’t stopping because if he did, the rest of the passengers would miss the last ferry to the island.   So on we went.

It was dark by the time we got to Koh Chang, and about 20 of us crammed in the back of a waiting songthaew.  The overloaded truck careened around the steep and winding jungle road that skirted the coast and somehow none bags fell off the top.  Since it was late and we didn’t have reservations, we decided to try to find a place in White Sand Beach, one of the main tourist areas.  We spent an exhausting hour wandering up and down the strip looking for a guesthouse that had rooms we would afford and… well, vacancies.  We walked past bars pumping loud music to solo white male patrons who were flanked by local girls in tight dresses and heavy makeup.

Eventually, we settled for a place a bit out of our price range that was set further back the trees.  We woke up the next morning, paid for an additional night, rented a motorbike and went in search of a cheap little bungalow far away from the lights and vibe of White Sand Beach.

Almost as soon as we took off, it started to rain.  Just a little cloudburst, but enough that the steep hills and hairpin turns might as well have been coated in ice.  After seeing the intense concentration on the local drivers’ faces and witnessing two motorbike accidents happen right in front of us, Tony decided to pull over and wait for the pavement to dry.  As we sat on the side of the road, a Russian couple slid into a slow-mo crash right next to us.  They decided to clean up their bleeding scrapes and wait it out, too.

Biking caution sign

Slick hill

After less than an hour, the roads were dry again and we were on our way.  For the next several days, we ended up trying out a few different bungalows on different beaches and exploring different areas around Koh Chang.  Tony piloted us all over the island and kept us upright at all times, even when we had both of our bags on board.

Sand road through the palms

Bang Bao pier

Lucky charm belt

National park rules

ATM truck

Klong Kloi bungalow

We eventually settled in at Lonely Beach in a row of cheapie bungalows with cold water showers and a bucket-flush toilet.  They weren’t the most picturesque and the bars next door were noisy all night but we liked the Thai staff and the food at the attached cafe.

Shoes parking

And the hammock.  The hammock was good.

Tony in the hammock

Alicia in hammock

Cafe poetry

Cafe dog

Cafe del Sunshine

Kitty

Lonely Beach

Lonely Beach swing

We borrowed a big woven mat from the cafe and spent long afternoons at the beach.  The water was as warm as the air and we were well aware of how lucky we were to be on a beach in the middle of February.  Our biggest problem was that the masks and snorkels we were renting for $1 were a little leaky and the blues bar next door was just as loud in our bungalow as when we visited in person.

Alicia at SF

Dog on stage

It is done

After much discussion over what island we should go to for the rest of the month, and what was going to be different there than laying in hammocks and drinking coconut shakes and picking up seashells, we decided we were done.  We didn’t need any more beach.  We already had that a few weeks prior in Cambodia, and we had our fill here.  We sent some emails and headed back to the mainland with a plan.  And the oldest, rustiest ferry we had ever seen carried us back.

Alicia on the ferry

Rusty ferry

01
Jun 2013
POSTED BY admin
POSTED IN

Thailand

DISCUSSION 1 Comment
status

Deserted Beaches and Cham Towers in Quy Nhon

After biking around Hoi An for a few days, we realized that it was nearly mid-January and we still hadn’t seen much of the sun since the day after Christmas. It was getting warmer as we traveled down the coast of Vietnam, but the skies were continually dark and the waves were rough. Probably to be expected since it was typhoon season in that part of the country. Nothing to do about it but keep on moving south.

Since we enjoyed being one of only a few Westerners that we saw back in Da Nang (one day we counted only five) and since we liked the atmosphere that those types of cities bring, we looked for a city on the coast that had good beaches but was smaller than Da Nang.  Quy Nhon looked about right, so we bought our bus tickets.

Here’s what Quy Nhon’s beach looked like on the Saturday afternoon that we arrived.

Deserted beach

Sunbathing isn’t exactly a national pastime here.

Rough waves

Just like the rest of the beaches we had seen in the past week, the water was too rough to swim. But that was just fine because we now had blue skies and THE SUN.

One evening while walking along the beach, we had a very nice (if lengthy) conversation with a local man who wanted to practice his English with us. Every question had the same formal preface.

“Excuse me, can you please tell me about education in your country?”

“Excuse me, can you please tell me about the economy in your country?”

“Excuse me, can you please tell me about guns in your country? Many people have been shot?”

Whoa. Those were some pretty broad and deep questions, but we worked our way through them to the best of our abilities.

Besides enjoying what was essentially our own private beach, we entertained ourselves in the evenings by walking through a night market. Western Christmas carols blared on the sound system and there were some mini carnival rides for little kids. Tony looked for a new pair of flip flops, but if you’re over size 42 (U.S. size 8.5), you are out of luck.

Reindeer spaceman ride

Paddleboats for babies

Carousel swing ride

One day, we rented a moped from our guesthouse and drove it out to see some partially restored 11th and 12th century Cham towers. Two towers were in town and the others were about 10 miles away.

Alicia on the moped

Thap Doy towers

Carving detail

Facade

Interior

Interior altar

Cham towers sunflare

Bahn It tower

Two towers on a hill

Bahn It

The groundskeeper called out to us and asked for 20,000 dong. Despite the official-looking ID hanging from his neck, we were skeptical, but he produced a booklet of tickets. We noticed that the price printed on them was only 7,000 dong and he reluctantly accepted that amount instead. Although he was being dishonest, we later felt badly that we had not simply paid what was the equivalent of an extra $1.20. He probably needed it much more than we did. Sometimes the right thing to do isn’t clear.

Groundskeeper

Bahn It facade

Bahn It facade

Lower carvings

side detail

Tower further down the hill

Silhouette

View from the top

From our vantage point on top of the hill, we spotted what looked like an interesting pagoda nearby and decided to check it out. We never figured out its name, but it looked like it was either under renovation or its construction had begun and stopped a few decades ago and is only now starting up again.

Stairway to Buddha

Buddha

Dragon

Pagoda tower

Top of pagoda tower

We started to wonder where we should go next. South, obviously, but how far? Our guesthouse had a binder full of local information and something interesting caught our eye…

21
Feb 2013
POSTED BY admin
POSTED IN

Vietnam

DISCUSSION 3 Comments
status

Beginning the New Year in Hanoi

One nice thing that came of our disorienting 29 hour hell bus ride to Hanoi, besides having new stories to tell and a certain sense of pride in having lived through it, was that we met Jay (“Boston” from the bus blog).

3 on a bike

Jay lives in Hanoi, and showed us around for a day. The three of us crammed onto his moped and he drove us past Ho Chi Minh’s mausoleum, around West Lake, and and through various neighborhoods that we probably wouldn’t have otherwise seen.

Bun cha restaurant

He took us to his favorite bún chả (say “boon-cha”) place, which ended up being our favorite dish, and looking back, this particular one was our favorite single meal in all of Vietnam. We’ll put it into our What We Ate in Vietnam compilation post later, but it’s good enough to be mentioned twice, so here is some bún chả.

Bún chả.

Fixing a bowl of bun cha

It’s fun to say, isn’t it? Bún chả. Bún chả. Bún chả! Ok, more on that later.

Went back to Jay’s apartment to check out the view from his roof and to play Scrabble.

View of West Lake

View of Hanoi

Apartment roof

Scrabble

Then back out to the Old Quarter for dinner, this time only two to a moped because Jay’s roommate, Lucca, joined us.

Jay and Lucca

And that was how we kicked off our month in Vietnam. (Thanks Jay!) Hanoi was pretty chilly and drizzly, but we really enjoyed being there. Here are some more things we saw in Hanoi (hover for a caption).

Extra special alcohol, New Day Restaurant, Old Quarter

Silk flower vendor, Old Quarter

Flower vendors' bikes, Old Quarter

Sidewalk market, Old Quarter

Street near Dong Xuan market

Toads for sale, Dong Xuan market

Rooster perching on a covered motorbike, Old Quarter

Bantam chickens, Old Quarter

Leafy green street, Old Quarter

Westlake

Porcelain vendor, Old Quarter

Shoe shop, Old Quarter

Vintage propaganda posters

Hanoi map at a sidewalk restaurant, Old Quarter

Hand carved wooden stamps, Old Quarter

Noodle makers

Ladies selling deep-fried bananas on the sidewalk, Old Quarter

Wall art, Pho Co (Hidden Cafe)

Busy street corner, northwest edge of Old Quarter

Colorful flags strung across Nguyen Huu Huan Street, Old Quarter

Peace sculpture at Hoàn Kiếm lake

Young couple posing for wedding photos at Hoàn Kiếm lake

Tony posing for photos at Hoàn Kiếm lake

Police officer taking photos of friends at Hoàn Kiếm lake

Upper wall at Hoa Lo Prison (the Hanoi Hilton)

Sculptures depicting Vietnamese imprisoned by the French at Hoa Lo Prison (the Hanoi Hilton)

Sculptures depicting Vietnamese imprisoned by the French at Hoa Lo Prison (the Hanoi Hilton)

Painted cell number at Hoa Lo Prison (the Hanoi Hilton)

Personal effects of American POWs at Hoa Lo Prison (the Hanoi Hilton)

John McCain's flight suit on display at Hoa Lo Prison (the Hanoi Hilton)

Sculptures at Bach Ma temple

Bach Ma temple courtyard

Packed sidewalk restaurant

Birds for sale, Old Quarter

Multilevel housing, Hàng Da street

Money offering, Temple of Literature

Two men smoking, Temple of Literature

Joss sticks burning on a dragon altar, Temple of Literature

Drum head detail, Temple of Literature

Roof tiles, Temple of Literature

Dragon head topiary, Temple of Literature

Rooster in a cage, next to Temple of Literature

Man resting in a green hammock, Nguyễn Thái Học street

Skateboarders at Lenin Park

Ho Chi Minh's mausoleum

Guards at Ho Chi Minh's mansion

Train tracks through a neighborhood

Exploring Hanoi was a great way to start 2013! Tết, the start of the Vietnamese new year, is a much bigger deal than the calendar new year, and it doesn’t happen until February this year. As for actual New Year’s Eve… we had drinks at a rooftop cafe overlooking Hoàn Kiếm lake and waited for fireworks that were rumored, but never happened. We shared a table with a couple from Alaska, traded travel stories and went to bed happy.

New Year's Eve in Hanoi

2013 floral arrangement, Temple of Literature

07
Feb 2013
POSTED BY admin
POSTED IN

Vietnam

DISCUSSION 1 Comment
status

Motorbiking in Mae Hong Son Province

A man and his dog

North of Chiang Mai, there is a town called Pai. Apparently the journey to Pai used to take seven days by elephant before the road was built through the mountains a few decades ago. Now it takes three hours by minibus and either a strong stomach or motion sickness pills.

Pai walking street

Pai is full of backpackers and Thai tourists, rickety bungalows and boutiques and street stalls full of quirky, self-congratulatory souvenirs that proclaim the number of curves in the road one has endured to get there (762). There are unique caricature artists, and even some guy who runs around in full Jack Sparrow costume and sells postcards of himself. Not exactly a quiet place to escape to, but it’s an easy area to enjoy life.

Alicia and Satiya

Satiya's caricature of us

Little kitty at our bungalow

bungalows

tea vendors in Pai

Pai is also in the foothills of the Himalayas in the Mae Hong Son Province, which is considered one of the very best places in the world to motorcycle. A 125cc moped isn’t exactly a motorcycle, but you can rent them in Pai for less than $5 per day, so we decided to go for it. For several days, Tony drove us all over the valley, through villages, to the waterfalls, and down the rough gravel road up to the “secret” hot springs that is still in use as a village bath.

helmets

Pai Canyon

Sketchy bridge

Pam Bok waterfall

Harvested rice field near Pam Bok waterfall

Rapeseed field

Harvested rice field near Pai

Tony sliding down Mor Paeng waterfall

secret hot springs

Alicia at secret hot springs

On our last full day in Thailand, we decided to head about 40 km north to see Tham Lod, a large cave hear the Myanmar (Burma) border. We got a late start and the road wound tightly up and down the mountains. By the time we got to our destination, we realized we needed to turn right around if we wanted to make it back to Pai before dark. Then we passed a sign for Cave Lodge, which we remembered had been highly recommended to us by Kevin. We decided that the best thing to do would be to stay and see Tham Lod, spend the night at Cave Lodge, and then go back first thing in the morning.

Cave Lodge parking lot

Cave Lodge hammock

We hiked out to where the river exits Tham Lod, and got there just in time to watch thousands of swifts making their nightly return to cave at dusk.

Tham Lod

Swifts entering Tham Lod

This was the first time all year that our headlamps were really necessary, because we walked the trail back to Cave Lodge in the dark. We noticed what looked to be glittering dew all over the ground, but upon closer inspection, it was our lights reflecting in the eyeballs of every spider in the jungle. Jungles have lots of spiders.

spider in a cave

We were disappointed that we hadn’t carved out more time to spend up here, but were really thankful for our short taste of a pretty amazing place.

We woke up early the next morning and realized that while our decision to spend the night had given us the safety of traveling in daylight, we had sacrificed the heat of the day for it. Tony was wearing only a light shirt and shorts and it was a gray and damp morning and there was a mountain between us and the rising sun. But soon we were rewarded by amazing views of the mists in the valley below.

First view of the mists from above

hairpin curve in the road

Lone tree

tree - looking east

Lisu girl silhouette

By the time we made it to the top of the mountain we were nearly frozen solid and sprung for hot cups of instant noodles from the tourist concession stand. Some Lisu girls, who hang out at the scenic overlook to pose for photos in exchange for tips, were also eating their breakfast before they began their day.

Tony and the Lisu girls

slurp

The soup warmed us enough to continue and most of the rest of the way to Pai was in sunlight.

Burma is somewhere over there

Tony at the top of the mountain

reflection

We had to return the moped and leave for Laos that evening, but we’ll be looking for excuses to ride again soon.

28
Dec 2012
POSTED BY admin
POSTED IN

Thailand

DISCUSSION 5 Comments