Sunday, March 31, 2013

Grand Palace and more

I came to Bangkok intending to steer clear of most of the really tourist-y attractions, and instead focus on places that my Thai friend Ploy recommended.  This included a fun art show by Thailand's most famous comedian Udom and some bars in Bangkok. However, we had to make a stop at the Grand Palace to pay our respects and learn about the royal family.
Walking in to the Grand Palace

It certainly was grand...
This was one of many temples within the Grand Palace. Rather than one building, the palace consists of many temples of various ages.

A guard stands picturesquely in front of the Grand Mansion

Everything was beautiful!

I made some new friends while walking around :)
 We walked around Khaosan road and Siam to meet up with Ploy. There was some great live music, dancing, and fun all-around :)
Notice the Wicked Sticker? Awesome!
And then a light came down from the skies
 The art show was full of Udom's creative paintings and sculptures, and he also performed his stand-up comedy routine (in Thai, so Uly and I didn't go).  He has a very strange and... let's go with "whimsical" aesthetic.

And of course, the requisite photo of me with a cute fluffy animal. I wasn't trying to eat it! I just wanted to cuddle it... and hadn't had a snack in awhile...
Next up, Uly and I are heading to Chiang Mai to explore the forests and play with tigers. Ploy only came to Bangkok for Udom's comedy show so she has to go back to Khao Lak, but we'll be adventuring around while my visa processes for India. Should be great!

Monday, March 25, 2013

Bangkok is a Zoo

Bangkok is a LOT bigger than Khao Lak. This is obvious, but still a little overwhelming after 2 months in a tiny town where I knew most people by sight. Uly and I have been adventuring around town and wandered into the Dusit Zoo, where we FED ELEPHANTS!! IT WAS AMAZING! Stay tuned for pictures of me looking absolutely ecstatic. Generally zoos make me a little sad, but this was surprisingly well maintained and I can't complain about feeding an elephant. IT WAS AWESOME.
Victory Monument, where we got off the Skytrain to catch a local bus.
 This is one of the best moments of my life. Ever.

Seriously. I teared up a little bit.
Spider monkey was feeling fiesty

Ring tailed lemur!

Asiatic black bear cooling off in the river

Hehe a hippo

The fattest lil panda doll :) no pandas at the zoo though...

A taipir! It looked like it was laughing all the time
I can't wait to see camels in India too
One of my favorite things about the zoo was the tasty concessions. They had nam thoc mu (spicy pork salad) and sticky rice for $2, a 7-11 in the park, and great coffee and ice cream, so we stayed for about 4 hours when we'd only planned to walk around for 30 minutes. Go figure!


Friday, March 22, 2013

So Long and Thanks for all the Diving

Well, Khao Lak, it's been truly wonderful - but all good things must come to an end. I've now moved on from Khao Lak on to new adventures, and it still hasn't hit me that I'm leaving behind so many wonderful friends and memories.  I lived in Khao Lak for over 4 months and met people from around the world, learned how to be a divemaster, and got my Thailand tattoo (a burn on my leg from a motorbike exhaust pipe).  It's truly been an eye-opening, life-changing, and incredibly fun experience! Here are some photos from my last days in Khao Lak:

AMAZING $3.50 crepe with berries, ice cream, whipped cream, and almonds. Breakfast?
The beach on one of my last days here. Paradise!
Hanging out with Choc, one of my fellow divemasters. Such great friends here!
After leaving Khao Lak, I did my first "visa run" to Burma to extend my visa for 15 more days.  I spent an awesome 10 minutes at the immigration station in Burma, which looked very similar to Thailand despite being a full 15 minute boat ride away. 
The slowest line. Ever.

What is this exotic boat? Oh wait, the same longtails you see all over Thailand...

The Union of Myanmar! Woah!

After Burma, I took a 9 hour overnight bus to Bangkok with my friend Uly. He is a divemaster from Sweden and was working at Wicked with me, and came to Bangkok to hang out with me and some of his friends who live there. Ploy, the woman who works at the Wicked shop, is also coming to visit in a few days so we'll have a reunion. Bangkok is... ok? I went to the US Embassy and the Indian Embassy on my first day here (coming directly off the night bus) so my first impression was chaotic, and ran into some Indian visa issues. More on that in a future blog post, since I'm still resolving it (don't worry, I'm not going to be deported and it will all work out OK... just not as smoothly as I'd thought...)

My plans are currently to stay in Thailand until April 5-6, and then on to India to see my friend Neil. Due to several misunderstandings and logistical hiccups, I've had to stay a bit longer than I planned waiting for the Indian visa to process.  However, I've decided to use that extra time to see some of Northern Thailand, so it's all working out in the end! Now I'm in Bangkok until March 27th to hang out with some friends and enjoy big city life. 

Me and my new glasses getting Japanese food. YUM!
Uly caught smiling in a photo. Egads!

You may notice half a bite is gone from the dumpling... I keep eating half my food and THEN remembering to take a photo. Heh.

Muy Thai tournament (the world championships!) held outside the Skytrain station

My mind just exploded.
A SIDENOTE: Looking back on my time in Khao Lak, I found some photos I meant to post but never had the time...  Working on liveaboards was always fun, and here are some photos from the last few liveaboards I've been on. I can't take my camera when I'm working (which has been my only diving lately), so I've relied on other cameras for my photos of the trips. It's been great and full of wonderful people and fun diving!
Our favorite fish signals
The dream team: Steve, Pit, Dani, Me, Anna, and Choc

I've also worked as a snorkel guide in the Surin Islands (as I mentioned on some previous posts), so here are photos from my snorkeling trip! I took a camera on one or two snorkels to help guests with underwater photography. What a rough job.


The water is so clear and blue. Unbelievable.

In the Surin Islands, baby black-tipped reef sharks come into the mangroves to play and hunt. I saw about 20-25 the last time I was there and took a video, but the file is too large to upload without screwing up the internet.  Oh Thailand.  I will keep trying, but in the meantime here are some photos. This is one of my favorite water-related memories from my whole time in Khao Lak - so beautiful and inspiring and incredible!
Baby black tipped reef sharks play in the mangroves :)

Saturday, March 9, 2013

5 month-iversary traveling

I just realized it's been nearly 5 months since I left for Thailand. My flight departed October 15, 2012 and it's been a wild, wonderful ride since I landed in Singapore and on to Phuket, Cambodia, and Malaysia.  To everyone who has written me emails, facebook notes, letters, and read my blog (especially my #1 reader, George), thanks for helping me keep in touch with the world back home!

Work has been a dream. I've been on a number of liveaboard trips lasting 3-6 days, and also led dives on daytrips all over the Similan and Surin Island National Marine Parks. The season is slowing down now, so I've had a few days off and can finally update this blog. Sorry for being so lazy about updating - but there's no internet at my apartment (I guess you get what you pay for, and $150/month isn't much either way), and I've been terrible at prioritizing communication with the "real world."
The M/V Camic, boat for Similan Seven Sea Club
Heading into a massive storm. Exciting!

The view on my commute home
I had to get my visa extended in Phang-nga, which is a crowded town settled in a valley of limestone cliffs. I didn't get photos of the city itself, which is pretty because of its landscape, but I did get photos of the waterfall on the way home. The hills are beautiful! It was interesting to see a different side of Thailand, where everything is about river rafting, waterfalls, and elephant trekking. I think that's actually quite common around Thailand, but I only see the diving side of tourism.

Now I'm planning my next steps after Khao Lak.  I have to go to Bangkok to get more passport pages, thereby fulfilling one of my life goals - to fill up my passport. WOO!

After that, I am planning to go to India in April to visit with +Neil Sharma, and we'll probably visit Goa, Jaipur, maybe Bangalore, and places in between. I still haven't bought my ticket so no definite plans yet, but I'll be deciding soon!  I'll try to update my blog more often as I'm adventuring, of course contingent upon good health and internet connectivity. I've been warned to eat only butter and fried food until I leave for India, since I'll probably catch some horrible illness and lost 50 pounds. Well, that gives me an excuse to eat lots of delicious Thai crispy pork...

When I come back from India, I'll travel through northern Thailand because I've still only been between Phuket and Khao Lak.  I may work a few more weeks in Khao Lak and get in a few more dives before the season is over. How quickly time flies! I still can't believe it's been almost 5 months since I left home. It feels like just yesterday, or like I've been here forever.  What a place :)