The Wave

Australia 8 Comments »

The Wave is something that will ring a bell for anyone who has ever driven in the Australian countryside.  If you find yourself driving in Australia a few kilometers outside any country town or 50-100 kilometers from one of the capital cities, you’ll see oncoming drivers (and sometimes passengers) signal some kind of greeting as vehicles pass.  Traveling through the southern Kimberley and Pilbara regions of Western Australia we’ve endured almost 2000 kilometers of open expanse with little more than Spinifex, ferrous red dirt, the occasional boulder and a lot of blue sky so to keep ourselves occupied we thought we catalogue all the different types of The Wave one can expect to see (and we’ve seen) traveling this wonderful land Down Under.

All of the following examples of The Wave can be practiced with either hand by the driver or passenger (or both) with the exception of The Late-Comer which is a driver-only gesture that must be performed with the right hand (remember the steering wheel is on the right of the car in Australia…).

The SingleThe Single
The Single is the easiest and hence most common example of The Wave.  It is performed by simply lifting the index finger from the steering wheel to salute an oncoming vehicle.

The Gun The Gun
A far less common version of The Wave but one guaranteed to excite the vehicular environment is The Gun.  Executed by removing either hand from the wheel and forming a gun-like shape with the index finger extended, gesturing as if cocking a pistol when the oncoming vehicle is at close range.
The Double The Double
A logical progression from The Single, The Double is performed by lifting both index and middle fingers from the steering wheel.
The Double Barrel The Double Barrel
As with The Double and The Single, The Double Barrel is the logical progression from The Gun.  Mirror the action of The Gun and simply add the middle finger to the gun-like shape formed with the hand.
The Quad The Quad
Getting interesting now…  The Quad takes The Double a couple of steps further to extend all four fingers of the hand in the most visible version of The Wave possible without removing a hand from the steering wheel.
The Double Gun The Double Gun
The Double Gun is one of the most complex versions of The Wave that should only be attempted by experienced Wavers.  The Double Gun should only be performed on straight roads with large shoulders and never in the presence of traffic.  The Double Gun involves removing both hands from the steering wheel simultaneously and executing The Gun at the same time with both hands.  (We have only ever seen The Double Gun once, and what a fantastic demonstration it was: a couple of bushies in the northern Pilbara caught us off guard when both driver and passenger blew us away with synchronized Double Guns.)
The Universal The Universal
Recognized the world over as a conventional manner in which to say hello, The Universal involves removing a hand from the steering wheel and simply waving.
The Queen The Queen
Another advanced version of The Wave, The Queen involves removing the left hand from the steering wheel and, with all digits pointing upwards, slowly moving the hand across the windscreen in a circular, counter-clockwise direction (for the right hand use a circular, clockwise motion).  Imagine yourself as Queen Elizabeth waving to the crowds at Buckingham Palace and you’ll have it perfected quickly.  (The Queen is also a gesture we’ve only been fortunate enough to witness once: an excellent demonstration by an elderly woman in the passenger seat of a brand new LandCruiser traversing the central Stuart Highway.)
The Thumb The Thumb
While The Thumb could be interpreted as an offensive gesture in some of the countries we’ve visited on this trip, in the Australian Outback The Thumb is a quick and easy way to signal hello and that everything is AOK.  The Thumb is performed by removing a hand from the steering wheel and extending the thumb upwards while keeping a clenched fist.
The Salute The Salute
As the name suggests, The Salute is performed by saluting an oncoming vehicle as if standing in a lineup at Duntroon.  The Salute is the most formal example of The Wave and, to prevent detracting from the light-hearted nature of The Wave in general, should be reserved for ex-military and current servicemen only.
The Late-Comer The Late-Comer
A personal favorite of ours and the only hand-specific example of The Wave, The Late-Comer can only be performed by the driver.  Upon realizing that as the driver you have not returned The Wave from an oncoming vehicle, The Late-Comer is a hasty right-handed gesture toward the rear of the driver’s side window executed with the hope that either the passing car will witness your reciprocal Wave at the last minute or that your late Wave will be seen in the initiator’s side mirror.  The Late-Comer should be reserved for only those occasions in which The Wave of an oncoming vehicle has not been reciprocated.
 
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Karijini National Park

Australia, Western Australia 2 Comments »
Planet View: S22°27.994′ E118°33.428′
Street View: S22°27.994′ E118°33.428′

Maximum Temperature: 42°C (108°F)

The ferns and waterfall surrounding Circular Pool in Dales GorgeLisa tackling the Spider Walk in Hancock GorgeSam using the rope to get down to Handrail PoolOne of Western Australia’s most famous National Parks, we were both looking forward to exploring the gorges and swimming holes of Karijini.  Karijini’s located almost 300 kilometers inland from Port Hedland, it’s extremely arid country in the central Pilbara without a hint of water or vegetation other than desert grasses.  Karijini’s gorges are fed by permanent springs, making Knox GorgePilbara wildflowers on the hike into Knox Gorgefor beautiful waterfalls and turquoise swimming holes in the middle of the desert, as well as some strenuous hiking and clambering through the narrow Fortescue Fallscanyons created by water trickling over millions of years.  In all there are seven gorges in Karijini one can explore without needing any kind of rock-climbing certification.  All of the hikes are graded by the Department of Environment and Conservation, difficulties ranging between class two and six.  A class six requires abseiling and rock-climbing and cannot be attempted without some form of nationally recognized accreditation to abseil and climb on natural surfaces (not us!).  A number of the gorges become progressively harder to navigate, eventually turning into class six treks, these we walked (or clambered!) as far as we could and then turned back.  We explored six of Karijini’s gorges during our time in the area, stopping for a swim in all but Joffre and Kalamina gorges (the water there was a little stagnant).  On the day we explored five of the gorges we had hiked almost 10 kilometers by the end of it all; not too far given some of our other adventures but considering that we had to walk down and up the face of each gorge, each of which was between 200 and 300 feet deep, our thighs were pretty shot by the end of the day.  We’re glad we had the opportunity to explore the spectacular gorges as both of us agreed that in 20 or 30 years we doubt we’d be able to clamber through a lot of the tighter sections of Karijini’s canyons…

View of Dales Gorge from the trailhead to Fortescue FallsSwimming in Fern Pool in Dales GorgeLisa relaxing in the pool at the base of Fortescue FallsFortescue Falls Panorama of Dales Gorge in the afternoon sun Panorama of Dales Gorge in the afternoon sunThe ferns and waterfall surrounding Circular Pool in Dales GorgeCircular Pool Lisa favorite spot in my birthday presentA morning walk along Kalamina GorgeA morning walk along Kalamina Gorge Sam making his way through the striking canyons of Weano GorgeLisa making her way down Weano GorgeWeano GorgeWeano Gorge Lisa swimming in a large pool in Weano Gorge just before the trail turned to class sixWater trickling down to Weano Gorge's Handrail PoolHancock GorgeHancock Gorge Lisa tackling the Spider Walk in Hancock GorgeJoffre GorgeJoffre GorgeJoffre Falls Lisa clambering out of Joffre GorgePilbara wildflowers on the hike into Knox GorgeThe barren landscape around the rim of Knox Gorge Pilbara wildflowers on the hike into Knox GorgeKnox GorgeOur camping spot near Weano Gorge A huge rock garden built over time by hikers in Knox GorgeKnox GorgeThe swimming hole at the end of the hike down Knox Gorge

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Gallery: Indonesia

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Indonesia

Shots from our quick trip to Jakarta to visit Sam's cousin Sophie and her boyfriend Richie during October, 2009.

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Jakarta

Indonesia 4 Comments »
Planet View: S06°17.027′ E106°47.461′
Street View: S06°17.027′ E106°47.461′

The unbelievable lamb roast that Richie had waiting for us on arrival from the airportSoutheast AsiaOur last stop on our tour of Southeast Asia was Jakarta.  My cousin Sophie and her boyfriend Richie live in South Jakarta, she works as an English teacher for the Wall Street Institute and he as an administrator for an offshore oil drilling rig.  After braving the chaotic Jakartan traffic with Richie’s driver at the wheel we were welcomed to Sophie and Richie’s apartment at Hotel Kristal with the smell of a slow-cooked Aussie lamb roast for dinner.  The food in Southeast Asia was one of the highlights for me, but a lamb roast to welcome us to Jakarta sure The view over southern Jakarta from Richie and Sophie's apartment in Hotel Kristalhit the spot!  After backpacking through the rest of Southeast Asia on a pretty conservative budget it was a bit of a change to experience a few days of the expat lifestyle in Jakarta.  With the severe lack of public transport and city planning  in Jakarta I’d hate to think how one would get around without a dedicated vehicle.  Traffic in Jakarta gives a whole new meaning to the world, with 15 million people, little city planning, cheap fuel and low taxes on vehicles the cluster of chaotic traffic was like nothing we’d ever seen.  It took us two-and-a-half hours to traverse the city for our flight out on Tuesday, we seriously thought we were going to miss our plane when at one point we’d moved about three kilometers in the space of an hour!

The pool at Hotel KristalRichie and Sophie's apartment in Hotel KristalRichie and Sophie's apartment in Hotel KristalSam and Lisa in Richie and Sophie's apartment 

Cafe BataviaOld BataviaSophie put a lot of work into planning out our few days in Jakarta, after recovering from overconsumption of lamb the night before we traversed the city from South Jakarta past the National Monument and visited Grand Indonesia, Jakarta’s largest shopping mall.  Not quite as opulent as Orchard Road in Singapore but still brimming with designer labels and a theme park-like top two floors with a Vegas-style water show every hour on the hour.  Sophie also took the four of us up to Old Lisa and Sam enjoying a traditional Indonesia meal at Dapur SundaBatavia (or Kota as it’s now officially called) for a taste of old Dutch Jakarta, once considered the center of commerce for the whole country when under Dutch rule.  We were the only westerners in the square of Old Batavia and upon arrival were instantly swarmed by throngs of teenagers wanting to take photos with us and a few even interviewed Lisa for their school projects.  Rock stars for a few moments…  Lunch at Cafe Batavia was a journey back in time, the restaurant is located in one of Old Batavia’s historic buildings and is set in early nineteenth century style.  The Churchill Bar upstairs was quite impressive, the whole place was very well done.  We spent the afternoon cooling off at Indonesia’s largest water park, Waterbom, a collection of eight huge waterslides a short drive from Old Batavia.  We all enjoyed the group slide the most, requiring us to squeeze into a large inner-tube-like flotation device and haul down an oversized slippery dip into the pool below.  As Indonesia is a Muslim country Sophie and Lisa tried to be respectful by wearing shorts and t-shirts over their bikinis but for some reason the Waterbom attendants kept making them take off their t-shirts before each slide, to the obvious surprise of some of the other local female sliders!

Jakarta's National MonumentSophie and Sam in the car on the way to KotaThe Grand Indonesia mallThe Grand Indonesia mall Sophie and Lisa at Grand Indonesia mallOld BataviaOld Batavia Old BataviaLisa being interviewed for school projects in Old BataviaRichie and Sam taking photos with the locals at Old BataviaSam taking photos with the locals at Old Batavia Sam taking photos with the locals at Old BataviaLisa being interviewed at Old BataviaCafe BataviaCafe Batavia Lisa holding the menu at Cafe BataviaRichie, Sophie, Lisa and Sam at Cafe BataviaOld BataviaOld Batavia The port north of Old BataviaRichie, Sophie and Lisa at the port north of Old BataviaLisa and Richie at the port north of Old BataviaLisa and Sophie at the port north of Old Batavia 

Some of the slums alongside the highway in northern JakartaA dormant Amorphophallus Titanum We spent our other full day on Java with a trip to the south of Jakarta to the mountain town of Bogor.  Bogor’s main attraction is its extensive botanic gardens, home to one of the world’s largest flowers Amorphophallus Titanum.  The plant (the unexceptional looking green leafy specimen pictured here) flowers only once every two to three years.  The flower itself can reach 3.5 meters in height, weigh up to 200 kilograms (440 pounds) and smells like rotting flesh to attract pollinating flies!  Unfortunately no flowers during our visit… 

Lisa and Sophie in the Bogor Botanic GardensLisa and Sophie on the Hanging Bridge in the Bogor Botanic GardensLisa and Sophie on the Hanging Bridge in the Bogor Botanic GardensLisa and Sam on the Hanging Bridge at the Bogor Botanic Gardens 

From Jakarta its back to Australia to pick up The Tank and then continue our journey down the coast of Western Australia.  I think we’re both going to sorely miss the exotic foods of Southeast Asia, the cheaper-than-cheap street stalls provided us with an amazing range of tasty cuisine to sample.  My favorite places in Southeast Asia would probably have to be Ko Tao and its amazing diving as well as the tranquil surrounds of Laos’ Luang Prabang, Lisa’s with me on Luang Prabang and also really enjoyed the cultural experience of Sapa.  Thank you Sophie and Richie for such a fantastic conclusion to our nearly two months in Southeast Asia!  Next time we’ll have to drop in on Bali and maybe Borneo as well.

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Gallery: Singapore

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Singapore

A collection of photos from our time in Singapore during October, 2009.

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Singapore

Singapore 3 Comments »
Planet View: N01°18.276′ E103°51.205′
Street View: N01°18.276′ E103°51.205′

View of downtown Singapore from Raffles QuayOnly an hour plane ride from Phuket and what a different world.  Singapore exudes prosperity, order and cleanliness, a stark contrast to almost all of the other places we’ve visited in Southeast Asia.  The place runs like clockwork, the public transport system made getting around the island so straightforward and being able to drink the tap water for the first time in six weeks was definitely a welcome change.  But all the niceties of the western world come with a price, a rude shock upon arriving was realizing we were going to have to fork out about 8X what we’d become used to paying for a hotel room elsewhere in Asia!  We stopped in Singapore for a few days to catch up with some of the guys I used to work with when I’d manage to score the Asian shift back in San Francisco, as well as re-connecting with friends from Berkeley who have found themselves working Our tiny toom at the Perak Hotel in Little Indiahere in the centre of the Asian capital markets.  It seems no expense is spared in Singapore: the three towers to the right of the photo here are the new MGM Grand Singapore casino and hotel complex, the land on which it is being built was purchased from neighboring Indonesia and Malaysia, shipped in and then anchored to the sea floor to form the base for the new mega-complex!  It’s a little hard to see in this photo, taken from the top of one of the skyscrapers at Raffles Quay, but there were hundreds of cargo ships lined up in the ocean to the right, all vying for a berth at the world’s busiest port.  Like something out of a movie…

View of downtown Singapore from Raffles QuayDowntown Singapore by nightThe MGM Grand Singapore under construction Sam and Phil WoodsDowntown SingaporeSuntec CityLots of nice cars in Singapore: Lisa next to a Ferrari 575M Maranello

The Singapore subway (MRT) Don't put a foot wrong in Singapore The city centre is like a who’s who of Wall Street, investment banks line the streets and everything from Maseratis to Aston Martins roared out of the parking lots of the large skyscrapers at the end of each business day.  It’s possible to walk almost the entire area of the city centre underground, the subways and buildings are connected by a mind-boggling maze of swish underground passageways lined with stores ranging from 7-Eleven to local bakeries.  You don’t want to put a foot wrong in Singapore, heavy fines are dealt out by mostly plainclothes policeman for breaking the law.  J-walking, spitting gum and smoking on the subway are just a few of the infractions that result in a ticket.  You can buy anything you want in Old-world Singaporean houses on Emerald HillIon on Orchard RoadSingapore…and I really  mean anything.  Fast food, local cuisine, any brand you can think of will have an outlet in Singapore.  The main shopping area lines the sides of Orchard Road, a short train ride from the city centre.  The malls on Orchard Road are like nothing we’d ever seen before: luxurious, perfume-scented mazes of any and all upscale brands one can imagine.  New York, Paris, San Francisco fuggedaboutit, this place is a whole new kind of shopping experience.  We’d almost swear that some of the malls are designed like Vegas casinos: easy to get lost with no exit signs!  All the brands seem to have their own stores rather than being commingled together in department stores: Bally, Louis Vuitton, Rolex, Omega, Prada, Burberry, you name it…  I can think of a few of Lisa’s friends who would do some serious damage to their bank accounts with a trip to Orchard Road (Annie, Connie and Cheryl that means you!).  Even though our backpacks didn’t really have room for any more merchandise after all our purchases in the rest of Southeast Asia a trip down Orchard Road was worth the experience of just seeing everything on offer.  An amazing place…

 Ion on Orchard RoadThe Bally store at Ion on Orchard RoadThe food court at Ion on Orchard RoadIon on Orchard Road 

The Singapore Zoo: ChimpanzeeThe Singapore Zoo: Iguana The Singapore Zoo: Lisa getting close and personal with a couple of Lemurs in the Fragile Forest walk-through exhibit Almost everyone who has visited or lived in Singapore recommended us visit the Singapore Zoo.  Given its location in the tropics the zoo is able to show an amazing number of exotic animals in their natural habitat.  Some of the specimens were housed in walk-through exhibits: large open-air cages through which we were able to walk and interact with the animals.  Our favorite was probably the rainforest exhibit where we got very up close and personal with lemurs and tree kangaroos (pictured here to the right).  The zoo’s designed with an open-air concept, most of the animals are housed very humanely in large enclosures and the zoo has a surprising number of successful breeding programs in place (including the world’s first polar bear born in captivity).  The chimp pictured here had our attention for quite some time, a very playful little fellow who was fond of displaying his personal grooming to the crowd!

The Singapore Zoo: Scarlet MacawThe Singapore Zoo: FlamingosThe Singapore Zoo: Orangutan mother and babyThe Singapore Zoo: Orangutan baby The Singapore Zoo: OrangutansThe Singapore Zoo: OrangutanThe Singapore Zoo: OrangutanThe Singapore Zoo: Lisa walking between exhibits The Singapore Zoo: Crested MacaqueThe Singapore Zoo: CassowaryThe Singapore Zoo: Capuchin MonkeyThe Singapore Zoo: a native Singaporean water monitor found its way into one of the monkey exhibits The Singapore Zoo: Hamadryas BaboonsThe Singapore Zoo: a mother lets a baby Hamadryas Baboon know which way its goingThe Singapore Zoo: the Hamadryas Baboons viewing platform The Singapore Zoo: Hamadryas BaboonThe Singapore Zoo: Hamadryas BaboonThe Singapore Zoo: White TigerThe Singapore Zoo The Singapore Zoo: one of the free-ranging Cottontop TamarinsThe Singapore ZooThe Singapore Zoo: Maned WolfThe Singapore Zoo: White Rhino The Singapore Zoo: Fragile Forest The Singapore Zoo: ZebraThe Singapore Zoo: SuricateThe Singapore Zoo: LionThe Singapore Zoo: Lion The Singapore Zoo: LionThe Singapore Zoo: Lisa being followed by an Iguana in one of the free-ranging reptile exhibitsThe Singapore Zoo: IguanaThe Singapore Zoo: Komodo Dragon The Singapore Zoo: Komodo DragonThe Singapore Zoo: Giant TortoiseThe Singapore Zoo: Giant TortoiseThe Singapore Zoo: Chimpanzee The Singapore Zoo: ChimpanzeeThe Singapore ZooThe Singapore Zoo: LemurThe Singapore Zoo: Fragile Forest

Making naan bread on the streets of Little IndiaLittle IndiaThe Mustafa CentreLittle India, where we stayed, was a bustling, culture-rich borough of Singapore full of authentic Indian restaurants and storefronts selling everything from second-hand hard drives to fresh samosas.  The smell of Indian food just walking through the streets made us hungry every time we took a stroll.  One area of Little India that was particularly eye-opening was the Mustafa Centre: an Indian-style department store covering two city blocks with six floors filled with anything one could think of buying.  Fresh fruit and vegetables, a hardware store, cosmetics, electronics, gold jewelry…  We got a little claustrophobic after about 20 minutes!  Mustafa supposedly flies in jumbo jets full of fresh products from India every three days to supply the store and whose personal wealth is so great that he runs a currency exchange boasting tighter spreads than most of the major banks in Asia.

The Mustafa CentreThe Mustafa CentreThe Mustafa CentreThe Mustafa Centre Little IndiaLunch on the floor in Little IndiaLunch on the floor in Little IndiaDeepavali Festival in Little India

Sam and the Red Dot BrewhouseLisa at the Red Dot BrewhouseScrumptious Indian food at Samy's CurryThe best Indian food we sampled in Singapore (and probably the best Indian food I’ve ever eaten) was not in Little India but at a curry house on Dempsey Hill called Samy’s Curry.  An ex-colleague of mine met us at the adjacent Red Dot Brewhouse for a few beers Lisa at the Red Dot BrewhouseSam, Lisa and Vivekbefore taking us to dinner at Samy’s, the food was served in traditional Indian style on a piece of banana leaf.  An amazing meal, I will forever The Berkeley Club gathering at Loofcompare Indian food to my dinner at Samy’s.  Thanks Mike!  After Samy’s we made it back to the city centre for the monthly meeting of the Berkeley Club where I met up with a mate from Cal and shared a few beers at Loof’s picturesque rooftop bar.  The The slightly un-PC bar called Clinic in Clarke Quaynext night we met up with a group of alumni from various classes of the Berkeley MFE, after which Vivek took us to Singapore’s premier night location at Clarke Quay.  Clarke Quay reminded us both of Vegas, an undercover menagerie of themed bars and eateries absolutely packed to the brim with people from all over the world.  One bar that stood out (and made my eyebrow raise a little at its theme) was a bar called The Clinic: patrons are seated in wheelchairs and have their drinks served in bags hanging on a pole to resemble an intravenous drip (picture to the left)!  The only place I know of where you can order a Sex-On-A-Drip as your cocktail…

Sam at dinner with Vivek, Xiao and some other MFE alumniSam and Lisa out for a late night in Clarke QuayLisa in Clarke QuayVivek and Lisa in Clarke Quay Singapore's Clarke QuaySingapore's Clarke QuaySingapore's Clarke Quay

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Gallery: Thailand

Galleries, Thailand Comments Off on Gallery: Thailand
Thailand

A gallery of the photos we took whilst traveling through Thailand during September and October, 2009. The gallery includes photos from Bangkok, Ko Tao and Phuket.

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Phuket

Thailand 5 Comments »
Planet View: N7°53.436′ E98°18.230′
Street View: N7°53.436′ E98°18.230′

A road sign we typically wouldn't see in San Francisco...Ao Karon (Karon Beach)A marathon 14 hour trek from Ko Tao took us via Ko Phangan, Ko Samui and Suratthani to the Adaman Coast and Thailand’s largest island of Phuket (I want to remember the modes of transport we used so I’m going to jot them down here: tuk-tuk, high-speed catamaran, mini-bus, car ferry, bus, car, mini-bus, taxi [in that order]).  Phuket is separated from the mainland by a thin stretch of water and linked by a permanent bridge.  The island is quite large, at 533 square kilometers (206 square miles) Phuket covers about the same area as Singapore.  The island’s main beaches are all located on the west coast, a collection of white sandy retreats next to the turquoise waters of the Adaman Sea backed by mountainous tropical jungle.  Thoughtless overdevelopment of many of the island’s beaches have rendered them nothing more than expensive package holiday destinations that retain little, if any, of their traditional Thai culture.  That said, there were plenty of out-of-the way beaches we found while touring the island on our little moped and a plethora of local eateries that continued to wow our taste buds.

Ao Karon (Karon Beach)Ao Kata (Kata Beach)Ao Kata (Kata Beach)

Sam on the little moped we rented for our time in PhuketOur room at Siam HotelSam playing Jenga at one of the bars in Ao PatongWe spent all but two of our nights in Phuket at a fantastic little hotel in Ao Patong called the Siam Hotel.  With the largest and one of the cleanest rooms we’ve had throughout Southeast Asia as well as an AC and TV, at 500 Baht (around $USD15) a night we couldn’t have asked for more.  Centrally located in the tourist mecca of Ao Patong (Patong Beach) we were a short moped ride from Phuket Town as well as some of the nicer west coast beaches.  Ao Patong could have been one of the seedier Bangkok nightlife areas transplanted to the west coast of Phuket: the endless go-go girl bars and steamy drinking holes offering discount beers wasn’t really our scene but the place was definitely popular with a lot of the western tourists visiting the island.  The bars off the main strip closer to our hotel were more up our alley, we thought of how much all of Lisa’s college friends (especially you Andi Biaggi!) would enjoy them as they all provide patrons with free games ranging from cards through eight ball, dice and even Jenga.

Sam's favorite little fried chicken stand near our hotel (so good!)The little stand where Sam stopped each morning for an iced coffeeThe night market near our hotel in Ao Patong where we ate on many nights whilst in Phuket

Southeast Asia Lisa next to our moped on the way to Bang Pae WaterfallIMG_2571October is still the monsoon season on Thailand’s west coast, almost every day at around noon we were forced to find shelter to avoid the torrential downpours typical of the season in Phuket.  Even though this did hamper our exploration of the island a little it was a good excuse to stop at the nearest local eatery to wait out the showers, which usually didn’t last for more than an hour.  The photo below left was taken on our way to Bang Pae Waterfall and the adjacent Gibbon A torrential downpour we escaped in a roadside eatery (which happened to have the best BBQ chicken Lisa tried anywhere in Southeast Asia)Rehabilitation Centre, we just escaped the downpour and ended up waiting out the storm at a local eatery that served the best BBQ chicken Lisa had tasted anywhere in Southeast Asia.  We did get caught out by the rain one day: we were exploring the northern end of the island when, 27 kilometers from our hotel, we were caught in the heaviest rain either of has ever experienced.  By the time we The fantastic secluded beach just below Laem Promthep (Cape Promthep) at the southern tip of Phuketmade it back to our hotel almost an hour later there wasn’t a single piece of clothing on either of us that wasn’t wet.  Luckily we were in our swimming gear after a morning at Ao Surin (Surin Beach), a relatively undeveloped and secluded spot on the northwest coast with enough of a swell for some fun Lisa in the water at the beach just below Laem Promthep (Cape Promthep) at the southern tip of Phuketbodysurfing.  One of our favorite swimming spots on the island was a small, secluded beach at the very southern tip of the island below Laem Promthep (beach pictured here).  The day we were there only a few other people shared the spot with us and we found some fantastic reefs to explore with our snorkels a short swim off the beach.  We had originally planned to only spend a few days in Phuket and then move on to Ko Phi Phi (one of Thailand’s most famous island destinations and also the filming location of the movie The Beach) but with the wet weather and the wealth of different locations to explore on Phuket we instead decided to stay for almost a week.

Lisa taking a rest next to our moped on our ride along the northwest coast of PhuketLisa amongst the hundreds of elephants at Laem Promthep (Cape Promthep)View from Laem Promthep (Cape Promthep) at the southern tip of PhuketTypical lunch fare for us whilst on Phuket: spicy papaya salad, BBQ chicken, sticky rice and fresh greens Hat KamalaLong boats near Hat Rawai at the southern end of PhuketThe fun surfing beach of Hat Surin  

Lisa's Thai medical card after a visit to the hospital Central Phuket TownWe’d had a pretty good run with food in Southeast Asia, Lisa’s sensitive stomach had been handling all the new flavors and spices well even though the majority of our food has come from street carts.  We had our first bit of culinary bad luck in Phuket though, Lisa was stricken with a sleepless night and quite a bit of gastrointestinal pain due to some undercooked chicken off a food stall at Surin Beach (we think that’s what it was because it was the only Rice of all kinds for sale in the old section of Phuket Townpiece of food I didn’t eat that day).  We made a trip to Patong Hospital on Sunday morning to get it sorted out and indeed the doctor diagnosed her with gastroenteritis, prescribing a batch of medicine to help her through it and advising to stay away from spicy food for a few days.  We were a little worried that her symptoms were similar to those stemming from a malarial infection so were glad to be able to see a doctor quickly…  It took her a couple of days to get over the bug, luckily we had a nice hotel room in which she could wait out the ailment.  I left Lisa watching movies in our room for a few hours at time while exploring some sections of the island closer to Ao Patong.  Phuket Town was a quick 10 kilometer ride over the mountains from our hotel, its distance Store fronts in the old section of Phuket TownA monk walking the streets of Phuket Townfrom the beaches means that it’s almost completely devoid of tourists and a good way to experience some of the local culture.  The markets were more targeted toward Thai people coming in to do their day-to-day shopping rather than the tourist markets we’ve seen elsewhere in Thailand.  The food stalls were great, so much on offer, most of which I’d never seen before and had no idea of its composition!

 One of the many gold merchant's in Phuket TownOne of the many food stalls lining the streets in the old section of Phuket TownSome spicy-looking food at one of the stalls lining the streets in the old section of Phuket Town

Phuket spells the end of our journey through Thailand and the bulk of our travels through Southeast Asia.  I think we’ll both definitely be yearning for more of the fantastic food we’ve had in the four countries we visited (although Lisa maybe a little less so after her gastroenteritis in Phuket!), and I’ll definitely miss the morning iced coffees I’ve become used to.  Next: Singapore.

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Ko Tao

Thailand 7 Comments »
Planet View: N10°06.196′ E99°49.678′
Street View: N10°06.196′ E99°49.678′

Temperature: 27-33°C (81-91°F)

Water Temperature: 29°C (85°F)

Mae Haad VillageSunset over Sairee BeachSairee Beach 

Coral Grand ResortCoral Grand ResortLisa walking up the steps from the beach at Cape Jeda GangDeparting the bustling big city of Bangkok we were excited to finally be on our way to a tropical island with some turquoise water and white sandy beaches.  We left Bangkok around 9:00PM on an overnight bus to the town of Chumpon, where we arrived at 5:00AM and had to wait two Taa Tah BayOur snorkeling spot at Cape Jeda Ganghours before departing on a one-and-a-half hour catamaran to the island of Ko Tao.  Needless to Lisa snorkeling at Cape Jeda Gang with Ko Phangan in the distancesay, we didn’t get much sleep over the course of this long slog but made it and were thrilled to go for a swim and snorkel as soon as we dropped our bags in our room.  The first full day we had on the island we hired a scooter (with knobby tires) and went exploring.  Let’s just say I was very relieved that Sam is good on a mountain bike because navigating up and down some of the dirt roads was quite technical.  We ventured to the very south end of the island to take in the views over Freedom Beach and then made our way out to Cape Jeda Gang, a recommended snorkeling spot.  It was a bit of an adventure getting there with the roads having been washed from the recent rains as well as a few wrong turns we made along the way.  At one point it started raining so hard we stopped and took shelter under a little shed housing building materials!  The snorkeling spot was worth the effort though, a huge open bay that was full of beautiful coral and plenty of fish.  The sky stayed clear while we snorkeled but on the way back the weather made a quick change and decided to pour.  Zooming through the wet streets we were soaked by the time we returned to our room but thrilled with our adventurous day.

Sam and the rest of his group during an afternoon in the poolSam and the rest of his group during an afternoon in the poolSam loves diving but has never ‘officially’ been certified to SCUBA dive.  He signed up for a four day intensive PADI course which included four dives at various locations around Ko Tao.  Being that I’m a big chicken and afraid to be Looking back over Sairee Beach from Two Viewtrapped underwater I opted to stick with snorkeling, maybe some day I’ll overcome my fear.  On the first day of his course Sam was paired up with Lisa at the tea house at Two View lookoutFlowers on the hike to Two ViewAndrew from Montana, of all places.  Andrew was in Ko Tao with his  girlfriend MeiLi, originally from Hawaii but now living in Beijing.  While the The tea house at Two View lookoutguys were in their course MeiLi and I road her scooter to explore more of the island.  We hiked up a very steep hill while sweat streamed down our faces to a beautiful lookout called Two View.  The name says it all, you could see both sides of the island during the course of the hike.  At the top of the mountain we stopped off for a refreshing cup of mint tea at a little hut where the proprietor, Sak, and his wife live.  Sak is a very mellow Thai that over the last 30 years has hosted many westerners seeking a calm, quiet place to practice yoga and meditation.  That evening we went out for some beers and dinner with a group from Sam’s dive class: a couple on their honeymoon from Toronto, Nada and Greg, as well as MeiLi and Andrew.  We had a great time exchanging travel stories and sharing some flavorful Thai dishes.     

Taxi to the dive boat one afternoonBoats in the harbor at Mae Haad VillageView north of Ko Tao from the harbor at Mae Haad VillageThe private enclave of Nang Yuan Island Boats in the harbor at Mae Haad VillageThe private enclave of Nang Yuan IslandLuxury bungalows at the northern end of Sairee Beach 

Mike getting his students ready for their first open water dive at Hin Wong BaySam and his Canadian dive buddy GregOn Sam’s first day out on the dive boat I was able to tag along and go snorkeling at their two dive spots.  It was also a great opportunity to be able to see Sam in action and take some photos.  The first stop was at Hin Wong Bay and the second spot was called Mango Bay.  Sam and the divers were working on many scenarios underwater but were still able to see some amazing fish and coral.  Mango Bay was a much larger site than Hin Wong with a wider variety of fish swimming around, I enjoyed exploring the large cove.  The following morning Sam awoke early and was on the dive boat at 6:00AM, they motored about 45 minutes to the northwest of the island to a spot called Chumpon Pinnacle.  He was most Sam getting in the water at Hin Wong BaySam done with his first open water diveimpressed with this Ko Taolocation, his group had more free time on this dive and was able to really enjoy the amazing coral, sea grasses and marine life surrounding the pinnacle.  This was the deepest dive of the course, going down to 17 meters (56 feet), Sam said the clarity was very Dive spot number two: Mango Bayimpressive throughout the dive.  The last spot Sam dove was called Japanese Garden which is located between Nang Yuan Island and Ko Tao, it was full of any and all types and colors of Southeast Asian coral.  Sam enjoyed all the dives immensely and continued to recount things that he saw throughout the remainder of the day, he was especially impressed with the competence of his Welsh instructor, Mike.  We spent our last afternoon lazing on the beach and enjoyed our final dinner at our favorite family Thai restaurant in Sairee.

In the water at Hin Wong BayFeeding frenzy at Hin Wong BaySam and Greg Southeast AsiaGreg and Lisa in the taxi getting ready to head home from a day on the boatLisa and the owner of our favorite Thai restaurant in Sairee Village (this guy is the Thai reincarnation of Stylez from Teen Wolf!)Lisa and the daughter of one of the chefs at our favorite Thai restaurant in Sairee Village Ko TaoBoats in the harbor at Mae Haad Village Sairee Beach sunsetMae Haad VillageSunset over Sairee Beach

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Bangkok

Thailand 3 Comments »

Shopper's paradise: Siam CentreIt’s interesting the first things we noticed driving the 40 kilometers from Bangkok’s international airport into the city center after a few weeks in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam: street gutters, orderly traffic flow, scooters and bicycles displaced by trucks and sedans, rubbish bins (US: trash cans), well-organized (and clean!) public transport, paved roads minus the potholes…  Bangkok has an electric atmosphere about it, something’s always happening whether it be the bustling shopping around Siam Center or the nightlife of Khaosan Our room at Dang Derm Hotel on Khaosan RoadOur room at Dang Derm Hotel on Khaosan RoadRoad.  One afternoon we escaped the heat in the luxurious movie theaters in Siam Center, an interesting experience having to select our movie seats before paying for our tickets.  We stayed at a new hotel called Dang Derm along Khaosan Road, the main tourist precinct of the city.  Khaosan was an eye-opening place: the street is only a few hundred meters long but during the late afternoon hundreds Khaosan Road by nightof  street vendors pop up selling everything from t-shirts to fake watches (supposedly the world’s best fakes are found in Bangkok) and almost The concrete jungle of central Bangkokevery brick-and-mortar establishment along the stretch transforms into either a restaurant or bar.  The way beer is served in Bangkok took a little getting used to, each bar has a specific ‘beer girl’ for each brand of beer and each girl is clad in the skimpiest of dresses embroidered with her particular label.  If, for example, Lisa wanted a Singha and I a Tiger we’d have to call over the girl for each brand and order from each brand girl.  We spent our first night at one of the drinking holes on Khaosan, one of the best places either of has ever found to just watch the world go by: men, women and plenty of ‘in-between’ of all nationalities made a showing.

Muay Thai fighting at Lumphini StadiumThe ceremonies before each fight (this is the reigning Lightweight Champion of Thailand)The main event: take a look at that muscle definitionAn outing we were both looking forward to in Bangkok was a visit to one of the nightly Muay Thai boxing bouts.  The main Muay Thai bouts rotate between two stadiums in Bangkok, on the night we attended it was held at Lumphini Stadium a short skyway ride from Siam Center.  It was quite expensive, given what we’ve become used to paying for things in Southeast Asia, but the roughly $USD60.00 per ticket we paid for ringside seats was well worth it.  Each Muay Thai fight consists of five rounds of three minutes each, before the bout begins the fighters The ceremonial dancemake their way into the ring and perform One of the preliminary fighters warmed upMuay Thai fighting at Lumphini Stadiuma ceremonial dance which could almost be likened to an extravagant prayer ceremony.  The fighters wear traditional garb for the ceremonial dance, which can last as long as 10 minutes.  Once each fighter readies themselves the traditional clothing is removed and the crowd treated to five rounds of often exceedingly violent fighting in which anything is permitted with the exception of head-Lumphini Muay Thai Stadium butting and elbows above the neck.  If a knockout occurs it’s usually via a kick to the head, we saw this happen once to decide the Lightweight Title of Thailand.  The main event was between two fighters each weighing only 130 pounds (59 kilograms) but, as with all of the night’s athletes, they were in amazing condition and wouldn’t have had more than a few ounces of fat on them.  The atmosphere in the stadium was electric, there’s a great deal of money riding on each fight and thus the crowd really got involved as the fights ensued.  Each blow was met by cheers from the crowd, the noise bouncing back and forth between the red and blue sides of the stadium, with all noise from the crowd and the traditional live music played with each bout we couldn’t help but get right into it with the rest of the onlookers.  A very entertaining evening…

Muay Thai fighting at Lumphini StadiumMuay Thai fighting at Lumphini StadiumMuay Thai fighting at Lumphini StadiumMuay Thai fighting at Lumphini Stadium The ceremonies before each fightMuay Thai fighting at Lumphini StadiumThe fight for the Lightweight Title of Thailand (blue won and defeated the reigning champion)The fight for the Lightweight Title of Thailand (blue won and defeated the reigning champion) Ceremonial garbMuay Thai fighting at Lumphini StadiumThe main event: the reigning champion weighing in at 130 pounds of pure muscleThe main event: the challenger The main event: ceremonies before the fightThe main event: ceremonies before the fightThe main event: ceremonies before the fight The main event: ceremonies before the fightThe main event: a near missThe main event The main event: the champion in-between roundsSam with the champ after the fightLisa making sure Sam remembers who picked the most winners for the nightLisa at Lumphini Stadium

View from one of the many tuk-tuks we caught around townThe best pad thai in BangkokThe best pad thai in BangkokWe spent one of our days in Bangkok walking the streets to explore some of the historical and architectural wonders of the capital.  We started out by walking a few kilometers from our hotel on Khaosan Road past Wat Rajnadda and, according to our taxi driver on the way home from the Muay Thai boxing, to the hole in the wall that is known by locals as the best pad thai restaurant in Bangkok.  It’s reputation is well deserved: our meals came wrapped in a blanket of egg and included prawns the size of a child’s fist, definitely the best pad thai I’ve ever eaten.  We walked past the Royal Palace and the immense Wat Phra Kaeo, the holiest site in all of Thailand adjoining the Royal Palace (unfortunately the Royal Palace was closed to foreigners on the day we visited).  A number of times walking around the city we were confronted by seemingly too friendly Thai men offering us directions, suggestions and locals’ insights on touring Bangkok.  We were a little skeptical at first but as we encountered more and more friendly locals we became aware that the Thai people Wat Rajnaddaunderstand just how much of a boon tourism is to the economy and want to make sure that tourists enjoy their time in the country.  The suggestions we were given never came with any kind of request for money or slight of hand, just genuinely nice people offering us their inside knowledge (such as to only catch tuk-tuks with white and black license Wat Rajnaddaplates because they’re government regulated, tuk-tuks with other colors are private tuk-tuks and will try to charge up to 10X the price).  All of the friendly locals would try to draw a route on a map for us in case their English wasn’t good enough for us to understand!

Lisa on the SkytrainWat SuthatA typical pink taxi in Bangkok Wat RajabophitGovernment buildings next to the Royal PalaceDried meat with diesel fumes anyone?!Wat Indraviharn The Standing Buddha towering 45M over Wat IndraviharnOfferings for sale (Buddhists typically give an offering to Buddha when they visit a temple)Offerings for sale (Buddhists typically give an offering to Buddha when they visit a temple)Tuk-tuks line up near King Rama VIII Bridge

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