Happy New Year from Bang Po, Thailand!

Bang Po! We are here on the north coast of Koh Samui, the exact opposite point of the island from Promtsuk Buri – just about at the extreme north west corner. This part of the island is relatively undeveloped compared with the rest of the island; there are a few resorts and bungalow operations on the beach, as well as lots of small and large holiday homes, but compared with the east and south coasts, it’s very quiet – no girlie bars, no night clubs, just small local Thai and seafood restaurants and a few shops.

However, that’s not to say that the beach is deserted – the holiday homes and bungalows take up almost every square inch of beachside land. Bang Po beach is a strip about 4 kilometers long; compared with Lamai, say, it’s not as nice; lots of seaweed and crap is thrown up by the waves onto the sand. The downside of living local is that the beach is not groomed. At Promtsuk Buri, the workers were out every morning about 7:30 am with their rakes and garbage bins picking up all the junk that had rolled up onto the beach over night. Here, only a few people bother to rake the beach in front of their homes – I guess they think it’s pretty much a losing proposition, given the strong waves this time of year.

Most of the properties along the beach are raised slightly, with either rock or cement walls to keep the land from being inundated. However, the tides have been high and the weather stormy this past month and as a result, the waves have broken over many of these barriers. Several of the less well-kept places on the beach have been smashed. All of the beachside restaurants have sandbag perimeters but it’s clear that, with the rising waters of global weather change, many of these places will be flooded in the not too distant future.

Every morning there’s a constant parade of people walking up and back along the length of Bang Po Beach; I joined them yesterday and met a couple of people. One, Jeanette from Sheffield, has lived here for five years and runs a book exchange in Bophut. As we were walking along talking, we came upon a guy washing his water buffalo in the ocean – just another walk on the beach! Later that morning, in the heat of the day, I took another walk, this time almost right to the far end of the beach where it meets the next town, Mae Nam. During this excursion I met Ken and Donna, originally from Florida, now resident in one of the beachside bungalow compounds for the last three years. With them was a beautiful brightly coloured small parrot. Donna is the “Hoop Goddess”; she hoola-hoops on the beach most afternoons, teaches hooping, and sells goddess wear. I will go back one of these days and join her in a hooping session with lights and music.

We have a small wooden chalet on the beach, consisting of one largish bedroom and a tiny kitchen and bathroom. It has a deck with outdoor dining area, a small garden with sun loungers, and is right on the beach. Next to us are our hosts Dave and Janet from the UK who have lived on Koh Samui for a year. Along with them are two cats and a maltese puppy dog named Maisie. It’s nice to be able to enjoy the company of beasts again! On the other side of us is Dr Yai from Bangkok, here for a few days, who invited us to join him at his daughter’s restaurant before he leaves, passes us baked goodies over the fence, and serenades us with old rock tunes played on what sounds like a grand piano.

A few doors down is a very local restaurant in a family’s front yard, with a few tables and chairs and a white squirrel named Spunky in a cage. As we walked by, the family flagged us down, presenting us with drinks and many good wishes for the New Year. There, also, we met Roland, a Swiss guy formerly in the army who has lived in Thailand for the past 12 years.

Other than that, both of us are getting over head colds and taking it pretty easy. We’re enjoying meeting the local people and love our little chalet; it reminds me of my aunt Ingrid’s summer place on the water near Pender Harbour which my family used to visit when I was a child.

ps again this morning a water buffalo appeared, this time strolling on the beach right in front of our place.

 

Koh Samui: South Island Temple Tour

It’s temple time here on Koh Samui. Some may say that if you’ve seen one temple, you’ve seen them all, but I beg to differ – I just can’t get enough of them! Each temple seems to have its own personality and I’d like to get to know all of them; however, Koh Samui has about fifty so that’s not likely to happen … Anyway, after the cynicism of my last post, a response to the over-built and over-heated atmosphere of the Lamai Beach area, it was time to get off the strip and out into the real Koh Samui beyond the tourist traps of the south-east and east coasts. We flagged down a passing cab and hired Mai, the only female taxi driver I’ve ever seen here in South East Asia, to drive us around some of the temples on Koh Samui’s south and west coasts.

Our first stop was Wat Sila Ngu, a temple dedicated to snakes (Sila Ngu means golden snake), right on the water near the Muslim fishing town of Hua Thanon on the south coast. The gilded pagoda (chedi) which we saw upon entering has apparently been used many times in films and TV as a set. Luckily, there were no actual snakes there to greet us, just the sculptural kind …

This temple was founded in 1935 and is supposed to house a relic of the Buddha in its beachfront golden chedi, the stairs of which accommodate two gigantic cobra snake sculptures. A big new temple building the colour of Samui’s red clay soil is also being built on this site and it was interesting to see a Thai temple before its exterior paintings and finishing touches were added.

Once south past Lamai, the feverish over-development of the east coast thankfully abruptly ceases, and after the village of Hua Thanon we encountered beautiful green hills, water buffaloes grazing by the roadside, and small home cafes selling locals simple Thai food.

On an unmarked side street somewhere off route 4170 we turned into the small parking lot for the Buddha’s Footprint site. I wasn’t able to find out much about this place so I don’t know whether the Buddha was actually supposed to have stayed here or not. However, the place is in a state of disrepair, looking as if, at one time, monks actually lived and worshipped here but now their huts and altars have fallen into ruin.

In a rather decrepit small building accessed after walking 150 steps up a steep hill we found four enormous cement foot-prints, superimposed on one another. Each one is engraved with symbols and runic alphabets. From the shrine there is a great view across the plains to the mountains opposite, and, over the tree tops, to the ocean.

Next on the temple tour … At the most southerly part of the island lies Wat Laem Sor, a temple apparently constructed in the shape of a boat (a design which can only be seen from the hills beyond). It’s a kilometer or so off the main 4170 road but once again not well-marked so I’m not sure whether we’d have found it on our own.

As we pulled up to Bang Kao beach, on the temple grounds we saw an ornately designed chedi sitting at the rocky water’s edge. Covered in thousands and thousands of small yellow tiles, it appears golden when viewed from a short distance. To the west of the chedi is what appears to be a lake with mangrove trees and, with global warming, and the rising seas, it looks as though the shore here is being significantly eroded.

A few metres to the east of the chedi we saw a low glass-fronted building, the Boat Hall. Inside the hall is a wooden boat and on the boat a glass case containing the mummified body of Pho Luang Dang, the monk who built the chedi.

Famed for his meditation skills, he liked nothing better than to take a boat and visit one of the small islands offshore and spend some time there meditating. The Boat Hall was built after his death and in it are, in addition to the large boat, dozens of small models of boats.

Apparently people pray to the monk and if their wishes are granted they purchase a model boat and place it in the Boat Hall as a gesture of thanks. We tried the doors but unfortunately they were locked so we could only gaze on this panorama from outside the glass.

Also in the Wat Laem Sor grounds, but a bit of a distance away, lies the Khao (mountain) Chedi. Apparently until recently this site was a ruin but it is now being rehabilitated. A fairly steep concrete road, which our taxi driver decided was too steep for her vehicle, travels up a small mountain, at the top of which can be reached stone stairs; at the top of these lies the temple chedi (Jay Dee) site.

A graceful white pagoda, surrounded with many white and gold Buddhas, a large white boy-Buddha, and several shrines, including a large bell, beneath which a tableau of Buddhas being watched by Bambi was installed, greet the visitor.

From the top, the panorama of Laem Sor Bay and the nearby islands is beautiful.

Both chedis, the beachside golden one and the mountain top white one, are said to contain “bone-chips” of the Buddha in their foundations. The hill-top pagoda, built in 1903, was struck by lightning so many times that the monks decided in 1968 to build the new pagoda on the beach where presumably it was more resistant to the elements, taking the bone-chip with them, after which time the old chedi fell into disrepair. Later, when the hilltop ruins were refurbished, a new Buddha bone-chip was brought from Bangkok to replace the one removed to the beachside chedi.

Our final stop on the southern temple tour was Wat Kiri Wongkaram, home to yet another mummified monk, this one Loung Por Ruam, who was installed in yet another glass case upon his death in 1976.

This temple, while not in a particularly attractive setting, is an active community site containing several buildings and shrines (while we were there a funeral was going on). It’s located on Samui’s west side near Five Islands Beach. Before heading back the three of us stopped at a roadside eatery for some fried rice, cooked and served up hot as we waited, for not much money ($6.70 for three meals, a beer, and four waters) – local price.

My impression of Koh Samui from this tour was much more positive than it has been to date. Away from tourist central the island is laid back and beautiful.

See more pictures here.


Limestone island hopping in an emerald sea

We have only a few more days left in Ao Nang and wanted to visit the Hong Islands off the west coast before we jet off to Kuala Lumpur on Saturday. Luckily, the day we’d booked for the trip – yesterday – was a beautiful sunny day, with only a few fluffy white cumulus clouds scudding across the sky – perfect. The tour company driver collected us at 8:30 in a creaky little pickup truck and we were off to the Nopparat Thara River and on our private longtail boat, after Ty helped the boat man and his assistant to rock it off a sandy knoll (very low tide), heading out to sea by 9.

Rather than turning south, as the four islands tour did, we turned north and navigated along the coast, past the Royal Residence with its gleaming gold turrets shimmering on the hill, past what looked like two mines on the shoreline, each with piers jutting out into the water for container ships, and out to the limestone islands we could see rising out of the ocean offshore.

As we pulled into the sheltered bay, we could see a few other long-tails moored, but that was about it. Hong Island, the largest of the group of islands in Than Bok Thoranee Marine National Park, is beautiful: powder white sand, glorious green vegetation, turquoise-green water, and towering orange-tinged limestone cliffs. Two small bays are separated by smaller limestone clifflets, through a gap in which we could see boats come and go.

Near the ranger station is a memorial to the victims of the 2004 tsunami, erected by 13 survivors of a tour group which was unlucky enough to be visiting the island then from Phuket. We swam and snorkelled in the bay for a couple of hours, watching as successive waves of tour groups came and went along the beach, including older women in small bikinis striking cheese-cake poses for photos in the water and musclemen flexing their roid-fuelled biceps. A few white and yellow striped fish could be spotted but there is no live coral here; perhaps the tsunami destroyed the reefs and they’ve not had a chance to recover.

From there, we motored around to the back of the island, then, through a tiny channel, entered a gorgeous emerald-green-blue lagoon bounded by a small mangrove forest. As we cruised slowly around its perimeter, several bright orange and green kayaks entered, gleaming brightly against the turquoise water.

Our next stop was Pakbia Island, really two small islands joined by a thin sand bar at low tide.

Here it was screaming hot and we immediately donned our snorkel gear and hit the water, swimming slowly around one rocky outcropping without seeing much. After crossing over the sandbar to snorkel along the rocks on the west side, we saw lots of fish, both large and small, feeding. As we swam further out towards open ocean, the current became very strong and we were glad to have had fins on, making the swim back much easier. Actually, we saw the most fish when seated in a foot of water just off the beach; Ty dropped a few cracker crumbs in the water, generating a torrent of fish swimming frantically back and forth around him, including tiny yellow and grey micro-sharks – Mr Fish Master. Even drinking gallons of water wasn’t really enough to cool us down; we spent the rest of our time there sitting in the ocean, enjoying the company of the fish.

Our final stop was Paradise Beach on Lading Island (I think – the boatman spoke no English). This was a small strip of sand beneath yet another towering limestone cliff, at the foot of which were moored several longtail and speed boats disgorging the same folks we’d seen on the previous islands. Even so, the beach was not so crowded as to be uncomfortable. And, best of all for the Fish Master, beers could be had from the cantine. A fantastic day on the water – thoroughly enjoyed by all!

See more pictures here.

Krabi Day Trip: Bang Rieng Temple and Than Bok Koranee Park

Bang a drum for Bang Rieng … I remembered reading an account of someone’s trip to a beautiful temple called Bang Rieng on a mountaintop somewhere in southern Thailand while I was in Bali. Casually picking up one of the many tourist brochures available outside the restaurants here, my eyeball happened to fall upon a picture of the “Royal Temple” – lo and behold – Bang Rieng! Once more Ty and I were off in the rented wheels into the heart of temple-country, the mountains of Krabi and Khao Lak.

Bang Rieng is located about an hour and a half’s driving north of Ao Nang along the road to Phuket. It sits atop Khao Lan or One Million Mountain, overlooking the Thaput countryside. The traffic wasn’t too bad as we set out and we made good time until the turnoff inland, whereupon we had to slow down a bit for the winding secondary road and to spot the entrance to Bang Rieng. After asking for directions a couple of times, we found the very steep winding road up the mountain to the hilltop temple. Aside from one bus, our car was the only one in the parking lot. Luckily for us, this temple is little-visited, possibly because it’s a bit of a drive from the coast, but is the trip ever worthwhile; the temple and grounds are spectacular, as is the view from the top. The hills and tended fields spread out in a vast panorama below the temple precincts, looking very much like central Italy (if you ignore the palm trees).

Guarding the entrance staircase to the main temple are two gigantic five-headed dragons with enormously long tails snaking up the railings to the top.

The main temple itself, with its bell-shaped pagoda, is guarded by an eagle-eyed yellow-robed monk who surveys the oncoming pilgrims for dress violations. Spotting the tank-tops incompletely hidden by the sarongs draped over our shoulders, he insisted that we wear white shirts over these offending garments, for which a small donation was required – we were happy to oblige.

Inside the octagonal main building, a row of golden buddhas ring the walls, while golden guardian figures seem to hold up the central pagoda.

Red, gold, white and blue are the dominant colours of the decoration here, with warriors upon warriors, and buddhas within buddhas, interspersed with the odd lion and elephant or two, covering almost all surfaces.

Inside the pagoda are beautiful shrines, with tiny golden Buddhas and Bodhisatvas adorning altars placed at three of the four cardinal directions.

The bell-shaped pagoda, called Chedi Phutthathambanlue, houses relics of the Buddha.

The surroundings grounds are beautifully manicured and adorned with many colours of bougainvillea flowers.

From the viewing pavillion outside, we could see the gigantic statues of the female bodhisattva Kuan Yi, the Chinese Goddess of Compassion, and a seated Buddha, also part of this temple complex, on the hills beyond.

The seated Buddha is protected by the shroud of the seven-headed dragon Naga.

Looking from the viewing pavillion we could see a long stone staircase stretching down to the Goddess; naturally, we had to follow where it led.

Tiled pavillions on either side of a central reflecting pond create a serene area from which we could admire the landscape and the Goddess.

On the base of the Goddess sculpture is another smaller Goddess figure, a miniature of the giant above. And on the base of this figure is yet a smaller figure, this one with a gigantic braid of hair, or snake’s tail, emerging from the back of its head. I’m not sure who this figure is – we saw several versions of it here – if anyone reading this knows, please tell me!

From the Goddess statue, we could see the main temple and pagoda on the hill from which we’d come.

Around behind the Goddess, we found the driveway up to the gigantic seated Buddha, the roadway guarded by a series of golden lions.

Around the base of the seated  Buddhas are many white elephants and – yes, smaller buddhas within buddhas.

Here is another version of the goddess with gigantic braid, this one found on the back side of the seated Buddha’s base.

With my telephoto lens, I took some close-up pictures of the sculptures: the giant Buddha,

the heads upon heads of the warrior guardians,

Ty and the lion figures,

the face of the Goddess of Compassion (with enormous earlobes like Buddha’s),

the dragons at the base of the Goddess,

the pagoda, with tiny buddhas upon buddhas,

and the temple roof decorations.

After a few hours of filling our eyes with splendour, we headed back towards Ao Nang, with a stop at the Than Bok Koranee National Marine Park.

Than Bok Koranee is an area of limestone mountains, steams, caves, and tropical rain forest formerly the territory of wild elephants until – surprise – people moved in and cleared the land for agriculture. In this area there are many caves, quite a few with prehistoric hand drawings and paintings, in this case of human and animal activities. There is no evidence that humans ever lived in the caves; rather they used them for religious ceremonies.

We strolled through the park and watched local kids swimming for a bit, had a beer at the outdoor restaurant, and were back at the ranch and in the pool before expiring from the late afternoon heat.

While I was not able to find much information about Wat Bang Rieng online, a few more details about the temple can be found here.

See more pictures here.

Update Dec 10: I showed one of the women at the hotel the photo I’d taken of the golden goddess with long braid and she told me her name; it is Phra Mae Thoranee (or Torani), the Buddhist Earth Goddess. Here’s her story (from Wikipedia):

Images of Phra Mae Thorani are common in shrines and Buddhist temples of Burma, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos. According to Buddhist myths Phra Mae Thorani is personified as a young woman wringing the cool waters of detachment out of her hair, to drown Mara, the demon sent to tempt the Buddha as he meditated under the bodhi tree.

In temple murals Phra Mae Thorani is often depicted with the Buddha in the posture of Calling the earth to witness. The waters flowing forth from her long hair wash away the armies of Mara and symbolize the water of the bodhisattva‘s perfection of generosity (dana parami).

The Bodhisattva was sitting in meditation on his throne under the Bodhi Tree, Mara, the Evil One, was jealous and wanted to stop him from reaching enlightenment. Accompanied by his warriors, wild animals and his daughters, he tried to drive the Bodhisattva from his throne. All the gods were terrified and ran away, leaving the Bodhisattva alone to face Mara’s challenge. The Bodhisattva stretched down his right hand and touched the earth, summoning her to be his witness. The earth deity in the form of a beautiful woman rose up from underneath the throne, and affirmed the Bodhisattva’s right to occupy the vajriisana. She twisted her long hair, and torrents of water collected there from the innumerable donative libations of the Buddha over the ages created a flood. The flood washed away Mara and his army, and the Bodhisattva was freed to reach enlightenment.

 

Four Islands Tour, Krabi, Thailand

Yesterday dawned sunny and hot, great weather for our Four Islands longtail boat tour. The guy at Sabai Mansion’s front desk had told us to wait out front for an 8:30 pickup, so naturally we were there early; as 8:30, 8:45, and then 9:00 ticked past, I started to get sweaty and agitated. Just as I was about to give up, the small song thew showed up with a bunch of people already piled in the back. We joined the pile and off we raced to the boat harbour on the river at the end of Nopparat Thara Beach, the next beach along north of Ao Nang.

We’d requested a tour company with a small number of small boats (apparently some tour operators have boats that take up to a hundred people at a time, a situation which did not seem all that appealing). At the harbour, we, along with all the other people from all the other tours, clambered into our respective boats and headed for open waters. This is also the harbour from which the Tiger Line Ferry plies the coast to and from Lanta and Phi Phi Islands.

Our first island was Tup, one of the limestone spears rising out of the green sea, visible from Ao Nang Beach.

As we pulled up to the strip of soft white sand we could see people – lots of people – and boats, lots of boats, both speedboats and longtails. Tup, and Chicken Island, its neighbour, are joined by an isthmus which can be walked across through the water at low tide, a walk which we proceeded to do.

The water was a beautiful turquoise-emerald and very warm, home to small green and yellow striped fish who clustered near the rocks at the edge of the beach. Many of the tourists simply sunbathed on the beach, some unbelievably fried, others took advantage of the cantines set up in the shade of the trees to down beers, while others strode through the hip-deep water to reach Chicken Island.

As we watched, one massive two-decker longtail pulled in heavily laden with people both inside and on the roof – the Barracuda Tours party boat, presumably (looked unstable to my paranoid eyes).

After an hour of trucking around the beach, we were back in the boat and motored to a spot just off Chicken Island for snorkelling, along with ten or so other boats. Ty and I had brought our own gear which we put on in the water, me not as successfully as Ty (I had to throw my fins back on deck because I couldn’t adjust them properly while treading water). We swam around for a bit but it became evident that all the coral here is grey and dead; although there are some fish, they likely only come here because the tour operators feed them. Once we were all back in the boat, we circled around the back of the island to see why it got its name – the island’s rocky profile is sort of like a chicken (although it is much more like a camel as many on our boat noticed, but Thailand has no camels … hence, “chicken”).

Our lunch stop was Poda Island, a place which reminded Ty and I of Calaquai, just off Levuka in Fiji, although way, way more crowded. We each received a Styrofoam package of lukewarm fried rice and wandered off to eat it on the beach. Once again, many, many boats were parked on the beach, and lots of people were seeking shade under the trees, while others swam or snorkelled. Even out here there is no escape from the ubiquitous vendors selling the same stuff available on the beach and in the shops of Ao Nang.

While waiting for the time to leave, several folks amused themselves feeding the very aggressive monkeys living at the edge of the beach, one of whom went racing up to a fellow from our boat and grabbed the corn cob which he’d only just begun to eat right out of his hand.

This monkey, obviously the alpha, plopped himself on a tree branch and proceeded to eat his two corn cobs with obvious relish while the younger, smaller monkeys tried to steal a bit from him to no avail.

For our final island visit we rolled up on the beach at Phranang, not really an island but rather a beach protected by limestone cliffs just around the corner from Rai Lay, only accessible by boat.

Since it was a very high high tide, there was very little beach at all and a constant stream of people marching back and forth on the sand available. Most of the property seems to be taken up by three resorts, one of which has been partially built into a limestone cavern at the foot of towering cliffs.

The siren song of one beach front bar called to Ty and we enjoyed a very expensive drink overlooking the beach and the far islands.

At the far end of the beach are huge cliffs, cut into which is a cave with several altars and an enormous number of phalloi, giant dicks carved out of wood and fashioned in metal, lovingly crafted by anonymous worshippers of the lingnan, representative of the masculine generative principle of the universe in Hindu and other religions.

Just as we left Phranang, the rain came – not torrential, but steady for a bit, freshening the air, and gone by dinner time.

We enjoyed our day at sea, but were a little surprised at the sheer number of boats and people at every place we stopped – these are not exactly deserted tropical islands. But, for 450 Baht, or about $10 each for the day, the tour was good value.

Thailand’s coasts have a problem with erosion – a big problem that is only going to get worse in the coming warm years. At the moment the east coast (Gulf of Thailand) is eroding more quickly than the west, but both coasts are adversely affected. The problems include monsoons and heavy wave action, neither of which can be ameliorated by humans, but androgenic actions such as destroying and removing mangrove fields for shrimp farms and resorts are equally or more at fault. In one small village south of Bangkok, Khun Samutchine, in which the people formerly made their living from the sea, they are now seeing it destroy their lives. Erosion is eliminating 65 meters of the coastline each year, with the result that their houses, and the village Buddhist temple, are falling into the sea.

For more information on coastal erosion in Thailand, click here and here.

See more pictures here.

Monkey Business in Ao Nang

The first time we went to the Last Café I’d noticed the Buddhist temple in the bushes behind the café. I’d been waiting for clear skies to take some pictures of it and today was the day. I headed out the back of the café towards the temple perimeter when, from a distance of about 30 feet, I saw several monkeys hanging around the statues.

I took a few pictures, then one saw me and came running towards me, presumably hoping for a feed. I am nervous of monkeys and so backed away quickly as this beast came determinedly in my direction. Then – boom – the noise of a cannon and all the monkeys on the beach went scampering off. Who knew there had been so many in the trees around the café! There were about 50 of them, grey macaques, of all different sizes, swinging in the tree branches, running along the path, skittering across the sand.

After about 5 minutes, the fright wore off and they were all back again, bolder than ever. I walked down to the water’s edge and watched the monkeys stalking passing tourists, occasionally jumping on one, sometimes grabbing the hems of clothes, reaching out for little tid-bits that the odd person handed to them, making off into the bushes with stolen bags of chips. One woman encouraged a small monkey to jump on her shoulder for a treat while two young women ran for the ocean with a small monkey chasing after them for their ice-cream. It was amusing to watch the women standing in the water holding their ice-cream watching the monkey watching them. Every time they started to move the monkey followed them, eternally hopeful for a bite of cone. The little girl in the picture below didn’t notice the monkey holding a piece of corn at her feet at first;

then she spotted him, still grasping his corn on the cob;

“Mom, mom, give the monkey some food!” and out come the treats …

treats which the monkeys obviously found more enticing than the corn on the cob previously capturing their attention. Of course, as soon as one got something, all the other monkeys came racing over for theirs …

I guess a pack of monkeys must make this end of the beach their hangout, the trees and steep limestone cliffs giving them protection. The little monkeys really are incredibly cute but I would be very careful of them – they do bite and scratch! [And, no, I don’t think it’s a good idea to feed the monkeys – but whether I like it or not, these guys have obviously been fed by people for a long time so they’ve become accustomed to the idea that tourist=food.] And their antics give a whole new meaning to sex on the beach …

 

Ao Nang and Railay Beach

Krabi Town’s not a place that many people actually stay; it’s a place they travel through on the way to another place, usually Railay Beach or Ao Nang further up the coast. It’s a gritty riverside burg with a few good restaurants, a lively night market, and, as far as we could see, not a lot else. Since our intention is to stay in and around the Krabi area for the next little while, Ty and I wandered out to the main drag and caught a song thew, a truck-taxi with an open back that takes about 12 passengers, for the half hour journey up to Ao Nang, whose attractions include a big beach and wonderful limestone cliffs.

We wanted to look for accommodation in the area and hopped out half way up the hill where the less expensive hotels are located. After inquiring at a few different hotels along the strip, we decided to take a room at the Sabai Mansion Hotel, a smallish four story joint with – its best feature – a pool and free wifi.

After leaving a deposit for the room, we rolled down the hill to the beach, along which is a boardwalk, and turned left at the water, making our way through 57 different massage parlour places, each of which importuned us as we passed, to the aptly-named Last Cafe, where we plopped ourselves down at a seaside table under the trees for a beverage.

While there, we watched the many vendors ply the beach, trying to sell everything from woolen hats (not a big seller in this 34 degree heat) to table cloths to wooden flutes, none of which we felt the necessity to acquire.

A small lizard favoured us with an appearance on the next tree and, not too much later, the clouds massed for a torrential tropical downpour, the waters of which we tried to hide from in one of the massage parlours. After the deluge had ended we boarded a longtail boat with six others for the ride to Railay Beach, a peninsula accessible only by water.

Railay was a great backpackers hangout twenty years ago when Ty first came through this area and he had fond memories of his time there. Unfortunately, when we arrived beachside, it became apparent that those grand days are long past; the area is still beautiful, with its towering limestone cliffs, a haven for climbers who come from all over the world to crawl up the rocks, white sand beach and turquoise waters but Railay West, the best beach, has been taken over by upscale atmosphereless resorts and the vibe is monotone. Railay East, accessible by a path across the peninsula, while still a backpackers’ mecca, is, frankly, a hole, with crappy rundown bars, restaurants, and cheap bungalow joints, and a terrible muddy rocky beach area. In the rain, it really looked uninviting and Ty and I paid premium price for a longtail boat back to Krabi tout suite.

Given the options on the Krabi coast, we feel that our choice of Ao Nang is a good one and it’s here that we’ve moved for the next while.

See a few more pics here.

From Bali to Krabi Town, Thailand

For our last night at the Blue Star Bungalows, Tony bought a huge red snapper from one of the local fishermen and Iluh and her staff grilled it on the beach for all of us. The little kids had fun with the fish, rolling around its eyeball and putting tiny shells in its mouth to anoint it for the feast. Several red cloth covered tables were set up on the beach, it was a beautiful evening, and we feasted the night away.

Ty and I were both sad to leave Amed and the Blue Star; we had a wonderful time there and would have stayed longer had our visas not run out and our flight been booked. Everyone at the Blue Star was wonderful, including the other guests Barb, Tony, Rich and Loy – it is very highly recommended!

We spent two nights back at the Little Pond in Sanur before hopping on our flight to Krabi, Thailand through Bangkok. I enjoyed taking pictures of the cheeky squirrels, birds, and cats nibbling on the offerings laid out in front of the beachfront restaurants and shops.

Our flight to Thailand was relatively uneventful and, after leaving at 7 am, we arrived at the Orange Tree House in Krabi Town at 9 in the evening. The Orange Tree has 13 rooms and faces the market area in the heart of this small city, on Krabi walking street. When we arrived the night market was still in full swing out front. In the morning, after having visited the hill top temple with its golden dragons, we wandered around downtown, me taking pictures of the antiquated clothing mannequins found everywhere, and then headed over to the river.

We decided to take the mangrove river tour on a long tail boat which had seen better days and were delivered to a fish farm on a large island in the river. After having seen the worker feed the various kinds of fish, including a large puffer fish which blew himself up in displeasure at being pulled so unceremoniously out of the water, we were importuned to purchase fish for lunch, an opportunity we passed on, having just had breakfast not too long ago. We wandered around the riverfront community, most of whose houses are on stilts, not unlike the Finn Slough village in Steveston, BC.

Our next and final stop was the cave right near the two large jagged limestone hills on opposite sides of the river.

This place obviously used to be much more widely visited, judging from the café and out buildings now shuttered, and contains 44,000 year old skeletal human remains, as well as paintings of humans and animals.

Inside small displays are set up amid the stalactites and stalagmites to illustrate how early hominids lived. The place reminded me of the Karain cave north of Antalya in Turkey which Tracey and I visited in 2009, except that this cave lacked the garish lighting of that one.

Later, after a halal lunch of chicken soup and a little nap, we headed out the front door to the night market, enjoying a couple of beers while watching the action before making the rounds of the stalls selling food, jewellery, trinkets of all descriptions, and clothes.

We sampled quite a few bits of food, including fish curry sticks, grilled pork sausage, thai salad, water chestnuts, sticky rice, and corn on the cob, all going for from 10 to 20 baht (about 30 – 60 cents). Many different varieties of colourful plastic items were for sale, as well as awful paintings (going for 19 baht or 59 cents) and cheap clothes. The main attraction for most people, and it was packed, mostly with locals, was the food.

I loved this little kitty exposing himself on the paintings – he reminded me of my cat Aran, a beast who loves having his belly rubbed.

After Bali, the traffic here seems positively light and tuk-tuks, motorcycles with passenger sidecars, are still available for rent, as are mini buses and small trucks with open backs. The local vendors are much less anxious to make a sale than the Balinese, who will follow potential customers for blocks trying to entice them into shops, restaurants, spas and the like. We were mostly ignored, except for by a few hopeful taxi drivers. The weather is good, 34 degrees and sunny, and today we are off to Ao Nang, a beach area accessible by car about an hour north west of here, to check out accommodation.

See more here and here.

Bye-Bye, Turkey – Görüşürüz!

Well, my six months of travel are almost over – one more day and then I am off back to Canada on June 20. It has been a wonderful journey!

My companions at Side Garden Residence have been the following:

Tracey, Christine and Barb, family and friends.

Elke, from Bonn, here for six months, looking for work in the tourism sector.

Family of three generations of Turkish women from Ankara and Munich, non-swimmers all. Granny, living large, wearing her string of pearls necklace and her pink crocheted cap, inches around the pool using her hands to propel herself crab-like along the edge. Her two daughters, alike in size and blonde hair, and their three daughters, all lovely dark-haired beauties, are doing their best to learn to swim. Both Elke and I attempted to show them how this morning, Elke with more success than me.

English family of five, nicknamed the Griswalds, who station themselves poolside all day and never leave the complex.

English couple who station themselves poolside and never leave the complex.

Five young English friends frolicking on inflatables.

Ann and her unnamed husband, here from the north of England for 9 months each year, who station themselves poolside and seldom leave the complex.

Many (28 apartments – of the 60 in the complex – worth) unnamed Scandinavian, German and Belgian tour company employees, mostly for Nazar and Tui.

Kaan, Gokhan and several other unnamed Turkish employees of the housing management company responsible for looking after SGR.

Yilderay and his unnamed wife, maintenance man and cleaner.

Granny, Kaan’s grandmother.

Three unnamed cats.

Several song birds.

Recap of where I have been since Dec 31, 2008:

Thailand: Koh Libong; Koh Muk: Emerald Cave; Koh Kradan; Koh Lipe; Koh Lanta; Koh Phi Phi; Phi Phi Lei; Koh Jum/Pu; Krabi; Bangkok: Arun Wat Temple, Grand Palace complex, Royal Monastery of the Emerald Buddha; Chinatown; many Buddhist and Hindu temples.

Malaysia: Malacca.

Singapore: Modern Art Museum; Singpore History Museum; Bukit Brown Abandoned Chinese Cemetery; several Buddhist and Hindu temples; Arab Street; Little India; Peranakan Museum; Emerald Hill.

Greece: Meis/Kastellorizo Island

Turkey: Istanbul; Princes Islands/Buyuk Ada; Nevsehir; Ibrahimpasa; Uchisar; Ortahisar; Urgup; Mustafapasa; Cemil; Sahinefendi; Goreme; Avanos; Gore; Dalyan, Ortaca; Kas; Gumusluk; Bodrum; Gumbet; Turgutreis; Torba; Side; Antalya; Manavgat; Aglasun; Burdur; Pamukkale; Ucagiz; Simena; Kadikalesi; Koycegiz; Seleukeia; Cirali and many other tiny towns and villages whose names escape me at the moment.

Ancient sites in Turkey: Blue Mosque; Hagia Sofia; Basilica Cistern; Cemberlitas Hamam; Kariye Church; Rustempasa Mosque; New Mosque; Grand Bazaar; Spice Bazaar; Topkapi Palace; Dolmabahce Palace; Sobesos; too many rock-cut churches and monasteries in Cappadocia to mention separately; Kayakapi; Kaunos; Kas/Antiphellos; Xanthos; Patara; Kekova; Simena; Bodrum Castle; Myndos; Ephesus; Hieropolis; Side; Olympos; Phaselis; Sagalassos; Karain Cave; Termessos; Perge

Museums/Galleries in Turkey: Topkapi Palace; Dolmabahce Palace; Hagia Sofia; Kariye Church; Goreme Open Air Museum; Bodrum Castle and Underwater Archeology Museum; Burdur Museum; Mosque/Gallery of contemporary art in Kaleici (Antalya)

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Things I will miss about Turkey:

Weather: wonderful, wonderful sunny hot breezy days; I especially love the mornings and evenings here.

People: the generous and hospitable people that I have met here.

Flora: the beautiful colours of the bougainvillea, hibiscus, lilies and other flowers; the grapevine arbours, the pine forests.

Animals: I have loved the Turkish cats and dogs, especially the street cats with their tiny triangular faces and piteous meowing – cagey devils; grasshoppers, crickets, birds including pelicans and storks (and the funny little bird who comes to our pool every morning and immerses its whole body in the world’s largest bird bath), lizards large and small – these guys, quite a bit like geckos and iguanas, hang out on the rocks at the ruin sites; camels; my little boyfriend Keesje, Willemijn and Paul’s grey and white cat.

Hamams: I love the tradition of the Turkish Bath and think that we should have it in Vancouver. I understand that there is one bath at home, on Granville near 6th, so I will check it out later.

Patterns/tilework: the geometric and floral patterned motifs on tiles, walls, ceilings of mosques, hamams and ceramic ware.

Water: the beautiful turquoise-blue of the Mediterranean Sea; our 25 meter pool at the SGR; the glacial green-blue water of the Manavgat waterfalls and the Koprulu canyon.

Dolmuses; the great inexpensive minibus system, where one can hop on and hop off anywhere along the route.

Things I won’t miss:

The top two are smoking by everyone everywhere all the time and the ubiquitous, pushy, annoying sales touts everywhere almost all the time.

Driving: Although I did not actually drive myself, because I can’t drive a stick shift and all the rental cars here are standard, being the navigator also entailed being alert through the chaotic traffic here. One site I was looking at in preparation for our Sagalassos road trip cautioned: “An aggressive driving style is recommended” – yah, that’s for sure! S/he who hesitates on the Turkish roads is lost.

Litter and garbage: plastic, plastic water bottles, cigarette butts, paper wrappers; people throwing their garbage out of car windows and tossing their butts everywhere; dumps, both legitimate and illegitimate.

Bare-breasted European women on the beach. While I normally have no particular problem with this practice, I think that it is highly inappropriate in this culture. Ditto the wearing of bikinis at places other than the beach or pool. News Flash: You’re not in Kansas any more, Dorothy; you are in an Islamic culture – give your head a shake. I am reminded of the English woman at the Saturday market in Side with her large fake breasts popping out of her bikini top trying to negotiate a purchase from a Turkish man slavering over her boobies – blaaahhh to both of them.

Rudeness in general: While the Turks are mostly notable for their politeness and hospitality, some in the tourist sector are really rude and ignorant; ditto some of the tourists who frequent holiday resorts here.

Nescafe: I can hardly wait for decent brewed coffee and the cappuccino – best in Vancouver – at the Japanese coffee bar Ty and I frequent on Davie St.

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The most amazing aspect of my trip has been all the wonderful people I have met everywhere I have gone, both local people and travelers from other countries. I will try to list them here and hopefully I will not forget to mention someone:

Thailand: Tam and all the guys at the Tai Rai Bay Resort on Koh Jum/Pu; Roger, resident guru at Ting Rai Bay; Helena, Sofia, Elizabeth, and Monique, guests from Sweden and Holland at Ting Rai Bay; Chris and Mich from Malaysia on Koh Libong; Ingo and Simone on Koh Lanta.

Singapore: Matilda, my friend and hostess; Skye, friend from Nanaimo now living in Singapore.

Istanbul; Ahmet and Sharam, proprietors of the Ocean’s 7 hotel in Sultanahmet; Sofie from Belgium; Chrissy from the States by way of Romania.

Cappadocia: Willemijn and Paul, artists and hosts of the Babayan Culture House in Ibrahimpasa; Mehmet Ali, unofficial “mayor” of Ibrahimpasa and antique dealer; Kus (Birdie) Mehmet, toast-master extraordinaire of Ibrahimpasa; Idris, proprietor of Urgup’s candle- and world-music-house; Mehmet, Cenap, Bayram, Filiz, Hanim and Cansu in Goreme; Crazy Ali, antique dealer in Ortahisar; Almut, artist, chef and guest house proprietor, and her two sons, in Uchisar; Halil, my taxi driver; Marina, Portuguese artist in wood and stone.

Dalyan: Sonja, guide from Kaunos tours and mountain biking machine, and her husband Murat; Katie and Richard from London, my companions on the mountain bike tour; Ali and Nurmin, proprietors of the Crescent Hotel; Terry, Bob, Doug, and Bill, retired teachers from Langley, BC, Canada.

Kas: the four young guys who helped me with my mannequin installation; Marta-Sofia from Portugal and Germany; Suzi and Peter from Fiji.

Gumusluk: the gang at the Gumusluk Academy, Seray, Ilknur, Nils, Elhan, Pilin, Latife, Emre, Eyup, Mehmet, Mehmet Abi, Zubeida; Meral and Ida from Denmark; Nesa and Li Li, poets from Cyprus and Sweden respectively; Gary the Gumusluk Gambacisi and Danny, writer and proprietor of a pension in Gumusluk; Eren, pianist and Director of the Gumusluk International Classical Music Festival, and her husband Mesrut.

Bodrum: Ayla, guide and delightful companion.

Side: Elke; Yusuf, proprietor of the Vera market and all-round helpful guy; Mehmet, car rental dude and all-round helpful guy; Ahmet, antique dealer.

While I have enjoyed every bit of my time here (even the grumpy old lady bits), the most incredible part of my journey through this fascinating country was the time I spent in Cappadocia at the Babayan Culture House in Imbrahimpasa. The month spent at this artist’s residency and guest house, a centuries old renovated cave house in a tiny village of 800 persons where people live as they have lived for a thousand years, was the most unusual and farthest outside my regular frame of reference. It was magical and inspirational in every possible way. The landscape was incredible; although I had been before for a few days last June, spending a month there allowed me to visit almost every village and town and hike through many of the beautiful valleys. I also got to experience almost every kind of weather: from sunny and 20 degrees to a foot of snow and minus something, sometimes within a day of one another. Also, since it was so early in the year, I had almost every place I went to myself; that, too, was incredible, especially being able to take my time when visiting the Open Air Museum and rock cut churches. I also loved the Goreme Hamam, especially the visit that Willemijn and I made one Sunday when, after spending several hours in the warmth of the bath, we came out in early evening to a winter landscape of snow blanketing the town.

Thanks to everyone who made my journey so memorable!