Gili Trawangan

Though we arrived on the island too late to really appreciate the beauty of the surroundings on account of the darkness, come morning it was easy to see why it is so popular (and the potential it held for diving). Crystalline turquoise water, white sand (though not without its fair share of sharp coral in some places!), and self-proclaimed “Turtlle (sic) Points” where majestic sea turtles (and sting rays on one special occasion) could be seen when snorkeling really made for some unique opportunities for us.

By day there were many activities in and out of the water to keep visitors busy: surfing, snorkeling, diving, renting a bike to explore the island inside and out (it only takes a day to do so!), yoga, boat trips to the other islands, or just lazing around with a good book. By night things livened up… there were tons of bars and restaurants to suit any appetite and budget; a central food market with lots of fresh seafood and local fare; and special parties every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at set locations. We were even “lucky” enough to be around for a Full Moon Party! (Explanation of quotes to follow.) I’ll include that when researching the island beforehand we read that as per its reputation as a “party island” we should expect to encounter many offers of drugs during our time on the island; we were indeed approached on occasion by people hawking a variety of narcotics, but it was far from in our faces the entire time and easily avoidable.

Unlike my million-post recap of Bali-by-event, I’m going to bombard you with all of my “general” Gili T pictures from the 5 days we spent there now, with shots from diving (we did a photography dive as one of the Specialties for our Advanced Course… one of the better decisions of my life) and some of our island bike rides to follow in later posts.

not a bad view to wake up to! (not that this was exactly seen directly from the ‘stank room;’ we’d gone to breakfast at a nearby venue.)

one of the bungalows we’d looked at before going was listed at being ‘behind the turtle hatchery’… but for some reason i wasn’t actually expecting a turtle hatchery?

“no naked”. hahaha!

rainbow over on gili air! a nice addition to any afternoon.

night market.

had dinner there one night… black pepper squid and some delicious snapper, courtesy of this sassy lady!

horses in the moonlight.

we did our diving with trawangan dive and were really happy with the experience. as i said i’ll do a full post about the diving but in the mean time i’ll include some shots from the boat.

look at that water! i mean, look at it!!! ridiculous visibility…

the infamous “stank room.” we left it and dear romi after 2 nights to move onto greener pastures.

our new digs at blue star bungalows!

the view. definitely an upgrade!

did i mention we were right next to the turtle viewing point? we must have seen at least four or five while we were staying here. amazing creatures!

So I’d hinted at the possibility that maybe we actually weren’t so “lucky” to be around for the Full Moon Party. It’s not that we weren’t lucky or it wasn’t fun. I just feel that so many people come to Thailand and like, plan their vacations around attending the Full Moon Party on Koh Phangan and there’s a lot of hype concerning it and therefore the wrong idea might have been conveyed. First, though the Thai Full Moon Parties have already lost their luster for me anyway, this was nothing of that caliber (complete stretches of bucket vendors along the entire beach, 10,000 people, tons of DJs playing any kind of music you could want to hear, etc etc). There was a bonfire, one bar (that was overpriced and wayyyy too crowded for our liking so whenever it was time for another drink we headed to the nearby Rudy’s Bar, which provided a nice reprieve from the madness), a DJ booth, and (granted) a big crowd of people getting sloppier as the night went on. We had fun, but I wouldn’t call it a crowning moment of the trip by any means. Actually, that makes it quite a lot like the Full Moon Parties I’ve been to in Thailand!

our crew at the onset of the full moon party (please note the guy in the back. though we all look fairly dazzling here i must say he’s my favorite part of the photo.)

gavin (in the middle) did his advanced diving course with us and his friend paul is on the left. not sure on the identity of the indonesian guy haha.

the shark from nemo!

one shot of the full moon haha.

The night of the Full Moon should have been our penultimate night on the island. Should have been. We finished and should have paid for our diving that day, leaving us one last day to enjoy our surroundings before heading back to Ubud for one more shopping day.

Except… we decided to put the courses on my credit card, and, as it turns out, my credit card was expired. (whoops) It so happens that I have a wonderfully generous mother who always comes through in the clutch who was able to transfer me the needed funds at a moment’s notice, but even so, it was Easter Weekend and it took an extra day for them to go through. (whoops) But as Adam, our dive instructor noted, there were worse places we could have been stuck. Can’t really complain about an extra day in paradise, right?

haha, oh yeah! we’d rented bikes the night of the full moon party, and didn’t lock them up because our friends assured us they’d had bikes for 2 days and there was never a problem. plus we were just grabbing one happy hour drink so the risk was low anyway. except wayne’s ended up being taken! (we’re sure it was an accident; there was one just like it at the place we had a drink, but the hotel owners wouldn’t let us take it because we couldn’t prove there had been a mix-up.) so we had to drive around like this for a day until, by some amazing stroke of luck, wayne happened to see his own on the side of the road the next afternoon. how charming though, right? (even if it made for a bit of a sore bum…)

yes please?

sunset on our last night.

one last amazing seafood dinner…

in addition to no motorized transport there are no dogs on gili t! but there are tons of kitties. also if you’re admiring those flip flops i got them in ubud for 25,000 rupiah ($2.50). then someone at the market tried to charge me 80,000 rupiah for the same ones not 30 minutes later! and then ollie destroyed one last week… you’d think after 3 other pairs i’d learn…

So that’s the not-so-brief overview of Gili T…

On a completely unrelated note I’m terrified that the coffee shop in which I currently find myself is closing. I have only my bicycle, and no rain jacket, and it’s completely pouring outside! Guess this gives me time to plan my lesson for the police officers we start teaching tomorrow (assuming the café stays open and I’m not forced to destroy my computer more than it’s already destroyed on account of my dropping it a few months ago…).


Weekend in Pak Meng

Well, this post is coming with another exciting one right on its heels, I promise. Wayne and I have just accompanied a Thai friend to his countryside home just outside Hat Yai to attend what we thought was a Thai reggae show and what ended up being an all-night benefit concert (literally… 7 pm to 6 am) and, as you can imagine, it was a rip-roaring time. However I still have the shenanigans from two weekends ago to catch you up on so our more recent good times will just have to wait.

Three weekends ago Wayne and Eugene plotted a course to Pak Meng, what we’d determined to be one of the nearest beaches to us after Wayne headed up a summer camp there about a year ago with our former agency. And indeed, the two fearless guys found it took an easy hour-and-a-half to make it to this lovely locale.

Of course, Wayne and I had slightly different plans than when he went solo with Eugene. First, we were going to stay a night, and we were going to make good on something we’ve been talking about for ages and actually camp. And secondly… we’d be bringing a third passenger.

That’s right… somehow we drove the 101 kilometers from Thung Song to Pak Meng with two passengers, a backpack-o’-clothes-and-stuff, Wayne’s waterproof bag, a tent, a sleeping bag, and a puppy. On our old Honda Dream that can only hit 90 km on a good day. Despite the sedatives I’d bought for Ollie (from our very incredulous vet. You want to do what? On what? With whom?) he was a little wiggle-worm (who’s really not that little anymore…), making the journey a bit nerve-wracking for Wayne, who had to control the bike; and uncomfortable for me, who had to control Ollie and was covered in dog hair and scratch marks by the end of the journey. We got bewildered stares from every car and bike that passed, and the trip took an hour longer than it had on the previous attempt, but in the end we made it. Victory!

most of the time he was on my lap but for the last 15 minutes or so we moved him to the backpack between wayne's legs, affording me the opportunity to snap these amazing shots.

I had the honor of being the first to play with Ollie amongst the waves as Wayne took it upon himself to get our tire fixed (yeah, stopping for air twice along the way didn’t help our time any). By this point we were hungry so we sat at a little beachside cafe for some grilled prawns, Leo, and people watching. And Wayne took the opportunity to throw around the ball with Mr. Ollie Pup.

oh yeah, haha. your daily dose of barf-worthiness... wayne brightened my morning before setting out with his clever scoring-of-the-bread.

so i did my best to reciprocate with smiley eggs.

finally here!

'come onnnn mom please stop taking pictures we have walking to do!'

view from the eatery.

gorgeous thing.

a boy and his dog.

'i love this place i love this place i love this place i don't know where i am and i can't remember how i got here and i think there was a lot of wind and i hated it but i love this place!'

Pak Meng’s a bit different to many of the other beaches we’ve visited in that it’s predominantly frequented by Thais. We saw maybe only one or two other farang while we were there and it just felt like a more authentic experience. Also, as Thais generally prefer to stay out of the sun to avoid becoming “black-skinned” (as they love to say, no matter how many times we tell them that a] they’re not black and ] should they ever travel outside Thailand they might want to avoid using it as a negative remark) we had the beach to ourselves by the time we decided to hunker down and find a campsite. Of course… we didn’t get right down to camping, but instead decided to enjoy the daylight hours teaching Ollie to swim and doing yoga.

a thai friend, toom, suggested ages ago at yoga that i get a picture on the beach in standing bow. finally made it happen:).

good job little buddy!

so proud of my little guy.

so proud of his little guy!

So despite his apprehension in the rivers around our house (I had a cute video going until I brilliantly decided to drop my computer a few weeks ago and am still in the process of organizing data recovery… You can imagine what a process that is in Thailand.) it turns out Ollie *loves* the water and thinks swimming is the best thing ever. Yay! We also found a lot of sea creatures in Pak Meng, beginning with a star fish.

hermie crabz.

'durrrr, i likes da hermie crabz!' (harper and ollie share a voice in my head.) we brought him home a shell to play with.

pufferfish? didn't find this one. it was offered to us by some random thais. alas, we could not accept.

pufferfish-offering thais.

Post-playing made for relaxing and watching yet another gorgeous Thai sunset. They never fail to please. It also gave Ollie time to make a friend (a friend! Not a dog he viciously barked at, or vice versa, but instead gallivanted so far down the beach Wayne had to track him down on the motorbike.)

finally, at dusk (and later, we'd learn, at dawn) the thais come out to collect... something in the shallow tide water.

happy family:)

Before it got too dark it was time to set up the tent we’d borrowed from a coworker. We chose the location we did because it was in front of a big, open space of beach and a bit beyond where the shops and restaurants were on the main stretch of beach; we assumed it would be a nice, peaceful place to rest our weary heads…

Wrong. Between the mosquitos that made it in on account of the broken zipper it took us 20 minutes to close before going to dinner (a delicious Tom Yum Kung and steamed fish combo), Ollie’s barking at every Thai person and cat that passed (so racist), and the way-more-frequent-than-expected passing of a car or motorbike, it wasn’t exactly the best night’s sleep either of us had ever had.

wah wah.

The upside was that our lousy sleeping conditions had us up in time to watch an equally mesmerizing sunrise, enhanced by a just-past-full-moon still gorgeously hanging in the sky.

reflected on the beach.

Of course, rising at 6:30 can often mean your breakfast options are a bit limited. We did finally find a place down by the pier, and were surprised to find that our eggs and toast were accompanied by french fries. Still deciding whether that was a good or bad addition.

After breakfast we closed up camp and decided to head to two of Trang’s other nearby beaches; Had Ying Long and Had Yao. The first is a national park and generally requires a 200 baht admission fee for farang and Thais alike. We approached to find the ticket booth empty and thought we’d lucked out– only to be stopped upon exit and asked for our money. We… doctored the truth a bit and claimed to only have 100 baht between the two of us, which the lady was reluctantly about to accept, until Wayne tried the trump card: “Rao bpen ajarn ti Thung Song, krup!” (“We’re teachers in Thung Song!”) “Ohhh ajarn?! Okay, okay. Mai bpen rai.” (“Ohhh, teachers?! Okay, okay, no problem.”) And we got in for free anyway. Guess there are some perks to this job…

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Had Ying Long was a nice enough place, though we’re not exactly sure what the 200 baht/person was going towards as far as cleanup goes. Though it was quite deserted when we got there, we noticed an even more deserted beach off in the distance. The tide was low enough that the water only came up to our chests at its highest point on our way over, and we spent an hour-or-so on our own private beach. Snazzy!

view from normal-people's had ying long

view from adventurous-beach-finding-people's beach near had ying long

sand was so soft. destroyed a million crab colonies, i'm sure.

lil bb pup can't make it over the rocks!

'gorgeous driftwood,' i remember remarking, but the picture doesn't really do it justice.

one of the drawbacks of being so deserted is that there's no one to clean up the washed-up debris...

another animal we found on the beach!

Then we went to Had Yao, a smaller, even quieter beach just down the road where we think could be a great camping locale in the future. Ate some delicious sweet and sour fish and then headed home!

Weekend in Tonsai

When I think about it, I can’t even pinpoint when Wayne and I first developed an interest in rock climbing. It was a long time ago. My memory’s taking me back to boulder-strewn Hampi, which we understood to be a bit of a climber’s haven; to Max’s amazing home-bouldering video (seriously, do yourself a favor and click that link); to some outdoorsy, adventurous documentaries I seem to remember getting our hands on in China. Let’s just say it’s been on the brain, on and off, for a few years now.

I returned from Bangkok last week to hear Wayne had spoken to one of our friends here in Thung Song who jets off to a little place called Tonsai fairly frequently. Tonsai’s located in Krabi province– famous for its limestone cliffs and the awesome climbing potential they provide. Not only had Christina, our friend, done a bit of climbing there herself, she knew some of the instructors and climbing regulars and said she’d be happy to introduce us and, no pun intended (okay, pun kind of intended), show us the ropes a little. It was tempting.

Especially when Eugene got worked into the plans and it was to become a bike adventure. And when tents worked themselves into the plans and it was to become a camping adventure. A climbing, biking, camping adventure! But… I’d just gone away the previous weekend. And… there was a going away party in Thung Song I wanted to attend. I said I was going to gracefully bow out. I made plans of my own consisting solely of cuddling the pup, trying out new recipes, and watching Arrested Development reruns. I was actually pretty excited for it.

But temptation became too great when it became more than a boys-hit-the-road-and-meet-Christina affair. Her roommate, Collette, and Collette’s friend from the States would be in attendance, and they were forming a bona fide farang bike convoy. And it was Collette’s birthday on Sunday. And I’d see all the people from the going away party again. And some numbers were getting tossed around and it didn’t seem like it was going to be too pricey. And there was room for just one more on the back of Wayne’s bike. Sorry Ollie… we’ll get our cuddle weekend someday.

this is the face of a puppy scorned...

convoy, ready to depart! (christine, eugene, wayne, myself, riley, and collette)

what's that face all about?!

The drive was 2.5 hours of blue-skied smooth sailing. I tried to capture the moments along the way but only a handful of shots turned out how I’d wanted. And of course, being Thailand, we were always in for a few surprises along the way.

someone walking their cow. standard.

chickens crossing the road.

passing a rubber grove.

haha... wayne was generally leading the way (because he'd looked up the route), but on the uphills we lost some ground.

a coconut monkey! (they climb the trees to harvest the coconuts).

mountains rising... we must be getting closer.

i've become infatuated with the cult of the king in thailand.

not sure what this sign's all about...

i think maybe the best thing we saw on the ride... (yes, those are people sitting inside it).

still smiling, though we'd just added about 20 minutes onto our journey by missing a turn.

The driving portion of the trip brought us to Ao Nang, one of the more common tourist spots in Krabi (where we stayed last April), and where we met Glen for lunch. Satisfied with our yellow curries, pad thais, and som tams, it was time to take the 100 baht/person, 5-minute boat ride to Tonsai. That’s all it took!

orchid-envy at the restaurant.

Though I’ve never been to Railay Beach, a favorite amongst visitors to Thailand, I’m going to make the statement that Tonsai is the cooler, cheaper, more laid back little brother of Railay. They occupy the same accessible only-by-boat bay and I’m sure are comparable in terms of beauty and fun-to-be-had. But I must say that scoping out and taking advantage of lesser-known destinations is one of the benefits of living in a place (as opposed to just visiting) and I have a feeling I’d take the “hippie” vibe of Tonsai over Railay’s (as I understand it) tourist-trap status any day. Of course, one of the draws of lesser-known places are the cheaper prices, and with bungalows at 200 ($6.70) and 300 ($10)  baht/night, Tonsai’s one of the cheapest places I’ve come across. And yes, that does mean we never procured that tent we were hoping for, and the camping portion of the climbing/biking/camping adventure got scrapped.

view from inside the girls' favorite hangout on the beach, chill out bar (complete with 200 baht/night bungalows, though they were full when we arrived, and we settled for viking bungalows, just down the beach, for 300 baht/night).

chill out bar had tables situated in old longtails. how clever!

tides came and went quickly, and when the tide was out we were left with a huge expanse of rocky muck in place of the sea!

found a cuddle buddy after all! (did i mention i'm allergic to cats?)

goodbye friend!

jimmy, one of the chill out employees, playing frisbee. we'd all join, and it would bring us much joy.

jimmy by night.

So by now you’re probably wondering just where the rock climbing comes in. And, well, it doesn’t… Since we knew we’d be a bit exhausted from the bike ride, we decided we’d only go for it on Sunday morning, before leaving. However, we arrived to learn that Christina’s main climbing connection is suffering from a foot injury at the moment (and Christina’s just getting over being sick herself). So we thought maybe it would be better to just scope out the scene and get a feel for Tonsai on this, our first excursion to the location, and do some climbing next time (since it won our hearts so and we feel sure there will be a next time). And thus the money we set aside for climbing went instead to the more standard beach fare of dinner and cocktails (which, incidentally, ended up a bit more expensive than the climbing would have been. Whoops.)

Though short it was an excellent weekend and I’d definitely recommend the spot to anyone to whom the no-frills-just-good-clean-fun lifestyle appeals. That’s definitely what Tonsai is all about!

what the inside of a $10 bungalow looks like. i mean, what more do you need than a mattress and mosquito net?

what the outside of a $10 bungalow looks like.

we did go WATCH some climbers, if that counts...

Instead of climbing, Sunday was dedicated to the more leisurely activities of eating breakfast at Sabai Sabai Café and wandering into the more jungly area of Tonsai. We were surprised to find how far back it went and would be interested in doing more exploring in that direction next time as well. I mean, we ran into people who’d stayed there for weeks and months, so there’s really no shortage of outdoorsy fun to keep one occupied. Around one o’clock we were off to Ao Nang, where we had a delicious Indian lunch for Collette’s birthday, and then it was back home with us.

Aside from all the beautiful and fun things I just shared, I think one of the reasons the weekend has left such a fond impression in my memory is that so many of the people we interacted with were just so genuine, kind, and cool. All the staff at Chill Out Bar were awesome, and the patrons we ended up hanging out with were also very enjoyable. Sunday morning when we were packing Wayne realized one of his shirts was missing (he changed after holding the cat, on account of my allergies). I went back and found not only his shirt, but one of Eugene’s and one of our snorkels. When you’re kind of always on your guard against thieves and other such menaces as a traveler, it’s really nice to go to a place where you can forget a few items in a bar and go back the next day without them being touched.

We had another memorable instance of overt caring and compassion on the part of the Thais on our way back. We were only about 40 kilometers away, eager to finish the trip, when a truck pulled out suddenly, causing Wayne to slam on the breaks, causing Christina to slam on hers just behind us. Alas, the bike locked up and slid, breaking a mirror and leaving Christina with a few scrapes and scratches. Now, I’ve almost never seen a Thai person get right down to business and start making things happen, but this time around it was unbelievable. In a flash, there was a water bottle so she could rinse her wounds, and it took about one minute for a “proper medic” (read: man from down the road carrying a tote bag full of things like iodine) to appear on the scene. They sat her down, doctored the scrapes, and all in all seemed very concerned and desperate to help us in any way we needed. When you’ve lived somewhere like Thailand long enough it can be easy to let the cultural frustrations occupy a greater portion of one’s mind than the positive factors. I know I’m guilty of this as well, but I also know I’ve seen so much kindness and generosity on the part of Thais, and I know that’s the kind of thing that will remain in my mind long after I’m gone.

Penang, Again (Part Two)

Here’s where I welcome you to my new blog and then quickly proceed with the storytelling, since it looks like this is becoming a THREE part affair. (Just so many pictures, you know?!)

I believe I left you as we were cruising the urban coast to Batu Ferringhi, the main beach on the island. We went a little further than we’d gone by bus last time, since we had rented a motorbike and such was our prerogative. As we found last time the water was a bit suspect (very murky? gooey spots on the bottom?) but the surroundings were nice and you can never argue with a bit of time laid out on the sand. After spending a bit of time on one spot of the beach we got on the bike and started heading back, pulling over at two more secluded places we’d seen along the way.

staircase to secluded beach #1

another big lizard!

at the third beach.

post-gallivanting beer. hooray tiger!

As I mentioned in the previous post, we had big plans to see a movie at First Avenue’s 8th floor cinema. The movie was Sherlock Holmes: Game of Shadows and it was playing at 6 pm… just enough time to rush back to our *new* guesthouse (we found a room for 30RM [300B; $10] at the Love Lane Inn), shower up, and move out.

cruising back. this shot got me a honk and a big thumbs up from the occupants of that blue car!

steal beatles shirt from clothesline or take picture of wayne on bike next to beatles shirt on clothesline?... hmmmm

oh yeah, had to change money as well. this was a great place to do it!

I actually quite enjoyed the movie, and it’s always fun to indulge in a cinema experience (though I think the whole thing, popcorn and soda included, ended up being less than $10 between the two of us… Malaysia felt more expensive than Thailand but I guess it’s still not that expensive!). And the icing on the cake of the evening? Popping in at Sakae Sushi for dinner. This place was nuts… each table was decked out with an iPad from which you’d order and simultaneously plates were whizzing about on a conveyor belt to be plucked at your leisure. It was a fun time.

Though stuffed to the gills we even managed to split a cup of gelato from a gelateria in the basement. On our way back to the guesthouse I was joking that we were like real town folk come to the big city because that’s surely how it felt. To be read with a thick Southern twang: “And we went to the top of this real tall buil-dang and we saw a moovie in the thee-ay-ter and we ate this weird fish that wudn’t even friiied up and we ate some aaahce cream. All in all it was a real good time y’all.”