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3…2…1… Action – Bangkok

Thailand, Bangkok in particular, have made international headlines for all the wrong reasons (Red Shirt Protests) in recent times. Yet Thailand’s capital, when not under pseudo martial law, is exhilarating to explore. Elaborate palaces, a street catering to cheap backpackers, an impressive airport, dazzling wats, and happening night bazaars. Our travels took us there on two separate occasions under very different circumstances.

Every backpacker that has trod over SE Asia has experienced Bangkok’s Khaosan Road. Here is a taste of the mayhem performed by two inebriated German fellows:

Bangkok is littered with ridiculous palaces and wats. We hung around Wat Intrawiham long enough to absorb the Buddhist atmosphere:

Over three months in SE Asia came to an end at the sensational Bangkok International Airport, but not before managing the intense military presence:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

Red Shirt Protester Camp - Downtown Bangkok1. Sometimes you must weigh risk versus frugality. Such was the case when sorting out travel to / within Japan. It was necessary to purchase the Japan Rail Pass overseas and the Bangkok International Airport was by far the cheapest route to Tokyo. Purchasing the rail pass took us into the heart of the Red Shirt protest in downtown Bangkok, where our transactions were performed expediently. All worked out well, yet the risk was obvious as evidenced by a heavy army presence next to bamboo and tire barricades full of determined protesters.

Konsai in Pai

Sensing an overrated location became second nature. So many travelers raved about Chiang Mai and its jungle excursions, but we had our doubts. So after plenty of time sorting through what Thailand’s second largest city had to offer, it was abundantly clear that it wasn’t what we were after. Our backpacks loaded, we hit the local bus stop and boarded a minibus, seriously, a miniature bus complete with ridiculously long side mirrors, for Pai. Disembarking in a dusty parking lot, we knew this would be a more authentic experience.

Ash on Pai Street Minibus to Pai

Greg Along RiverThe town is tiny considering one of two main roads converts from pavement to a wobbly wooden footbridge over the meandering Pai River. We felt transformed by this bridge. On the paved side, you are the average tourist in Thailand, on the other a hippie commune cult member. Some youths lounged outside their bamboo huts while others tossed batons into the humid air. Still others gathered near the river sipping potent liquor concoctions from colorful beach buckets (including yours truly). A sense of enchantment permeated from the calmness of the scene. Before being lured into the nonsense altogether, a retreat was sounded for the small shops in town. Nearly every other storefront poured drinks to revelers perched on streetside stools. We watched a competitive game of table tennis underneath corrugated steel between two young Thai boys. The skill level seemed fair, but the competitor on our left had a distinct advantage. You see, his side of the wooden table was both flatter (constructed by horizontal planks of wood) and bigger than the other. When his hit ball struck the edge of a board on the other side, a wicked bounce would send it out of play. It was a landslide victory.

Ping Pong Match Drinking Buckets at Riverside Bar at Sunset

Greg Stands on KonsaiThe main draw cards in Pai are bamboo rafting and elephant riding. The dry season prevented any flotation activities, but Konsai is an all weather vehicle. A pickup ride into the mountains ended at a small home filled with dogs, children, and elephants. Up a rickety staircase then onto the back of the immensely kind Asian elephant, Konsai, his prickly back hair itching our legs. Off into the forest we road, but soon found that the dry season not only reduces water levels, but also depletes the forest of its green hue. Regardless, Ash and I rode high atop the scorched earth as Konsai lumbered to the river where this beast unleashed his fury. Hanuman, our friendly guide, would shout a Thai language instruction and Konsai responded with his best impression of a bull. We were tossed around like ragdolls. After being ejected from Konsai’s back into the muddy water twice, Ash opted for a riverside view instead. With just me on the XXL bull, Hanuman pulled out his dirtiest tricks. My knuckles white grasping the green rope looped around the elephant’s midsection, Konsai began flailing his gray trunk, ears flapping to and fro. I was able to withstand this wrangling, but my undoing was when Hanuman instructed him to sit. Off the back I slid, afraid that Death had arrived in the form of being drowned by an elephant’s rump. This escapade escalated until I glanced an underwater rock and it became evident one misguided dismount could land us back in yet another hospital.

Riding Elephant in Pai Waterlogged

Post Elephant Riding, Puppy Play TimeAnother minibus ride back to Chiang Mai and then a comfortable overnight train to Bangkok, we found ourselves amidst the violent Red Shirt protests. The streets were more or less vacant except for heavily armed soldiers, which made our cab ride swift. Past walls of black tires strewn with bamboo sticks we went as we peered shifting protesters that had barricaded themselves within several city blocks, effectively stifling that particular city section. We made our business downtown fast having prearranged the purchase of Japan Rail Passes. The military presence near the airport was nothing to joke about considering the same group of protesters shut down air travel for eight days in November 2008.

Konsai Tosses Around Like Rag Dolls Greg Attempts Bull Riding on Konsai

Red Shirt Protesters Have Some Armed CompanyThree dynamic months in Southeast Asia had come to a close. Handling tigers, pristine beaches, anti-American museums, living with loving orphans, a moto accident, ancient temples, agile elephants, bus rides from hell, tasty food. The list goes on.

Kon’nichiwa Japan, a proud nation whose culture seemed bulletproof from Western influence.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. A photographer followed us while riding Konsai into the forest and eventually to the river. We were under no obligation to purchase his digital prints and his asking price was ridiculous. Knowing he had already spent his time with us and it would cost next to nothing to transfer the photos to DVD, a swift negotiation followed that satisfied both parties.

Bengals, Cooking Thai & Hospital Visits

We left Laos behind like a bad habit in search of a hospital that looked slightly better than a rundown motel.

Chiang Mai Cooking School - Maya Thailand’s large northern city of Chiang Mai had just what the doctor ordered (pun intended) in the regionally known international Ramkhamhaeng Hospital. We checked into a ragged hostel after a short hop flight from Luang Prabang, Laos. It had to be up there in terms of the worst digs on our fourteen month RTW adventure. Waking early, we promptly hit an internet cafe and booked alternate accommodations in a cheap hotel that was beyond comparison. Dropping our bags, we loaded up with Thai Bhat in anticipation of a large medical bill and patiently waited for Ash’s turn to see the plastic surgeon. Dr. Wongtrangkha was impressed with the healing just three days after the accident and scheduled an appointment four days later to remove the five stitches. We made our days waiting around worthwhile.

Cooking With Fire Thai Feast

Half Opened FruitLoving the authentic Thai food during our February jaunt in the southern portion of Thailand, it didn’t take much to sell us on a whole day in the cooking classroom. Maya fetched us early in the morning then did the same with three others before parking at a local outdoor food market. There, she pointed out unique fruits, farm fresh vegetables, and varying qualities of white rice. With ingredients procured, we settled into our cooking stations in Maya’s extra large alfresco kitchen. She patiently took us through the preparation of 8+ dishes including lots of curry courses, my favorite. Our last Thai cooking maneuver had us angle the skillet then add a small amount water to the stir fry. Poof! A ball of orange fire shot up like a demon from hell. Ash contained herself and the contents of her skillet. I wasn’t so lucky considering 60% of my food ended up on the preparation table. Alas, with chopsticks in hand, we gathered around a wooden table and chowed down complete with cold Chang beer. Could we prepare any of these dishes today? Not a chance, but we had one heck of a time for the invigorating exercise.

Ash with Three Month Old Tiger Cubs Cat Fight

Big Hands You Know You're The OneBeing from The Nasty Nati (Cincinnati, OH), I have been a lifelong fan of the Bengals, our less than successful NFL franchise. So an up close and personal opportunity with our mascot at the Tiger Kingdom was a no brainer. We motored through the green farmland in a tuk-tuk then approached the touristy entrance and paid our fee: Ash was to handle three month old cubs while I opted to enter the pen with two full grown Bengal tigers. Ash was on Cloud #9 with a rather large kitten splayed in her lap, another to her right. Their paws matched her hands in size and were ticklish as they slumbered the balmy afternoon away.

Greg Looking Nervous Bath Time

Din Din MorrisNext, I was eager to confront the big cats, until I stepped foot in their enclosure. The curator instructed me to avoid direct eye contact or get near their face, directions I took to heart. I was instantly entranced with their marbled white, orange, and black fur. Once acclimated to their immense size and recognizing my place in the food chain, the experience was monumental. I did as the two brother felines did; napping when they got some shut eye, relaxing when they lounged, and even helped them bathe. All the while respecting the largest cats on Earth. Safely out of the tiger’s territory, Ash and I watched adolescent tigers getting some exercise during an impromptu wrestle in a water basin. This scene made it impossibly clear that you don’t want to come across a tiger in the wild. As we were departing the Tiger Kingdom, we spied the cubs that Ashley handled, but this time they were wide awake as they made their way to a feeding of meat scraps.

Ram Hospital - Stitches Being Removed Ash's Thai Doctor

Stitches Being RemovedOne more visit to the Ramkhamhaeng Hospital for Ashley’s stitches to be removed and we were off to Pai, near the Thailand border with Myanmar (Burma). With a scalpel and forceps, Dr. Wongtrangkha expertly cut away the threads revealing a wound that would shortly disappear. Kudos to the Laos physician who bandaged her up. Though severely black and blue and still swollen, Ash and her cheek were ready for the next adventure atop an Asian elephant.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Amazing what $5 can do in SE Asia. Just 500 pennies upgraded us from a nasty hostel to a newer hotel with a slick rooftop deck. Keeping a fluid budget can make all the difference. Instead of losing sleep over roaches we were sprawling out in a queen sized bed with English television channels (English!).
2) Medical care in SE Asia compared to America is pleasantly cheap. Sure, the quality of care is not comparable, but two visits with a plastic surgeon and prescription ointment racked up a bill of $21.37. Our World Nomads insurance had a deductible of $100, so there was no point in even filing a claim.

3…2…1… Action – Handling Tigers & Bull Riding Elephants

Though an international hospital drew us to Thailand’s second largest city, Chiang Mai, we made the most of our stop by handling felines slightly larger than your domestic house cat. Once Ash’s facial stitches were removed, we neared the Myanmar border for relaxation in the sleepy town of Pai.

After carefully researching that the Tiger Kingdom does not mistreat their beautiful Bengals, Ash had the rare opportunity of having a pair of tiger cubs in her lap:

Away from noisy Chiang Mai is the sleepy village of Pai. Watch Greg successfully fulfill his dream of being in the rodeo, albeit on the back of an Asian elephant:

Yet his dreams came crashing down into the Pai River after Konsai had enough and tossed him into the muddy basin:

A bit hippie? Certainly, but Pai doesn’t discriminate and welcomes granolas like us to enjoy its serenity just the same:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Ash’s cousin was hospitalized in Thailand after contracting a bacterial infection from filthy water during a similar elephant experience. Though we did not suffer the same fate, the only reasonable way to wholly avoid this hazard is to have the elephants refrain from waterways.

Whale Sharks & Thai Politics

Excitement nearly ruined a whole night of sleep on Koh Samui. In ten hours I would be on the hunt for the elusive whale shark off Thailand’s Koh Tao. All the dive operators work together, relaying the latest location info if a sighting is made.  Fingers crossed.

Greg Swims Into Rock Mass of FIsh

Sweet CD CollectionSadly, Ash had a head cold, preventing her from participating in the diving excursion. So at 5:00am, I sat alone on the damp wooden planks of a picnic table as the morning fog slowly lifted from a valley below the Baan Taling Ngam Resort. Finally, a beaten pickup truck arrived and we rambled across Koh Samui for forty minutes to Chaweng Beach to fetch a beginner diver. I was enamored with the driver’s soft rock CD collection: Byan Adam’s Greatest Hits, Eagles’ Hell Freezes Over, and Rod Stewart’s The Best Of. Rod and I became acquainted once more as the poor driver waited patiently for the tardy diver to appear. With a bounty of excuses, she flew out of the hostel door, her hair in tangles. Pulling up to the lively dock, we barely made the transfer boat across the Bay of Thailand to Koh Tao.

Japanese Gardens Blue-Ringed Angel Fish

Koh Tao - DockHaving exchanged the speedboat for a retrofitted junk vessel, we were aboard the scuba mothership where I met my personal instructor, Scottish Scotty. Because everyone else on the ship were either attaining their PADI certification or doing a recreational dive, just Scotty and I boarded the tender and sped off to a coast line of beautiful coral called the Japanese Gardens. Wearing a shorty wetsuit, we quickly descended into the warm blue saltwater. The visibility was decent as my experienced guide pointed out blue spotted stingrays and hidden white eyed eels among the colorful coral. Over fifty minutes passed as we hugged the depths of the alluring coastline. Although the whale shark remained our of sight, the other scenery proved deserving.

Coral & Fish Amazing

Chilaxing Between DivesBetween dives, terrible coffee and buttery biscuits (cookies) were shared atop the dive boat as we bobbed in a pristine bay. The instructors awaited info over the radio waves concerning the whale sharks, but it never came. Bummed, I dawned my dive equipment once more, spitting in the mask as an anti-fog mechanism. Scotty gave me some pointers on how to perform a front flip entry, which was rather thrilling once the twenty-one pound tank strapped to my somersaulting back gained momentum. Once again, the Mango Bay dive site was all ours as the other divers reviewed lessons. Saddle back clown, triger, blue ringed angel, parrot, coral rock cod – fish of every variety welcomed our presence. Besides the British Virgin Islands, I have never seen so many dang fish in the ocean. After an exhilarating sixty minutes (sixty minutes!) in the remarkable ocean playground, we came to a school of jack fish that formed a seemingly impenetrable wall around me. No matter which direction I peered from my mask, bits of blue sunlight appeared thru the swarming sea creatures. It was a moment that will stay with me for a long time. Scotty, an extraordinary guide, timed the dive with precision. As we were performing our safety stop twenty feet below sea level, I had to suck rather than breath from my life supporting oxygen tank. It was the longest dive of my career.

Fins White Eyed Eel

Koh TaoResting top deck with yet another awful cup of Joe, I spoke with Scottish Scotty about his experience living full-time in Thailand. Our blunt conversation covered the positives, but focused on corruption. His Thai girlfriend of six years, has been paid for every vote she has cast. And not just her, her entire family and neighbors too. Though a democratic state, it was easy to understand how the violent Red Shirt protests that dominated the news in early/mid 2010 grew to such large numbers. Many Thai citizen’s loyalties lie with the highest bidder. That is, many of the Red Shirt protestors were paid for their appearance, just like political parties are known to compensate for votes. To have government power is to control the flow of money. This is not to say that ordinary Thai’s do not have legitimate beefs with the government or cannot think for themselves. But the fact remains, when three months of your annual income is offered for a single vote, it makes the decision for poorer people a bit easier. Such was the conversation as we motored back to Koh Samui. This stark reality greatly saddened me as I remarked to Scotty how much Ash and I enjoy the people of Thailand. They deserve so much better.

Thousands of Jack Fish Lurking Fish

No whale sharks, though two hours of scuba diving in the Bay of Thailand was unforgettable. I’ll remember the mass of swarming fish and be thankful I come from a country where my independent vote still counts.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Talking domestic and/or international politics in a foreign country, is a slippery slope. Choose your conversational partners wisely as differences in opinion can escalate quickly. We have found it interesting to speak with expatriates from Western countries about their political viewpoints in their new home. Oh, and everyone wants to discuss Obama and Bush. Beware.
2) Koh Tao is #2 in the world behind Australia’s Cairns for the number of PADI scuba certifications issued per year. Thailand also happens to be one of the cheapest locations worldwide for the worthwhile education. Before spending the time and money on PADI, you can perform recreational dives, which require absolutely no experience, nearly everywhere scuba diving is offered. Dip your toe, so to speak, to ensure it is something of interest.

Operation Koh Samui: Ash’s Birthday

Baan Taling Ngam Resort - PalmsAdjusting our travel plans on a daily basis is nothing new for us. We have acclimated quite well to the windy, and sometimes unknown, world path. But for Ash’s 27th birthday, we were determined to celebrate in a relaxing and charming environment. That required endless hours of research and what resulted was a brilliantly executed plan. After re-routing Southeast Asia and India, Ashley’s birth anniversary would be observed in gorgeous Koh Samui, Thailand.

Baan Taling Ngam Resort - Beach Room 103 View

Shot Through ResortAshley’s folks provided me with a birthday budget and I whittled down the list of potential Thai islands and hotels. Knowing that yours truly would share in the birthday spoils, I was resolute in stretching the money. We boarded a bus in Ao Nang on Thailand’s West Coast with Ashley having no idea where the wind would take us. Not until we transferred from bus to ferry four hours later did she know Koh Samui was our destination. With cuckoo clock precision, a driver from Baan Taling Ngam Resort awaited our arrival and whisked us to the clifftop perch. Having found a steal of a deal on the World Wide Web (invented by Al Gore), Ash was ecstatic to rest her dogs in decadence for five nights after a ½ year globetrotting on a shoestring.

Infinity Pool Sunset from Baan Taling Gnam Resort - Dock

Infinity Pool - Greg's SplashThe incredible pools, immaculate rooms, warm ocean, heavenly sunsets, britches busting breakfasts, sandy beach, accommodating staff… we were thrilled. Some guests turned a weary eye when our worn backpacks were unloaded. As they should, we didn’t fit in here so well! That feeling set sail once we uncorked a bottle of complimentary wine and we relaxed in the lap of luxury. We had seen sunsets on five continents, but the intense colors over the Bay of Thailand were something else while perched high above the sea. And there was an unannounced comedy show for all guests to enjoy, except for me.

Beach Baan Taling Ngam Resort from Beach

Greg Trying to WindsurfThe beach briefing lasted all of five minutes and in no time I was crashing into rocks, docks, and coral trying to windsurf. The northwesterly wind was steady as was my determination to succeed. Going down wind was thoroughly enjoyable, but finding the proper angle and balance while traveling into the wind proved frustrating. My feet, previously diced by the Andaman Sea, paid a heavy price with the sharp coral just two feet below the blue waves. Up, down, up, down, up, cruise for thirty glorious seconds, splash. After forty tumultuous minutes trying to windsurf, I was defeated and humiliated. No doubt, those imbibing on pina coladas beachside had a good laugh at my expense. Upset with myself, I gave Ashley the silent treatment for two hours.

Nursing Greg's Feet Back To Health Sunset over Taling Ngam Beach

Couples MassageAlas, the birthday girl’s day was upon us. The resort offered “breakfast in bed” at a king’s ransom, so I did the next best thing and prepared plates of food from the delicious (and included) buffet. Waking the newly 27 Ashley, she was touched by my thoughtfulness. Enjoying the breathtaking view as the morning slipped away, Ash was brought to tears as she read emailed well wishes from family and friends. Two particularly exciting bits of info were also disclosed on the special day. First, Ashley’s entire family was booked on a flight into Switzerland and out of Italy, a Miller invasion of Europe would reunite us for 11 days. Secondly, though early in the gestation period, my Brother and Sister-In-Law were expecting their first child! Elated, the time for our couples massage had arrived. Who knows where that sixty minutes went… it was that relaxing. Having notified the resort it was Ash’s birthday, the spa provided a free milk bath. There was no way we could have afforded this service, so it was an absolute surprise to the birthday gal. Now guys, I know you are thinking, a milk bath? Really Greg? Yeah, really. It was incredible. The bath was prepared overlooking the Bay of Thailand, rose pedals floating in the suds, a chocolate heart, and a chilled bottle of champagne. Way to go Baan Taling Ngam, making me look good!

Milk Bath With Love Milk Bath

View of Bay of ThailandCompletely at peace with the world, I ordered room service for our terrace to be delivered at sunset. Without a doubt Ashley’s favorite item for ambiance, I was able to locate a few small candles for the occasion. Surf and turf, fresh vegetables, red wine, outstanding seafood soup… it was a meal of meals. Earlier in the day, I secretly had a birthday cake delivered (again, compliments of Baan Taling Ngam) to the room. I had Ash close her eyes as I lit the multi-colored candles and when those blue eyes revealed themselves, I knew she had enjoyed a Thai birthday to remember.

Sunset from Baan Taling Gnam Resort - Ash Ash's Bday Candlelight Dinner

The next day, reality reared its ugly head as we rode an overnight 2nd class sleeper train from Surat Thani to Bangkok. But ah, it was good to live the high life for five days and celebrate Ash’s birthday in style!

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Smile. A smile is universal and goes a heck of a lot farther than an angry tone when something goes wrong. Sure, there are times that require raising your voice, but we have found that a reasonable approach coupled with a genuine smile usually gets the job done. When the AC in our room broke, we nicely informed the staff and asked what they could do for us. Ten minutes later we were in a new room with a $60 bottle of Argentine malbec (our favorite wine).

3…2…1… Action: Operation Koh Samui

Inhabited fifteen centuries ago by fisherman, Koh Samui, located in the Bay of Thailand, is a dream come true.  As you will see in the three videos below, the island has come a long way.

The Western facing shore of Koh Samui is rated high amongst windsurfers.  Greg, is not a windsurfer, as seen below:

Norah Jones fingers a perfect background on the piano as Thailand says goodnight:

Ash’s #1 prerequisite for her 47th birthday was a bathtub in our lodging.  So she got one, it just happened to be inhabited by a demon tub snake:

- Ash & Greg

Learn from our Footsteps:

1) Koh Samui is an incredibly happening place these days.  If tranquility and splendid sunsets are your desire, opt for the Western coast of Thailand’s 3rd largest island.  If searching for all night parties, Chaweng, on the Eastern coast is your bogey.

Thai Island Hopping

Maya BayMost folks with an active pulse have heard tales concerning Thailand’s picturesque islands. Problem is, these tales aren’t “tall” and for that reason, the sandy islands beneath stunning karsks are flooded with tourists clamoring for their corner of paradise. Of course, these stories of wonderment drew Ash and I to see for ourselves.

Ao Nang Beach SunsetEleven days in incredible India made even these grizzled backpackers desiring a cold beer, a cleanish room, and a clear head. Not so fast. An overnight flight from New Delhi to Bangkok, a four hour layover, a short hop flight to Krabi Airport, and a ninety minute bus ride later, we arrived in Ao Nang on the Andaman Sea. We found it as advertised… stunning, but so did thousands of others. Ash rested after her sleepless night while I opted for a sunny nap on the nearby island of Koh Poda. Returning at sunset, I roused the drowsy Ash for the sunset that seemed to melt the bobbing longtail boats in the natural harbour. Three negotiating sessions yielded an attractive price for a full day of island hopping including the acclaimed Koh Phi Phi the following morning.

Koh Poda - Rescued Bottle While Snorkeling Pi Ley Bay

Monkey Bay Snorkeling with Medusa StingersDespite the live music of Ao Nang rocking until 4am, we managed to feel rested as we boarded the powerful outboard speedboat at sunrise. If I weren’t awake yet, Monkey Bay sure did the trick, what with its teeming water of medusa jellyfish. With our guide’s assurance that the stings aren’t too bad, 10% of the boat’s patrons found ourselves dodging the translucent ocean beings rather than snorkeling. In fact though, the stings felt like more than pin pricks, hundreds of pin pricks in the span of fifteen minutes. Next location on our whistle stop tour was the famed Maya Bay on Koh Phi Phi. The Beach turned this ridiculously beautiful locale into a zoo of tourists. As the boat powered down making the turn into the secluded bay, the focus of our engaged eyes fought valiantly between the amazing sight and the rows of speedboats, longtails, and densely populated white sand. To make the most of the experience, we waded out into the bay until Ash could barely stand. Here, Maya Bay felt void of the rabid holidaymakers. After short stops at Pi Ley Bay and the Viking Cave, the speedboat’s bow nestled into the white sand of Phi Phi Don where we dined on a surprisingly delicious lunch.

Maya Bay - Gregorio Maya Bay - Ash Hin Klarng - Open Water Snorkel

Phi Phi Don - Level of Water in 2004 TsunamiHaving ate our money’s worth, Ash and I took a leisurely walk around Phi Phi Don, a completely restored island after the devastating tsunami on December 26, 2004. Every Thai island now has clearly marked tsunami evacuation signs in case of an earthquake. However, the low lying nature of Phi Phi Don coupled with its beautiful yet terrifying attribute of having the sea on two sides demonstrates its vulnerability. In fact, a simple blue post displays how deathly high the water rose on that fateful 2004 morning. Three minutes and three powerful waves later, the entire island was nearly destroyed leaving 700 dead. With much of the island rebuilt, Ash and I could only look at post tsunami images to understand the gravity of the tragic event. Back in the speedboat wondering what must have crossed the minds of those caught in nature’s fury, we arrived at Bamboo Island for some lounging before a late afternoon open water snorkeling session at Hin Klarng. Suitably worn out after a sensational day island hopping, we hung around Ao Nang for yet another terrific sunset.

Phi Phi Don - Beach Shot Tsunami Evac Plan

Sunset Reading at Dawn of HappinessFed up with the tourist feeding frenzy of Ao Nang, we hopped a ten minute tuk-tuk and met up with my good buddy from college prep school, JRob, at Dawn of Happiness. This secluded and uber cheap beachside bungalow was perfect for the next two nights. We arrived just as two of the four vacationers from Shanghai bid adeiu to “the land of smiles.” Taylor, JRob, Ash, and I rented scooters for an afternoon of cruising the coast line. On a Thai backroad, we happened upon a local company offering rides on their proud elephants. JRob and Taylor climbed atop Thophaothong after Ashley and I were welcomed on Singjai’s back as we rumbled through a rubber tree plantation. Singjai was a well behaved elephant while Thophaothong acted up by grabbing anything he could eat with his powerful trunk.

After a relaxing night in the secluded Dawn of Happiness, we chartered a private longtail boat and headed for Chicken Island. Though the island has no chickens, it does feature clever monkeys. While some poor old sap was cooling off in the blue sea, one such rogue devil snuck in amongst the foliage and snatched his sandwich and banana. Having spent three hours in a cloistered area of Chicken Island, the tide had moved against us requiring a twenty minute chest high wade through the surf to reach our transportation. After a snack stop at Railay Beach, we arrived back at home base and showered up for a night to remember.

American Motorcycle Gang Feeding Elephants Lone Tree in the Andaman Sea

Chicken Island - Rogue MonkeyNa, the genuine proprietor of Dawn of Happiness, offered to accompany us to his favorite karaoke establishment. The cover charge? Join him in taking a shot of his “home made whiskey.” Whiskey me thinks not. It was a jar of cough medicine, water, and who knows what. Not wanting to be rude, we congratulated Na on his skills in creating the worst spirits ever and headed for the singing spot, gagging all the way. The record literally turned off as the four white folks waltzed into the local saloon. Ten minutes lates, JRob and Taylor were perched behind the computer selecting hits from the 80′s. Extreme, Elton John, Chumbawumba, and the late Michael Jackson were all burned down. Serenades, group sing-a-longs, and peculiar dance moves were all part of the act. Ash’s duet with an adorable elderly Thai man topped it all off. Despite the accommodating waitress ensuring our mugs were filled to the brim with Chang beer, our bill after three hours was laughable. It was a great night with local Thai people who were more than happy to share the microphone.

En Route to Turtle Island Ash's Serenade

The tales of Thailand’s beauty are not overblown. Discovering it for ourselves proved worthwhile.

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

1) Koh Phi Phi’s Maya Bay is certainly worth a visit, despite the throngs of people. You could opt for lodging on Koh Phi Phi and avoid the touristic times. Or when securing a boat trip, select one that visits Maya Bay first or last on its list of stops.
2) The Thai islands and coast in the Andaman Sea are strewn with small bungalow retreats. Determined Internet mining will yield a cheap and beautiful bungalow that you can call your own.

3…2…1… Action: Thailand’s Andaman Sea

Watch Ash and JRob feed Sinja and Keawa after an impromptu elephant ride while cruising on motos near Krabi, Thailand:

Spring Break 2010 aboard a private longtail boat to Chicken Island! Warning, JRob’s pale skin may be blinding:

Walking Koh Phi Phi’s jungle to Maya Bay, made famous in Leonardo DiCaprio’s backpacker hit, The Beach:

Another look at Maya Bay, this time from the azul water:

- Greg and Ash

Learn From Our Footsteps:

  1. Thailand is chalk full of islands… and plenty of tourists to occupy the white sand beaches. A little research will yield lonely beaches as fantastic as their well known brethren. Even a ten minute walk away from where the longtail boats arrive will ensure a private experience.

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