Sunday, February 28, 2010

day 14 (cont'd) - ko phi phi, thailand

after i got back from the exhilarating day trip, i roamed around the island and came across a real boxing ring in the middle of a sports bar (not everyday one sees this), along with some locals playing hacky sack with a makeshift ball...

i also kept seeing signs that pointed to a viewpoint, so since it was nearing sunset, i thought hey, i might as well take advantage of this great island to get even more pictures. what they don't tell you is that ever 300km or so, there's another sign that says 300km this way, so it ends up being this cruel exercise straight out of an escher print.

there were human detritus littered all along way, some furiously panting while their shirts were soaked thru, while others were straight up laid out on the side of the road. i was sweating balls, but remained undeterred in my quest up the hill. the one bright spot is that the entire way was quite delicious in smell, as native rose apple trees were in bloom:

still climbing skyward, i finally saw signs of tangible progress. if it weren't for this, i was ready to pack it up and turn around. but the fruits of my labor were not in vain. one can see both sides of phi phi don in one fell swoop: to the left is ton sai bay and to the right is loh dalum bay.

after a few minutes to collect my breath, i scurried down towards land and caught a last few remaining pics before the sun disappeared. on the right is a local fire dancer running thru his routine - without flame...

the phi phi islands are simply a wonderful slice of heaven and quite the majestic beauty of a natural habitat. this is definitely one place i was embarrassed to carry around my digital camera, as it simply can't do the landscape justice despite my best efforts. i can't recommend this place enough, and only wish we had ditched phuket and stayed here the entire four days. but there's always next time, right?

Saturday, February 27, 2010

day 14 - phi phi islands, thailand

before i forget, here's a snapshot of me churning out last night's post from the sports bar for their free internet. i managed to milk a can of chang for 2 hours, much to the chagrin of the bar owner. on my stroll home, i locked up a half-day trip for saturday to a myriad of places including phi phi leh for a scant 450 THB ($15).

day 14 started with a breakfast buffet at our hotel, which included omelettes, bacon & fresh fruit. what am i going to do when i return home to a plain ol' breakfast of a measly bowl of cereal?

and here's a look at our bathroom sink and the view from our balcony. i was out here drying off some laundry i attempted to perform in said sink...

our trip met up at 10:30am at loh dalum bay, where about 10 of us hopped in our longtail boat and pushed off for the island of phi phi leh. first up was maya bay (site of the aforementioned "the beach"), where we parked just outside it for some snorkeling - which i had to partake in, seeing as the clarity underwater was brilliant.

our driver bao pulled us into shore, and maya bay was immediately recognizable from the film.

and yeah, my skin was pretty red from phuket, when the scattered t-storms masked the hidden sun. needless to say, i was slathering aloe vera all night and day in hopes of quick rescue. and here are a few snaps ashore.

our 1/2 hour was up, so i scrambled for some last pics ashore. the girl in the first is posing for her man (unseen), and i managed to scale a tall rock for the other prime photo op:

something about how our longtail was parked seemed very picturesque to me, so here's yet another of the boat. the color scheme of thailand's flag (red/white/blue) really pops against the background.

next up on the itinerary was snorkeling at loh samah bay, and it did not disappoint. keep in mind that this photo was taken above water, w/visibility up to about 30 feet down below. it's like using a waterproof camera without having to go underwater!

we then made our way to pi leh cove, which is a strikingly beautiful inlet (the phi phi islands are loaded w/inlets, and only a longtail or kayak can successfully maneuver into them) on the other side of maya bay. pay particular attention to the change in water color the deeper it gets - turquoise in the shallow section and a pristine aquamarine further in. pic on the right i got as a dude from a neighboring boat dove in:

our last stop at phi phi leh was viking cave, home of the rare bird's nests. edible bird's nests are among the most expensive animal products consumed by humans, and it can be found in the chinese delicacy bird's nest soup.

our last stop on the program was monkey beach, which is exactly what it sounds like. first pic is the side profile of us leaving phi phi leh, bottom left is a mother carrying its child. i kid you not, one of the monkeys we encountered had the sole job of protecting the others, so if any of us drifted too close, he would storm towards us like a bat outta hell. i hadn't run that fast since doing wind sprints at the UCLA track, but he didn't catch me. i still got it... barely...

part 2 of day 14 still to come, but i can't believe this is my last night on holiday! such a sad day, but i've had such an incredible experience, it's like your sports team winning the championship. there's a grace period where you can't complain about anything, no matter how poor your team may do the following years...

Friday, February 26, 2010

day 13 - ko phi phi, thailand

day 13 - now this is paradise. after the bizarro world otherwise known as phuket, ko phi phi (unfortunately pronounced "pee pee") is what i signed up for. crystal white sands, gorgeously clear turquoise waters and world class scuba diving, all wrapped up in a naturally beautiful island.

in addition, everything is within walking distance of the pier, so there's no wasted transportation costs on taxis or tuk tuks. our hotel in phuket arranged the boat trip, which was one of the few things they got right. most funny was me trying to check out and pay the bill w/my credit card. the dude kept swiping my card w/the magnetic strip visible, so i stood there and watched in amazement. he kept trying, then turned it sideways 180 degrees, so that the strip was still visible, only on the other side. isn't there a point when common sense kicks in? i mean, what exactly are you sliding if you can still see the strip? homey even asked me if i had another card, so i had to grab his hand, place my card in the proper position, then let him have at it once more. and whaddaya say, voila!

we caught the 8:30am ferry from rassada pier in phuket, arriving in ko phi phi don just after 10am. there are in fact six islands that comprise the phi phi islands, but phi phi don is the only one w/inhabitants. the second largest - phi phi ley - was made famous by danny boyle's "the beach" starring leonardo di caprio, and it's where i'm headed tomorrow.

below left is our boat approaching phi phi ley, and opposite is the pier in phi phi don.

feenin for some grub, we hit up this aussie grill joint that had burgers! i know that i'm in thailand and shouldn't expect much, but i've been craving one real bad so i rolled the dice. and safe to say the bacon cheeseburger was the bomb shiz, along w/the tall pineapple cooler.

now officially sweating my @$$ off, it was time to hit the beach, so we walked over to loh dalum bay, an idyllic and breathtaking opposite ton sai bay. my subpar digital camera can't begin to capture what the eye can process, but the below is a poor attempt. loh dalum is distinguished by its very shallow and pristinely clear warm water. i walked out a few hundred meters and still found myself only thigh-deep, so for a non-swimmer i was in heaven. oh and as reference, my hand is two feet under water...

and lest i forget to mention, our hotel (p.p. palmtree) is pretty sweet too. more pics are coming, but here are a few of the central pool and outdoor bar with poolside seating. is there a better place to enjoy your chang beer? the only downside is, the hotel doesn't have wifi access throughout, which is unheard of in this day and age. that is why yours truly is banging out today's post on the terrace of a sports bar as we speak...

Thursday, February 25, 2010

day 12 - phuket, thailand

day 12 was the first legitimately relaxing day i've had this trip, which was a welcome break from the breakneck pace we established early on. pam was up at the crack of dawn for her scuba diving excursion, so i woke up around 7am, checked my e-mail, and caught up on some of the winter olympics i've otherwise completely missed.

i then headed upstairs to the rooftop for my free breakfast - this never gets old, by the way - which was a buffet consisting of BACON, sausages, potatoes, pancakes, some sort of noodle concoction, made to order omelettes, a variety of cereals, and oh did i mention BACON. i think i ended up eating 12 strips, no joke.

on my way down, thunderstorms broke out and it started pouring something serious. i waited it out, grabbed a beach towel, then started walking along the shore towards the beach of kata, which is the next beach south of karon. after maybe a 3km stroll, the beach came to an end, so i started boulder hopping for a good 500m to get to a little private cove where only a brave handful made it to. much more preferable than to sit with the masses. plus, i got to see these two women fish for crab along the rocky coast, and they were quite successful, i might add, if their squeals of joy were any indication.

speaking of the masses, it needs to be mentioned that the quality of uh, talent, shall we say, is pop warner at best in phuket. first off, i'm no adonis by any stretch of the imagination, but around here i can get a pretty good idea of what it must feel like to be brad pitt for a day. second, i typically avoid this type of pointless nonsense, but it's difficult to ignore when it's in your face 24/7. now i'm not sure if it's just this beach (karon) in particular or phuket as a whole, but here's some evidence:

got back to the hotel in the afternoon, dropped off my stuff, then ventured into town for some cheap grub. i was feenin a cheeseburger something fierce, but something tells me that grade A prime and tillamook cheddar isn't plentiful out here. so i opted for chicken skewers w/peanut sauce off a street vendor...

got back just in time to see sunset, so i managed to snap a few pics at day's end:

pam returned from her scuba trip soon after, so we moseyed on into town to satiate her extreme hunger. i had the fried rice w/seafood inside a pineapple shell. and as you can see, somebody was really hungry...

faced with the decision to hang back for more drinks or turn in for the night (we have a 7am pickup for our ferry to ko phi phi), i chose to head back. it's really a strange scene out here with the older euro crowd and it's definitely not as welcoming nor are there an abundance of locals as with the previous stops on our journey.

for sure, the island is absolutely gorgeous in and of itself, but they clearly swung and missed at the chance to reverse their greed and selfishness when starting over after the tsunami. between the ultra-exclusive resorts, the outlandish taxi/tuk tuk fares and exorbitant food prices, one must seriously consider why they choose to visit phuket...