Saturday, August 28, 2010

Koh Phangan (March 30-April 2)

off to the next island by catamaran ferry again. we booked a few nights on the more remote northwest side of koh phangan. there weren't many places to choose from at this point as accomodations are booked months in advance for the full moon party. we were on the wrong side of the island but it's not necessarily a bad thing.
we had another beautiful resort (Panviman) and one of the nicer beaches we stayed at too. the water stayed just below waist height for a considerable distance and was really warm so we'd just plunk ourselves down and get out when too pruney. :)

the pool at the resort was amazing (i know i shouldn't be talking about the pool when in thailand but i have to mention it...i'm a sucker for a nicely designed outdoor pool). it started at the top of the resort near the main lobby as a stream and would make its way down to the very large main pool step by step in a terrace like fashion. Each step meeting a mini private pool. the views were spectacular. here's a shot looking at the terraced pools and of the opposite island view.
after our ocean swims (a 10 minute walk downhill from the pool area) i would park myself under the water pouring into 'our' pool. ahh, what i wouldn't give to be there right now.

it was about a 15 minute walk to the small village that had a few restaurants. we found our favourite food in thailand at this little hole in the wall house/restaurant. after we found it we didn't eat anywhere else for the time we were there. the spicy fried garlic basil pork was AMAZING. roel makes a pretty mean copy-cat version.

on the night of the full moon party our resort had a nice big new speed boat that transported about 15 of us. they had a whole schedule of drop-offs and pick-ups from 9pm - 10am the next morning. we had booked late so we had to take an early boat out. things were just starting to pick-up and were in full swing when we left around 2am. no pictures of the party as we didn't want to take the camera. we did get the moon that night in its full glory...
the party appeared to be crazy fun for those who indulged. we weren't quite feeling the vibe...had we been in our early 20's it may have been a different story. for the most part it was a pretty amazing party atmosphere and people were having a great time (other than the odd over-indulger which is bound to happen in groups that large). i'm glad we made the effort to check out the legendary monthly event. the sheer size of it was definitely worth a look. for the few who aren't familiar it's a giant party on a wide and long section of beach that just keeps going on and on (in time and distance).
as much as we enjoyed the fun and relaxtion on the islands in thailand we were ready for the next stop: kuala lumpur. this would require an early morning ferry out back to koh samui in order to catch our flight (no airport on koh phangan).

Koh Tao (March 21-26)

we were up bright and early to catch the ferry (two level speed catamaran) from koh samoi to koh tao (koh meaning island for those who weren't aware). it's about a 100 minute trip.

we were excited to get to a more remote location not exactly knowing what we were getting into. since it's quite a rocky island with little infrastructure the resort we were staying at had sent their truck to get the two of us. our resort ended up being at the end of the road, literally. a couple of bumpy miles away from the island's town centre.

our room was actually a bungalow on stilts among the tree tops on the side of a small mountain. we definitely got our exercise as the whole resort was connect by stairs and steep pathways. check out Dusit Buncha website if you like. our bungalow was way up the mountain underneath the canopy of trees but high enough to have an ocean view.
the resort had a beautiful infinity pool on the edge of a large drop and also a nice restaurant perched over the ocean. the best part you ask? that we could find a spot at the rocky shoreline, swim out and snorkel right out from the resort! we rented some gear from the resort and were good to go. i tended to go out a bit further and longer than roel who gets the creepies when it gets too 'open'.

it was a great 5 days/nights of soaking up the sun by the pool, napping during the heat of the day, snorkleing whenever we felt like it and lots and lots of thai food. one day we took our scooter and cruised around checking out the rest of the island where roads permitted. we also did an around the island boat tour where we stopped at about five neat snorkeling spots. no sun screen could keep us from frying! i actually sat out the last snorkelling stop to stay in the shade of the boat.

ode to dad (yes, it's a coke):

Monday, August 23, 2010

Koh Samui (March 17-21 & 26-30)

we were excited to move on to thailand after a fantastic bottom to top tour of vietnam. time for some island r&r. the actual flight date was march 17, 2010.

**please go back to the march posts and read Halong Bay by Ghost Ship (Vietnam) since it's a recent post that somehow backdated's my favourite one!! i posted it a week ago.
we opted to concentrate on the three main islands on the east side of the country since we had been doing a lot of stop and go since feb 1. we were giddy when exiting the plane since we had left from hanoi (northern vietnam, cool climate) and landed in a heavy tropical humidity. roel immediately said that the open concept airport and surroundings reminded him of hawaii.
we had not booked a room in advance and only had a couple of hours before dark. we decided to stay in the heart of the action (chaweng). all affordable rooms were sold out (so much for beach hut paradise) and there were very few viable alternatives. four star $150 rooms are not what we had budgeted for. after our marriage nearly ending (not really) we decided to just book a decent place that was one street over from the all-night outdoor clubs. it was a looong day so we just crashed despite the thumpin' bass.
to summarize our time on this island i would say that we had fun dancing a few nights and had some great relaxing beaching days. we were disappointed with the complete lack of culture (including good thai food). the island was expensive, dirty and lacked any authenticity or tradition...a la cancun, mexico.
we had clearly scheduled way too much time (and budgeted not nearly enough money) for this leg of our trip. since i'm writing this post almost six months after the fact i'll just go through a few different moments that still stand out to me (lazy way out, i know).
we rented a motorbike/scooter for a few days and did a few laps of the island so we could explore different towns and beaches. one beach we stopped off at on the southeast side of the island (lamai beach):
their 'lady-boy' shows are amazing. full on professional stage productions with lights, costumes, dancers and decent choreography. it puts any north american shows roel and i have seen to shame.
most relaxing beach of the trip, maenam beach. can you see me floating?
this was the beachfront of our second locale on koh samui, bo phut. after this cheap place we decided we were going to enjoy the rest of our time regardless of budget. this place had great sunsets but the beach was disgusting which kinda defeated the whole purpose.

our next stop was back to chaweng but beach front resort this time for a couple of nights. interesting note that at this area is pretty quiet until 5pm when everyone is waking up from the previous night. we had a few fun nights out but were relatively lame since we didn't want to be too groggy knowing we would have to deal the the heat the next day. it's nice because you have the beach to yourself but is frustrating when restaurants and shops don't open until late.
the night club area the streets are lined with pole dancers for hire. it reminded me somewhat of downtown sosua dominican republic after dark but not quite as dirty or desperate.
the water was nice and warm. on any given day the waves were either non-existent, body surfing size or just plain scary. lots of fun in the water at this beach. after one night of sweaty dancing we snuck in a skinny dip. ha!

we were good and ready to head to our next island: koh tao. known for rocky shores and world class diving & snorkelling.
i have no idea what blogspot has done to the editing functions but i'm about to throw my laptop out the window. i'm well aware of how poor the layout is on my posts on a good day... i don't need any help from you blogspot. thanks.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Home Sweet Home

hello all!  thought i'd let everyone know that we have set-up our home in calgary.

we are in the process of getting roel's sponsorship application together for permanent residency and settling into our townhome rental.  we are next to the University of Calgary campus where i start work in a week.  i haven't worked since september and i haven't worked full time in over a year!!  yikes.  i think i go back to work with a very different mentality.

we have a new addition to our family...sunny!  he is a beautiful chocolate brown labradoodle puppy from oregon.
you can thank blogger for rotating the picture sideways.

my mom and dad came out last weekend and we drove out to banff (it's so close!) and we hiked up sulphur mountain.  we opted to take the gondola down.  :)

we are grateful for living in canada in such a beautiful location.

i WILL post the rest of our trip entries.  all for now.  ciao.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Back on the Map

it's been a crazy last month.  we got back not quite two weeks ago, a month ahead of schedule.  essentially we cut out our time on the west coast of thailand, penang (island in malaysia) and our three weeks in australia.

three main factors played into our quick swoop home. 

1. roel had been unwell for the last week and a half.  it's no fun to constantly be on the move and in new territory when you're feeling miserable.  although he was a trooper and we still enjoyed our time. 

2. ready to come home (wherever that is).  even before roel was sick we were both ready to come home.  i know that sounds crazy to some people.  but after a few months i was ready to be in someplace for more than a a couple of nights or even a week.  not to say that i was ready to go back to work!  haha

3. money disappearing more quickly than planned.  we were pretty much on budget until we got to the east coast islands of thailand after vietnam.  everyone talks about how cheap these islands are.  they're not.  compared to everywhere else we had been on our trip they were by far the most expensive.  even our lonely planet wasn't even close and it was a relatively new edition.  very disapointing.  we could have continued on the trip in its entirety but who wants to start a new home with your new spouse in uber travel debt?

we're having some major problems with our memroy cards from the camera but i fully plan on posting the rest of the trip with pictures.  i know it isn't quite as exciting as having live updates but hopefully still worth a look.

we are currently at his mom's house in stockton, california re-orienting ourselves.  looking for jobs, cities to live, looking for a dog.  haha  you know all the important things.  we did a last minute road trip to vegas weekend before last with his mom to surprise her friend that was in from hawaii.  great fun as i'd never been before.

as soon as i have the pictures working i'll start the posting again!

Monday, March 29, 2010


we left for sapa from hanoi at 8pm on the sleeper train to maximize our days there.  we had a four bed cabin (bunk beds) and shared it with two lovely young danish girls.  we chatted for a couple of hours (they had nearly perfect english) before we all turned in for the night.  roel and i slept like babies seeing as though we split a sleeping pill.

once we got off train (9 hours later) we had to take a mini bus to our resort for another hour up the mountain.  once again roel and i slept very well as the pill hadn't quite worn off.  thankfully so because it was very slow and winding barely wide enough for vehicles to pass each other.

when we got out of the vehicle roel was shivering violently.  it had dropped down to single digits that night.  we could see our breath in the hotel lobby.  haha  we requested a heater for our room when we realized they weren't automatically provided.  we had just enough time to settle in and shower before our tour guide was there to take us on our first trek!  she was a local girl who spoke very good english.  there were three couples.  almost as soon as we left we each had a sapa lady following us.  they were very committed and stayed with us for the entire hike (maybe 5 hours or so).  they each had a basket on their back full of various handmade sapa fabrics.  they were also wearing the traditional mung clothing.  actually, almost all the mung people still wear it.

roel fell in love with the clothing and fabrics.  once again, almost all hand made with hemp and also hand dyed.  many of the locals had permanently indigo coloured hands.

back to our hike...beautiful views of rice terraces, farm animals including pigs, water buffalo, chickens, etc.  running around us through the rice paddies.  it is the beggining of the dry season so they weren't flooded at the time.  but some parts were definitely muddy still.  they will plant their rice crop (only one a year in this area) in April/May when it becomes flooded enough.  in the mean time the woman either make clothing or are tourguides.  once it is time for field work they drop everything as each family survives off their yield until the next year.

when we got back from our hike we toured the markets in town.  roel was bombarded because he showed interest in trying everything on.  i just found a nice spot to sit and watched the frenzy from a distance.  they were quite upset when he didn't end up buying enything from them.

luckily the food included on our tour at the hotel was amazing.  we had an early night since we had a long day and another trek the next day.  we were very thankful for our electric blanket.  it was a COLD night again.  we slept fully clothed and then some.

the next morning we woke up to a pretty chilly room but not nearly as bad as the morning prior.  we grabbed a quick breakfast and went back up to the room to make sure we had everything together and packed because we had to check out as soon as we got back from this day's hike.  roel had the hotel send up a divine piece of cake with a candle in it because it was my 30th birthday.  where better to be and who better to be with?  life is good.

our hike was a lot of fun and more challening than the day before.  a lot of the same type of scenerey but it still had the awe inspiring impact.  we went down and up a mountain side encountering little villages along the way.  shot of village kids racing down the stairs.  main set of stairs is their main street.

we got back to our hotel in time to have a shower and have a vietnamese coffee in town.  it has a really neat feeling.  almost banff-ish but smaller with more character.  we caught the night train back to hanoi and shared our car with two young local business men who were extremely quiet and ekpt to themselves.  perfect roomies.

Saturday, March 27, 2010


hellllo capitol city!  we were greeted with very cool weather and mist.  it felt freezing and fantastic!  this time we had a driver waiting with our name on it pre-paid by the hotel.  it was really nice not to have to worry about every step.

hanoi seems cleaner and more metropolitan than saigon which surprised me.  or maybe it just appears that way because everyone is dressed in long sleeves and pants with shoes.  we only have one night here before we take off on a two day three night tour to sapa in the mountains.  but we made use of the day thanks to roel.  if it was up to me i would have slept for the morning to feel 100% again.

we started off by going for a walk down the main shopping street.  roel had to stop about every 20 paces (he was shivering he was so cold) to look at the goods on display and do some haggling.  we ended up at some tour offices as recommended by lonely planet to pick out our tours.  we opted for sapa and halong bay tours.  we used hanoi as our homebase between our tours.  i'll expand on each tour in seperate blog entries after this one.

we bought tickets  for the 5pm water puppetry show.  it is an old art form that rice farmers used to use on flooded rice paddocks to entertain each other.  it was pretty lame by today's standards but the mechanics behind it were a little mind boggling to figure out. 
the puppet masters coming out for a bow after the show.  they are standing in waist deep water hidden behind the background during the performance.

we managed to get in a walk around hoan kiem lake which the city is centered around before the show.  roel said it reminded him of a very tiny central park in some ways.  it just seemed alive and where the action was at.  we got a coffee from a shop overlooking the park from the fourth floor patio.  beuatiful lights around the lake with many restaruants and cafes to choose from.

on day two we went to the ho chi minh mausoleum. i didn't know what a mauseleum was! ha i thought it was just a fancy burial site. i now understand all the security precautions. it was actually a little unnerving - all the checks we had to go through. a soldier in uniform tapped me on the arm because i had one hand in my pocket as we went through the complex (a no-no). it was one looong single file line that moved at a steady pace. if you stopped or slowed down an armed gurad would race towards you blowing a whistle.

it was fascinating to see a perfectly preserved body that died back in 1969. apparently hi chi minh's body goes to russia for three months of the year for restoration. the grounds also had his personal residences and different artifacts and points of interest. such as his badminton court and car collection. ho chi minh is considered the father and reunification leader of the country for those unfamiliar with him.

in the afternoon we took a cab across town to the major theatre complex (tiny compared to what north americans are used to). the only movie playing at the right time that we hadn't seen was percy jackson and the lightning thief. a terrible movie. the good news is that the experience only cost us $15 including tickets, popcorn, m&m's and two soft drinks. it was also a great cultural experience as most of the young adults who filled the audience were there to learn english. every line was repeated over and over. haha it would have been annoying anywhere else but we found it quite amusing.  we found an interesting shop in the mall.  this one's for you peter:

oh and roel found his favourite vietnamese restaurant that we managed to somehow eat at three times in about 30 hours!  the next morning we left for our sapa tour.  good thing roel had bought a thermal long sleeve shirt at the mall.  it gets pretty chilly in sapa at night.  it was an inner struggle as he purchased for function, not fashion.  as my dad said over a game of golf (card game) at christmas, 'i had to retrain your mother over a number of years after we got married'.  hahaha 
roel chowing down on the second floor at our restaurant.  balcony through the door behind him.

when we got back to hanoi from sapa we went out to a gay friendly bar we had read about on the internet.  they played good music and had a fun crowd.  a good mix of locals and foreigners that were all pretty friendly and chatty.  the only thing missing was a dance floor.  it was more a stand and socialize kinda place.  we went to a cool lounge off an alley with some fellow travellers from england and italy to cap off the night.  it was off to halong bay the next morning!

when we got back from the halong bay tour we had dinner out at our favourite restaurant again and relaxed in the room after.  the next day was our last free day in vietnam.  we had big plans but were mostly just exhausted from the previous tours.  we ended up back at the same movie theatre and saw alice in wonderland.  a really fun movie and another great vision by tim burton.

the next day we fly out to koh samui in thaland via bangkok.  good thing we don't have to leave the airport in bangkok...we can avoid the political demonstrations.  looking forward to some cheap relaxing beach time!  first i will write about our tours.