Relaxing in Ko Lanta

The last few days in Ko Lanta haven't been very exciting, but that is just fine by me. There has been a good amount of time scootering around the island, relaxing by the pool, and walking around the beach seeing my good friends the Sand Bubbler Crabs do their work. The full photo gallery is at the bottom of this post. 

I may have mentioned this before, but there is a daily internal debate of what to do while here in Ko Lanta. Not that I am bored- I am extremely happy here. It is more about DOING STUFF- which sort of equates to ticking boxes on the Tourist To Do List. Mentally I sometimes struggle with simply laying around the pool reading or listening to music. Yea- rough life. It is more the thought of. This may be me justifying relaxing and "doing nothing," but that is part of what this trip is all "I am in Thailand- I need to do everything!" At the same time, because I have months (instead of weeks) over in this part of the world, it makes it easier to enjoy a few days by the pool instead of making sure every minute of the day is jam packed with ACTIVITIES. 

Some of the "non-activities" have also proven to be the most fun. Probably because there are surprises around every corner. The other day I stopped by a local farmers market, which is MUCH different than anything in the States. There are huge tables with fresh fish, seafood, chicken, curry powder, veggies, and other unknown meat parts. Seeing the locals in action is really cool, and something that reminds me of how far from America I am. 

Very fresh fish.

The kids running around always make me smile, too. 

DSC09113.jpg

Yesterday I stopped in a local market, that was basically the Ko Lanta Container Store. There was all sorts of plastic containers as well as household appliances.

Ikea ain't got nothin' on the Ko Lanta Bucket Shop. 

Then, around sunset, I stopped by a local beach park to watch people play footsal (super impressive- basically foot volleyball with a smaller ball) and soccer on the pavement. Crabs were scurrying along the beach as the sun went down over the ocean, and I was reminded how enjoyable the small, random moments in a different country can be. 

Impressive leaping ability. 

Today I may go check out the National Park, but besides that it will be more relaxing and writing here in beautiful Ko Lanta. 

Programming note

Friends, Family, and other fellow earthlings, 

I have been having a bitch of a time getting photos uploaded to the hosting provider for the site (Squarespace). While trying a variety of options (resizing pics, different websites), I have not found a reliable solution. My guess is that being on an island in the middle of Thailand does not provide the fastest of internet tubing speeds. Maybe Squarespace is anti-Thailand and throttles upload speeds here. Who knows. It would be ideal to have everything posted/ hosted here on Kaplan Visuals, but right now that is proving extremely frustrating and slow. 

So instead of banging my head on the proverbial internet wall to get everything uploaded here, I set up a Facebook page for Kaplan Visuals. Not my first choice, but it should work for now at least. So you may see links like this: Crab Circles. Or this: Ko Lanta Part 1. 

Do not be alarmed. There is no need to alert the Internet Police. This is normal. As internet improves (or doesn't), I will respond accordingly. Questions, comments, suggestions, complaints? Feel free to send me an electronic mail anytime: b_kap@yahoo.com or kaplanvisuals@gmail.com

Sincerely,

Ben Kaplan
Proprietor and Owner
Kaplan Visuals

Ko Lanta Day 2- A surprise visit to the local dump

Sunday, April 27th, 2014

Another day, another adventure. Today’s highlights included a scooter ride through the forest to go around the local dump that is overflowing with trash during the day and nearly crashing said scooter to avoid running over a frog at night.

If you don't enjoy reading words and just want to see the pics, here you go: Ko Lanta Part 1. 

Before getting to the details of the day, I just want to reflect on traveling alone. Overall I really enjoy it (otherwise I wouldn’t be doing this trip), but it also definitely is not for everyone. The freedom to do whatever you want whenever you want is nice. Not having to worry about when to eat or what to eat or what to do or when to do it is much easier for me most of the time. I just wake up and do whatever the fudge I feel like. People told me before I left that they wouldn’t be able to do a trip like this solo, which is unfortunate if they are really limiting themselves to adventures that only work on other people’s schedule.

Being solo is not without its’ challenges, however. The majority of my conversations are with people who barely speak English, meaning they hardly qualify as “conversations” at all. I have begun saying “Come on, bro!” or “Really, bro?” to inanimate objects that aren’t cooperating. For example, if my phone isn’t charging for some reason it gets a “Come on, bro!” Or maybe my bag won't zip easily and gets a "Really, bro?" There are definitely times I miss having a friend around to chat with, and even more to enjoy these moments with someone else.

That is why I like spending so much time documenting my journey with both photos and writing. I have already gone back and looked at some earlier days in Thailand (DAYS ago) to relive the fun. Sharing the travels is great, but I also want to capture all of this for myself. The goal is to be entertaining enough that you are enjoying everything and want to come back to visit the site. Without discussing the days events with someone else, my photos and notes I take during the day are how I make sure the moments- good and bad- don’t get lost along the way.

Ok enough nonsense- you want to know about scootering through a dump, right? Once I finished the hotel’s breakfast (included free with the room), and trying for WAY too long to get photos to upload (do NOT take good internet for granted), I decide to head to Old Town. Ko Lanta doesn’t have many roads (the main ones head north/south), so I take a quick look at a map and it looks like I just need to get from the west side to the east side of the island on one of the few roads that go travel east/ west. Simple!

At one of the first paved roads that looks like it will take me the several miles across the island west-to-east, I make a turn. It feels like I am heading in the right direction- so far so good. Before too long, the paved road turns into dirt. Ok, no problem. I don’t want to turn back now. That would be, like, 8 minutes back! The dirt road really isn’t too bad- it just means Mr Scooter can’t go too fast.

It turns out the dirt road was the least of my problems. The road I chose to go down leads straight to the Ko Lanta dump. I am not sure if this is THE dump for the island, but it had a LOT of trash and it smelled like it could be the throwaways from an island of 10,000. Needless to say, it was disgusting. Birds were flying around enjoying the leftovers from us idiot humans and there were more flies per capita then I have ever witnessed. Look at all this extra food!

A very quick tour of the local dump

I turn into a driveway that seemed to lead to whatever processing they do there. To be honest I was REALLY distracted by wanting to get the FUCK out of there as fast as possible. I wasn’t really paying attention to the details besides getting my scooter and me out of there before being consumed by the smell. an airborne disease, or a rogue trash monster.

When I was about to turn around and head out the way I came in, a woman came walking over pointing in the direction I was originally heading- into the dump. My concern was getting stuck in the horrifically smelling Thailand pile of trash several stories high. She seemed nice and understood I was just trying to get through without dying. The woman stopped whatever trash work she was going to get me going in the right direction. Apparently because there is too much trash, it has closed off the original dirt road that apparently used to connect through this part. Now there is a small path, WAY too small for a car, that leads past a bamboo hut and onto the other side of trash town. I really hope that is not where this nice trash lady lives.

Sweet! I don’t need to back track and I wont die a horrible death in a Thai dump. The path runs back out to a normal dirt road. I stop the scooter to take some pictures of this cool trail, which was not a good idea. Almost instantly I get swarmed by mosquitoes.  I snap a few quick pics and run back to the scooter, fire up my ride and scamper out of there before too many mossies feast on my skin. Somehow I only got a few bites from those damn skeeters. Goddamn do I hate mosquitoes.

Dump detour behind me, I am reunited with a paved road after a few hundred meters. Another 10 minutes and I hit the east coast of Ko Lanta and the only road running north/ south on this part of the island. It is pretty hard to get lost here- unless a pile of rancid trash tries to block your path.

The road takes me down the coast, and before too long I am in Old Town. It is more like “Old Street” than Old Town, as the entire “town” consists of a single street that is no more than several hundred meters. There are a few small shops and several restaurants on Old Street. I pick one of them, enjoy a nice lunch overlooking the water, and my tour of Old Town is complete.

The one street in Old Town

There is also a really long cement pier that I can drive down, so I go to the end and check it out. Apparently there are small ferries that leave from here to take people to other islands in the area. A group of people are waiting, but it is unclear how often, or when, the next ferry arrives.

After my epic tour of Old Street and The Pier, I scooter back to my hotel to enjoy another sunset. The Sand Bubbler Crabs are again out in force, turning the entire beach into tiny balls of sand sculptures. I am obsessed with these little dudes, and watch them work for awhile. It is hard to get too close, as they move FAST and scurry back to their holes with any movement toward them.

The sky treats me to a nice sunset, so I go to the local 7-11 for pre-dinner snacks. About $3 gets me a bag of lime/ prawn flavored potato chips, a bag of candy, some cashew bars, strawberry wafer cookies, and a tiramisu flavored ice cream cone. When I get back to the hotel and beach, the sky is lit up in amazing reds and oranges- apparently the sunset wasn’t even close to over. I enjoy the tiramisu ice cream and sunset sky show, thankful I can spend another great day on this island paradise.

Nightly show. 

On my way to dinner I VERY nearly laid down the scooter. At night there are street frogs hopping all over, and on the main road there was one just chilling right in the middle. Frogs clearly don’t know that scooters and/ or cars will squash and kill them, so I hit the brakes (too hard) to avoid this dude. The front brake locked up for a second, and I had to put my foot down to avoid doing a swan dive onto the street. Thankfully neither the scooter or me went down, and I make it to a local restaurant, with a nice adrenaline rush, and without crashing the scooter and/ or killing any frogs.

After dinner I head back for a pre-bedtime beer at my hotel and call it a night. Another successful day in Ko Lanta, complete with a tour of the local dump, avoided killing a street frog, and eating a face full of pavement. Also, if you are in Ko Lanta and want to visit the dump, I know the way. 

Photo Galleries and Kaplan Visuals Facebook page

As described in the previous post, the internet is not cooperating with my desire to upload pictures to this website. For now, instead of trying and failing over and over to get the photos on this site I am going to try out Facebook. Definitely not my first choice to share photos for a variety of reasons, but it is better than nothing. If the internet improves, then you may continue seeing photo galleries uploaded directly to Kaplan Visuals. No promises. 

Ko Lanta Part 1

Crab Circles

Ko Phi Phi

Hastag no filter, hashtag sunset. 


Day 1 in Ko Lanta- another day another island...

Saturday, April 26th 2014

I have been in Ko Lanta for a little over 24 hours, and it is definitely my kind of place.

If you don't like reading and just want to see photos, go here: Ko Lanta Part 1. 

My arrival to this island (my third Thai island so far, without going to the mainland) was yesterday afternoon. The 11:30 am ferry took me from the Ko Phi Phi harbor to the small harbor in Ko Lanta. On the ferry ride over, a girl who was apparently super sick/ dehydrated/ hungover (who knows) passed out and needed some medical attention. The medical attention came from friends and the ferry workers, but she was not in good shape. A thought definitely popped into my head of “She is definitely patient zero, and we all have the plague now.” Time will tell if the Ko Phi Phi ferry plague takes me out.

As I like to do, I booked my Ko Lanta hotel while still in Ko Phi Phi. The magic of the internet is a very helpful thing. Haggling and dealing with all the people yelling at me to rent a room is never an enjoyable experience for me. It is much easier to tell them “nope, already have a room thanks.” As an added bonus, my hotel had sent a shuttle bus to pick up anyone staying at their place. This prevented me from needing to haggle with taxi drivers as well.

Within the first hour in Ko Lanta, I realized all of the things missing in Ko Phi Phi. First- I jumped in the pool. Next- my hotel room has MUCH better AC. Great air conditioning may not mean a lot most of the time, but in sweltering heat with insane humidity it is a life saver. Lastly- I rented a scooter from my hotels front desk, and I was already off exploring Ko Lanta.

While in Ko Phi Phi, I couldn’t exactly put my finger on why I didn’t REALLY like it. It is beautiful, and one of the most unique locations on earth. The shape of the island itself is crazy, and the area that is commercialized is tiiiiiiny. But after leaving, I realized there isn’t much to do except go on pricey scuba diving trips, eat food, and drink lots of booze. Within seconds of being on the scooter I was much happier.

One of my favorite things about this part of the world is the lack of paperwork/ hassles/ legal nonsense. You want a scooter? Sure- give me $13 and I will give you the keys and a helmet. Nothing to sign, no insurance- just gas it up and go. Love that. After filling up the gas tank (a tiny 2 liter tank- a little less than $3), I headed south. My hotel is on the northwest coast of Ko Lanta, so there is roughly 15 miles between me and the bottom. The island is sparsely populated (a little over 10,000 according to Mr. Wikipedia). There are still a decent amount of tourists, but NOTHING compared to Phuket or Ko Phi Phi.

A beach entry catches my eye, so I pull the scooter in and have a look. The beach isn’t the most stunning I have ever seen, but it is EMPTY. Compared to the recent stops in Thailand, this is a welcome change. It is refreshing being away from TOURIST TOWN.

After driving for a bit longer, I found a nice place to stop right on the water. Lunch and a tasty ice coffee was about $4. The pretty awesome view was complimentary with the meal. 

Decent lunch view. 

The food and coffee are great, and I continue to enjoy the view for awhile. Once I pay the bill, I hope back on the scooter and continue south until the road ends at the Ko Lanta National Park. The entry fee is about $6, which isn’t bank breaking but it is already after 5 pm, so I will come back when I have more time.

Cruising around the island, it is quickly apparent that the majority of the local population here is Muslim. There are several mosques and many of the women wear either a head scarf or the full head and face covering veil. I have never been anywhere that has a predominantly Muslim population, so it is an interesting change. I expect the population to me mostly Muslim as I continue move south in this part of the world.

I scooter back to the hotel, enjoy some more pool time, and then get ready to watch the sun go down. The mountain areas of Ko Phi Phi blocked any view of the sun actually dropping into the ocean, so which is the best part. It is low tide here when I head out to the beach, and I notice a lot of tiny sand balls. Getting a closer look, they are all made by tiny crabs. There are trillions of tiny sand balls, created one by one by crabs that would fit on a pencil eraser.

I have no clue why they are doing this, but whatever they are doing creates stunning designs. They look like Crab Circles, or mini amphitheaters. It turns out they are called Sand Bubbler Crabs, and they go come out at low tide to comb through every piece of sand around them, getting the food out, and turning the left over sand into the tiny balls. I am completely obsessed with these tiny crabs and their works of art. 

Eventually the sun sets on a great first day in Ko Lanta. I take the scooter for a wander down the road, find a delicious place to eat dinner for $2.25, and head home to sort through the day’s photos, enjoy a beer and get some sleep. This Ko Lanta place is pretty rad. 

Maya Bay AKA The Beach beach

Today I went to one location I had been looking forward to since before the trip started: Maya Bay, better known as "the beach" in The Beach. The rest of the pics should be uploaded in the next day or so, as the internet in Ko Phi Phi must be running off a single dial up modem. 

Before even getting there, I knew it has become a massive tourist destination. I am a big fan of irony, so visiting a location made famous in a movie about escaping rampant tourism AS a tourist myelf WITH a big group of other tourists is about as ironic as anything can get.

I am a big fan of the movie, so going to that location (even if it is on a planned tourist trip) was still exciting. I joined a group of 8 other people on a long tail boat to head out and see what all the hype was about. We first stopped at Monkey Island, which consists of a tiny beach populated with a LOT of monkeys. These monkeys don't fuck around either. I had read the warnings that they are super aggressive and the health clinic in Phi Phi deals a lot with monkey bites so I kept my distance. And sure enough, within the 15 minutes we were there, I saw a girl get bitten bad enough to break the skin and make her bleed. Of course people are feeding the monkeys like crazy, which only leads to their turbo behavior. I kept backing farther into the water, where they didn't want to go, to avoid getting monkey attacked. 

After that we went to headed to Ko Phi Phi Ley (the island with THE BEACH). I couldn't help but think of the movie and getting to the island for the first time. Of course my journey was 100% different than for Richard and crew- I was on a paid excursion on a boat, while they were swimming. Still felt cool seeing the island in the distance. Before going to Maya Bay, we stopped at an inlet for a swim. It was a super cool area that was really shallow, so you could stand up even though we were 100 feet or so in the middle of the bay. The next stop was snorkeling, which wasn't too great as far as snorkel sites go. The water seemed fairly dirty, and visibility wasn't anything special. 

Then, finally, we were off to Maya Bay. Pulling in, it was pretty much what I expected- but still stunningly beautiful. Today the area is much different then when they filmed the movie. The bay is filled with TONS of tourist boats- mostly speed boats from either Phi Phi or Phuket. There were a decent amount of long tail boats like the one I was on, but not nearly as many. Like busses, the speed boats came and went- dropping of piles of new tourists to take photos of themselves jumping on THE BEACH. 

The highlight of my day was when some Chinese tourists wanted a picture with me. At first I thought the couple wanted me to take a picture of them, but no- the girl wanted a picture WITH me. Then another couple wanted a picture with me as well. It wasn't clear to me if the second couple just thought "Just incase that dude is a celeb, we should definitely get a pic," or if RANDOM WESTERNER qualifies as picture worthy these days. I will never know if they thought I was a celebrity, or just a random white dude that they NEEDED a picture with. Either way it was pretty awesome. 

There I was, on the beach made famous for being secluded from any tourism, taking pictures with random Chinese tourists who may or may not think I am a celebrity. Doesn't get much more silly than that. 

Despite the insane over-tourism, Maya Bay is definitely a worthy stop if you are in Phuket or Phi Phi. Especially if you, like me, are a big fan of the movie and/ or irony. 

Hello and Goodbye Ko Phi Phi

The internet tubes are painfully slow here in Ko Phi Phi, so the rest of the pics will be (hopefully) be uploaded when I get to Ko Lanta tomorrow. 

Ko Phi Phi has been great, and definitely a worthwhile stop if you are in Thailand. However, it is super hot, so make sure to book a place with great AC at least, and a pool if available. My hotel is fine, but the AC is super weak so it is hard to escape the heat. Yes- First World Problems in Third World Countries. When it feels like I am living inside the sun, having AC pumping cool air onto me would be lovely. 

While still VERY touristy, it has a very different feel than Phuket. it is much more mellow and populated by young backpackers instead of Euro-Tourist families and couples. This has been a welcome change for yours truly. 

The island has really unique geography. It is in the shape of a big "H" with the majority of all the hotels/ restaurants/ shopping in the middle of the H. It was also dominated by the tsunami in 2004 and had to be almost completely rebuilt. There is almost no motorized transport (except for a few scooters) which I almost completely forgot about after a day. The streets are super narrow, and the few paved roads that do exist feel like a giant maze. I have gotten lost MANY times, which is incredible given that there are only a handful of streets. 

It turns out the best time to get lost is not during a tropical rainfall. This is not normal rain- it is more like a waterfall from the sky. My thought was to just get back to the hotel and wait it out. That would be a good idea if I was able to find my hotel within 20 minutes. I ended up wandering around, totally lost, and COMPLETELY soaked. Next time I will find the nearest bar and wait out the rain with a cold beer in hand instead of being a lost idiot tourist among 4 streets. 

Some highlights: 
- There are a ton of bars right on the beach with lounge chair/ beanbag things. There are few things as pleasant as having a cold beer on a white sand beach a few short steps to the water.
- One bar (Reggae Bar) lets the bar patrons Muay Thai fight each other. The prize? A free bucket of booze! Not surprisingly there are a good amount of fights during the night. Some people seemed to know what they were doing, while others were drunkenly pawing at each other. Entertainment of the highest order none the less. The drinks are insanely overpriced ($6 for a tall beer) so not somewhere to cheaply hang out all night. 
- In general, the prices really aren't that bad considering it is a tiny island in the middle of the ocean with no motorized transport. All of the cargo gets hauled around via human power and big metal carts. Noticeably cheaper than Phuket. Meals are easily found for $3-5. 

Next stop: Ko Lanta. 

So long Phuket...

My taxi will arrive in a few minutes, taking me the local port where I will board some sort of seaworthy vessel that will then get me (hopefully) to Ko Phi Phi. Phuket has been nice- a good start to the trip. I can't give it a huge recommendation, since i have been to both nicer and cheaper places. If you enjoy being surrounded by white (mostly) Euro-Tourists and like overpaying for food and drink then Phuket is definitely a must see. If you are anything like me and like a little more seclusion from TOURIST TOWN and like spending less money instead of more, then Phuket will not be high on your list. 

Either way, I have no real complaints, and the Ring of Fire World Tour has survived its' first stop. I still have moments, like this morning, when I need to just stop whatever I am doing to appreciate everything that is going on. It was only 6 months ago that I dreamed of this trip. I didn't quite know what it would be, or where it would take me- I was simply hoping that I would be healthy enough to do it. At the time I was in the middle of chemotherapy, feeling worse that I ever had in my entire life. I dreamed of beaches with endless sunshine, cheap food and drink, and scooter rides to be had. 

This morning, while drinking my iced cappuccino, reading Andy Greenwald's Game of Thrones recap (a must read if you like GOT and enjoy laughing). A song came on in my headphones that made me pause, look up, and be overwhelmingly filled with joy. It was Dangerous Connection by O.A.R. on their Live on Red Rocks Album. I have been known to get lyrics wrong in the past, but this is what I heard: 

Maybe this life is all I dreamed...
Maybe daylight won't ask me questions...
Maybe this life is all for me... 

To be living the dream I had months ago, while I felt as horrible as any point in my life, is incredible. I am cancer free, in Thailand, and life couldn't be better. 

The taxi has arrived. Ko Phi Phi is next. 

Below are pics from the final sunset in Phuket. 

Settling In- Day 4 in Phuket

Fresh pics from another day in Thailand. Lots of words below the pics if you would like to do some reading. Click any image to start a slideshow. 

Monday, April 21st

When we last left off, I was heading out for some cheap street food. That ended up being some tasty BBQ meat sticks- 2 chicken sticks and 1 beef. Then I treated myself to a butter and sugar crepe.  Total was $2 for the BBQ $1 for the crepe. That is more like it. Back at the hotel, a 2 year old French girl couldn’t stop babbling about something in French. Her parents said the girl has been mesmerized by the floating lanterns on the beach- where there is a candle/ kerosene on the interior of a red paper lantern. After enough hot air, the lantern quickly rises into the sky. This sounded like something I should check out. 

I headed down to the beach, which is only about 100 yards from my hotel, and took a seat on one a beach lounger. Not only were red lanterns being sent into the sky- another group had brought a huge bag of fireworks. And these are NOT the safe and sane kind that are allowed in the States. These were the real deal Holyfield fireworks. It started with sparklers for the kids and quickly advanced to roman candles before finishing off with mini versions of the ones you see at sporting events and the 4th of July. There were no cops hassling anyone. Everyone was having a great time.

So there I was. Watching legit fireworks on the beach, while other people send red lanterns into the sky, drinking a beer, in 80 degree weather, with a tank top and flip flops on, after eating $2 of chicken and beef sticks and $1 of a butter and sugar crepe. It could not have felt more “right.” This is exactly why I had wanted so badly to get away from the States. While not something insane (nearly everyone on the planet over the age of 18 has had a beer and seen fireworks). It was the combination of everything- and there was nothing I NEEDED to do. No responsibilities to anyone or anything. It felt amazing.

I finished up the evening trying (and mostly failing) to have a conversation with a few local Thais- a guy and a girl. They worked at a local hotel, and spoke a little English. Even 3 words of English is better than my Thai. It was interesting to say the least- 3 people barely understanding each other. The fireworks show ended, I finished my beer, said “Lah Gon” to my new Thai friends, and headed back to my hotel, excited for whatever tomorrow brings. 

Tuesday, April 22nd

As noted 17th century poet Ice Cube once said- today was a good day. It started off by me joining a weekly podcast I helped start several years ago- the Filmdrunk Frotcast). Usually I have been a part of the show live from San Francisco. This was episode 200, so it was not something I wanted to miss. With the magic of the internet (specifically skype on my phone and using the hotel’s wifi), I could hear my friends crystal clear and they could hear me. I chatted with the Frotcast crew for about 30 minutes before excusing myself to start my day. It was only 9:30 in the morning and I needed some food.

I ate some breakfast, enjoyed an iced cappuccino, and took the scooter out for one last ride in Phuket since I needed to return it at noon. While I had gone fairly far north of Kata, I had not gone south farther than a few kilometers. Heading south offered a beautiful, winding road through the coast line of Phuket. Every so often, I could see the amazingly blue ocean below me. An official viewpoint appeared, so I parked the scooter to get a look. Seeing Phuket from higher up shows how crazy the geography is here. There are many U shaped inlets that make up the various beach communities- Patong, Karong, Kata, etc. It is really cool to see from up above.

(We interrupt this broadcast, as I was rudely stopped by a mosquito in my room. I don’t know how they keep finding their way into my room, but they do. One at a time, they sneak in and torture me. I fucking hate mosquitos. I’m not sure there is anything hon this planet I hate more than mosquitos. They are all assholes and they love me and my blood, and my skin hates their horrible blood sucking faces. Nothing would make me happier than learning mosquitos have vanished off the face of the Earth. Back to your originally scheduled program).

In the parking lot of the Phuket viewpoint is one of the many EXOTIC ANIMAL tourist traps offered here. This time it was a really large eagle with its’ talons covered that could be put on your arm for $100 bhat (about $3). I am sure these eagles have a pretty crappy life as far as eagles go, but this was one tourist opportunity I simply couldn’t pass up. After trading $100 bhat for several pictures of the huge eagle perched on my arm, I hopped back on the scooter and continued south.

Next up I stopped at an elephant trek business. While I caved in to the “eagle on the arm,” the elephant exploitation was one that I did not want to help support. For another $100 bhat, I could feed a baby elephant and get a photo with it. The young elephant was adorable, but sadly its’ right foot is tied to a short chain - only allowing that foot to move about a foot in any direction. It was pretty awful to see, and giving money to this operation was not something I could justify. Since I can’t and save all these elephants from their shitty elephant captivity, I at least can choose to not support it.

I continued down the highway south, cruising through a few small tourist communities. Big or small, everywhere on Phuket offers the same thing: Food, booze, massages, shopping, tattoos, or tourist adventures. After scootering some more, I made it to an overlook, where I could see several small, secluded beaches. It is amazing how many beautiful beaches there are here. It makes me wonder what it looked like before all the tourists started pouring in. The untouched beauty must have been incredible.

Which then made me appreciate everything that it took for me to even get here. The airplane technology to fly me here at 600 mph, the roads and infrastructure to allow me to drive around easily, the scooter to power me up and down those roads, and the internet to allow me to share my journey in near real time. Yes, I am another white tourist among the thousands that are here, but that doesn’t prevent me from enjoying it.

Before leaving the comforts of home less than a week ago, I figured it would take a few days to settle into this new lifestyle. After several days, I am definitely starting to relax and enjoy everything much more. At first I felt a strong internal pressure to DO EVERYTHING! There is a sense that I am halfway around the world- why WOULDN’T I ride an elephant? And watch a snake show? And ride a jet ski? And go parasailing? Part of not doing every activity I come across involves the money- the tourist activities are insanely overpriced. This is for a good reason- PLENTY of people are buying. Few people are traveling for 4 months- I want my money to last more than a few weeks.

On top of that, I am perfectly content just doing whatever makes me happiest. That means most days will involve wondering around, taking lots of photos, eating some (hopefully) tasty food, relaxing by the pool or on the beach, catching up on my favorite TV shows (watched Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley today), emailing friends, working on business projects, and smiling the whole time.

Tomorrow I leave for Ko Phi Phi, my 2nd destination in Thailand. A new adventure awaits…

Daily tally:

Breakfast- Ham sandwich and Iced Cappuccino: $8

Lunch- noodles with chicken and vegetables, watermelon juice: $7

Picture with an eagle: $3

Beer and snacks from 7-11: $3

Dinner- Pad Se Ew with Chicken- $5

Bus and Ferry to Ko Phi Phi: $20

Hotel: $34

Total: $79

 

 

 

 

Phuket Beaches

After doing a Jet Lag Super Sleep, I woke up at 7 am and scootered way up the coast of Phuket. More details after the pics. Click on any image for a slideshow. 

Falling asleep at 4 pm has its advantages. Mainly waking up at 6 am feeling refreshed after 12+ hours of sleep. I was on the scooter and riding dirty in the streets well before most people were up. Phuket is pretty dead until after 10 am, so enjoying some quiet time before the rest of the euros wake from their slumber is nice.

It is still a bit surreal that I am halfway around the world from my hometown, only a few days into a multi-month journey. Part of the reason it is a bit weird is that Phuket isn’t THAT different from many other places I have been. It reminds me the most of Mexico. The streets are filled with white tourists and locals selling various items. Food, taxi rides, jet ski rentals, parasailing, tattoos, and suits among other things.

English is commonly spoken by the locals to the tourists like me. My only similar experience to a country like Thailand was a trip to Vietnam last summer. Vietnam is much less crowded with tourists. Time will tell if the rest of Southern Thailand is as overpopulated with speedo wearing europeans as Phuket.

I am a bit disappointed about the prices of everything, and remain hopeful that they are extra-inflated because of the over abundance of tourists ready to willingly empty their wallets. It is FAR from expensive, just more costly than I was hoping for. Food is around $5-7 and drinks a few dollars more. This isn’t outrageous- just more than the $3-5 I was hoping for, with $1 for a beer. I am optimistic that the farther I head south, the cheaper and more local things will be.

Other activities aren’t cheap either. I was planning on checking out a local Muay Thai fight tonight, as there are posters all over the streets advertising it. When in Thailand, watch some Muay Thai. Then I saw the price- $1,300 bhat for the cheap seats. That is over $40. Not bank breaking, but that leads me to believe that this is a tourist only activity. There is no way local people are paying $40 a head to watch some fights. I figured that the tickets would be $10 to maybe $20, but $40+ screams “Tourists Come Watch!” prices. I would love to watch a local sporting event with locals- not with a bunch of drunk europeans. I love foreign sporting events, but that will just have to wait. If I was here for a few days or a week, I would give more serious consideration to going. I have a feeling that some time (or many times) in the next few months, other live sporting events will make themselves available to me.

The scooter rental continues to be my best form of entertainment. I scootered far up the west coast of Phuket, going through Karon, Patong and farther north. Patong is the uber-tourist center, with a main drag lined with a Starbucks, Burger King, Subway, McDonalds among other western staples.

Seeing all of these same food chains I see everyday in the states is not something pleasing to me. Because of the huge percentage of wallet stuffed tourists (and high prices), I am guessing that the non-thai options are for the out of towners. Even most restaurants offer PIZZA, PASTA, STEAK, HAMBURGERS! It is a bit disheartening that even when traveling, most people would opt for a slice of pepperoni pizza over some tasty thai food. McDonalds wouldn’t exist over here if people weren’t buying it.

It also makes me wonder what a place like Phuket (or Cabo, Cancun, or any other tropical location in a 3rd world country) would be like without the influx of western tourists ready to empty their wallets on the same comforts they have at home, albeit a few dollars cheaper. Would the local Thai people be crushing Whoppers and washing them down with Frappachinos? It is probably a “chicken or the egg” argument- did us tourists bring the fast food, or would the chains exist even without the foreigners roaming these beach communities? 

I have neither the time nor the energy to figure out the answer to that question. For now, I am going to go find some cheap street food. Maybe a chicken satay?

Daily Tally:

Breakfast (omelet, iced latte): $9

Gas: $5

Lunch (Pad Thai, fresh coconut): $5

Hotel: $34

Street food (undetermined) and a beer from the mini mart: $5ish

Total: $58ish

Scootering Phuket

Photos from Day 2 in Phuket. If you want to read the dirty details, scroll below the pics. Click any image to start a slideshow. 

Day 2 on Phuket started out with wander around Kata to find some breakfast. Eventually I settle on a ham sandwich and iced latte. Prices for everything are definitely higher than I expected, which means that breakfast is about $8 instead of more like $5. Not a monster difference, but slightly disappointing that my American money isnt going farther. Kata (and Phuket in general) is very touristy, which no doubt drives the price up for everything. I am sure there are places to eat off of the main drag that arent quite as pricey. 

I stopped by a tourist kiosk to find out about some day trips in the area. Phang Nga bay looks nice, and includes a trip to James Bond Island (an island featured in The Man With The Golden Gun). I have done similar trips like these, and they arent my ideal way to spend an entire day. It isnt super cheap either- about $60 for the day. Not exactly an obscene amount of money, but enough to give me pause and think about it. 

I am much more interested in scootering around anyway. While I was in Vietnam this was by far my favorite thing to do in any area (outside of the big cities) that I visited. Get a scooter, strap on the helmet, and just cruise. The scooter price is much more reasonable than a day long excursion- $13 for 2 days. After a short internal debate about what to do, I decide a scooter is by far the best option for me. 

I trade my passport and $13 for a scooter key, helmet and scooter. It needs gas, so I zip off to find the nearest gas station. In Thailand, you drive on the "other" side of the road- on the left side. Within the first few minutes, this definitely causes me a few panic attacks and two semi-near accidents (nothing that close or that serious). Within seconds of scootering, I am in heaven. It only takes a minute to feel far away from tourist heaven along the beaches of Phuket. 

Before too long the gas station is in site. I line up with the other scooters, and soon make it to the front of the line. Here there is an attendant to take your money and fill your tank. I dont know how to "order" gas- you either say how much money in gas you want to buy or the volume. I honestly dont know which one, so I give him $250 bhat (about $8). He gives me a confused look, and starts filling the tank. Turns out the scooter fills up after $150 bhat ($5ish dollars). So I have a scooter and a full tank of gas- time to go exploring. 

There are signs for a "Big Buddha", which seems like a great place to start. I had seen a large buddha statue perched up on a mountain on my first day, so it must be that. The arrows take me off the main road, and soon it is a winding road up a mountain. Along the way, there are all sorts of Tourist Activities. Bird Show! Paint Ball! Elephant Rides! 

Before too long I spot my first Elephants, just feet from the road. They are really beautiful animals. I have also seen "Apology to Elephants", so I am aware of how shitty their lives are in captivity. The elephants are swaying back and forth and bobbing their head, which evidently they do while in captivity. They are animals that roam around a lot naturally, so when they are chained up they rock back and forth. It is sad that these huge animals are locked up, but I am not going to be stopping the elephant tourist activities unfortunately. 

On my way to the Big Buddha, I spot several more elephant stops. It is still weird to see a half dozen elephants just chilling right off the road. I dont even ask about how much riding an elephant costs, because I am guessing it is expensive and even if I cant save these guys I dont need to help exploit them either. 

After another few minutes making it up the mountain, the Big Buddha is in sight. It really is massive- a huge marble statue perched atop this mountain. I wander around, and see my first monkey. Unfortunately, this girl is chained up around the neck. This will likely be a theme during my travels- exotic animals chained up for tourist purposes. The money is on top of an employees head, combing his hair for bugs (an activity that monkeys do to each other). I have always been fascinated by monkeys, so this close encounter is amazing and sad. Amazing to pet a monkey and sad to see it chained up. 

I head inside, past all of the touristy items for sale. Then I spot an old monk tying bracelets on people and tapping their head with water- some sort of blessing. THIS is something I can get behind. I wait in the short line, have the monk tie a bracelet on my wrist and splash some water on my head and arm. I put a $20 bhat (about $0.80) into the donation box as a thanks. 

The Big Buddha is a short stair climb to the top. It is a pretty cool site- and also provides some regularly seen irony in 3rd world countries. The inside/ base of the statue is right in the middle of a massive construction effort. The buddha itself is finished, but the interior is FAR from done. There is concrete everywhere, and I have no clue what the finished product will look like. 

After wandering around a bit and enjoying the sites, I head back down to Wat Chandon- a local large temple. It is only a few kilometers away, and I find it easily. This is a pretty cool temple facility with several structures. It is nothing massive or overly impressive, but worth checking out. 

I finish off my scootering by getting some food back near the beach. I head back to my hotel, pretty tired from the day. It is about 4 pm, so I decide to lay down for what I expect to be a short nap before heading back out. Clearly I did not take my own "avoid jet lag" advice, as I am asleep for hours before waking up in the dark. Oops. Oh well- I am still tired so might as well catch up on plenty of sleep to be ready for the next week of activities. 

Advice for the day- when in doubt, get a scooter! 

Money: 
Breakfast: $8
Lunch: $9
Scooter (2 days): $12
Monk bracelet: $1
Hotel: $34
Total: $64

 

Ring of Fire World Tour- Day 1

If you like reading words, I wrote a bunch about getting to Thailand and my first few hours here, which is below the pics. I will probably not write this much every day- no promises, though. A huge thanks to everyone who donated these past few days. Click on any image to start a larger slide show. 

The day finally arrived. At 1:15 am (San Francisco time) on April 18th, 2014, I departed the good ol’ U S of A for the longest foreign adventure of my life. After months of thinking almost non-stop about this trip and spending time getting ready for this 4 month excursion (both mentally and physically) I boarded my flight and headed off into the great unknown.

This trek is what I am calling the 2014 Ring of Fire World Tour (irony intended). While it is not planned out day by day (I don’t like doing TOO much planning), it will span roughly 4 months and cover Southern Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, and a final stop in Australia.

After plenty of internal deliberation and internet searching, I settled on starting in Phuket, Thailand and heading south. Unfortunately, there is no quick way to arrive in Phuket from San Francisco. I knew getting out here would be a battle of air travel endurance, but mentally attempting to prepare was nothing for the real thing.

Calculating door-to-door travel, it started out leaving my mom’s place in Mountain View, California around 10:30 pm.  I had a mountain of anxiety when it was finally go time. Admittedly, I had spent far too much time thinking about this trip- what to pack, what to bring, what not to bring. I “practice packed” around 10 times- filling up my bag with everything I thought I would bring. It is all completely irrational anyway, since ANYTHING can be purchased and/ or thrown away. This is just the way my mind works.

Once the car left Mountain View, that was it. Whatever was in the bags thrown into the trunk were the items that would be joining me. I knew as soon as my flight took off the anxiety would slowly but surely subside. Once I arrived in Thailand, the anxiety would fade away almost entirely. I have done a decent amount of traveling, so I know pretty much what to expect. There is still a massive “unknown” factor that keeps me up at night. There was no turning back now. Whatever I packed made the cut. Anything else would be silently waiting for my return in August.

The first flight was from SFO to Hong Kong- a 14 hour haul. Leaving at 1:15 am, this was great for me. I would prefer to sleep as much as I can on the long portion of a flight and pretend that whenever I get to the next destination is the following day- whether that is true or not in local time. I highly discourage playing the “well it is XXX time at home right now!” game, as it will only fuck with your mental state. Just treat that wherever local time you arrive in as your new time and roll with it. Stay up until a normal local hour (whenever you go to bed) and try to wake up at a “normal” local time. This has served me well during my world travels, and I don’t often suffer from big jet lag.

Fortunately, without even needing the help of over the counter or not-over-the counter meds, I slept a LOT on the first leg. While it was far from anything resembling a solid, deep sleep in a bed (I was still slammed into an economy class airplane chair), I did sleep on and off for over 8 hours. Yes- incredible, I know. It was the always welcome feeling of finally deciding to not try and sleep anymore (there is only so much my poor neck can take), and I checked my clock to realize over 8 hours had passed. That is well over half the flight! Celebrations all around.

The plane touches down in Hong Kong on time. I will be taking the same plane to Singapore, which I stupidly think means I can just wait on the plane. Oh no, amateur traveler. You need to get off the plane, go in a massive circle that includes going through security again, before getting on THE SAME PLANE.

This is when I am at my absolute worst- discombobulated, needing to keep track of too much stuff (my passport, boarding pass, transit card, carry on bag). I will never know what I did, but somehow I lost my boarding pass. Not a big deal- there was a ticket window close by to re-print one for me. Then I make it through security, even though I need to throw away a 75% full water bottle that I bought AFTER security at SFO.

After taking an escalator up a level and nearly making it back to the same gate I exited 20 minutes earlier, I realize I left my sweatshirt back at security. Aargh. There are no escalators back down to the security check, so I attempt to take an elevator. For whatever reason, I cant get to that floor! Unbelievable. Luckily I am young and in shape enough to run down an upwards moving escalator to make it back down to the security level where my sweatshirt is. Success. Losing the sweatshirt would be far from tragic- just would have been an annoying mistake on day 1.

I am finally let back on the SAME plane I was on an hour earlier (in the same seat, next to the same seat neighbors) to make our way from Hong Kong to Singapore. This leg is about 2 ½ hours. Compared to 14, this is a walk in the park. They even feed me again, which is my 3rd airplane meal of the “day”. This portion is uneventful (I even sneak in some more shut eye) and we land in Singapore.

Then I get to switch planes, which includes a terminal change. I have plenty of time, so there is no panic. I make it to the new gate with ample time, and board my 3rd plane of the day for my final leg. At this point is when I was second guessing my massive first day of travel. I really wanted to start my trip on the beach, but I am exhausted at this point. Too late to turn back now.

To my surprise, I am fed one more time- even though this is only a 90 minute flight. Feeding humans for free on short flights in the US is completely unheard of in 2014. I crush my 4th airplane meal in 24 hours, and before long I am on the ground at my final destination- Phuket.

I make it through customs without any hassle and make it to the baggage claim. This is where I always worry- losing my bag would be a pretty big headache. BOOM- there it is and I am out of the airport. I wait for a $6 shuttle and eventually am on my way to the hotel. It takes awhile to get to my stop, since I am the last person getting dropped off. I don’t mind, as I get a free tour of Phuket. There is no rush to check in (although I could badly use a shower).

The shuttle weaves its’ way though Phuket traffic, crawling through the uber-tourist mecca of Patong Beach. I consciously did not choose to stay in Patong, and I am glad I skipped it. It is TOURIST TOWN- Burger Kings and Starbucks and McDonalds are quickly spotted, as well as sidewalks full of westerners. I completely understand Leonardo Dicaprio’s character from The Beach wanting to escape all of this Tourist-ness.

It takes another hour to get to my hotel, I check in, drop my bags in the room, hop in the pool, take a shower, and head to the beach which is a block away.

And it is fucking gorgeous. It may have gotten just a slight bit dusty on the beach at that moment.

The beach itself is really nice, although it is filled to the brim with white tourists. Oh well- cant expect to escape Tourist Town immediately. I am already in heaven. Knowing that this is my life for the next 4 months is an incredible feeling. I wander around the area near my hotel, take some sunset photos, and eat my first official thai meal. I am definitely paying tourist prices, which means a green curry with chicken is a whopping $5 instead of $3 that I expected. It is pretty crazy that when you are in countries like this an extra $2 for a meal seems like an outrage.

The area is still overwhelmingly touristy, which isn’t ideal, but far from unbearable.

I have finally arrived, and I could not be happier. The 2014 Ring of Fire World Tour has officially begun.

Final tally:

Door-to-door: 28 hours.

3 flights, 3 security checks, 4 airplane meals.

$6 for a airport-to-hotel shuttle.

$34 for a hotel room.

$9 for dinner (chicken green curry, 1 large Singha beer)

$3 for 2 tall boys at the corner store.