Mama, mama I’m coming home.

giphy

Yeah, I cheesily quoted Ozzy Osbourne with the blog title.  Anyways..  After about 11 months abroad, we our making our very first return trip to USA for the summer.  We are very excited to say the least.  It will be a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with family and friends and share the stories and experiences we’ve encountered while being abroad.  We’ve even got the first few hours planned and pretty set.  Once we hit arrivals at the airport, hop in that rental car, we will be heading straight towards our favorite Mexican restaurant for a lunch which will consist of el pastor tacos, ceviche, carnitas, refried beans, micheladas, and strong margaritas. You just can’t find amazing Mexican food in Thailand!  We have definitely fantasized about that moment for quite some time and IT WILL HAPPEN!

The flight is the only real hurdle we must tackle.  This time we only have one connecting flight and the entire flight time is only 22 hours versus the flight here, running about 26 hours.  Still long as hell either way you slice it.

I am curious how much different the bustle of American life will feel after spending time in a rural area of Thailand.  It will be strange to be amongst so many people who speak english again, to drive on the right-side of the road, to encounter such a prominent police presence, to eat western cuisine, the cost of living, etc.  Life here is essentially the same.  People have needs, they fulfill them. However, many things are done more simplistically here and it will be interesting to see things from our home with different eyes.  I’m looking forward to it!

Georgetown – Penang, Malaysia

For the second week of our two week break we decided to get another stamp in our passport by heading to Penang, Malaysia.  We flew out of Don Mueang Airport in Bangkok and were there fairly quick, with the total flight time only about 1hr45m.  We arrived at about 6:30pm Malaysian time and caught a taxi to our hotel.  On the ride there I was first struck at how well our driver’s english was.  He sounded almost American.  We have gotten used to the english language being rarely spoken in most areas of Thailand we’ve visited.  This is a very tourist populated area of Malaysia.  My first impression of the city was how extremely clean it was!  Georgetown was colonized by the British, so you find lots of colonial architecture everywhere.  Georgetown is a UNESCO World Heritage site so much of the original buildings are well preserved.  I was very impressed at the beauty of city and found that parts reminded me of places I’d been before, like Miami, FL and parts of the South East United States.

IMG_2850IMG_2852IMG_2853

After a 40 minute drive from the airport we were in the middle of historic Georgetown and at our hotel, the Apollo Inn.

After checking in we asked for food recommendations and the front desk clerk told us to walk outside, go to the right, and we would be amongst the Kimberly Street hawker stalls.  We took her advice and had our first food experience in Malaysia.  Hawker stalls are basically street food vendors who you order from and then you go sit down in a seating area near/behind them.  If you want drinks/beer, etc. you order that separately from a different vendor.  We found a spot and I ordered one of the most popular dishes in Malaysia, char kway meow.  This dish is stir-fried rice noodles with soy, chili, blood cockles, prawns, bean sprouts, fried egg, and chives served on a banana leaf.  I would compare it to pad thai.  This dish was only 4 ringgit ($1) and I paired it with a cheap lager beer, “Skol”.  My wife had the same dish only without any shellfish. It was decent and much appreciated after the journey there.

IMG_2559IMG_2556

We went next door afterwards to try some desserts.  The below is Bee Koh Moy (warm black sticky rice pudding with salted coconut milk) and our kids had an ice bowl dessert with cherry and longan fruit called See Guo Tng.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

After all this we went back to the hotel to rest up for the next day.

The next morning we had breakfast and were greeted by a tour guide in the lobby of our hotel.  He took us on a 3-hour tour of sites in Georgetown.  He drove us first to Wat Chayamangkalaram which is a Thai Buddhist Temple that houses Penang’s version of The Reclining Buddha.

IMG_2588IMG_2593

This building was amazing!  It housed the cremated remains of both Christian and Buddhist people, stored in shelving behind the buddha.  It was surrounded with different chinese/buddhist statues marking each year in the Chinese calendar (Year of the Dog, Year of the Dragon, etc).

After this we went across the street to see the Burmese Buddhist Temple which was also very striking and impressive.  There was a series of Buddha sculptures from many different Asian countries.  It was interesting to see the different looks of The Buddha as depicted by each country.  The detail in each figure was astonishing.

IMG_2613IMG_2615IMG_2622

From there he took us to the Penang Botanical Garden.  This was a sprawling open space filled with exotic plants and trees, birds, monkeys, dogs, joggers, and people doing Thai Chi.  There are many varieties of palm trees in the gardens.  The areca is Malaysia’s most popular and it produces the betelnut, which when chewed is a fairly strong stimulant and will turn your mouth and teeth red.

IMG_2630

Next stop was a row of Malaysian artisan shops selling a variety of teas, chocolates, coffees, and textiles.  We sampled about 20 varieties of coffees and teas.  We watched the handmade textile printing.  After seeing all of this we hopped back into the car to head back to central historic Georgetown.  We visited Armenian Street which is well known for the street art placed whimsically around the main road and side alleys.  At times it was difficult to snap photos due to the queues’ forming at each spot from other who were looking to take a shot.

IMG_2665IMG_2667IMG_2668IMG_2671

At the recommendation of our tour guide we saw the Chew Clan Jetty area which is a collection of rustic wooden homes built by Chinese immigrants in the 19th century.  They are built on wooden posts and sit over top of the seafront.

IMG_2643

Our final stop was the grandest one, the Khoo Kongsi Clanhouse.  This is an elaborately detailed, chinese-built structure which is one of Penang’s most popular attractions.  It was built by the Khoo family and was completed in 1906. It was AMAZING.

IMG_2681IMG_2684IMG_2700IMG_2704IMG_2705IMG_2707IMG_2711

After the tour we decided to explore the streets of Georgetown on our own.  We passed though these immaculate streets we awe-inspired by the sights that surrounded us.  Georgetown appeared to be such a mash-up of chinese, malay, and indian peoples.  You could see the influence everywhere from the food, art, and language.  We occasionally heard what sounded like prayers blasted from a loudspeaker throughout the city.  We asked someone and were told it was hindu music of some sort.  Buddhist, hindu, muslim, and christian religions are all practiced here.

The next day we decided to do more kid-friendly activities so we headed towards the beach area, Batu Ferringhi, to visit “Entopia”.  This place was perfect for the kids because it is an education center which houses a variety of spiders, scorpions, snakes, frogs, lizards, toads, worms, roaches, beetles, fireflies, and most of all a large indoor butterfly atrium.  Kids loved it and had fun running around playing with and looking at all the stimuli.

The final day before leaving Georgetown we decided to see the last big attraction, Penang Hill.  We traveled to the foot of this hill and took a funicular train up to the top.  The entire trip took about 10 minutes to reach the summit.

IMG_2859

From the top there are striking views of Penang and a variety of tourist-focused activities.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

We spent about an hour or so and then returned down the hill to catch a taxi back to the airport to fly back to Bangkok.  Overall we had a fantastic time in Penang and would recommend it to anyone considering it.  It was a pleasant experience!

Phuket & Ao Nang – Songkran New Year

For the kid’s two week break, we planned a couple of ventures for our free time.  The break is considered spring break from school, Easter break for many, and/or Songkran break in Thai culture.  Songkran is the Thai Lunar New Year’s celebration.  Thai’s use this time to celebrate the New Year, a fresh start, and sometimes it is a time to deep-clean their homes.  Everywhere around the country you see sculptures of The Buddha surrounded with flowers and accompanied with a basin of Thai-scented water.  A golden cup is used to scoop the water and then you are to pour the scented water over the buddha sculpture to symbolize the cleansing of the New Year.  This cleansing, however, has become an all-out water fight amongst most Thai people during these 9 days of Songkran celebration.  Below is a picture of a hotel employee lifting my son to allow him to pour the water over the buddha.

IMG_2211

Our vacation began with a flight to the Phuket International Airport.  We flew from U-Tapao airport Pattaya which is only a short 15 minutes from our home.  The total flight time was about 50 minutes which was fantastic!  Upon arrival we caught a taxi to our hotel in the Karon Beach area of Phuket.  Phuket was a nice setting that I would compare similar to Pattaya but with a slightly calmer feel.  There is a large expat presence.  I had never seen so many Russian vacationers and most of the restaurants catered to Russian tastes and had menus translated into Russian.  We took in the sights of the beach the first day and then decided to see the Big Buddha the next day.

IMG_2223

Big Buddha was awesome!  It is one of the most notable landmarks on the island of Phuket and boasts impressive views.  We took a taxi up the mountain which took about 20 minutes of going round and round the bumpy road leading up to the top.  On the way up you pass many different bird shows, elephant shows, etc. as well as people selling food or tourist kitsch.  The sculpture is massive and is surrounded my smaller sculptures as well.  We did out tourist duty of walking around and taking snapshots around this monument.

Off to the side is a spot where there is a supposed “footprint” of the buddha.  We walked onto that side which was filled with monkeys who had gained attention of many tourists. These monkeys were trying to shake hands, steal water bottles, etc.  The kids loved to see this.

After the monkey visit, we went back to our taxi to return to the hotel to rest before our journey to Ao Nang the following day.

The next morning, we woke early (6:05am) to meet our driver who would take us to the Rassada Pier.  We rode about 40 minutes to the pier where we boarded the Ao Nang Princess Ferry for our two-journey to Ao Nang, Krabi Province.  It was a little rainy that morning but quickly cleared to reveal a beautiful day by 11:00am.

 

Arriving in Ao Nang was an awesome sight!  We were surrounded by those iconic towering limestone cliffs jutting out of the blue-green waters.  We docked at the pier to catch another shuttle to our hotel in Ao Nang.  As we entered the Ao Nang city area, it was obvious this was the first day of Songkran.  Everywhere you would see truckloads of people equipped with barrels of water and water pistols, ready for an all-out water battle.  On the sides of the roads were people with buckets, cups, soaked towels, water guns, herbs dipped in water, garden hoses— you name it… ready to get the next passerby soaked.  We checked into our hotel and changed into our Songkran clothes in preparation of our walk down the road in search of a late lunch.  The walk down the street during Songkran was fantastic, especially for our children.  They loved running back and forth spraying complete strangers in the most friendly, fun-loving way.  Within just a couple hundred feet, all four of us were absolutely drenched.  Our faces were covered in the white smear of talcum-powder paste that you so often see during Songkran.  The streets were filled with the sounds of traditional Thai music but more often BOOMING electronica.  We finally found a nice resting spot for lunch and a cold Leo Beer alongside the beach.

IMG_2400IMG_2401IMG_2409IMG_2420IMG_2433IMG_2461

The next day we decided to forgo the Songkran activities still happening and instead see some scenery around the island.  We bought four longboat tickets to Phranang Cave Beach portion of Railay Beach, a 10 minute boat journey from Ao Nang Beach.  This was probably the most beautiful and scenic part of our whole trip.  The water here was an clear emerald blue, the forests were lush and thick, the limestone cliffs were absolutely massive, and there were a series of caves you could walk into.  This was a fantastic places for photo opportunities.

IMG_2498IMG_2500IMG_2518IMG_2541

We swam in the water, watched people climb the mountainous cliffs, watched stand-up paddle boarders, and witnessed an unusual “phallic” shrine inside a few of the caves.  It is believed that the spirit of Phranang (Princess Goddess) resides in the cave .  People who pledge good luck to her spirit by offering gifts, flowers, incense, and often times these hand-made penises.  It was interesting.

IMG_2529

After grabbing some lunch off a longboat vendor, we decided to make our way back to Ao Nang to relax before preparing to head back to Pattaya the next morning.   We had a wonderful trip and look forward to the next, Penang Malaysia!

The DMV is a Universal Experience

So about a week ago I finally got my Thai drivers license.  I’m legal!  It takes quite a bit of paperwork and time vested to achieve.  We had to collect together photocopies of our American drivers licenses, the first/second/visa pages of our passports, certification of residency, work permits, certificate of health, and finally our international drivers permits.  Each photocopy had to be signed as well.  We had to meet a Thai affiliated with the school at the “Land Transport Office” aka the DMV and present these documents.  Once we did this we then got into a line for a reaction test. In front of me was two pedals at my feet and an LED string of lights about 5 feet away.  When you pressed the “gas” pedal the lights would illuminate from the bottom and quickly travel upward.  You have to hit the “brake” before the lights hit an indicated threshold.  It was pretty easy, however many people I watched had trouble with it.  They then showed us multiple colors and we would indicate the color verbally.  After completing this we then went to a different building and presented our documents along with the certification that we passed the tests.  We then went to another room and sat through an hour-long class completely in Thai.  After this went back to the first room and took a queue number and waited to be called for payment.  Licenses were 205 baht per person.  Not bad.  You then took another number to wait to be called for pictures.  Once the picture was taken the license was produced.  Just like in the USA, the Land Transport Office is also a somewhat painful experience.  And just as the employees of the DMV in the states appear unconcerned about the person looking to get the license, things are the same here.  Haha.

Back to work

I haven’t updated this blog in a little while.  We had a holiday break, my in-laws came to visit, we have been doing our normal routine and I just hadn’t gotten around to it.  However I must write about the fact that I am now employed!  Don’t get me wrong, those 6 months of no-work responsibility was unemployment bliss and I enjoyed my time exploring, but I was ready to get busy again.  I am now helping out as a TA (teacher’s assistant) with a Year 2 class (1st grade).  I have no experience teaching nor have I really every tried to pursue this as a career but I welcome the experience and opportunity.  I’m essentially helping the teacher with coordinating the class, one-on-one reading with students, printing, laminating, filing, etc.  This job was a definite transition at first as I sometimes find groups of children more intimidating than groups of adults! Ha.  Either way these kids have accepted me and I am learning a whole new set of skills.  I definitely miss the hotel and hospitality industry but appreciate this change while I am living in Thailand.  Who knows, maybe this could be another career path one day.  We’ll see how it goes.

Vietnam Vacation

With the kids and my wife both out of school for the Christmas holidays, we were ready for a trip somewhere else within Southeast Asia.  A few months back we looked around on travel sites, etc. and decided upon a trip to Vietnam; Hanoi to be exact.  One major factor why we chose Hanoi was because I had a friend from college (whom I hadn’t seen in 16 years) who was living there and I figured it would be great to catch up and also get “the scoop” on the city from a local.  So, after a few trips to Bangkok to get our visas straightened out we were finally in route to Hanoi on a Friday afternoon, the day before New Years Eve.

We arrived at the Ha Noi airport around 4:30pm and made our way through immigration to the taxi waiting area.  We were immediately solicited by a gentleman offering to take us to our destination for $20 USD.  I tried to put him off by saying we had to get money first and he instead directed us to an ATM and waited on us.  We got our cash and tried to go elsewhere but he signaled to us that he had our ride ready.  I guess our own politeness roped us in a bit.  The gentleman who drove us was kind, speaking a little english, and he quoted us 480,000 VND (Vietnamese Dong) which was equivalent to about $21.  We learned later to simply get a taxi with a meter vs. paying the flat fee.  Either way, it was worth the convenience.

While looking around from within the taxi I noticed some differences from Thailand.  The vehicles are driven similarly to the USA in the fact that they drive on the left side of the car and on the right side of the road.  Vietnamese LOVE… LOVE LOVE LOVE… their horns.  I feel like most drivers keep their hands stationed on the wheel to blow the horn every time a vehicle comes anywhere close to them.  It was insane!  People also drive VERY close to each other.  A few times I swore that the handle bars of a motorbike or the jeans of a rider grazed the sides of the taxi we were in.

img_1608

People who drive this a lot are so use to it that they simply flow in and out of each others paths in calculated and sometimes dangerous manners.  Also, it could’ve been this particular day, but the smog was pretty bad when we arrived. After about 40 minutes we reached our destination, a coffee shop called Cong Caphe.

4e61de96e01b8b086f3ca858db522704ecd45a2d

When we got out of the taxi, we were on the opposite side of the road from the coffeeshop.  Crossing roads in the Hanoi takes a little bravery because you have to move slowly and not change pace and the traffic will weave and swerve around you.  The four of us eased our way across and stepped inside the coffeeshop to meet up with my friend and his wife and grab a local favorite coffee.

After a quick coffee and a few moments of catching up, all six of us decided to go put away our things at my friend’s apartment and grab a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant.  We headed to one of many “Bia Hoi Ha Noi” restaurants near his house which sat right across from Lake Ho Tay (West Lake).  These restaurants make Bia Hoi which translates into “fresh beer”.  This beer is a very light draft lager that is incredibly cheap, around 20K-24K VND.  They make this beer every day and discard what is not consumed by end of day.

bia-hoi-corner-old-quarter-hanoi-5

We ordered an array of sautéed morning glory, fried bok choy, fried and chopped chicken (head included), rice, etc.  Ingredients in Vietnam I found to be very similar to Thailand however there was less fish sauce used (or i just didn’t notice it).  This was a great first evening in Hanoi.

The next day we all had a quick breakfast and set out into town (the Old Quarter) to see various sites of the city.  As I looked around at the scenery there were many interesting elements all combined together.  The buildings sat tightly together, aged by the years, resembling something like Savannah, GA (where I was born).  Similar to Bangkok, the industrial and natural settings were well inter-laden, with trees and plants dotted throughout each alleyway or street.

Street vendors with conical hats and sometimes bamboo poles over their shoulders were selling everything from two hanging baskets on either side of them.  Gold jewelry, Vietnam tours, handmade clothing, spiritual adornments and Buddhas, zippo lighters, fresh fruits and vegetables, fried doughnuts, paper sculptures, pho, bun, french baguettes, coffee, massage, the list goes on and on.

The energy of the city is very vibrant with the constant movement of motorbikes, horns honking, pedal-taxis soliciting you, and vendors looking to make a deal.

You cannot go the Hanoi without witnessing some of the old structures and remnants of the Vietnam War or, American War, as the Vietnamese refer to it I believe.  We did not make it to the Vietnam War Museum  or the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison but were still able to see some sites dotted around the city.  My friend took me to a location off the beaten path via motorbike (my first time on a motorbike).  We came to a small polluted pond about the size of a swimming pool which held the remains of a B52 bomber shot down during the Christmas bombings of the Vietnam War.

It was eery to think that the structure had not been moved for so long and to think about the set of events that occurred that day.  It was a quiet part of the city but well worth a visit if you had time.  I also saw the lake where John McCain crashed and was pulled out of by the Vietnamese before he became a POW.  There was even a figural sculpture of McCain’s body alongside the lake marking the location where he was pulled out and briefly citing the events of that day.

image_4_hanoi_mccain_statue

Most impressive was witnessing Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.  It is a massive guarded structure which houses the embalmed remains of the revered Vietnamese figure.  We did not go inside but viewing from the outside was striking.

img_1645

After most of the day spent sightseeing, we decided to stop for a beer and some snacks in the middle of the Old Quarter.  We had a fantastic view of the area as well as the lake.

img_1780

They happened to be setting up a Heineken-sponsored stage for the New Years event that night.  Massive!

img_1630

We spent the rest of our evening chilling out and enjoying conversation.  We had a great rooftop view of the city to ring in the new year!

img_1682

The remaining two days of our time in Hanoi was spent trying different foods, experiencing the markets and shops, and touring a few temples and sites, etc.  We saw the Thap Rua (Turtle Tower) on Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake), Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain), The Presidential Palace, and many more I did not photograph and can’t remember the names of.

As far as food, we tried some local favorites like bun cha, bun bo nam bo, bun ga, bahn mi, etc.

 

I would love to return one day to experience more of this country!

Khao Chi Chan & Silverlake Winery

Last week my family and I decided to go out to the Khao Chi Chan (Buddha Mountain) site to see it up close, first hand.  This is a giant mountain-side with an image of Buddha drawn in gold.  The site is free to visit however it is encouraged to donate money in a few areas at the foot of the mountain. Upon arrival there are many different vendors around selling clothes, coffee, food, and touristy items.  The area is great for kids because it is wide open and spacious so they were able to run around and burn off some energy.  There are multiple covered areas to  stop off for some shade and a rest if you desire.  As you approach the foot of the mountain there are roped off areas you must not cross however there are wonderful stone paths up to the foot of the mountain where many people go to pray.  Definitely an awesome site to see!

 

After seeing Khao Chi Chan we decided to drive over to Silverlake Winery, which is literally right next door to Khao Chi Chan.  Silverlake Winery is impeccably built in an Italian architectural style and attention to detail is evident.  Access to Silverlake is also free and it is a stunning location just outside of Pattaya.   There is lots to offer including wine tastings, vineyard tours, a full service fine-dining restaurant,  a pizzeria, ice cream shop, as well as a store you can purchase about anything imaginable made from grapes.  I’m told they even have sleeping quarters for those who look to stay an evening on property.  It’s definitely somewhere I look forward to returning to!

 

 

 

Religious Tradition

I live in a fairly rural area of Thailand surrounded by golf courses that lie between Rayong, Pattaya, and Ban Chang.  As of late, there has been lots of building and construction for a new development set to by ready by 2018.  New roads, roundabouts, ponds, foliage, and shrines have been popping up each day with the progression of this project.  Something different and new that I witnessed for the first time was the procedure of creating a shrine, in this case the shrine to Brahma.

For the past few weeks a beautifully constructed  spanish-style “gazebo” (for a lack of better words) was slowly taking shape.  It was the first fully formed structure in the middle of desheveled rock and soil at a construction site close to the entrance of our subdivision.  My wife and I had been wondering and discussing what exactly this thing could be. Most recently a giant golden statue was placed within this “gazebo” causing us to infer that it was in fact some sort of shrine.  A few days later there was a large tent set up next to the shrine with many people dressed in all white conducting some sort of ceremony.

img_636815319282_247346335684455_2499306306032444039_n

Firstly, I am not keen on Buddhist or Hindu tradition so I apologize if I am getting any of my information wrong and for my naievty on the subject .  I am simply writing what I perceived as a quick passer-by.  What I have gathered is that this is a shrine to “Brahma” the creator god in the Trimurti (or Trinity of Supreme Divinity) of Hinduism.  From my own google research, Brahma has four faces looking in four directions and appears to be a protective deity upon the land.

3851

I assume this might by why the shrine was the first structure built as it may bless all the building to follow?   Either was this was a beautiful and intriguing thing to witness as an outsider.  Experiencing things like this is one of the reasons we wanted to come to Thailand.

Koh Samet

This past week we took our very first trip to the island of Koh Samet.  To those who are not familiar, Koh Samet is an island in the Gulf of Thailand off the coastline of the Rayong Province.  It was the closest island to our home and easiest venture with two small children.  So, on a Wednesday morning we packed up the car and headed towards Ban Phe to park our car for the next few days and journey to Koh Samet by boat.

 

Upon arrival into the fishing village of Ban Phe we saw a sign that said “Car Park” so we pulled in and paid for three nights of parking (100 baht per day).  The attendant was very nice and actually escorted us across the street to Municipality Pier to speak with a travel assistant about how we would get to the island.  We were set on taking a ferry as we heard it was less expensive. The woman we spoke with kept asking, “Why not speedboat?  Why Ferry?”  We gestured, rubbing index and thumb fingers together, saying “Money!”.  She made a quick deal.  She would give us a speedboat that would leave right then and there for an additional 300 baht and she would not charge for our smallest child….ANNNNDDDDDD…. it would include a free ferry ride back.  You’ve got a deal! (Normally speedboat’s can be 2000 baht for one way).  We were shown to a queue area and were escorted to the boat within 5 minutes.

img_1405

After a short 20 minute boat ride we arrived at our resort on Koh Samet island and were assisted in carrying our bags off the back of the boat, through the waves, and up onto the beach (no pier).

The resort we reserved was Tubtim Resort south of Ao Phai Beach.  This was a great location with a peaceful/small beach.  The bungalows were somewhat dated but perfect for us.  Our room was equipped with a single king-sized bed, tv, small refrigerator, western toilet, and shower.  Simple was all we needed as we came to get away, to relax.  Our first afternoon was simply spent lying around the beach, sipping on a few beers, and a casual dinner at the resort.  It was nice.  We planned to do more exploring on Thursday, our second day on Koh Samet.

 

Thursday morning we got up early and enjoyed the breakfast provided by the resort.  It was my idea to trek up the beach towards the main pier in order to see the island first-hand and eventually hit up some shops and restaurants as our resort was a bit secluded.  The four of us walked the beach, jetties, and pathways up the coast of the island stopping every so often to break from the heat of the sun.  Countless photo opportunities were seen.  Around the north end of Tubtim (closer to the Pudsa Bungalows) were some amazing rock-stacking sculptures.

img_2017

We passed countless food stalls selling coconuts, grilled squid/crab/shrimp/fish, fruit shakes, handmade roti, and some things I’m not even sure about.  Most shops were stocked with ladies swimwear, hats, tourist kitsch, liquor, beer, and wine.  We passed people offering beachside massages, handmade body wraps, henna tattoos, hair braiding, and sliced fruits.  I considered getting corn-row braids for a minute… just a minute.    We passed a gentleman offering parasailing, snorkel tours, and boat tours.  He talked us in to getting a 2pm boat tour which he assured us was good for the kids as well.  He assured us a boat would pick us up on the beach at Tubtim at 2pm.  After a nearly hour long walk we finally made it to an area filled with 7-11 minimarts and restaurants.

img_6026

We stopped in at the Funky Monkey Restaurant and Bar for an early lunch.  After lunch we decided to catch a songthaew (a converted pickup truck with bench seating aka a taxi) back to the resort instead of walking all the way back.  It was time to rest before our boat venture at 2pm.

We sat out at the beach around 1:45pm to keep an eye our for our boat tour.  They arrived around 1:55pm.  They set anchor and we waded through the waves to hop onto the back of the boat.  The waves were a bit choppy so the boat was jostled all around during this time.  We handed our daughter to one of the boat-hands first, he placed her up onto the back of the boat.  My wife hopped onto the boat and then we handed my son to her.  I followed while carrying my backpack and camera.  To give you an idea, the boat appeared to be ran by a family.  Our boat “captain” was probably a 16 year old.  There was an older man who appeared to be maybe an uncle or friend, and there were two young children working as well (maybe ages 7 and 10).  The boat was tossing us all around, at one point nearly knocking my wife over. We quickly paid them and they handed my wife and I two adult life jackets.  We asked for children’s life jackets and they nodded at us and began moving.  We were in route to pick up two more people from another beach before heading out on the tour.  While picking up the other two, who were a thai/chinese couple, we asked again for children’s life jackets.  The 7 year old girl gave us two more adult-sized jackets.  Reluctantly, we put the oversized jackets on our two kids.  This was my first feeling of uneasiness. We began whizzing through the ocean to our first stop.  We continually “caught air” while in the boat as we coasted over large waves.  There was a STRONG smell of diesel coming off the boat motor.  Our kids were troopers, staying calm and collected as we traveled towards the first stop.  Suddenly, the boat motor died while we were in the middle of the ocean, resuming after about 15 seconds.  Oh CRAP.  The boat “captain” gestured to the 10 year old to go inspect the motor, looking concerned.  This kid jumped on the back of the boat and leaned his head down next to the RAPIDLY SPINNING BOAT MOTOR while we were FLYING over waves.  He proceeded to grab the drip line/fuel line hanging from the motor and began to blow air into it to clear the line.  I was worried the kid would either fall into the ocean or get injured from the motor propellers.  He jumped back up front and grabbed a stick to probe into the line.  The boat captain started checking under the boat floorboards to see if we were taking on any water.  By this point, everyone in the boat just wanted to turn around and go back.  The couple on the tour with us had equal looks of concern.  After about 10 more minutes we were on the first island.  From that point on, our day became more and more enjoyable.  Haha.  Hey, things are done differently in Thailand!

img_1451img_1462

We visited a total of three islands, all with small stop offs with plenty of coral reef areas to see by snorkeling.  The kids enjoyed walking around and wading in the water.  Vendors on one of the islands sold cold drinks and beer, fruit, and ice cream.  We found a few good spots for photo ops. By 4:30pm we were on our way back to the resort to close out the evening.

 

On Friday we decided to have a more relaxing day, as the boat ride on Thursday was a bit stressful initially with small kids.  We went south on the island to see a few other beaches. We were initially looking for a mediterranean restaurant near Baan Thai Sangthian Resort. We were dropped off by a taxi at the main drop off point for Ao Sang Thian.  We journeyed down a long path of tile to the oceanside and walked alongside the endless rows of beachside resorts looking for the restaurant.  This area was much different that Tubtim.  It felt nearly deserted when we were there.  We rarely saw another person.  It almost felt like we had the entire place to ourselves.

Occasionally we would walk up on a resort/bungalow with a few of the staff either sleeping or on their phones.  They would see us and perk up to say “Sa Wa Dee Ka!”  The sights here were stunning, pretty much as picturesque as it gets!  We walked a good 20 minutes before asking someone where Baan Thai Sangthian was.  They said we had passed it.  What?  We turned around.  We gave up on the search and instead went to a place called “The Viking”.  This chance stop off turned out to be a highlight of our trip.  We had one of the best meals since on the island!

img_2159

Afterwards we found about 7 hammocks under some low-growing trees to relax in and take in the ocean air and sounds.  The kids went from hammock to hammock, playing.  It was perfect.  On our return visit to Koh Samet, this will be the beach we stay at.  It was amazing.

On Saturday we made our way home via the ferry from Nadan Pier.  We had wonderful time together as a family for our first trip to this island.  I know we will be there a few more times while living here.

A Return to Bangkok

We have just returned home from “one night in Bangkok”.  We had to go back into the city to visit the United States Embassy to get a few documents notarized for our visa extensions.  We knew that simply driving there and back in a day would be difficult so we decided to make a venture of it and stay the night.  It was an adventure to say the least which I will try to capture in this blog post.

Our journey began on Sunday morning around 10am, after a light breakfast.  We all packed up and hopped in the car to make our way towards Bangkok.  The ride into Bangkok from our home is about a two hour drive.  Not even 45 minutes in we have to make a pit stop so our daughter could use the restroom.  This was her first encounter with a squat toilet.  It was hilarious!!  She comes out from the bathroom telling me, “Daddy, I peed in a hole and flushed it by pouring a bucket of water in it.”  I was first impressed that she tackled using the bathroom in such a new way until my wife informed me she basically missed the toilet completely.. haha.

img_1935

After our break we got back on the road.  We discussed our plans of things to do once in the city.  Shopping, touring night markets, and visiting some nice restaurants we can’t come across near Pattaya were on the agenda.  We were especially psyched to get some Mexican food as we had not had any since our arrival in Thailand (we ate Mexican one/two times a week back in Atlanta).  I was able to locate a Mexican restaurant on google that seemed close to the hotel.  We just needed to make it there first!  I swear, the GPS will give you so many varying ways of getting to places in Thailand… to the point it can be a little confusing.  Roads diverge and reconnect in odd ways and the road names listed on the GPS are almost never the same the road names you physically see when driving.  You can easily miss a turn or exit and end up riding many more miles only to have to u-turn back to where you need to be.  We ended up taking a wrong turn which actually was a good move because it still led to Bangkok, just under the shade of another road running parallel over our heads.  In fact, the road ran the ENTIRE route to Bangkok.  Our guess was that it was perhaps a toll road or something that you could use in the event of bad traffic.

img_1945

As we drove into the city the roads do get very intense.  You will find that people cut in and out from all directions, motorbikes swarming you from all sides, busses and tuk-tuks all come intimidatingly close to your vehicle.

img_1985

I’ll admit our anxiety levels were a bit through the roof for those minutes before we found our hotel.  Just a little after noon we arrived at the hotel and were excited to check in, put our things away, and get some long-awaited Mexican food just walking distance from the hotel.  YESSS!  Well, we checked in and looked outside to see that Bangkok was experiencing an INTENSE downpour!  I’m talking HEAVY rain! We sat for a few minutes in hopes it would subside but instead took a taxi recommended by the hotel concierge.  It was only a few blocks and cost about 40 baht (just over $1 USD) so it wasn’t that bad.  We finally got to this Mexican restaurant and made our way inside.  There were only 3 other people inside but we were welcomed out of the heavy rain by smiling faces ready to serve us.  It looked nice!  There was a salsa bar, tequilas on display, and American programming on the TVs.  We sat and looked over the menu.  We ordered some street tacos, chips & salsa, and some cheese dip.  We were STOKED!  About 10 minutes later this came out…

img_5503

Now I’ve had amazing Mexican food in my lifetime and knew this would probably not match what I was used to but it was the closest thing I could get in Bangkok so I was excited.  I took a bite and will say it was “ok”.  It was a good attempt considering the ingredients available.  I tend to set my expectations too high quite often.  Suddenly I saw a small, quick streak of motion in my peripheral vision.  Wha?  I looked across the room and noticed an old european couple in the back of the restaurant intently staring at the floors.  What are they looking at?   When I looked down and around I noticed a HUGE roach running quickly across the floor…. then another… then another… then another.  I’m not sure if it was from the rains outside pushing them in but the place I soon realized was INFESTED with cockroaches.  The waitresses continually walked around us with brooms and mops, moving furniture and chairs to cause movement so they could kill them and sweep them out the door… all while smiling and checking in on us every few minutes.  As I ate, I couldn’t help but scan the place visually back and forth, over and over again.  Needless to say I still ate those tacos, however with a slight feeling of nausea and my hopes just a little squashed considering how much we pumped ourselves up over the idea of Mexican food.  I think I’ll stick with Thai food while in Thailand.

When finished with lunch we flagged down a tuk-tuk to take us back to the hotel as it was still raining very hard.  Tuk-tuks are pretty cool because they give you a very authentic Thai experience and also a much closer and intimate look at your surroundings albeit a little dangerous.  For a minute I was concerned the tuk-tuk would not make it back to the hotel considering that the roads were so flooded that it almost submerged the tuk-tuk to our foot level.  This is a pretty common occurrence with heavy rains there.

img_5505

Shortly after arriving back at the hotel the rains finally stopped and we were able to tour around the Silom road area of Bangkok, just outside our hotel.  Everywhere you go there are massage parlors with ladies yelling “massage!”, street food vendors with all sorts of kebabs and fruits and pastries, and merchandise vendors ready to haggle over wallets, watches, t-shirts, and more.  We scored a few good items for fairly cheap at the Patpong Night Market and made our way back to the hotel to put our kids to bed.

img_1994img_1984img_1982img_1956

The next morning we woke to tackle the reason we came to Bangkok, to go to the US Embassy.  We knew were only about 1.5 miles away from the embassy so we gave ourselves about 45 minutes to get there in preparation of traffic.  WHOO!! Maybe we should have left an hour early.  First of all there is a lot of traffic at 10:00am in Bangkok on a Monday.  Secondly, there are multiple one-way roads that run very closely side by side.  We were in one of two roads going the same direction, separated by a concrete barrier.  We soon realized we needed to be on the opposite side of the street.  This was a challenge because we could not just cut over but rather had to go a full block around and come back.  We BARELY made it to the embassy by our appointment time!  Barely.  However, the visit was a success and we were able to make our journey  back home to the quieter side of Thailand, haha.  I’ve decided I really do like Bangkok…. but I prefer it on foot.  Driving is not for the faint of heart.  You’ve got to have driving SKILLS… which is why my wife did most of the driving.  To finish this post, I’ve included some random sights from around the city.  Until next time!

img_5524img_1950img_1954img_2001img_5500