Monday, August 15, 2011

Near Death on Koh Phi Phi

In the morning we took the hour and half ferry to Koh Phi Phi. On the boat I met Hasan, a very talkative Turkish man that had been living on the island for seven years. He took us under his wing and showed us where to stay and where to eat once we got to the island. The hostel he recommended was completely booked so we stayed right across the road and moved over to “The Rock” hostel the next morning. We went out for a bit of the beach night life and enjoyed a very dangerous fire show where they were constantly throwing the fire sticks into the crowd.

At the hostel the next morning we ran into Jen, a Canadian teacher that had stayed at our last hostel as well. The three of us got settled in and headed to Long Beach, one of the nicest beaches on the island. I asked a local how to get to the beach and he told us to just walk along the shore and we would be there in 15 minutes. No so. We walked along the rocks, not easy in flip flops, for 45 minutes before we arrived. On the way back we of course found the trail that got you back in 15 minutes. Long Beach is absolutely beautiful and relatively empty, so we spent the entire afternoon there before walking back to see the sunset from one of the viewpoints.

In the evening we ended up at a boxing bar for Garreth's last night. Muay Thai boxers started the night out then they let anyone that wanted to box into the ring to accept challenges from others in the bar. Garreth and another guy we were hanging out with both boxed and held their own against their opponents. For this feat they were both given buckets filled with Thai whiskey and red bull, which is quite the way to start an evening.

The next morning I woke up covered in bites, and I am not talking a couple little mosquito bites. It looked like I had chicken pox and I, knock on wood, almost never get bitten. I freaked out, had a mini panic attack scared that they were bed bugs, then tried to calm myself down. Jen and I were the only ones that had them in the dorm, and if they were bed bugs I assumed that they entire place would be infested. I saw some ants in my bed and prayed that they were just ant bites. Just to be safe we moved into a double room and sealed our pj's in ziplock bags, which I carefully examined for five days before opening.

The day before when we booked a tour to Maya Bay (the shooting location of the movie “The Beach”)` we asked which tour was most popular with people our own age, this tour happened to be the cheapest one available – that was our first mistake! They put us all in small wooden long boats which were a little scary, but not too bad on the way there. We stopped a couple places along the way for snorkeling and swimming, which was fantastic. The last place we pulled into was a small bay with cliffs all around it. In one corner I saw ropes hanging and a staircase that started a few feet above the water level. There were probably twenty people in the water, only a couple with life jackets. They were being pulled back and forth by what looked to be a very strong tide. As the waves crashed into the cliffs they tried to reach the ropes to get to the staircase. I immediately thought that there was no way I was doing that, that I would sit in the boat and wait for the next thing, but they said that this was the way to Maya Bay, the whole reason for going on the tour. All of us thought about it for a second and jumped in the water. What none of us realized was that there were tons of sharp rocks and coral right beneath the surface of the water that the tide scraped you against as it went in and out. I am a fairly strong swimmer and I can say without a doubt I have never been so scared of drowning. The tide was ten times stronger than it looked and everyone was in survival mode, so once you got up to the ropes elbows were being thrown. Once I got to the top of the stairs I promptly pulled an Amsbry move and fell down the back side of the stairs. When I stood up I of course laughed at myself, but then realized that I hurt my foot pretty badly. Did I hurt it with my stupidity of getting in the water or with my klutziness of falling down the stairs? Who knows. I now understood why I had seen so many people limping around on Phi Phi. Lesson learned – you get what you pay for, do not go on a 250 baht tour, and as always, trust your instincts, if the water looks that bad, it is bad!

When I got to the beach it was like a scene out of “The Beach”, well maybe not that bad, but there was blood everywhere. People had scrapes all down their backs and up and down their legs. There were swelling ankles everywhere I looked. This obviously made it difficult to enjoy the scenery. I got in the water for a bit, but found trash floating all around me, so Jen and I decided it was time to brave the trip back to the boat. Once we were on top of the stairs the water looked even worse and the Thai guys that were helping people up before had left. Some girls from another boat motioned to their guide that he should come around to Maya Bay to collect them. They were successful in getting their driver to come around so we did the same.

When we saw our boat we all sifted through the trashy water for the rough ride home. The water had gotten super choppy and I felt like the boat was going to tip over at any moment. I was not going to make the mistake twice of not wearing a life jacket so I wrapped one around myself. I can't even begin to explain my relief when I stepped off that boat.

Yes, I had a bit of a rough time on the island, but I still really enjoyed my time. It's absolutely beautiful, and I've never seen water that color. I would definitely recommend visiting the island, just stay away from the 250 baht tour!

Next Stop: Railay

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Lessons Learned in Phuket

The beginning of my trip will be the most vacation like portion of my two month journey. I did this because who doesn't want to start with beaches, and the fact that it would make it the most expensive part, so I would be more and more pleasantly surprised by costs as I went along. The beginning is also when I guessed I would make the most mistakes and I think it is wise to make those where the tourist road is well traveled.

These mistakes I speak of started about 20 minutes after I got off the plane. I am ashamed to admit it, but I managed to lose an ATM card immediately. In Thailand the ATM gives you your money before your card, which is opposite of what I am used to, then steals the card after five seconds if you don't take it. Luckily I am pretty paranoid about stuff like that, so I had a backup and was able to learn my first lesson with minimal damage.

My second lesson came shortly there after. The Phuket airport is quite far away from Patong Beach where I was staying, so I knew that I wanted to try to split the cab with someone. I started walking around talking to the foreigners to see if anyone else had the same idea. I quickly met a friendly British guy and we tried to talk the
cab drivers down a bit, but they didn't go quite as low as we had hoped so we booked a mini bus.
They told us to wait for a bit, a bit turned into 20 minutes, this is when the taxi drivers that work for the same company started to approach us and tell us that it would be at least another 40 minutes before the bus would fill up and they would leave. They were no longer willing to negotiate the price. We waited another 20 minutes and realized that we might never leave, so we got a taxi. Lesson learned – make sure there is always a departure time.

I checked into my hostel, Bodega, which was fantastic, and met up with a friend from Korea, Garreth. We spent some time walking around the city and the rest of the day on the beach where I got properly sunburned despite applying sunscreen four times. Next lesson – aloe is very, very expensive in Thailand, so bring your own. We went out for drinks in evening, which definitely gave me a window into the seediness that is Patong Beach - creepy old men and ping pong shows are everywhere! I still had a great time, but I would recommend staying on a different beach.

The following day I spent some more time at the beach, but this time under an umbrella. On Patong beach someone comes along to try to sell you something every ten seconds. We found this super annoying till the aloe lady came along. She had giant, fresh, cold aloe leaves that for the price of 200 baht she would give you the full body rubdown. Garreth talked her down to 50, and after watching his I had to get one myself. I was left gooey, chunky, and cool. It was the best 50 baht I had spent yet.

The next day we went on an island hopping and snorkeling tour. The best part about it was that almost our entire boat was a missionary group from Korea. They absolutely loved that we could understand a bit
of Korean. Having a small
window into Korean culture I had an idea of what was to come on the island. Most Koreans don't know how to swim and most beaches in Korea are not covered with bikinis, but rather fully clothed people that go about waist deep into the water. The group was made up of about 25 people, all fully clothed, and all wearing life jackets. Before getting into the water they all did the calisthenics routine that I had seen my Korean students do before every gym class while the group leader shouted out the commands. The entire beach stared.

When we got back to Phuket we headed for the food stalls. It was the cheapest and the best food of my trip so far. I met up with some girls from the hostel and spent the rest of the evening dancing.

Next stop: Koh Phi Phi

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Life Right Now

Eighteen months ago I quit my job, packed my bags, and moved to South Korea to teach English. My experience has far surpassed any expectations I had when I arrived. I feel blessed to have had the opportunity to live and work here. Everyday has been an adventure and I will miss Korea and all of the amazing students, coworkers, and friends I have been lucky enough to meet.

For all eighteen months I have had the intention of writing down the stories that were my life, but somehow there has always been life to be lived instead. Now that I'm leaving I wish I would have made the time because I don't want to forget the little things that made life such an adventure.

My next step is a big one and I don't want to forget any of it, so I will be keeping a travel journal here. I'm hoping that it will give my family a little peace of mind, be a guide to my friends that travel to these places in the future, and that some of you will enjoy my stories.

As for the next adventure, I am flying into Phuket, Thailand and flying out of Hanoi, Vietnam two months later. I have a general route planned through Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam and a hostel booked for the first night, from there I am just going to let the adventure unfold.

So, goodbye Korea and hello Thailand!

And yes, some of these pictures do deserve an explanation, but you will just have to wait till the next time you see me!