Saturday, October 23, 2010

Koh Tao Pics

Click here for some pics of Koh Tao.

Koh Tao

We arrived in Koh Tao a few days ago (I'm really starting to lose track of what day it is) after a long bus ride from Bangkok. The bus dropped us off at Chumphon at 4 in the morning, and we literally had to believe the bus driver that's where we were because there was nothing to suggest we had arrived at a bus station, never mind a bus terminal. We were dropped off in front of a "store" that had some seats out front. As soon as we emerged from the bus (remember this is 4am) a guy starts asking me "where you going? where you going?" At this point I am barely awake because I've slept through the bus ride and am confused as to where I am, never mind where I'm going. After showing them our tickets for the ferry we purchased at the bus terminal in Bangkok, they told us to sit down on the seats and wait. And wait we did until about 6am. While waiting we met a couple of girls that were also waiting for the ferry and they have been travelling for a few months and had just come from Laos, and were on their way over to Koh Phangan for the full moon party. It was good to pass the time with them as it made the time go by faster. While sitting and chatting we saw the BIGGEST UGLIEST FLYING COCKROACH EVER!! It was coming right at me (or so it felt that way) and me and the other 2 girls were not very impressed. Thank god a dog was there to attack it and kill it. Unfortunately it kept coming back alive so I made Andrew kill it with his foot. It was crunchy. I would also like to add that Andrew was not very supportive of this whole incident and kept telling me to get down from the chair and stop screaming. I would not.

A car picked us up at 6am, transferred us to another bus, which then took us to the ferry. After a 2 hour ferry ride we arrived on Koh Tao. We had met a guy on the ferry from a dive resort called "Big Blue Dive Center". They were offering some pretty good deals (7,500 BAHT for the advanced course with free accommodations, about $250 per person) so we decided to go with them. The resort feels more like camp, but I guess that's what you get for that kind of money. We got a room with a fan and no AC and no hot water but really who needs hot water in this weather?

We were starting our advanced course the following day so what did we do? Head to the beach of course! Big Blue is located right on the beach so it's nice. We placed our towels on the sand and took a quick look around. I was not impressed with the water as it was not clear at all but very murky. I attributed this to the amount of boats in the area (there are quite a few as Koh Tao is the #1 place in the world where divers are certified) and there are a lot of boats and dive boats around. After our disappointing walk we went back to our towels and fell asleep for a couple of hours. We were exhausted!

The next day we started our course. That day we completed 2 dives, the Underwater Navigation and Peak Buoyancy dives. The visibility was not great but not too bad, and we were told this was due to the approaching monsoon. The next day we completed 3 dives, a deep wreck, a fun dive with lots of coral and marine life, and a night dive. It was awesome! The night dive was pitch black and the only light we had was coming from our flashlights. We saw a few big barracudas, a spotted stingray along with other marine life. At the end of the dive, as we were ascending, we turned off our flashlights, waved our hands around and "ignited" the phosphorescence! Unfortunately Andrew did not see the phosphorescence as he did not listen to our Dive Master before the dive and therefore he had no clue as to why we were waving our hands. It was great and I can't wait to do another night dive!

Today we took a day "off", rented a motorbike (more like a vespa for you bikers out there), and toured the island. I use the term toured very loosely as some of us had to do a lot more manual touring than others. Mainly because of the poor roads (the roads can be anything from asphalt to sand to gravel and can change at any moment surprising you) as well as the shitty bike. This bike can barely get up the hills with just Andrew on it, never mind with the both of us on it. So that left me with a lot of hiking of some pretty steep "roads". I have to say I am exhausted after all that hiking. Andrew for some reason is not that tired, but it could be due to the fact he had almost no hiking to do! I say almost because we went to a gorgeous beach today but had to park the bike at the top of the mountain and walk down. Going down was fine, it was the getting back up which was the problem! It was hard work.

The weather here is great. The sun has been shining every day and it's well over 30 degree Celsius. I am glad to say the water is crystal clear and very warm! Today after our "tour" we went for a sunset swim and it felt great after the hot day.

Tomorrow we will most likely be moving to a new "resort" which offers cheap diving and free accommodations but the room has AC AND hot water. We're planning to go to Koh Phangan in the next few days but don't have any definitive plans yet. Andrew might post some pics so keep checking in!

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Moving On

Yesterday we moved hostels to be closer to Koh San Rd. (backpacker's mecca in Bangkok) and to save some money. When we finally arrived at the hostel we had been so exhausted from walking so much the day before that we decided not to venture out too far from the hostel and hang around the area. This allowed us to find cheap beer ($2 for a large Chang!) and cheap GREAT food ($1 for a plate of Pad Thai. Gotta love the street vendors). Seriously, that was the best pad Thai I have ever had and we'll be going back for more.

In terms of my first impressions of Bangkok; This is a BUSY city! There are a lot of people here so traffic is crazy. Everyone knows you're a tourist right away and you're constantly being hassled (Tuk Tuk? Taxi? Where you going? Where you from? Suit? Ping Pong Show? etc.) to the point that this becomes very tiring. I constantly feel like someone is out to make a buck (or Baht) on us or scam us into one thing or other. The city is a mix of old and new and the new parts are really nice while the rest could use a little freshening up. However, no matter where you are, old part or new, the constant is the street vendors. Anything from food to clothes, to toys, to electronics, to lingerie, to anything your heart desires, they are everywhere. No matter where you walk or what part of town you're visiting, you can smell the spicy food the vendors are cooking, so that a chicken satay is never very far way.

The one thing Andrew and I have become very good at is travelling on a budget. As I mentioned in the previous post, I have become very cheap and this is demonstrated by a new way I have found to save money. We walk around the city, walk into expensive stores and eat all their samples. You would be surprised at how full you feel after eating the samples! And because you're a tourist, no one says anything to you! Andrew even sampled the bathroom at one of these very high end places :) Now that is living on a budget!

I have been feeling restless for the past couple of days as the city has begun to take a toll on me. I have been feeling like we're wasting our time here in Bangkok when there is still so much of Thailand to discover. We were able to meet up with Andrew's friend Bobby last night and give him one of our bags to hold for us until we return. After that we made the decision to visit other parts of Thailand. But after speaking with some people, we learned that parts of Norther Thailand were flooded, we decided to head South to Koh Tao.

So today we checked out of our hostel and were headed to the Southern Bus Terminal. Of course as soon as we walked out of our hostel we were assulted with the same questions (Tuk Tuk? Taxi?) but this time instead of saying "No" like we usually do, we said "How Much?" "300BHT? No Way! Too Much" and thinking we were the savvy cheap tourists, we decided to walk. The book said 1.8km...what's 1.8km? After walking for an hour and a half in the blazing sun and humidity (yes we finally have sun!) with our 35lb backpacks, and still not reaching the bus terminal, we finally decided to ask for directions. "What, 5km's more? Now way". They had to be scamming us right? But after reaching the intersection where we thought the bus station should be, and after profousely sweating for the past hour and a half, we decided to call it quits and to get a cab. For a 100BHT he took us to the Bus Station, 5km from where we were.

When we got here we were exhausted! But we got our tickets to Chumphon, and have pre-booked the ferry to the island! The only problem is that we now how 9 hours to kill, as it seems we were a little eager to get to the Bus Terminal and the bus doesn't leave until 10pm tonight!

I'm not sure if we'll have an internet connection while on Koh Tao so I'll give you a preview of what we'll be doing there: Diving and sleeping and tanning (if we have sun). That's really all I expect to do when we get there, but Andrew of course has other ideas! He is set on us completing our Advanced Diving course while there. I'll keep you posted on that progress in my next post.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Rainy Bangkok

As per our earlier post (the last post was Andrew' although he didn't meet my demands of posting before we left, he did post when we got here...and I'm sure we all appreciate the pictures, so I think I will keep his name on the blog) Bangkok is very wet right now. We got stuck in such a downpour that we splurged on a $2 Tuk Tuk ride back to the Hostel. I say splurged because we have embraced frugality to the max since we got here. If anything costs more than 100BHT (approx $2 CDN) I refuse to pay for it. The rain was so bad we were soaked! My shoes were completely wet, my shorts were drenched, my bagpack soaked, and that was while wearing rain gear! I'm looking forward to the Monsoon season being over soon. The good news is it didn't really rain up until mid-day today.

We have become awesome negotiators...and by "we" I mean Andrew...but I egg him on and tell him I refuse to pay more. The buns we buy for breakfast cost around $0.10 each and they come with a hot dog! We keep a daily log of all our purchases and we try to stick to a $20/day budget for the both of us.

We have been trying to adjust to the time difference and it has made us a little slow. We were going to change hostels today to move somewhere closer to Koh San Rd. and find a cheaper hostel, but after we checked out of our current hostel we realized they have free baggage storage for up to 2 months. I can't belive it took us 3 days to realize that! So we decided to stay for one more night. This extra night will allow us to re-pack because surprise! we over packed! and this way we will be able to leave some extra things here.

I have fallen in love with the Tuk Tuks! Except for the fact that we are constantly driven around stores that sell suits! Yes we keep falling for that scam but it's really hard to avoid it. Either way we have a lot of time so it doesn't really bother us that much. Yesterday someone tried to con us into the "Gem Stone" scam. Being the savvy tourists that we are (not really we just read about it in the Lonely Planet guide) we didn't fall for the scam and were told by the guy that he's never met such stupid people like us! We thought that was pretty funny.

Otherwise we have just been walking around the city but the weather being what it is, it kind of prevents us from doing much. We are meeting up with Andrew's friend Bobby either today or tomorrow and him and his wife have graciously invited us to their cottage near Kanchanaburi, west of Bangkok, next weekend. The plan is to meet up with them over the next couple of days, do a couple more touristy things in Bangkok and then go to Kanchanaburi on Wed/Thurs and then meet up with Bobby and his wife at their cottage. After that we will probably head south to Koh Samui, but that will depend entirely on the weather.

We'll post pics soon but right now except for the rainy weather, there's really nothing to post!

Friday, October 15, 2010

Day 2 Bangkok

Our first day the weather sucked. It rained all day. So we went to Khao San road and enjoyed some local brews.

Click Here for Pics.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Bangkok, Thailand

We arrived in Bangkok last night, and after getting our visa's we needed to figure out how to get to our hostel. The easiest option was taxi, but being in cheap mode we decided to take the train. And I'm so glad we did because it cost us $1 per person to get here. We had to take 3 trains and it tooks us probably 3x as long as a taxi would, but we spent a lot less than a cab would have cost. So I'm happy to report that since we have arrived in Bangkok we have only spent $2! When we finally arrived at the hostel they upgraded our room from a double with a shared bathroom to a double with a private bathroom! So we now have our own room with our own private bathroom. We went right to sleep as we were exhausted, and woke up around 8am local time. The weather here is very hot and humid, but it's raining. I am blogging from the lobby of our hostel(Lub D Hostel - Siam Square) and we are now going to try and find something to eat.

Hong Kong

We have landed in Hong Kong after after saying some very emotional goodbyes in Toronto. Overall the past few days have been very emotional and I think everything just started to hit me a few days ago. I didn't think leaving friends and family behind would be this difficult. Since the previous weekend was thanksgiving we were able to spend a lot of time with family and I'm glad we had the opportunity to do that. I am now sitting on the floor at HK airport blogging from my iPod while Andrew is getting us something to drink and I wait for our iPods to charge. The flight here took approx 14 hours but I have to say it didn't feel that long. We actually had quite a bit of leg room compared to other flights and the meals were pretty good as well. We are now waiting for our connecting flight to Bangkok so we have around 4 hours to kill. We didn't sleep a lot on the flight over here so hopefully we'll be able to catch up on this flight.

It was interesting flying here because we took off at 9:30am from Toronto and as the flight progressed it got darker and darker outside and after a few hours it was night again. So we went from waking up at 5am in the dark, taking of in the morning, to complete night and landed in HK at noon local time. And for those of you wondering, there is a 12 hr time difference between TO and HK. Needless to say we're pretty tired.

For those of you who know Andrew, you will appreciate this; he just informed me that at Burger King here you can up size your drink to a beer.

Karolina you and Jarrod will be happy to know Andrew is in full out cheap mode and has scoured the whole airport for the cheapest water. He is very excited because he just saved us $5.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Family & Friends

We have been receiving lots of questions about how our families feel about us taking a year off, so I thought I would address it here. When we told our parents it was received with mixed emotions. Initially they weren't very happy as they thought it was a mistake and that our careers would be affected. Then there was of course the money issue. Both sets of parents are immigrants so it was hard for them to understand why we would want to "throw" our money away on something so frivolous. They worked very hard (and continue to work hard) to be where they're at and as my dad said, "If you don't know what to do with your money, just give it to me".

The conversation I had with my parents is that they brought us here to give us a better life and allow us to realize our dreams. I'm aware the dreams they had in mind for us were more traditional, but that is exactly what we are doing, realizing our dreams. Once I had that conversation, they became very supportive and are now talking about visiting us in Australia. Andrew's parents also became supportive and dare I say it? proud. They tell everyone they speak to about our trip. So yes, our families are supportive.

Most of the feedback we have received has been very positive. There are a few people who don't necessarily agree with what we're doing, and they feel we should follow a more traditional path, but even when speaking with them or telling them about our plans, I get a feeling they are excited for us.

I think it's hard for everyone to understand why we would take a year off from our lives to travel the world, and they see it as something scary. And although I get nervous and question whether this is the right thing to do, at the same time I know I can come back and start all over again. It's the fear of the unknown which deters most people. And I think it would have deterred me too, if I didn't have Andrew pushing me along. The one thing I know for sure is if we don't do this now, we will never do it. And I'm more scared of not doing the trip and regretting that, than of any other consequences which we might face as a result of the trip.

I won't speak for Andrew (he can post his own version of how he feels about this trip - another opportunity for him to post :)) but I'm glad we're doing this trip together and I'm glad I'll have him along for the ride, if only to push me forward and to not let me look back...too often.

The Countdown Has Begun

We are now 1 week from leaving. Our last day at work was a few days ago, and it still feels like the weekend. We have been tying up some loose ends. Banking, insurance, selling the car, cancelling phones, etc. Today is an exciting day as it's laundry day. :) It's really weird having all this time on your hands. You always think about what you could do with all this free time, like clean the house, finish up that project you started, take care of all the little things you have been meaning to take care of, and then of course do something to enjoy yourself. But when you get the time, you really don't know what to do with it. I guess it's because we are now on a tight budget and can't really do anything fun, and also because we don't own anything so we also don't have any responsibilities. You really become used to the fact that you always have something to do and something to take care of, but when all those things are done, then what? I'm sure you're not feeling sorry for us right about now nor do I expect you to. I think we'll figure out ways to pass the time. We'll watch the shows we've been meaning to catch up on, and if you know us you know we don't have cable so there is a lot of catching up to do. We'll sleep in, we'll catch up with friends, and generally just hang out. This weekend is of course thanksgiving and we have a lot of family time planned.

When we were planning our trip I made sure to plan it for after Thanksgiving. I wanted an opportunity to see our families before we go. After Monday it will all go by very fast. Our flight leaves at 9:30am on Wed. Oct. 13 so really after the weekend we only have 1 day left. We're flying into Bangkok and right now the weather there is partly sunny with a high of 31 degrees Celsius. Let's hope the monsoon rains end soon so we can hit the beaches.

We have been putting all the things we need to take on the trip in a box, and Andrew has now emptied the box and placed everything on the living room floor. I think his mom will really appreciate that we have turned her living room into a packing area when she gets home. I think the next step is a "dry run" with the packing. I'm procrastinating as I don't want to think about all the things I will not be able to bring with me and making decisions is giving me headaches. We have been going through our clothes to see what needs to be thrown away, what we can give to Goodwill and what to pack away for when we come back. It feels good to be purging. It makes me feel like this is a fresh start to our trip and when we come back we can have a fresh start as well.