Archive | July, 2011

New Zealand: Christchurch to Queenstown

26 Jul

I know it’s been a while and I apologize.  I’m slowly working my way through all of my New Zealand photos.  It turns out it’s a lot harder to stay on top of a travel blog when you’re no longer traveling, but I promise that starting now I’ll get through these last few updates in a timely fashion.

From Thailand I flew to Sydney to meet my mom.  We stayed the night in Sydney which was kind of cool, because it was a chance to say goodbye to Australia.  We flew out very early in the morning bound for New Zealand.  We actually spent our first (and last) night in Christchurch but I have no photos and not much to say about it because a. I never saw it in the daylight and b. the city is still pretty messed up from the earthquakes, so there really wasn’t much to see where we were staying besides rubble and condemned houses.  We rented a car in Christchurch, woke up early the next morning, and headed for Queenstown, the “adventure capital of the world.”  The drive was about eight hours and took us through forests, mountains, and a whole lot of sheep farms.  I (of course) took photos along the way.

One thing we didn’t see much of was people.  There are only about one million people living on the entire South Island- that’s the population of the county I live in.  Pretty crazy.

Anyway, Queenstown was a charming place but it literally rained the entire time we were there.  (Unfortunately, this turned out to be true of pretty much our entire NZ trip.)  Still, it was rather lovely.  The town is built around a huge lake and surrounded by mountains that seem to just come out of nowhere.  We couldn’t see them for most of the time, but on the few occasions that the clouds receded, it was really a beautiful view.  It actually felt a lot like a ski resort, which was weird because there wasn’t any snow… there rarely is in Queenstown.  To ski you have to take a bus up into the mountains, but they don’t really have resorts up there like we have here so a lot of people will base themselves in town and take a shuttle to the slopes every day.  As a result there were people everywhere carrying skis and snowboards through the rain.  Most of them were around my age- it seemed like it would be a really fun place to visit with friends.

We basically spent two days in Queestown.  On one of those days we took a trip out to Milford Sound.  (I’ll talk about that in my next post.)  We spent the other day following the walking tour suggested by our copy of Lonely Planet’s guide to the South Island.  It ended up being pretty fun and a great way to see the highlights of the town.  We visited an underwater observatory, a bird sanctuary and some beautiful gardens.  We got fish and chips by the water for lunch and finished the day off with some wine tasting at this place in town called the Central Otago Wine Experience.  (I REALLY wanted to go actual wine tasting at a winery but we didn’t have time. :()  Here are some assorted photos from Queenstown.

That’s all I’ve got for Queenstown.  In a few days I’ll do a post about Milford Sound, so check back for that.  I hope everyone’s having a great summer!

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Koh Phi Phi, Thailand

15 Jul

This post is technically about Koh Phi Phi Don, which is just one of the Phi Phi islands (pronounced “pee pee”, which I still think is funny) but since it’s the largest island and the only one with permanent inhabitants, it’s usually just referred to as Koh Phi Phi.

Though Koh Phi Phi is only about a 50 minute ferry right from Koh Lanta, the two islands could not be more different.  For one thing, Phi Phi is very small- so small that there are no roads, cars, or motorbikes, only dirt paths that weave between the shops and stalls and are constantly crowded with tourists.  You know how before I said that Lanta is heavily dependent on tourism?  Well, Phi Phi is like a physical embodiment of the tourism industry.  Every menu and store name was in English and everywhere we went we were surrounded by Westerners.  For every traditional Thai restaurant there were three others serving Western food- burgers, sandwiches, spaghetti, even Mexican.  It was so weird.

As strange as it was suddenly being surrounded by people who spoke my language, it was kind of fun.  It was pretty clear that everyone was there to have a good time and it really is the perfect place to do so.  Koh Phi Phi is absolutely beautiful- probably a bit more so than Koh Lanta, though I still very much prefer the latter.  Here are some photos.

(Yeah, we got Mexican food.  It was about as good as you could expect Mexican food to be in Thailand.)

One day and one night on Koh Phi Phi turned out to be the perfect amount of time, partly because the crowds got a little irritating but mostly because the next day I was too hungover to move.  It turns out that Phi Phi is quite the party island, which makes sense given the fact that pretty much everyone there is young and on vacation.  Sophie and I decided that we deserved one night of quality partying after working so hard on our dive courses and going to bed at like 9pm every night of our trip so far (I’m not kidding), so party we did.  We drank out of buckets, attended a fire twirling show, and watched some  live Muay Thai boxing in a bar that I think was called Reggae Bar yet had absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with reggae.  Here are the few photos I took that night.

We departed Koh Phi Phi feeling like crap, but the kind of crap that isn’t SO bad because you know it’s only because you had a really fun night.  All in all it was a good end to the trip.  I flew out the next day to meet up with my mom and continue on to New Zealand.

So that’s all for my Thailand posts.  I had an incredible time on this trip.  I really went into it with no expectations at all (to be completely honest, the only thing I knew about Thailand was that was somewhere in Southeast Asia and produced great food) which is part of what I think made it so great.  Furthermore, traveling with Sophie was awesome, which is also great because I barely knew her when we decided to go on this trip together.  I’m not sure if I mentioned this before, but this whole thing started when I saw her at a party and we ended up making drunken plans to go to Thailand together.  Somehow, I’m still not sure how, I got my parents to go for it and the whole thing ended up actually happening- clearly one of those very rare times that drunken plans actually lead to something awesome.  Anyway, Sophie is one of those people who are unfailingly upbeat.  She’s in a good mood 99.9% of the time, not in an annoying way but in a way that is both genuine and infectious.  She made an excellent travel companion and we got along very well.  Basically, everything just worked out perfectly.  Like I said, it was great.  Definitely a trip that I’ll remember forever.

Only a few more posts before I retire this blog!  Check back in a few days if you want to hear about New Zealand and/or see some pics.

Krabi, Thailand

13 Jul

I didn’t like Krabi.  It was the only place we visited where people didn’t smile at us in the street and I felt like an unwelcome tourist.  It was also the only place we visited that was more than a five minute walk from the ocean, which didn’t win it any points in my book.  To be fair, we only spent one night in Krabi so maybe I wasn’t there long enough to see its good side.

The one cool thing we did in Krabi was visit the Tiger Cave Temple (Wat Tham Suea.)  Unlike the similarly named Tiger Temple near Bankok, there are no actual tigers at Tiger Cave.  The temple is named for the cave system that houses it, which apparently is laid out like a tiger claw.  It was a very interesting place.  The main temple was spread throughout the caves and surrounded by dense rainforest.  There was also a portion (which is more well-known to tourists) at the top of a mountain, accessible to the monks and the general public by 1,237 very steep steps.  It was a really hot day and we were fully covered by sarongs in order to not be disrespectful.  The climb to the top was probably the closest I’ve ever come to heat stroke and my calves were literally sore for a week afterwards, but it was so worth it.  The views were incredible and it was just a really powerful experience to be standing on top of a mountain at a place considered sacred by so many people.  I highly recommend it if you’re ever in the area.

Here are a couple photos of the cave part of the temple which, while not as breathtaking as the mountain part, was still really cool.  I also included a few miscellaneous shots.

That night we went to a market, which had a lot of great stuff but wasn’t very tourist-friendly.  This was actually the biggest strike against Krabi for me, because I love markets and was excited to go which made it pretty upsetting when we were treated rather rudely by some of the stall owners.  It was just very different from the way we were treated on Koh Lanta.  Regardless, I managed to get a few photos.

On the way home from the market we stopped at a restaurant for drinks and ended up becoming a part of a small birthday celebration for this adorable Thai woman.  It was her, her French husband, two of his friends, a British lady, and us.  It was actually a lot of fun and a nice way to end our time in Krabi.  The next morning we caught the ferry over to Koh Phi Phi… and that will be my last Thailand post.  I’m going to try and get it done ASAP.

In other news, I’m finally home!!!  New Zealand was gorgeous but it’s so night to be back where it’s warm and you can actually see the sun.  My goals for the next few days are to unpack, do all of my laundry, and catch up on my blog.  I’ll be posting at least once a day (hopefully) so check back soon!

Spelunking, beer Chang, and saying goodbye to Koh Lanta

6 Jul

I was very sad to leave Koh Lanta.  I think it might rank as one of my top three favorite places (along with the central coast of California and possibly Charlottesville.)  As sad as it was to say goodbye, I couldn’t have asked for a better last day.  Sophie and I woke up early, had breakfast, hired a scooter for the day, and set off south for the Khao Maikaeo cave.  (I don’t think I’ve mentioned this yet, but pretty much everyone on the island gets around by motorbike/scooter.  They cost about $7 US to hire for the full day and are awesome.)  We met up with Sophie’s friend Ben on the way and he came along.  Ben and Sophie met while working on a pearling ship in Darwin, Australia.  He’s from North Carolina and we ran into him on our first day on Koh Lanta.  Neither of them knew that the other was in Thailand.  Pretty crazy, huh?  Anyway, we somehow found the cave, even though the map was ridiculous, and paid this dude to guide us through it.  Check out his rasta/weed pants.

We got sweet headlamps to use in the cave, which turned out to be AMAZING.  There were caverns as big as office buildings and a tunnel we had to crawl through and a batcave at the end.  It was a really, really cool experience.

In addition to the bats (which were adorable) we saw some fascinating creatures in the cave.  I’m pretty convinced that these two are alien life forms that are biding their time deep inside the earth until they’re ready to come out and destroy humanity by crawling into our noses and eating our brains.  I’m only half joking.

And finally, the post-spelunking victory photo.

After caving we scootered along the island until we found a market and bought a variety of meat on sticks (and seafood/tofu on sticks), then went to eat them on the beach.  We found a beachfront bar with bungalows and cushions to sit on, and sat there for literally the entire afternoon eating and drinking beer Chang, which is my favorite Thai beer (and also the cheapest, which works out nicely for me.)  We were there for like at least four hours and finally left after sunset.  It was the most perfect way to end our time on the island.

That’s all for Koh Lanta!  I’ll do one more post about my last few days in Thailand because we did some more cool stuff, like visiting a temple on top of a mountain and experiencing the touristy madness of Phi Phi Island.  For those of you wondering where the hell I am now, I’m writing this from my motel room in Queenstown, New Zealand.  New Zealand is very beautiful, but very cold.  I’m getting some great photos though, so look for some NZ updates next week.  As always, thanks for reading and if you’ve been doing so since the beginning, thanks for sticking with me… only a few more updates before this blog will be officially retired!

Diving Koh Lanta

1 Jul

As some of you may know, the reason Sophie and I came to Koh Lanta was to get our PADI Advanced Open Water and Rescue Diver certifications.  Sophie’s friend recommended that we check out Blue Planet Divers, which turned out to be an excellent choice.  The dive shop is owned by a lovely British lady named Mellisa who helped us to find accommodation and got us all settled in when we first arrived.  Our instructor, Kev (also British) picked us up every morning in his truck and dropped us off in the afternoon after we were done for the day.  Since it’s the low season, Sophie and I were able to do both our courses with just the two of us, which was really nice, especially considering that during my Open Water course I was one of 10 dive students.

The Advanced course consists of five “adventure dives.”  Everyone is required to do the Deep Dive and Navigation Dive, so we got to pick three others.  Unfortunately, there are no night dives or boats out to Koh Lanta’s shipwreck during low season, so we had to cross those two out.  We ended up picking Underwater Photography, Multilevel & Computer Dive, and Peak Performance Buoyancy.  (This all probably means very little to most of you… but I figured I’d include it.)

Our Rescue Diver course consisted of a day for First Aid/CPR training (both Sophie and I were already trained in those, but it never hurts to get re-certified), a full day of theory, a full day of pool practice, and two rescue scenario dives.  It was a lot of fun.  Most of the course consisted of Kev pretending to be panicking/unconscious/partially drowned/whatever, and us having to rescue him.  We also got to practice some shore exit carries where we stumbled around in the waves trying to carry each other out of the sea.  Like I said, lots of fun.

We visited two dive sites over the duration of our dive courses: Hin Bida and Koh Haa.  Kev described them like this: you see more “special stuff” at Hin Bida, but you never have a bad day at Koh Haa.  I think that’s pretty accurate.  At Hin Bida we saw a big cuttlefish and leopard sharks, but both Sophie and I preferred Koh Haa overall.  I have lots of photos, but like before my internet connection is a little unreliable, so I’ll upload as many as I can and you’ll have to check out the rest on Facebook.  Enjoy.

Sophie took this one but I had to include it:

And finally, me and Sophie celebrating with Kev after finishing up our courses:

So yeah, diving was pretty awesome.  We finished up a few days ago and have done some really cool stuff since then, including some spelunking, visiting a temple on top of a mountain, and partying on Koh Phi Phi.  I’m (clearly) a little behind in my posts, but I have a 10 hour layover in the Malaysian airport tomorrow so I should be able to catch up by the time I get to New Zealand.  Check back in a day or two to hear more about Thailand!