Thursday, February 21, 2013

Hard To Imagine

Today is our last day. Tonight is our last night. Tomorrow we are going home.

It's hard to imagine that our big trip is all over, that we are going to have to return to normal life again. It's hard to imagine not spendng all of our days togther as a family. It's hard to imagine how much Simon has changed in these 4 months, and hard to remember just what he was like when we started. It's hard to imagine cooking a meal or cleaning the bathroom.

It's hard to imagine a menu without fried rice. It's hard to imagine paying more than $10 for a massage. It's hard to imagine no gentle ocean breeze. It's hard to imagine snow and cold. It's hard to imagine no abundance of fresh fruit, no fresh mangoes. It's hard to imagine no coconut trees.

It's just hard to imagine.

But if I close my eyes, I know I will be able to transport myself to these times and places full of days with my family, coconut trees, and gentle ocean breezes. I will always have that.

(Or I may just never board that plane and stay here and eat fried rice.)

Away From it All: Koh Ra

When we decided to share a taxi with the Danielsen's to Khao Lak, we had no idea that we were going to continue our mutli-family vacation together for the next week. We were equally disenchanted with Khao Lak, which was far too developed for our tastes. Both families were trying to figure out where to go to get away from the crowds, and the answer for both was Koh Ra.

Our beach.
I remembered researching this little island back in October, where there is only one ecolodge and nothing else! We called, there was space, transport was arranged, and we headed away from the crowds and toward natural bliss.

And it turned out to be exactly what we were looking for. The bungalows are tucked away in the cool shade of the jungle, and there's a sandy beach with warm waters just out front. Hammocks are slung about on various trees, various activities are available (kayaking, yoga, snorkeling), and all meals are a buffet at set times - it kind of feels like camp!

Games with the Danielsen's.
I think the days here have been the most relaxing of the whole trip. Maybe it's because we know this is the end, the last stop. But it's also the perfect get away with no Internet, electricity only from 6-10pm, and with set meals there is little for us to plan or worry about. We have snorkeled at the pier where we saw lion fish and barracuda, watched the hornbill fly in and out of its nest on the beach, saw white breasted eagles scouring the seas below for a tasty treat, seen king fisher and bee eater birds flying around, and watched flying lizards with whip out their Superman wings and take flight.

Playing with hermit crabs.
Simon and his girls.
We have also had a few snake encounters. One morning, as I walked absentmindedly down the path, I looked up to find a snake with its head raised and a flared hood looking at me. I did a little jig and turned around and ran to where the Danielsen's were sitting close by. They were convinced it was a king cobra, so we scoured the area and shortly came across a 2-2.5 meter snake that we watched climb up and down a tree. We were able to get lots of pictures to confirm that it was indeed a king cobra, the world's largest venomous snake!! Let's just say I keep my eyes peeled now when walking around...

Hello Mr. Cobra!
The king fisher hanging out at breakfast.
Meal time is great here, as we get to chat meet other guests and Simon gets to hang out with Hannah and Rebecca. After dinner while the grow ups talk, the kids swing in the hammocks below the sala. The food is excellent and fresh, and Martin and I eat just a little too much at each meal. One last indulgence, I guess.

The masseuse here is amazing, another indulgence to end the trip.

We are leaving tomorrow, but the Danielsen's are leaving today. When I told Simon that the girls were going on an airplane today and that we couldn't go with them, his eyes slowly filled up with tears and his lower lip quivered as he realized what it all meant. But he gave hugs and kisses goodbye, and hopefully our paths will cross again in Europe. Our accidental week long vacation together was definitely unforgettable!


Thursday, February 14, 2013

Khao Sok: So Worth It!

We arrived in Khao Sok a bit deflated, sad to be parting from our friends and adjusting to having only each other's company again. However, I had been looking forward to this stop since long before our departure, so I quickly started sorting out what we were going to do. The thing I was most excited about was a visit to Chiaw Lan Lake, created nearly 30 years ago when the .....was damned. It is a huge freshwater lake in the middle of the jungle, with wild elephants, tigers, and water buffalo roaming its protects terrain. On the lake they have floating rafts where tourists can spend the night on the lake, or many simply take day trips.

The hike that did me in.
We had already talked to a number of people who had been here and gone to the lake, and we were given mixed reviews. However, I knew that the place was spectacular, so I figured we had to simply find thrift tour that would give us the experience we wanted. I walked around asking every guest house and tourist shop about their lake tours, and they did not differ in the slightest. They all did the same things, went to the exact same places, and charged the same price. But there was one guy I had talked to that stood out. He wasn't pushy and didn't try to sell me on his tour. He simply said that they were a family place, they they were from the area, and we could do a private tour and avoid all the tourists. We just needed 2 more people to make it feasible. I found a Danish family with 2 young girls, the Danielsen's, who were interested, and we got our timing sorted out to leave on Wednesday. (We know now how lucky we were to find this family!)

In the meantime I thought we would take a hike through the national park and throw Simon on my back. Bad idea. The hike was about 6km round trip, a bit hilly, and it was hot. By that night I was completely nauseous and couldn't eat and my back was killing me. The next day I didn't leave our bungalow, didn't eat, and was uncomfortable moving. By the next morning, as geared up for our trip to the lake, I was feeling much better but surprisingly not 100%. We were off.

Tua, our guide, drove us to the lake. He has been guiding for more than 30 years and his parents grew up in the villages that flooded when the dam was built. He knew everything about every animal. He could immediately identify any bird, spider, or animal track. He took special care of the kids, worrying about them more than their own parents. We had struck gold with this guy!

The rafts we stayed on were basic but perfectly fine. There were about 20 huts, and we were the only people there. The docks were not well maintained, with nails sticking out and broken boards abound, so we were careful. We swam in the warm waters and took boat rides to look for wildlife. We saw a few monkeys, white breasted eagles, hornbills, and even a jumper spider which we learned is very poisonous to humans! I liked to imagine what lay just behind the jungle edges, wild elephants, tigers, or wild boars peaking out at us. On an early. On an early morning kayaking trip, we could hear a large animal tramping through the thick vegetation not far from shore, but he declined to show himself.

The floating raft houses.
Simon had become fast friends with Hanna (9) and Rebecca (7), the two Danish girls. Simon constantly beckoned them to "come look'" and they took excellent care of him, making sure he walked safely along the dock and helping him in and out of the boat. Everyone was happy!

That night the stars shine brilliantly out in our private jungle paradise. Sleep was not so easy as I was still sick and Simon was burning with a fever of 104F (40C) so I was worried and giving him medicine and water all night. He did not seem too bothered at all. We did not let it slow us down much.

Doesn't look sick, right?
We toured some more fingers of the expansive lake and enjoyed watching the scenery shift from rolling hills to jagged limestone mountains, all of it stunning. We stopped for lunch, swam, and checked out a cave with lots of bats and big spiders.

Spider hunting!
Spider hunting!
The best part was that our entire trip was nearly tourist free. We saw a few more boats the second day, but spent no time at sites where there were more than a few other people. Amazingly, this lake receives less tourists per year than nearby Phang Nha National Park receives in a week. It's in all the guidebooks, but remains a hidden treasure. I am not sure for how much longer though....

The whole crew!
When we finally made our way back to the pier, we could not believe that it had been just a one night trip. It was so full of intense and new experiences that it felt like a long weekend. Had Simon and I been feeling better (I still felt quite nauseous!) we might have stayed another night, but we left feeling like we were in on a little Thai secret...


Sunday, February 10, 2013

Rally in Railay

We just finished an amazing week in Railay Beach reuniting with 5 other Mac friends. It was an exciting week that included drunken debauchery (thanks Adam!), a brief hospital visit (Annika's just fine!), and the ongoing discussion of the arranged marriage between Annika and Simon. We are very close to putting this in writing, people.

For the first time in over 3 months of traveling th food finally got us! A bad batch off laab did in those who ate it for the next 24 hours. Annika developed a nasyymcoldand needed a breathing treatment at the hospital, and sign had it coming out of all ends for a day. Some of us fared better than others.
They are going to be so happy!
The whole gang!
In the evenings we gathered around boxes of Thai takeout and questionable mixed drinks to play Plump, a Swedish card game that I am pretty sure Martin made up. He claims, we broke all,kinds of Plump records, including a round where everyone bid zero and a game where Adam scored only 5's. History was made.
They are going to be so happy!
Adam drinking water.
Railay Beach was a beautiful place to crash for a week, but much more developed than the beaches we had previously been visiting. The west beach is perfectly sandy, and when the tide is out it's shallow forever. Great for families with small kids. (We stayed at the Railei Beach Club.) But the constant drone of longtail boats shuttling people back and forth to Ao Nang is inescapable. And, like many places that thrive on tourism only, the food is not outstanding. But the limestone rocks jutting out all around us, and our peaceful house nettled among the trees and monkeys, and some nearby island hopping opportunities made it the perfect escape for a week with friends. Next time, don't eat the laab!

View of West Railay from above.

Monday, February 4, 2013

Finding Nemo

I clearly could have just mentioned in my previous post that Simon is a snorkeler, but I somehow thought it deserved its own special post. I am a mama just ridiculously proud of my little guy. It's a weird parenting thing, we are proud of all the little accomplishments our little ones make. We don't think that our kid is better or worse than any other, it is simply quite awesome to watch, up close and personal, these helpless babies develop into, well, snorkelers.

Some pics of my snorkeler, for your enjoyment.

We're snorkeling!
Check out all the fish!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Koh Mook....not bad

Just the boat ride over to Koh Mook made us happy we had dragged ourselves off the beaches of Klong Jark Bay. There was more out there! Beautiful islands, turquoise waters. A change of scenery would not hurt us, we could feel it.

We were dropped into the crystal clear waters of our new home on Koh Mook, Sawadee Resort. Nothing fancy, but right on the beach. A new paradise.

Sabine, Sanders, and their daughter Malin had already been here for a week so they knew the ins and outs of the island. We found food was cheaper and also better than on Koh Lanta. Point for Mook! But no flush toilet, no hot water, and no AC. Point for Lanta.

We rented a longtail boat the next day and took a tour around the whole island, which is not that big. We stopped at various beaches, snorkeling spots (which weren't very good), had lunch, and visited the famous Emerald Cave. I think it's only famous if you come here, but it's quite impressive, especially if you don't really know what to expect. You swim in through a cave, and around one bend it's completely dark so you need to remember to bring a torch. Then you swim out the other end and are surrounded by high limestone cliffs on all sides. Pirates used to hide treasure in there, but we did not find any. It was touristy, but still beautiful. And you can never go wrong with a day out on a boat (unless you are prone to seasickness, then I don't recommend it.)

The closest we got to a group shot. Sander and Malin reflects in my shades. An you find Martin?
So proud of his big savings!

And of course it was great for Simon to have a playmate for a few days. Malin is almost exactly 2 years older than Malin, but they played really well together. Malin even invited Simon for a sleepover, but we are postponing that until Amsterdam.

Thanks so much for the great time in Koh Mook, dear friends! See you in Amsterdam!