Tonsai Again; A Study in ‘Fros and Grouper Faces

As if I hadn’t gotten enough traveling in… The Monday after my family left there was no school for Thai Mother’s Day (the Queen’s birthday, as you may remember from last year— she just turned 80. Happy [now much belated] Birthday Queen Sirikrit!), meaning we had a long weekend, meaning we oh-so-begrudgingly decided we needed to go traveling again.

You’d think, with my time in Thailand drawing so rapidly to a close, I’d be a bit more eager to check out some new places. And it’s not that I’m not. But when we first went to Tonsai for Collette’s birthday, back in February, she made it clear that it was the kind of place that keeps you coming back. A few months later that proved to be true; we returned in April to officially wind-up our end-of-term travels. On both occasions we were only there for one short night, and never made it around to doing what Tonsai is so renowned for: rock climbing.

This time around we had three whole nights on the beach, and on our final day a new friend took us to a cool climbing route called Groove Tube. And in general we had such a rip-roaring good time we’re planning yet another trip to Tonsai for Chris’ and my birthday, as well as my farewell. Keeps you coming back indeed!

the biker convoy heading through the last stages of krabi

just in time for sunset

leaving ao nang on the longtail– one of the last ones of the day, and the only way to get to tonsai

if you’re thinking, ‘heyyy… that looks JUST like the route i took to railay!’ you’re right. tonsai is the beach immediately adjacent railay west. whereas railay is resort-dense and can be quite expensive, tonsai has the feeling of more of a well-kept secret. every time we go we run into people who happened upon it and couldn’t bring themselves to leave; people who eventually did leave but made a point of returning; people who started at railay only to discover ‘THIS is where i need to be!’

We began Round 3 at Tonsai the same way we begin most rounds: by getting set up at Chill-Out Bar. It’s hard to determine what we like most about this place… The awesome, friendly staff who proceeded to call us all “Koon Kruuuuu!” (the very respectful address used for teachers. I realize it was largely tongue-in-cheek coming from them but it nevertheless amused me greatly) the entire time? The fact that the manager one of the bartenders (I asked him if he was manager and he looked at me very seriously and said, “No. We are family here.”) cut us a deal on rooms– 100 baht a night? (I mean. They’re very simple bamboo bungalows with a mat on the floor and a mosquito net, with shared bathrooms and a ‘bucket shower.’ But for $3 a night I ain’t complaining!) The endless slack-lining entertainment? The longtail boats converted into lounge areas? The goats?! Hard telling. But we re-established the friendships we’d made on our previous visits, grabbed some beers, and proceeded to enjoy the music, dancing, and fire shows for the rest of the evening.

david, collette, claire, and i did take a break in order to get some delicious massaman at mama’s chicken restaurant (yes, she serves more than chicken) and decided that because the table was so high it felt like we were at a kids’ table. hahaha. with a beer. and looking… well haggard.

collette and claire at the kids’ table too.

stopping to introduce david to what collette hailed as ‘the best smoothie ever’: coconut, mango, and banana. this was later topped (in my opinion) by the discovery of coconut, banana, peanut butter, which we ended up ordering in buckets.

so happy after the first sip!


then we decided to go to the nearby sunset bar for a change of scenery

oh yeah, and wayne’s excellent dancing

oh yeah, and i got to sing with the band for a few songs? (the first one, oddly enough, was ‘zombie,’ which thais go totally nuts for. it’s strange because it wasn’t discussed nor did they give me lyrics, but luckily i’d been making a worksheet about the song for my kids earlier that very day so i knew them!) david also got up and rocked out pretty hard on drums, so that was cool too.

and later in the evening chris entertained us by playing a tune on the flip-flop guitar; the latest fad in thailand

and this is what we woke up to in the morning

grouper face competitions began the next morning at breakfast

wayne wins

and then we stumbled on some monkeys? awesome.

of course, in our opinion, wayne had already dominated every dance-off competition

one last grouper face and a big ol’ smile. (also lolz to the guy in the background. a little dirt-path yoga for ya! why not?

did i mention the beach was nicer this time than ever before?

looking out towards railay on a beautiful day! the boys took the treacherous jungle path in order to use the atm (no atm’s on tonsai) but most of us were lazy and hung out in our boat hideout that we made our home for the weekend.

the aforementioned boat hideout

a local girl on one of tonsai’s infamous slacklines. with a little assistance.

love this one

claire heading up some beach yoga.

cool photo! thanks wayne.

haha… caught in the middle of david and jimmy’s fro-off. not a bad place to be!

and then we did the stanky legg. naturally.

for those of you unfortunates who are unfamiliar with the stanky legg

lek offering up some fresh papaya on sunday afternoon

Sunday afternoon it was rock climbing time! Claire had met an Australian climber named Ben the night before, who’d offered to take us. We rented some equipment from the place next to Chill Out Bar (Why Not? Bar, I wanna say… gotta love these names) and then it was off to Groove Tube!

He chose Groove Tube not only because it was an easy enough route for n00bs like us, but also because you could get such a nice view. We were very appreciative! Collette went first, followed by Wayne, then me, David, Claire. We all made it up without falling and are super amped for another climbing adventure. Thanks Ben!

not a bad view at all! this was just the base, where we began the real climbing.

groove tube, in all her glory. a relatively easy climb with lots of natural holds.

ben helping collette get started. the first bit’s the hardest!

ta, the guide for the couple climbing ahead of us, toplining their next climb. he was a funny guy! his mantra was, ‘no worry, chicken curry. no hurry, no curry, no worry, no chicken.’ gave us the biggest laugh!

patiently waiting our turns.

nice one!

wayne getting started

i brought up wayne’s camera when i climbed. not a bad view at all!!

everyone cheering me on!

perpendicular view

david on his way up. ben labeled him as, ‘my first afro climbing experience!’

claire on her way up!

So again… had a great time with our first climbing experience! Thanks so much, Ben! (For more on Groove Tube.)

That night we had another little party, during which I got to watch a bit of the Perseids meteor shower. A magical moment!

And the next morning, we were off again.

the last shot with my infamous full moon glasses… they fell off during a very hectic and windy bike ride

celebrity shot of the man on the bike next to us

my solution to my sarang always blowing off and leaving me sunburn. and sprite. and old school gas dispensers.

So… in case anyone missed it… Tonsai. 21-23 September. Angela and Chris’ birthdays. Angela (and Wayne, actually)’s going away. Be there or be square!





Finally Back in Thung Song

Just so we’re clear… I’ve been back in Thung Song for quite a while now. Three weeks and a day (wait… whaaaat??), to be exact. It’s just taken me this long to catch up and so now, finally, my family will finally reach my own little temporary ‘hometown’ in Blog-time.

night boat and nearly-full moon, 5 am, surat thani

We took another night boat to get here. Well, to Surat Thani, whence we caught a minibus to Thung Song. The fam had the pleasure of stopping by O’s to pick up some motorbikes (and to meet the dear man, of course), and also of meeting Henk, who so kindly drove Mom and Ryan (and our luggage) home. Many thanks to O and Collette for sharing motorbikes in our time of need as well!

Of course there was one very special Thung Song resident eagerly awaiting our arrival at the house: Mr Ollie Pup! He greeted us with a few of his signature jump-spins and then was very excited to go on a walk with Mom and me (while Ryan rested and Dad and Nate “toodled around” on the motorbikes). In the course of their one short day there I think it’s safe to say that Ollie successfully stole the hearts of all, but I won’t feign any surprise.

Then it was lunchtime! We headed to the unique and quaint “River Restaurant” (where we spent my birthday and Loy Krathong), newly renovated to include much more outdoor seating. Our kind and helpful teacher from school, P’Tim, joined us with her two daughters. She was really excited to meet the family and insisted that we meet her for dinner as well.

Then it was time for the main event– hitting the waterfall! I was really torn between Plio and Klong Chang (both featured here), but in the end had to go with Klong Chang. It’s always worth it for the beautiful ride there. Christina, Dan, and Kagiso met us in town and then we were off– in one of those splendid farang convoys.

nate icing a bee sting to the bum (true story)

i’ve since been told we look very crunchy in this photo. i’ll take that as a compliment. crunch crunch crunch.

we’d made friends with these boys at the first level of the waterfall. dad is sure they have different feet-bottoms than farang, allowing them to grip slippery rock faces with more ease than us. in any case, they were good sports about taking this silly picture with us!

We chilled for the rest of the afternoon and before we knew it it was already dinner time. As promised, we met up with P’Tim, who seemed a little disappointed that we were intent on going to the famous pad thai stand (as opposed to a fancier restaurant). Kellie, Hanneke, and David joined us there, and in the evening we couldn’t resist going to the infamous Mai Thong for a nightcap. Christina, Dan, and Vallapa joined in for the last of the festivities, and oh-so-appropriately we left only after the live band belted out their cover of “Hotel California.” So basically, the family got a very condensed helping of what live in Thung Song is like before having to fly out the next morning (P’Tim, showing that Thai hospitality doesn’t end with picking up checks, offered her husband up to take us to the airport. Yes, ‘us’– she even okayed me missing my Monday morning classes in order to accompany them. A class act, that P’Tim!).

the video that sparked my family’s desire to test out proper pad thai

the gang at mai thong

And thus concluded a very wonderful family vacation, the pain of parting diminished considerably by the fact that I fly home exactly a month from today! That being said it was also a sort of “Highlights of Thailand!” reel all in two weeks; a giant demonstration of all the things I know I’ll find myself missing when that month has elapsed. “Bittersweet” doesn’t begin to cover it!

Koh Tao Monkey

So one of the taxi boat operators has a monkey. I can’t remember the monkey’s name but it has something to do with “lots of money.” He was a little rascal and a scamp with a penchant for pulling hair, but I kind of fell in love and took too many photos to collapse the collection into my general Koh Tao post. So the money-named monkey gets his whole own post!

2 more monkeys enter the picture.


From the Dive Boat

After doing my first dives (on Koh Tao, as it happens) last October, I’d kind of… strongly recommended (read: forced) the idea on my family. Not to say there was much objection, I suppose, but I realized maybe only as we were on our way to Koh Tao that I’d never really asked anyone what their feelings on diving would be. I mean. I only think it’s one of the most mind-blowing-but-simultaneously-relaxing/meditative/cathartic-experiences-one-can-have, and it’s my personal opinion that everyone needs to spend a little more time underwater, but I guess I should have left a little more room for choice in the matter.

Of course, there was choice ultimately: dive or not dive? Well, I guess the praises I’d been singing had not fallen on deaf ears. So then: Discovery Scuba Dive or full-blown Open Water Course? After a quick chat with Andreas at Alvaro, Ryan was definitely on board for the full course (at the time his pockets were still ‘overfloweth-ing’), Dad and Nate were undecided, and Mom was pretty sure she just wanted to do the DSD. By our second morning on the island everyone was ready to get in the water!

jesse overseeing equipment set-up training

normally there’s a cute little ‘alvaro’ dinghy to take divers to the dive boat, but the tide was too low before our first dive. so approximately 86 of us piled into the back of a pickup truck (that needed bump-starting, and that had been sitting in the sun, causing everyone to scald the bottoms of their feet as they climbed into the bed! funny in that kind of… painful way. ohhh thailand!) and headed over to shark bay where the water was a bit deeper.

(yes that’s a ‘RUN BKK’ [in the style of ‘RUN DMC’] shirt mom’s rocking. loves it!)

So I ended up doing my standard fun dives whilst the family got trained up. Personally, I love the way Alvaro handles the Open Water courses. Not that I had a bad experience whatsoever with Crystal when I did my own Open Water, but it was run in the common-to-nearly-universal (or so I thought) way where the first set of basic-skills training takes place in a swimming pool. With Alvaro, new divers are taken to a shallow bay where they learn some skills, and then basically get an extra dive as they make their way to the boat once they’ve shown they’re worth their salt when it comes to clearing masks. I think it’s a great way of doing things! Unfortunately, as it turns out, diving really isn’t for everyone, as Mom discovered when she encountered those minor problems of feeling supremely uncomfortable in the equipment/in the water/in general, and not exactly being able to.. you know, sink. Just the small things that come in really handy when trying to dive. But mad props for giving it a go Mamacita! As for the boys, they all ended up hooked and Dad and Nate decided to do the full course as well. Hooray!

the diving family!

darn! my dive finished before theirs and i’d already changed out of my wetsuit.

This ended up being my busiest dive weekend to date: I completed 6 dives, including tagging along with Jesse and the boys on their last dive towards their certification, and another set of wonderful dives with Nate on our last day. (For the first the boat took us to a spot about an hour away called Southwest Pinnacle. Eugene led the dive, which is always a fun experience, and we caught a glimpse at an enormous grouper, marveled at the most hypnotizing of anemone fields, and played with some batfish at the end.) In between I got to dive with my old buddies, as they’d finally made it to the island!

lounging at the dive shop, awaiting our next dives.

we had half an hour to kill before entering the water at one dive site, so entertained ourselves with some cliff jumping.

and chris and jean did some snorkeling (they were also doing open water certification)

professional interview amongst DMTs

fish kiss

after (before?) we dived together

congratulations open water divers!

off to shark island for my final dive it what may be a long time! glad you could be along, nate! (and there shooooould be some underwater shots on their way that i took on jesse’s camera.)

thanks so much, alvaro, for another great diving experience!

Getting To and Around Koh Tao

You may have noticed that one little Ray of Sunshine from the Calonder clan has been conspicuously absent from the Family Vacation posts thus far. Yes, dear little Nate-y was all tied up flying remote controlled airplanes for his summer internship and was only able to secure a week of leave, but in Blog-time the first week of the trip has elapsed and it’s high time Nate made his appearance!

Of course, there is the whole problem with the trains in Thailand always being late. Not necessarily leaving late (learned almost the hard way as we had to run to our train out of Chiang Mai as it made to roll out of the station promptly at 5 o’clock), but definitely arriving an hour or two behind schedule. Which was almost problematic because we should have arrived in Bangkok just in time for a cab to whisk us off to the airport so we could give Nate a heartfelt welcome at the gate. And instead we were still about an hour outside of Bangkok at the time Nate’s plane was landing.

Luckily we had a certain “Wayne Dog” on our side, who was able to page Nate at the airport, update him as to our situation, and give him instructions on getting a cab to the train station. (Of course, given our family history of pranks, Nate later told us he was sure we were all hiding from him and having a laugh as he tried not to look concerned while making his way through the Arrivals section.) So the heartfelt welcome instead happened in between platforms at Bangkok’s Hualamphong Station. And then we waited four more hours to get on the train to Chumphon.

bangkok’s hualamphong station, as seen from the café where mom and i grabbed a cappuccino during another hours-long wait. it’s no exaggeration to say we spent more time waiting in the train station in bangkok than we spent doing ANYthing else

as it should be

This train ride proved to be a bit of a different experience, since we only were traveling by day and therefore opted for a 2nd-class seat option. It was hot and the train did leave at least an hour late (though we boarded on time), and then took another hour just to get outside of Bangkok, but once we were on the open road (figuratively speaking) it was smooth sailing (also figuratively speaking…). Before long we were all in the dining car sharing some Leos, having a bite, and watching the scenery (and some very random monkeys, which instantly put Mom’s trip into the ‘Worth It’ category) go by.

As night fell Ryan saw fit to introduce me to Archer (an introduction for which I’m very grateful!), and after about three false alarms from the nice Thai man whose seat I jacked in order to watch TV with Ryan, we were finally in Chumphon.

And this part should have been easy, right? Just a month previous I’d taken a train to Chumphon, then (half-dazed and at the complete mercy of Wayne’s coordinating, admittedly) found myself on the back of a motorbike that took us to the pier where we got our night boat to Koh Tao, right? A night boat that, while lacking in the nicest of linens, seemed completely legitimate and was full of proper bunk beds and whatnot, right? But somewhere, somehow, things went terribly wrong…

haha, i think ryan’s expression says it all.

We were herded into a songtao and the price quoted ended up being a bit different than I remembered; I decided this must be inflation-related and gave it no more thought. And then we pulled into an unfamiliar pier and I started having my doubts. Next thing we knew we were stepping onto a much smaller boat than I remembered, and stepping around belongings and boxes that were obviously being shipped… a bicycle, a huge crate of coconuts, and lots of backpacks. The whole time I was still trying to convince (read: delude) myself that upstairs there would still be the bunk beds I was expecting…

staying positive…

We followed the people ahead of us up a ladder into what definitely seemed like the hold of a human trafficking endeavor (perhaps my naïveté– and tendency to exaggerate– is showing… I don’t suppose victims of human trafficking are treated even to mats and pillows on the floor, and I suspect there would have been more chains involved, but at the time these seemed like minor details). We clearly weren’t the only ones surprised by walking into a room chock-full of inch-thick, foot-and-a-half-wide mats on the floor, based on the looks on the faces of those around us. One girl mused, as our heads poked through the ladder opening, “Bet you didn’t realize you were coming to a pajama party!”

I was feeling kind of bad for apparently not doing the proper research to make sure my 50-year-old parents didn’t end up sleeping on a floor (for more than 2 nights of the vacation anyway, as they already had done so twice during our Chiang Mai trek!); called Wayne up to see if he knew the name of the pier we’d gone from before; asked my companions if they wanted to attempt to return our tickets and get on the other boat. But they were real champs! They grinned and bore it (wow that sounds better in the present tense…); Mom curled right up in a little ball and, perhaps due to the swaying of the boat, had the best night’s sleep of the vacation so far; the boys and I played Hearts until 1 am, and then I too fell into a nice deep sleep. In fact, we all enjoyed the experience so much, we practically replicated it on our exit trip from Koh Tao as well! But I’m getting ahead of myself.

the pajama party.

Of course, the silver lining to the whole experience was that in the morning we’d be on Koh Tao! I’ve issued a lot of discourse concerning Koh Tao over the past two years, so I think I’ll leave most of my Koh Tao-related commentary to photo captions. There’s a dive-related post to come (let’s just say we’ve got a few more certified divers in the family!), and I guess maybe it goes without saying at this point that we had another motorbike incident, but without such a happy ending (or… at least “retrospectively-‘meh’-inducing” ending) as before. In fact, the story still kind of breaks my heart to a degree that I don’t really care to retell the whole thing, but let’s just say we were all lucky that before coming, Ryan could often be heard proclaiming that his “pockets overfloweth.” And that he learned the hard way to be careful when giving an unfamiliar bike that initial burst of gas…

Anyway. Onto happier subjects!

we stayed at ko tao resort, on chalok ban kao, and they had what they called the ‘paradise zone’ at the top of the nearby mountain. such an amazing view… if only i’d taken my photos on one of the clear days!

Ko Tao Resort

ryan taking over poi duties at babaloo bar our first night. kid’s got skills! (and probably a few still-raw fingers from the steel handles… whoops.)

there’s that blue sky!

crossing the shallow chalok ban kao

on sairee beach with momma

back in the paradise zone

A few days into the trip we also had the happy turn of fate that Wayne was able to meet up with us, accompanied by Collette, Eugene, Jean, Chris, and Michelle, who were all there to do a bit of diving as well.

it was dad’s turn to gift a hat

during our motorbike excursion. we drove out to the northern tip and got a drink at the dusit buncha resort. from there we could see nang yuan island.

Dusit Buncha Resort

amazing menu at dusit buncha.

next stop on our motorbike tour: some point that was up a steep and gravelly hill that finally warranted this exchange: me: “i just don’t have a good feeling about these bikes anymore.” dad: “why not?” me: “well we’ve already crashed one and i just drove off the road. i think i’d just rather go home.” so we did, only stopping at mae haad first to buy ferry tickets. (also, my driving off the road was because the anonymous person ahead of me wobbled and cut me off!)

got a pancake at mae haad waiting for the sketchball ticket dealer to drive dad to the potential ticket buying locale.

haha, i showed my students my pictures and when i got to this one they all just said, ‘oooh teacher, sabai sabai!’

“Sabai sabai” review

full moon setting on our last morning

this is what a banana sandwich looks like. what did you expect when the waiter himself laughed at you?!

lazing on our final afternoon

unbelievable sunset from the paradise zone as we had our last meal before setting out for another night ferry. (thanks dad for this shot!)

pineapple-fried-rice IN a pineapple– way better than a banana sandwich!

Orchids in Chiang Mai

In my post about Day 1 of trekking I mentioned we had an unexpected stop at an Orchid/Butterfly farm along the way. I wouldn’t mark it as the most exciting part of the trekking experience (kinda pales in comparison with waterfalls, elephants, sing-alongs, and rafting, you know?), but it was very aesthetically pleasing and gave definite inspiration to a novice orchid cultivator like your humble narrator. Or, perhaps, not-so-humble, as I’ll include shots of my own recently-bloomed orchids (that were dormant for over a year before coming back! Hooray!).

they take moisture and nutrients from the air! so resourceful.

wait… this isn’t an orchid…

favorite. hey little guy!

in the butterfly portion, where a surprisingly thorough search was required to actually find any butterflies


And as promised… my feeble attempts at orchids in Thung Song:

named ‘mary jo,’ after me mum.

photo courtesy of wayne, who made contributions to my time lapse project while i was gallivanting. thanks schnooks!