Finally– The Thung Song Video Extravaganza!

Well, I’ve been promising you 43 minutes of cinematic gold for a few weeks now and the moment is finally upon us (and… please let the facetiousness of that statement be noted). Over the last few days of our time in Thung Song Wayne and I finally realized a project I’d had in mind for months previous: collecting footage for a video in which we rode around and had little chats with some of the Thais that had become a part of our everyday life during our time in the town. Honestly, I had a 10-minute reel in mind, something similar to but a little more polished than the Jiaxing video.

The footage we ended up with amounted to over two hours’ worth, so you can see how whittling it down to even 43 minutes is still a bit of an accomplishment! Also, there’s some pretty sweet jams to hopefully hold your attention through the whole thing. If 43 minutes still seems like a bit too much to bite off at one time, I’ve recently discovered the option to start YouTube links at various times, allowing me to present a sort of “Chapters” set-up and also to introduce and give background into the characters you’ll encounter.

“Chapter” One: The ride from our house to Pa’Daeng’s laundry, and a peek at Pa’Daeng’s new house. Pa’Daeng (literally “Auntie Red”) is a charismatic 66 year-old laundress who brought smiles and giggles into each laundry run. You’ll notice we drive by her old house/laundry headquarters on our way to the new one– one she bought and moved into about a week before we left, and of which she is very, very proud. She doesn’t have to rent anymore! Oh, and as for the four kids hanging out at her house, still not exactly sure what the story is there, but they were all awful cute.
(Music: “Myth” by Beach House)

Chapter” Two: The ride from Pa’Daeng’s to and around the big morning market, where we pick up some coconut water and a watermelon. On our way out we happen to run spot two of the students from our adult class also cruising around.
(Music: “I Was Thinkin’ of a Dream I Had” by the Walkmen; “Juicebox” by the Strokes)

(note: ‘p,’ pronounced “pee,” is a prefix that technically means “older brother/sister” but is used as a sign of closeness and respect with people older than you.)

“Chapter” Three: At the clinic of “the Indian Doctor,” as we all referred to him until I actually discovered his name on camera (Doctor Raj). One of the better English speakers we encountered in our town, he is the doctor that deduced that Wayne’s and my sore throats were a result of eating too much Thai fruit and who performed the ghastly task of slicing off the slough forming on the burn on my leg. Here he waxes poetic about his origins, reveals the funny reason he feels safe in Thung Song, and proves to be a better doctor than meteorologist.
(Music: “Province” by TV On The Radio“Little April Shower” from the Bambi soundtrack.)

“Chapter” Four: Concluding our tour of the town center, where Wayne gets himself a Buddha necklace (there’s probably better terminology for it than that, but that’s what we’ll go with). Then saying goodbye to teachers and students, at our school and at the adjacent temple, where we arrive only after firming up a lunch date with our favorite shopkeeper, Fai.
(Music: “Those To Come” by the Shins; “Prodigal Son” by the Rolling Stones)

collage we made for the teachers as a goodbye present

such a kind, sweet lady whom we were always excited to pay a visit

a few of the students i “interview”. i finally succeed in getting them to speak a bit of english on camera!!!

you may recognize him as the saw-playing extraordinaire.

“Chapter” Five: Lunch with Fai. And her mom, and her mom’s friend. (She left her brother in charge of things.) As happens so often in Thailand, plans get changed up twice and we end up at our friend Vallapa’s restaurant, Kan Yaeng (aka “The Green Restaurant,” aka “The Pink Restaurant”). We feasted upon a fish and vegetable stir-fry (with a fried egg on the side), two plates of pad thai, an entire fish topped with delicious veggies and herbs, a bowl of tom yum goong, and a tofu/veggie dish that was entirely superfluous.
(Music: “Turn Into” by Yeah Yeah Yeahs)

so much more than a lovely restaurant owner to us! always kind and ready to help in any number of situations, not to mention tons of fun. and she spoke phenomenal english– which she claimed developed largely as a result of watching american tv!

“Chapter” Six:  A chat with our neighbor Jalan about his history with Thung Song, a stop-in at Yim Yim Restaurant to be showered with gifts by Peung and her mother (the owner of the restaurant), a riveting performance by Montrey & Co. at Win Win (with a guest appearance of David on the drums), a look around O’s place, a coffee with Kung, and a quick peek around the Dinosaur Restaurant.
(Music: “Doo Doo Doo (ดูดู่ดู้)” by Job2Do, performed by Montrey; and another Thai song I’m unfortunately unfamiliar with, also performed by Montrey)

(i realized the video kind of only suggests they gave me some taro cakes, when in reality, i received so much more!)

o: the man who wears the most hats in thung song. army man, restaurant owner, leader of the fighting fish and lottery racket (jokes, jokes. it wasn’t a racket.)

kung, the sister of our former-agent yax, and our housemate for our first month in thailand! she runs the coffee shop in front of the office, and is a collector of strays.

“Chapter” Seven: Ollie’s last walk! That river is clean enough, pickup truck is a saw (you’ll know what I mean), and the street dogs run the spectrum of ‘placid’ to ‘jerk.’ Then we run into the famed P’Kiew (whose house is driven past and who is seen at the fried banana stand [not to be confused with the… banana stand] in “Chapter” One and who just drove past us as we walked Ollie) to chat for a second about martial arts, and then invite him to our goodbye dinner at Kan Yeang. He was just a sweet old man who’d lived in Thung Song his whole life. He had the tiniest little concrete house and he enjoyed napping outside it, bent over that little table out front. We’d always chat when I was walking Ollie; he knew a little bit of English and we had fun trying to make ourselves understood. We’d often seen him outside doing the yardwork for his sister, who lives in the nice house next door, and we drank beer with him a few times.
(Music: “Take a Walk” by Spoon; “Title Music (from The Darjeeling Limited)” by Shankar Jaikishan

“Chapter” Eight: Final goodbyes! Leaving the house, a farewell dinner at Kan Yeang, a mad dash for the train with a much-beloved entourage. Scenes from our train. Fine
(Music: “This Time Tomorrow” by the Kinks— itself a tip of the hat to DL.)

And if you wanna just watch it straight through… Here you go (yes, I’m aware that you get the same result if you just click ‘”Chapter” One’ up there). Oh, and if you’re watching this in Thailand (or anywhere else with less-than-desirable internet connection) you might think about just downloading it through SaveMedia.com or KeepVid.com. Will probably work better than waiting for the whole thing to buffer!

Ollie’s Big Adventure (or, How to Bring a Thai Dog to the United States)

People, myself included, seem to waver somewhere between thinking I was either totally justified or completely crazy to bring little Ollie Pup (official name: Oliver Ollie Pup Oxen Free Goat Fox) with me on the big trip from Thailand to the United States. Looking back, it actually wasn’t that difficult of an affair at all, but it did require a bit of stressful planning on account of the limited and spotty information available out there in English. So I’ve decided it’s pretty much my responsibility to document my own experience to answer all the questions people might have about the process, because believe me, it was totally worth it. Ollie Ollie Ollie!

There were a few sites that I did find helpful. First and foremost there was this one, appropriately titled, “How to Bring a Thai Dog to America, the Story of Dino.” Our stories actually sounded quite similar, and I was able to even contact the author via email to quell certain concerns about the well-being of the dog during transit and layover handling and such. (His most comforting bit of input: “First of all, Thai dogs are extremely tough.  There is no possible way that an 18 hour or even 36 hour flight will harm a Thai dog that’s in a safe cage with food and water.” Turned out to be true!) There’s also good (and still accurate, despite his story taking place a good 6 years ago) contact information for both the Airport Quarantine Station at Suvarnabhumi Airport and for Shamu Shamu Pet Store in Bangkok.

Then there was this site (“Pet Cargo Travel” by pettravel.com) that outlines the specifics of the crate requirements and has other helpful tidbits. Some of them I found to be excessive or untrue, at least for Qatar Airways, such as the need to paste “LIVE ANIMAL” stickers on the crate. Seatmaestro.com has airline-specific information with the different (or often not-so-different) pet policies for each. Of course, speaking to your airline directly and finding out their specifics ends up being necessary as well. I ended up having experience with both Aerosvit Ukrainian Airways and Qatar Airways in this regard, as I had to change my flight. Though Aerosvit doesn’t have the most glowing reviews, their tickets are quite cheap and I favored a layover in Kiev to one in Doha for temperature reasons (despite the reassurance that my dog was a tough one). In both cases, the total trip would have ended up being 23 hours–the shortest I could find anywhere, and no, the dogs are not let out of the crates for the layovers (the doors are cable-tied shut).

I was able to be in contact with representatives from Aerosvit via email (info@aerosvit.com) and was impressed by quick and knowledgable replies (though I’m not thrilled about how withholding they’re being with the refund I was told I could have if I provided the necessary medical documents). Qatar I had to deal with by phone: their numbers can be found here. For Aerosvit it would have cost $250 for him to fly; with Qatar it ended up being $200 (6000 baht paid in cash at the counter… I want to say there may have been an extra 500 baht service charge as well).

The crate. I always tell people that, in the end, it was the getting of the crate that was the most difficult part. Airlines require very specific crates and in a small town like Thung Song they’re just plainly impossible to find in a shop. I considered checking out the offerings in Nakhon Si Thammarat, but ended up deciding it would be easier to order one online. I went to Alibaba.com to find a provider and was successful, though you may recall I was a bit unhappy that circumstances led me to purchase a crate that was so entirely too small for Ollie it was nearly laughable, except for the $70 I lost on account of it not being worth it to send back. Still, I can’t overlook my own hand in the mishap, and was otherwise happy with my experience with the company. Click here for details of the crate, and just be sure to measure the dimensions you’re given against the actual size of your dog. (The first one I bought was the FC-1003; the better one was the FC-1004. Also, in Bangkok it is possible to find the appropriate crates in shops, such as Shamu Shamu, but I think it ends up being cheaper to order, provided you get it right on the first shot.)

this one’s juuuuust right!

wary of it at first…

but it grew on him! snug as a bug.

The train.  Though I searched the forums on Thaivisa.com and such, I found it difficult to determine whether he’d be allowed on a train, how much it would cost, and… how exactly it would work. It ended up being very, very easy (and inexpensive!). After buying our own tickets, we were directed to the Cargo office of the Thung Song train station. We gave him Ollie’s information (size, weight, etc) and our train details and he issued us a ticket for a whopping 90 baht ($3). During the travels he had to stay in the cargo area of the train, in his crate. We were allowed to visit him whenever we liked and the train staff were all really nice. They thought he was so cool, and said he was quiet and well-behaved. They also gave me coffee and mused about him going to America. “He’s going on an airplane?!” “Yes! In three days.” “Wow. I’ve never been on an airplane. I always take the train.” As I mentioned in my previous post, it was a bit of an ordeal to find a taxi to take us from the train station to the airport at a price we considered reasonable, but we finally succeeded (I think he agreed to 500 baht, but we ended up keeping him around for multiple legs of the journey and it ended up being more– 1200 for train station to quarantine to kennel to Khao San Road, including considerable wait times at the quarantine and the kennel. Not bad, really.). It’s worth putting your driver on the phone with the people at the quarantine office so he knows where to take you, because it’s in a different part of the airport from the terminals. Quarantine office information (as found on the “How to Bring a Thai Dog to America” article listed above):
Suvarnabhumi Airport
Animal Quarantine Office.
Free Zone Area, CE-1 Building, 1st Floor
Phone 02-1340731, Fax 02-1340732

In the quarantine office. I checked here to determine what vaccinations were needed to allow Ollie entry to America (note: there’s a photo of an adorable puppy you might be interested in seeing on that site as well). I was surprised (though pleased) to find that the only real requirement is a rabies vaccine administered at least 30 days before the departure. No microchip, no further quarantine time after entering the country (as long as there’s no signs of communicable disease or something like that)… really almost unbelievably easy. The only kind of hangup is the trip to the airport quarantine that’s (allegedly) required exactly three days before the flight date. I say ‘allegedly’ because though I had my dear friend Vallapa call the office in advance to find out and she was very unequivocal in her relaying of their terms– no more and no fewer than three days before departure– I didn’t see anything on the actual documents that specified this, and as a result of the, you know, corpse on the plane I ended up flying four days after the check-up and nothing was mentioned. Still, better safe than sorry: to the best of my knowledge you need to be there three days before.

The check-up itself was almost unsettlingly easy (though for some reason took an hour-and-a-half, mostly idly waiting and talking to the Dutch/Swedish couple who were brining the dog they found on Koh Tao back to Holland. See! It would seem this happens often). I filled out a form with all pertinent information and they took a picture of him with a webcam. Then despite filling out the form with all pertinent information, I had to answer a series of questions from the vet, including, “What sex is your dog?” Which I found to be a bit self-explanatory. Then he filled out his own form with all kinds of more… technical information, like “heart rate” and “hydration level,” even though I’m quite sure the vet never laid a hand on the pup. Then we waited some more, paid 50 baht, and were given all the papers we needed– a certificate of good health and an export license.

Then we had to kennel him for three days because we didn’t want to have to find a place that accepted dogs (though I believe the Dutch/Swedish couple said they were staying happily at the Ibis Riverside hotel with theirs). The quarantine office was able to recommend a nearby place to us that cost 200 baht ($6) a day, so we went with that. On the night that I was supposed to leave we took a 150 baht shuttle from Khao San Road to the airport, and then I was able to get a driver to take me to and from the kennel for 350 baht. It started raining like crazy and the streets on the way there were flooded. Not really relevant but here are two pictures of it. The kennel closed at 8:30 so we were set to wait in the airport for four hours with the dog! Yayyyyy… (in the style of Archer) but he was actually really good. This involved eating, sitting, and listening to screaming girls in waves because K-Pop giants Super Junior were in the airport or something.

(And you thought “Gangnam Style” was good.)

Then we went to check in and there was the whole, you know, corpse on the plane thing.

Important note: dogs and human remains cannot occupy the same cargo hold of a plane. For temperature reasons. And the human remains will win, even if you’ve done everything right.

puppy with super junior fans

on the way to the hotel

So they put us in the Suvarnabhumi Airport Hotel, which was nice. So nice, in fact, that Ollie wasn’t allowed in our room and got to hang out with the security guys. They didn’t seem to mind.

‘just helping keep the hotel safe guys!’

with his office mate

But finally it was time to finally go, and he had to say goodbye to Daddy. 😦

‘i love you dad! i miss you!’

And though he’d been soooo good the whole time, when it was finally time to get checked in he’d had about enough. Also, though I was sure I’d read somewhere that food must be attached to the outside of the crate for employees to use during the layover, they made me put the food inside the crate with him, which left even less space… poor guy. 😦

‘i do not like this anymore guys.’ (too bad pup, you got over 23 hours left…)

locked in there

The layover. During my layover in Doha I found myself getting very worried. Will he get left on the hot tarmac somewhere for two hours? Is he being fed and watered? Are they being nice to him? And I made myself busy trying to find someone who knew anything about the cargo area, specifically if passengers were allowed there, specifically if they had a dog there who they were really eager to see. Finally I found someone who did, and the answer was ‘no,’ but he assured me my dog would be taken very good care of. And when I finally got him, this sticker was on his crate so that would seem to be the case.

In DC. I expected to have to at least go to a quarantine office to pick him up, but instead was told he’d be wheeled right out to me. And he was! I can’t even describe how happy and relieved I was to look into his little face, alive and well, no worse for the wear in spite of his hours in the crate. (To answer the question I know you’re all asking, he’d peed just a little in there. That’s it.)

(Of course, then the next biggest challenge was getting Moose to fall for him… which was a work in progress, but I hear they’ve come a long way.)

bffs

So that’s the not-very-brief (do you know me?) story of how to bring a dog to America. Feel free to contact me if you find yourself in similar straits and are unclear on anything.

Final Days in Thung Song

Since my diligence has been severely lacking I’ve decided to do one big, low-commentary post as an illustration of moments in our final days in Thung Song. My nostalgia’s kicking in big time! These were some good people, ya heard?

ollie snugglin’ kellie

at chris’ and my birthday dinner, after a failed grouper face

jean’s birthday gift to me: tons of gum to help with my chewing (you can see my jaw’s still funny here). plus david goofin.

cutting the cake, addressed to ‘christy.’

on the way back from nakhon after getting the news that wayne didn’t need to return!

pizza party with wayne’s mom

eating this was a big feat for me. and yes, my shirt says, ‘shut up. my favorite song is playing. MUSTACHE.’

my thai ‘mother,’ who helped me out so nicely in the hospital (her own mother was an amputee in the bed next to me), and her older sister who was also very kind.

chris auditioning for the red light district

david and i rock-starring it up at winwin

(haha, his mic went out and he swiftly had to lean in and grab mine)

saying goodbye to students and teachers

had arranged a lunch with fai, our favorite shopowner. her mother (in yellow) and mother’s friend (in green) were in tow. the first place we wanted to go to was closed. the second place was coincidentally right next to the mother’s friend’s house and they didn’t want to eat there because they went all the time. so… we had to go to gan eng (which is never a bad thing).

on the way to our going-away dinner, when i’d obnoxiously told everyone to make sure they weren’t late, and then doubly obnoxiously showed up late myself. (palm, meet forehead).

at the dinner

haha, our ‘candid’ shot

when (baby) squirrels attack

‘where we goin?!’

stopped by yimyim so peung and her mother could give me a gift. i was told i would be able to use it every day.

they were right!

final night at winwin.

joyce’s rock star shoes

vallapa’s shoes kept going missing. don’t think these were the right ones…

i walked many miles in these little red toms, but the time came to leave them behind.

last family portrait at the house

last dinner at gan eng. i think the girl through the window was supposed to be one of the subjects of this shot but she turned at the last minute.

our down-the-street neighbor, p’kiew (“mr green”) got very excited when we invited him to the dinner, and he showed up in style.

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!

yessss

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!

 

 

 

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!