A Travellerspoint blog

Tropical Fungus in My Lung Tissues

Plus, A Beautiful Beach

sunny

So, as Avery mentioned, I had come down with some strange chest/head cold after staying in the moldy bungalows of PBR. This caused the hypochondriac in me to rise up. What if I have some weird jungle mold growing in me, I thought. What if I never get over this? They'll say at my funeral, "Ah, yes. It was that tropical cough that killed her. Never got over it." (Why did I just say that in an Irish accent? Channeling some Angela's Ashes I guess.)

We checked out of PBR, and the resort owner oh so kindly ripped us off (600 Baht for a taxi ride!!!!) and drove us to the fishing town of Chaloklum. The whole time he talked about how great his resort is and how he is rated so high on Trip Adviser. All the while, I'm in the back of the pickup, wheezing my ass off and trying not to scream at him for giving me the moldy lung.

At the pier, we found a long tail to take us to Bottle Beach, which can only be accessed by boat (or a really really shitty road but it's expensive and time-consuming.) We were told we would have to wait for four more people to buy a ticket to BB, which is Thai for go eat at my restaurant, and when you're finished, we'll leave. So we did what we were told and ordered some fried rice. I ate it, sniffling, and mourning the loss of my youthful lungs. Beginning of the end, I thought. Stairs will never be the same after this.

After we had eaten, the boat was ready to go. (SURPRISE!) And, SURPRISE AGAIN, we were the only two in the boat. Whatever, at least the rice was good.

Thailand of My Dreams

We boarded the long tail boat, which was captioned by a little Thai man who was probably in his 50s. His skin was a deep chocolate brown, aged and tanned by presumably years spent on the deck of a boat. His dark blue cotton pants were rolled to his thighs. His facial features were small; eyes even smaller when he was squinting in the sun. Without a word of English, he instructed us to climb the ladder and sit down.

He started the engine, which may have once been used in a car, and lowered the propeller into the turquoise waters. The brightly colored hull slid through the waters as the driver skillfully navigated the small boat over the ocean's waves. As we left the bay, the island's peaks rose up around us. To our right, huge boulders met the ocean's waves. The water flowed in and out, revealing a multitude of barnacles and mussels with every recession.

The world around us was like a beautifully layered dessert. Below us, the ocean, rolling and moving like a sleeping giant. Then the boulders that edged the island's coast. Above the boulders, the ground rose faster and higher, covered by the greenest, lushest land I have ever seen. And finally, the topping of thick clouds that slowly moved in the sky, gracing the top of the hills surrounding us.

It was so incredibly beautiful. I'm at a loss for words, and the pictures can't capture the emotions that are created by the views. Absolutely breathtaking.

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Bottle Beach

After 30 minutes on the boat, we reached Bottle Beach. There's not much to Bottle Beach. It's a strip of sand, four bungalow resorts and four restaurants.

We stayed at Bottle Beach II for only 450 Baht. STEAL. At night we could hear the ocean. It took about 45 seconds to walk from our bungalow to the beach. I want to go back.

We spent 3 (or 4...who's counting?) days there. It was the perfect place for me to get over my moldy jungle lung issue. There was nothing to do but eat, sleep and lay on the beach. Internet was super expensive, so I voraciously devoured my book. I haven't done that in awhile. It felt nice to have time to read some Steinbeck.

Avery went snorkeling the day I sat by the pool and sulked. He had an amazing time. In the coral just off the beach, he saw a puffer fish the size of a FOOTBALL and a blue spotted ray! I am incredibly jealous. Stupid jungle mold.

So yeah, that's about it on Bottle Beach. Oh, right. The staff at Bottle Beach II are just amazing. They were some of the nicest hotel staff we have met on this trip. The front desk even gave me some free cold medicine while we were there. And every night, the servers at the restaurant would go all out with fire shows, singing, whatever. Very entertaining.

I loved Bottle Beach. It was the Thailand I had been dreaming of. Just a great beach located in a cove. No scooters, no cars, no annoying partiers. Just the people who really wanted to get away. And get away we did.

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Posted by Sam.and.Avery 03:04 Archived in Thailand Tagged beaches sand fun sun chill relaxing drinks tanning koh_phangan bottle_beach hang_out Comments (2)

Better Days in Ban Tai

Motorbikes, Muay Thai, Half Moon and Mold.

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Things keep moving along so fast! We changed out route so we're actually in Cambodia now rather than North Thailand -- SURPRISE! It's been a challenge to stay current with the blog but I'll pickup where Sam left off try to bring this up to speed.

First off, renting a motorbike is DEFINITELY the way to see a place. Or at least it is when you're on an island like Koh Pangan. We had a pretty bad impression of what the island had to offer the first night we were there because of our own ignorance of the best way to get around. In a town like Ban Tai where everything is sort of spread out, walking isn't much of an option and taxis will gouge you on fares because they know that. Anyway, we rented the bike through our resort for the equivalent of $6 for 24hrs, and had a much better second and third day there.

We took a cruise around town -- slowly, since it was the first time I'd driven a scooter like that -- and it went smoothly except for one little incident where I forgot which side of an alleyway I was supposed to be driving on. No accidents though, just a dirty look from a local. After that test run we hit one of the main roads and headed for a park on the interior of the island. There we found a nice hike past a waterfall up to a lookout point where we could see the jungle spread out beneath us and some neighboring islands in the distance. It was our first look at the denser forests the area had to offer and I'm pretty excited to do more trekking in the mountainous areas of North Thailand as well as Cambodia.

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That evening we headed to the night market where we joined the crowd shuffling around between the rows of food carts. Food markets are an awesome way to have a meal here. There's a huge variety of vendors in one place, it's about as authentic as you can get and it's all super cheap. We sampled from a few different carts and almost everything was up to par except for a deep fried snack labeled "Vegetable Ball" that I took a bite into before deciding it was probably made of chicken. Oh, well. I knew it would be a bit of a challenge to find legit vegetarian food on this trip and I'm sure it won't be the last time I'll have a mystery meat surprises. The night market experience came to an abrupt end when the power went out. The vendors were ready for it with their LED lights and candles but most of the crowd started to clear out pretty quickly.

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During the day we'd seen a few billboard trucks driving around blaring announcements about some Muay Thai happening that night and we decided to check it out. Muay Thai is a big sport in Thailand. It's a form of kickboxing and the whole experience was very entertaining. We navigated the muddy walkways around the ring and found a couple of spots to sit on the tiered metal bars they use as bleachers, it's really more like scaffolding. We sat through eight fights -- shrouded in cigarette smoke, surrounded by beer-clenching hooligans and gamblers cheering at every big hit and going wild for a knockout. I would do it again!

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The next day we took advantage of our scooter again, cruising up to the North part of the island for some snorkeling in the early afternoon. Sam was starting to feel a little rough and thought she might be getting a cold so we headed back to the hotel for a little recharge nap before heading to the Half Moon Party that night. I couldn't sleep so I headed to the beach for awhile and ended up meeting a friendly group of people from England who were heading to the party as well. Sam joined us when she woke up and shortly after we all headed into the jungle for the Half Moon. I don't know if I'm getting to old for this that type of thing or what, but I have to say I was a little disappointed. Granted I'm not the biggest fan of House music, but I can usually enjoy it when it's live. This was borderline boring, though. There are waaaay better shows going on back in Minneapolis. I did get a CD of some of the music along with my entry so anyone feeling curious can check it out for themselves when I get back.

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The next morning we had a little scare when we were standing at the desk checking out and we couldn't find our motorbike key. I headed back to our bungalow to search. I didn't find the key there (turns out Sam stashed it in her bag and promptly forgot about it) but I did find some confirmation that the bungalow was what was making Sam sick. The cleaning lady had removed the sheets from the beds when I went back on my search and the mattresses were filthy. It was a new level of dirtiness. The mattresses looked like slabs of dirt-covered mold. No exaggeration. There were huge patches of black mold all over them in addition to general dirt and sand and even a little bit of what looked like blood stains. We will not be writing positive reviews for the Phangan Beach Resort of Ban Tai!

Aside from Sam getting a moldy lung and in spite of a dud of a Half Moon party, we managed to have a decent time in Ban Tai overall. But with so many beaches to choose from I'd hardly say it's the best option on Koh Phangan. Especially after a visit to Bottle Beach...but that's for another post.

Posted by Sam.and.Avery 02:43 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand nightlife muay_thai entertainment half_moon_party koh_phangan motor_bike night_market koh_phangan_beach_resort half_moon getting_around how_to_get_around Comments (0)

Half Moon, Full Stomachs

Adventures on the island of Koh Phangan: scooters, moldy bungalows, water buffaloes, oh mY!

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Ah, it's been too long! I promise to get better at writing regularly. I had forgotten how much I enjoy reading people's reactions to my writings. It's fun to get some feedback rather than spewing into journal pages. So thanks for the comments. I appreciate it.

So where to start? We've done so much since I last wrote in Koh Tao. Can you bare with me through a longer post? I know blogs are supposed to be quick and to the point because readers have such short attention spans. But, really...would you rather be entering data into spreadsheets or reading my long travel rants? ;)

I struggle with balancing the lyrical prose I love so much with the straight itinerary that people want to hear. I'm not sure what's a happy medium. More guts, less flower? More description? I'll have to test this.

Empty Moon

We arrived on Koh Phangan, the site of the (in)famous Full Moon Party, on January 11 -- three days after the FMP. We weren't too disappointed by this. We actually planned it that way. Avery and I are feeling like curmudgeons these days. :p But we went to Haad Rin beach, site of the FMP, anyway.

The beach is stunning. Meters of beautiful, white sand. The waves were moving nicely that day, so Avery and I did some body surfing. Good times. I think I'm beginning to tolerate the taste of saltwater. Just barely.

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After the beach, we ate some food, watched a cam-copy of The Hangover 2 at the bar and just hang out. Really laid back. It was pretty dead in the town as the FMP partiers had left just days before.

We also had our first "bucket" there. The party buckets of Thailand are famous for their potency and often mysterious contents. Lots of stories of people "not drinking that much, I swear" then waking up in some strange place without their shoes or wallets. We bought ours from nice Thai ladies down the street from the beach. They have the buckets ready with a variety of ingredients. Someone can easily get a giant Johnnie Walker mixer for less than $15. Awesome. But we chose the Sangsom, mixed with Coke and Thai Red Bull. According to a slightly intoxicated bartender at Baan Thai, the Red Bull here is made by big pharma and is rumored to have amphetamines. Huh. Avery fell asleep after drinking a full bottle of the stuff though. Bad batch or are Americans immune to insane amounts of caffeine and whatnot?

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Bad Times in Baan Thai

Then we headed NW to Baan Thai. Our (locally produced) guide book said BT had miles of uninterrupted white sandy beach. Breathtaking. Coconut plantations. You'll love it.

Actually, BT is the only place on KPN with lady (go-go) bars and has the dirtiest water of the island...but with spectacular views of Koh Samui!

The taxi from Haad Rin took us to a place called Pink's. We weren't really feeling the place though as we were the only ones in the restaurant area who did not smell of patchouli or have dreads. :p So we walked...in the head and humidity. For way too long. It was terrible. There were no sidewalks. With our packs on, we looked like angry, sweaty, lost turtles trying to avoid the scooters and Jeeps. It was embarrassing.

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Finally, we got to a place called Phangan Beach Resort. It was a little overpriced (600 Baht), but it had a pool! And a private beach! AND HAMMOCKS! So we were sold. Well, they say it for a reason, looks can be deceiving.

So yeah, we check in. And it starts to sprinkle. Boo. But we were determined, but mostly bored. We decided to walk to Thong Sala, just "down the road" as Avery and I say way too often for it to be true. We walk past the notorious lady bars, which aren't that notorious really after one's been to Soi Cowboy in Bangkok. We walked past the fabled "Food Factory." We consulted our map at least 22 times. And then, just as we were about to reach the night market filled with all kinds of cheap goodies, the rain lets us have it. Just freaking pours all tropical typhoon style on us. So I wrote this:

On our way to the Saturday night market in Thong Sala, the tropical rain started. First, it was a sprinkle. And then all of the Thais pulled out their umbrellas. The street vendors began to cover their stalls. Then it poured. Heavy and fast, unlike rain I've ever seen before. This has been my first experience with getting caught in the tropical style rain. The kind characterized by the fat, wet drops that quickly soak through every layer of clothing, kissing your skin with a surprisingly warm wetness. It doesn't take long before one's whole body is dripping.

Now Avery and I sit under the tin shelter of some closed outdoor market. That stench I remember from Bangkok is drifting up from the concrete. Smells of urine mixed with the scents of the street vendors' wares and a hint of the tropical rain's sweetness. "I don't know if this is going to quit," Avery says.

Some wet, unhappy tourists walk by, cloaked in plastic ponchos. Despite the downpour, life goes on. Thais on scooters, squinting through the rain still ride the streets. Street vendors pull down plastic sheets and continue to sell their items: raw slabs of meat, noodles, sandwiches. Life goes on.

Except for the two lonely Americans, who are afraid of the tropical storms. We're still sitting on the curb, afraid to leave the relative safety and comfort provided by this overhang.

How long will we wait? There's no sign of it letting up.

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  • * Aw, thanks for letting me wax poetic there. I just finished Steinbeck's East of Eden, and the way he describes places BLOWS me away. Was hoping to channel some of that in the rain.

We eventually bought some very touristy plastic ponchos from the grocery store across the street from our hideout, got overcharged by a taxi and made it to our bungalow.

Then Avery and I were faced with a new situation: No TV, no Internet, it's raining...What the hell do we do now? Well, Boyscout Avery fashioned two lovely cups out water bottles (cut off the tops). And we filled those makeshift cups with Sangsom and Coke. Woo! No ice. :( But it was still a party. Then we made shadow puppets. Apparently we revert to childhood games when screens aren't around. Who knew? We also took some incriminating pictures of each other. Avery, please don't put that weird lip picture of me on the Internet. Much obliged. But your photos are free domain. ;) Snooze you lose!

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Next day, we're all like "guidebook lied!" :( And the next town is a 40 minute walk away! :( So what do we do? Rent a scooter of course! It really is the best way to get around Koh Phangan. Just be sure to take a picture of any scratches, dents, whatever before you rent it. Otherwise, you might get charged when you return it. Even if you didn't do it. And avoid riding in places like the "Hill of Tears" in Haad Rin. I'm guessing there's a few stories behind that nickname.

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I let Avery do all the driving because I didn't want him to feel emasculated. He also didn't want to me to drive. Weird, right? I'm guessing this might have something to do with the time I made him go on the Zipper ride at the MN State Fair...ok, this is a funny story. SEGUE

So Avery is not an amusement park/ride kind of guy. And I am. To the core. It's ridiculous. So we're at the MN State Fair, and I'm like, "Dude, come on. It's the Zipper. It's awesome." He won't budge. Peer pressure always wins in the end though, so away we go.

Standing in line: "So what does thing do anyway?" Avery asks.
"You've never watched it before?"
"No."
"Oh." And at this point, I'm thinking oh shit. He is going to kill me.

So the carnie locks us in the cage, and Avery is not talking to me. Won't look at me -- just staring silently ahead. "Okay, now when we get moving, we have to rock it hard forward to get it to spin."

Avery doesn't want to spin it. And I'm thinking, well, it's going to spin with or without me rocking it, hun. But I just nod. Smile. Nod. So we start going, and it's doing it's Zipper thing. Then we get to the top. It's about to enter its first 360 turn. I lean in. "Okay, we gotta lean into it Avery! We have to rock it!"

And I'm putting all 110 pounds of me into this cage when Avery cries out, "Don't rock it Sam! Don't rock it."

And then I feel so guilty. Incredibly guilty. Like guiltier than kicking a blind puppy guilty. Because Avery looks like he is about to die. Or maybe he already did, because he hasn't moved since the ride started. So you know how the Zipper is, it's going to turn anyway. That's what it does. It zips. So we fly forward; my head is hitting the top; my knuckles are white and hands clenched around the front. We flip. Then I feel that evasive high that only comes around so often. The kind of high that people get when they're wondering if this is their last moment, but they're having so much damn fun that it doesn't matter. And I laugh. I laugh this terrible blood curdling, Wicked Witch of the West mixed with Alvin and the Chipmunks laugh, as the cage is spinning wildly in circles. As I'm feeling this adrenaline rush, I look over at Avery, who lets out a faintly audible "Hahaha." Then closes his eyes.

So we survive. And after I've bought him some fries, and he's finally talking to me again, I ask, "You couldn't have hated it that much. I saw you laughing."
To which he replies, "I was laughing at you." And then he adds that I pretty much freaked him out. When I look back at it, that was not the laugh of a man having a good time. It was the "Oh God, I'm dating a monster...what have I done?" laugh.

SOOOO...I think when Avery thought of me driving the scooter, he then imagined me cackling as we swerved down some Haad Rin hill, nearly missing a water buffalo and crashing into a palm tree.

And I digress.

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I was going to add some more, but I think this blog post is long enough. And the mosquitoes are out. I'll add the other stories in later...

Sam

Posted by Sam.and.Avery 02:58 Archived in Thailand Tagged beach fun sun scooters koh phangan Comments (2)

Island Style

Remembering to Relax.

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Hello from the Gulf of Thailand! I'm sorry I haven't gotten around to throwing my two cents in before now but Sam's been doing a pretty good job summing up the experience so far. Right now we're hanging out near near Haad Rin Beach on Koh Phangan, the island made famous by the Full Moon Party, a monthly rager that allegedly draws 20,000 people to the island. The palm lined walks of the bungalows display bright neon battle scars from the last of these parties, splashes of blacklight paint that make it easy to visualize what this small town's streets must have looked like packed with party-goers fueled by buckets of redbull and Thai whiskey. That last party was about a week ago now and things seemed to have slowed back down again. I have to say the island pace is definitely what I've been looking for.

When we decided to take this little adventure of ours one of the big things I wanted to do was just hang out. I was really excited to be free from my daily routines in order to be able to think a little clearer. But then between the madness of everything terrific and horrible about Bangkok and then transitioning straight into our SCUBA courses, there wasn't a whole lot of breathing room in our first week and a half in Thailand. Now we've finally made it to a beautiful island and have all the free time in the world, and its just a matter of learning to slow down. In my spare time I find myself thinking: "What should I be doing?! Am I missing out on something amazing right now!? I want to do it all!" I'm learning to ignore those questions, because the answers don't really matter in the context of a vacation. I'm lounging in our bungalow and on the beach, catching up on some reading and enjoying a lot of good food, and that's incredibly enjoyable in and of itself!

I think we're going to be spending another week or so on Koh Pangan. As I type this I'm listening to some of the music that will be going on at the Half Moon Party in a few days. Sam and I agreed it would be crazy to be here during on of the parties and not attend so we're going to check it out. There are also some more chilled out beaches that are only reachable by boat that we want to spend some time on. I have yet to enjoy a coconut or lay in a hammock since we've been here! I'm hoping to check both of those of the list in the next couple of days. Hopefully at the same time. :)

-Avery-

Posted by Sam.and.Avery 04:07 Archived in Thailand Tagged thailand koh_phangan haad_rin Comments (1)

Panic Attacks at 10 Meters Under the Water

Or, I'm a Certified SCUBA Diver Now

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Many of you know that becoming a certified SCUBA diver was the first thing I had planned to do in Thailand. I booked my SSI Open Water course with Scuba Junction on the island of Koh Tao two weeks before I left for Bangkok.

Some people had asked me about my experience and reasoning before I had left.

Q: But you're a pretty terrible swimmer, Sam.
A: SCUBA diving is more like gliding than swimming. I'm not worried!

Q: Have you ever swam in the ocean?
A: I stuck my toes in the Atlantic at Coney Island. Does that count?

Q: Ever been snorkeling?
A: Naaah.

Q: Weren't you the kid who cried at a sleepover during the game where people put a sleeping bag over your head and pushed you in a circle? And you said you couldn't breathe in there, even though everyone else thought the game was fun.
A: I wasn't aware that anyone remembered that. But yes, that was me.

Q: So you think you'll like SCUBA diving?
A: Well, yes. You see, I've always been interested in marine life. And what better way to experience it than diving. And all of the colors, and ooh sharks and then what about... (Five minutes later.) So yeah, I know I'll like it. I'm not worried.

Yup, you can see how prepared I was for diving. It's just breathing underwater, I had thought.

But the thing that no one tells you when you're first thinking about diving is the way one's body violently reacts to the act of taking in breaths while submerged.

Our first exercise was to simply put the regulator in our mouths, stick our heads under water and breathe. Easy right? No. As soon as I sucked in that first breath, my body began to thrash like a fish trying to breathe out of water. The panic alarms were sounding in my head. I only lasted for about 10 seconds, half choking, half trying to calm the F down.

Yes, my dear readers and dissenters, diving is not as easy as I had imagined. Laugh, that's fine.

We spent the first day learning basic skills, like finding the regular if it slipped from your mouth (horror!), clearing water from our masks (so terrible) and fully removing and replacing the mask while underwater.

Removing the mask underwater proved to be the most challenging for me. The first time I tried, the water shot up my nose, and I shot up out of the water, convinced I was going to drown. It's just that subconscious signal your body sends to you. I find it difficult to ignore mine I guess. At one point I asked myself, "Is this what water-boarding feels like?" That bad.

But after only one failed attempt, I successfully placed the mask back on my face and blew all of the water out with my nose. Not the most enjoyable experience.

The next day was our first real dive. But before the dive, we had to prove we can swim 200 meters to pass certification. The waves were quite choppy that day. I really can't even swim in a flat, serene swimming pool. I knew I was going to struggle with this -- my first time swimming in a body of water bigger than Lake Sakakawea. I waited for the three other people in my group to say no, but they all just dived in. So I followed.

The waves weren't really that big. I'm just that terrible of a swimmer. And I tend to panic easily. I actually don't like the water. All it took was one shot of salty salty water in the face, and I was done. Except you can't really just quit swimming when you're without a life jacket and in the middle of the ocean. Boo. So I struggled, doggy paddling and floundering on my back until I reached the boat's ladder. Badly shaken, I admitted defeat to Avery. "I just can't do this," I said. "I don't want to do this." He told me it was okay to back out. I almost did. But then our instructor gave me a pep talk. In summary: it would be really dumb for you to quit right here. We're nearly to the fun part. So I continued.

During the dive, I focused on my breathing, which made it a lot easier. But then, my mask filled with water. Panicking, I blew through my nose like we had practiced. But as soon as I cleared the water, it would fill up again. Saltwater burning my eyes, I swam to the surface, untangled my mask strap (which was causing the leaking) and descended again.

Then it got easier. Some a lot of cool fish, a barracuda, some pretty things, a giant batfish, lots and lots of coral. There were several times I had to remind myself that I was actually swimming under the water; that this wasn't a giant IMAX movie screen. Then I lost control of my buoyancy and scraped my knee on some coral. Wah. But it wasn't too bad.

The seas were calmer on the third day. No major mishaps. Lots of fun. For our final test, we had to take our mask off completely again -- but this time 10 meters underwater.

And I did it! I was proud of myself. Had that kneejerk I'm drowning feeling, but I got through it.

I bought the videotape from our dive as a memento of my diving experience.

  • ***

So far, the weather in Koh Tao has been beautiful. And Koh Tao is a beautiful island. It's so green and lush; I love the jungle foliage. The Gulf of Thailand's water is crystal clear, and the beaches' sand is the perfect consistency. Love it.

We've been eating a lot of good food. Avery is loving the curries, and I'm loving the seafood here. Tomorrow we're heading to Koh Phangan. The Full Moon Party was on Sunday, so I'm not sure what the crowd will be like. We decided to skip the FMP. We're just too curmudgeonly these days for that kind of scene I guess. :p Diving the last three days has been quite intense and tiring, so we're looking forward to some quiet beach time.

In other news, Bangkok left me with a rather nice memento of my stay there: heat rash. I thought we had made our amends, but then she comes back swinging with a vengeance. So I'm left sitting in front of a fan, waiting for this redness to disappear. Boo. Better leave quickly as I want to get into my swim suit ASAP.

Avery really needs to write a post soon. I promise he's here with me. And he has the camera cord, so I can't upload any pictures until he does. Bla! I think he's off lunching somewhere. He left me to deal with the rash by myself. Don't blame him. Haha. :)

Posted by Sam.and.Avery 23:55 Archived in Thailand Tagged diving scuba koh_tao Comments (5)

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