Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Islands of the Gulf

Our last couple of weeks in Southeast Asia were spent on three different islands in the Gulf of Thailand. The first was Ko Chang, which is close to the Cambodian border. The second was Ko Pha-Ngan and the third was Ko Tao. Each island was special and featured phenomenal sunsets, swaying palm trees and crystal-clear water. We spent our days snorkeling, scuba diving, hiking, kayaking and lounging around in the hot sun and warm water. It was a wonderful way to close out an amazing adventure!
Above is the bungalow we stayed in on Ko Pha-Ngan. I took the sunset photo at the top from the porch.

Ko Chang was a beautiful island with mountains and flowering trees.

An open deck restaurant with a view of the harbor at dusk (Ko Chang)

Good snorkeling spot on the island of Ko Pha-Ngan

Another perfect sunset on Ko Pha-Ngan

Coconut Palms on Ko Pha-Ngan

An interesting way to sell gasoline! 50 B (Baht) is about $1.75 U.S.

A cool "trail" on Ko Tao

Crystal clear water and incredible diving off the island of Ko Tao. This dive site (both above and below) was called the "Japanese Garden." Underwater, it looked like a Japanese garden with a variety of interestingly shaped coral...including some that looked like giant mushrooms!

Monday, February 13, 2012

The Temples of Angkor Wat - Cambodia

Our next big adventure in SE Asia was at the temples of Angkor Wat in Cambodia. We saw many temples during our travels, but none were as big or impressive as these. Some of the temples were massive and out in the open while others were slowly being overrun by the surrounding jungle.

Baphuon Temple (above)

Ta Prohm temple was the most impressive of all of them.

The temple of Angkor Wat, the world's largest religious building

Young monks at Angkor Wat

We nearly walked right by this temple...very hidden in the jungle

These are "working"elephants who take tourists up a steep trail to a hidden temple at the top of a hill...a perfect sunset spot. We walked, but still found it fascinating to watch the elephants.

It was incredible to see so many amazing temples, but the intense heat and humidity made mid-day very, it was time to escape to the islands!

Trekking in Northern Thailand

Our month in SE Asia got off to a fantastic start with a 3-day backpacking trip in the hill country of Northern Thailand in Doi Inthanon National Park. We had a guide who led us on dusty trails through beautiful, tropical mountains near the highest point in Thailand. For the first day and a half, we had 6 other tourists with us. The remainder of the time, it was just us and the guide! We swam in waterfalls, saw water buffaloes grazing in dry rice fields and even saw an Asian Elephant browsing in thick vegetation. There were two local hill tribe people near the elephant and we found out that they "owned" it as a "working"elephant.

The most amazing part was walking by tiny hill tribe villages in the middle of a very remote section of Thailand. Most of these villages were way off the beaten path...they had no electricity, no running water, spoke no English and seemed happy and content in their simple life. We stayed in two villages. The first was like the one I described above and the second was similar, but a bit bigger and connected to a dirt road which led to the city of Chiang Mai about an hour away.

Our guide bought a pumpkin from the farmer above. Those are water buffalo behind him!

We walked along many lonely fenses like this in a very remote area.

Above is a scene from the first hill tribe village we stayed in.

This was the house that we stayed in. We slept on a thin mat on the wooden floor and woke up early to the sound of roosters, pigs and dogs. We shared the house with at least 3 others who lived there. The village had about 40 people living there.

Dinner was cooked over an open fire. It was a delicious pumpkin, chicken stew with rice and a bit of spicy chili sauce!

We were able to interact with quite a few of the locals like the one above and below.

Our guide (Sunni) walking up to one of the many waterfalls that we swam under. When we would come up to a swimming spot like this, Sunni would say, "Ok, you can take a shower now."

Above is a view of active rice fields and small houses nearby. A couple of hours from here, we ended our hike at a spot where we could ride an elephant (a bit touristy but pretty cool!) and take a bamboo raft trip down a rushing river (not touristy and REALLY fun!).