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Thailand

Waterfall Hike to Mae Pen Rai, Wat Khao Tham

sunny 30 °C

This was the last day of our Global Pilgrim Thailand Cultural Exposure tour, so we took in the optional outings instead of chilling out at Milky Bay Resort!

First up was a hike to several picturesque waterfalls along a stream flowing into the ocean at Mae Pen Rai on the SE of Koh Phangan. Bird of Paradise flowers were growing right where we started the hike, but it quickly became apparent that following the stream all the way to the sea was not the safest plan, so we hiked back up to the cement road under construction and used it instead. Several stone inscriptions mark the visits of different Thai Kings to the refreshing waterfalls, but today Mae Pen Rai is home to little bungalows perched above the gorgeous surf beach with the usual open air beach bar and restaurant! No doubt the Kings had something similar!

After lunch we visited Wat Khao Tham, a nearby Buddhist temple which is known for having female monks, and catering to those who wish to meditate or learn to do so more effectively. A silent meditation retreat was set to get underway the next day, so most monks were elsewhere making preparations, but we enjoyed the quiet serenity of their beautiful hilltop temple and grounds.

A final shopping expedition in the main market area of Koh Phangan gave some a chance to make those last minute purchases, though we are returning to Bangkok tomorrow for another few days so felt no sense of urgency in that regard!

Back at the Milky Bay Resort again, Ray McGinnis, our tour co-leader, took us through a writing exercise in which we all created a "pantoum" from memories of our cultural exposure tour of Thailand. Appropriately enough, the pantoum is derived from a Malay form of poetry that features repetition of ideas through a series of interwoven 4-line verses.

After a lovely final tour dinner at the resort we gathered for a short time to reflect as a whole group on what we had learned and valued from the guided tour experience. We all had gained greater respect and understanding for the Thai and their Buddhist way of life, and remembered the many people and places we had experienced over the past 2+ weeks.

Tomorrow most head home, but we take a ferry, bus, plane and taxi and enjoy another few days in Thailand's incredible capital city - stay tuned!

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Posted by alangcampbell 07:13 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Ang Thong National Marine Park

semi-overcast 30 °C

Today we went on a terrific marine park adventure in the Gulf of Thailand! About 1.5 hrs by boat north and west of Koh Phangan is the Ang Thong National Marine Park, an amazing archipelago of ancient coral reefs, upthrust and overgrown with tropical vegetation.

We reached a few small islands on the edge of Ang Thong and anchored next to the rocky shore so we could swim, snorkel, water slide and dive in the lovely warm blue/green water. Then back on board for a Thai lunch while we motored to the main Ang Thong group and a steep stair-hike to see Emerald Lagoon, fed from the sea by underwater tunnels on Koh Mae (mother island).

We were shuttled to islands like this by long narrow Thai boats, driven skilfully by means of a prop on the end of a long tiller that included a diesel engine! Then we'd leap from the longboat to floating docks on the island shores that undulated with the ocean waves, and finally teeter on a plank or jump into the surf to get to shore! A bit of an adventure for us all!

Fresh fruit snacks on board as we headed for our last stop: Wua Ta Lap island. Here some swam, others walked or relaxed, and the more adventurous hiked to the summit (Alan) or to beautiful limestone caves complete with stalagmites and stalactites (Catriona)! Both hikes were challenging with ropes to help clamber over the sharp coral boulders!

After cooling down in the ocean/breeze we returned to the dock, longboat, motorboat for a bumpier ride back to Koh Phangan in 2 meter seas. Somehow we managed to down (and keep down!) a nice tuna salad bunwich and more fruit on the way back as the orange orb of the sun sank into the sea behind us - magical!

Another torch-lit dinner on the beach at Milky Bay Resort and our almost last group tour day came to a close. No, wait! Catriona and 2 others headed for the local night market for a little shopping! They didn't find anything of interest as it had mostly already closed for the night, but of course tomorrow is another day!

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Posted by alangcampbell 08:13 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

Exploring Koh Phangan...

semi-overcast 28 °C

A parasail rider (not from our group!) was out testing the wind as we arrived for breakfast at Milky Bay's beachfront restaurant, but since nothing was formally scheduled for the day, 6 of us hired a truck/taxi for our own tour of some scenic and beach culture spots north and west on Koh Phangan.

Our first stop was for a short hike to a waterfall in a nearby national park, where we heard lots of Thai scouts singing together before a camping outing and saw a very large spider waiting for business above our heads!

Next we visited a colourful and stylized Chinese Buddhist temple which provided dramatic views down a valley to the NW corner of Koh Phangan. We followed the twisting hilly road down to two bays, one quite rustic and secluded, offering accommodation for as little as 250 baht ($10) a night, and the next more extensive and developed but still very low-key with taxi boats and lots of scooters and liquor bottles of fuel for sale if they run low!

Refreshed by a visit to the local 7-11 (ubiquitous in Thailand it seems!), our progressive taxi party moved on to the beach opposite Koh Ma, a small island you can reach by land at low tide (a tombolo!). Since the tide was too high, only two of our group made it across while the others enjoyed the scene and vibe from a shady spot on the beach.

Our last stop was at a small beach that featured a curious mixture of high-end resort accommodation and inexpensive beach bungalows, with a funky kontiki-style beach bar/cafe out over the point attracting all comers: no shirt, no shoes...full service!

Back again at Milky Bay Resort we enjoyed a swim in the ocean and pool before having a great dinner together at a long table set up on the beach and lit with beach torches: the end of another wonderful day in Thailand!

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Posted by alangcampbell 08:16 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Bangkok to Koh Phangan Island

semi-overcast 30 °C

A very long travel day that started at 0400 to catch the bus from Bangkok at 0600, the catamaran from Chumphong at 1300, change to another catamaran at Koh Tao Island at 1500 and finally arrive on Koh Phangan Island in the Gulf of Thailand at 1700! Toilet on the bus [which made no comfort stops] was pretty unpleasant when used out of necessity...Catamarans were better, though ride a bit rocky with NE winds so riding outside best. Quick truck/taxi ride to lovely Milky Bay Resort and lovely rooms with all the mod cons.

Alan's hope to try scuba diving tomorrow dashed as an extensive algae bloom has stopped all scuba diving in these islands right now! We'll hike/explore and snorkel instead (due to warm waters, some areas here may be clear for the top few feet, then murky/dark all the way down with algae - opposite to BC!).

Beautiful beachfront dinner with grilled red snapper and roast vegetables - tasted great after eating little all day on the road and sea!

More Koh Phangan photos and info tomorrow as we explore!...

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Posted by alangcampbell 09:06 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Bangkok and Ayutthaya at 35C!

sunny 35 °C

After a quick early breakfast we boarded minibuses and headed for Bang Pa-In, the summer palace of the King and Queen of Thailand on the outskirts of Bangkok. It is a very beautiful estate, kept immaculately for the royals of course, but also the pride of the Thai people who love their monarchs. On the grounds we saw a large monitor lizard devouring the remains of a turtle it had caught!

Then we motored further north to Ayutthaya, the ancient and glorious capital of (then) Siam, which was sacked by the Burmese in the late 1700s. A huge city the Thai subsequently abandoned for the more defensible Bangkok, Ayutthaya had 400 temples so even the ruins left today are very impressive. To dispirit the Siamese, the invaders (also Buddhist!) decapitated many of the statues of Buddha and defaced temple adornments. It didn't work, of course, the Burmese were eventually repelled and apparently have made reparations in modern times for the destruction they caused - perhaps they are trying to improve their collective karma!

It was mostly sunny and 35C here today and it felt like you were being slowly par-broiled outside, so after a refreshing riverside lunch stop, we just made one more temple stop at Wat Yai Chaya Mongkol, where there is a huge stupa, reclining Buddha and a massive collection of rooster statues many of which devotees born in that year leave behind for good luck! They are very colourful and look pretty cool in their flower garlands!

Some in-hotel aircon time was needed to refresh most of us (Catriona and Mary amazingly headed straight back out for some more exploring!) so we could enjoy dinner by the Chao Phraya River and get back to pack and rest for an 0500 departure tomorrow and a long journey to Koh Pha Ngan, further south in the Gulf of Thailand!

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Posted by alangcampbell 03:34 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

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