Friday, February 26, 2010

Koh Kradan, Thailand

Literally paradise! And I mean that in all seriousness. In fact, I just bought a book called, LITERALLY, THE BEST LANGUAGE BOOK EVER. It talks about the fact that people use the word, literally, all the time and don't mean it. They use it to embelish descriptive phrases. Apparently, we should all go around saying figuratively instead. Like, it was figuratively the longest line ever at the Embassy. I don't know if that'll catch on though.

Back to the point. Koh Kradan is a paradise. When we were planning our trip, it was a bit daunting weighing all the pros and cons of the different Thai islands without any first hand knowledge. I didn't want to end up on a crowded island with angry locals and beaches full of trash and the sand sprinkled with glass (many of the horror stories I read made this seem the norm). So, we waded through all the information we could find on the internet, polled our friends who had been there and finally decided on Koh Kradan. It was one of the only islands that we didn't find much information on...and therefore didn't read any reviews trashing the place. I think it was this fact that led us there.

We reserved a bungalow on the island before we left Korea. We knew we'd need to reserve in advance in order to have somewhere to stay over New Year's. Apparently, Thailand is quite popular at that time of year, and I can see why. This was my first year spending the holiday on a tropical beach, and I highly recommend it for anyone considering such a trip.

Koh Kradan is tiny. If low tide lasted longer, we could have walked around the whole island in a couple of hours. It doesn't have any roads, vehicles, or bikes. There were no stores, no clinics, no nothing...except for one swanky resort, a few bungalow operations scattered along the main beach, and a small camping area. It was paradise!

The water was so beautiful, two-toned blue and calm throughout most of the day. Absolutely perfect for swimming. The sand was white, white, white! No trash or glass to be found. The food was pretty good...especially at Paradise Lost. A resort owned by an American guy that reminded me a lot of Dustin Hoffman.

Our days followed a pattern similar to this...

Eat Breakfast
Drink Coffee
Lay in Hammock and Read
Walk along Beach
Eat Lunch
Lay in Hammock and Read
Walk along Beach
Eat Dinner
Drink Beer

There was some variety...what I read, the direction we walked in, the food we ate, ect. It was one of the most relaxing times I've ever had. I miss floating on my back and feeling the current push and pull me around the bay. Aaaaaahhhh...I want to go back!

We didn't take any pictures the first day we got to the island. Instead we swam and chilled out. This is a photo of the sunrise the next morning.

Our rustic home for the week. (Yes, we did bring our own hammocks - and they were awesome!)

View from our Bungalow

There were a few more people near the other end of the beach close to the where the larger boats anchored. We lucked out and there were never many people on our little section of paradise.

During low tide, a sandbar emerged from the water and became a spectacular lounging spot.

Total Relaxation

This is the restaurant at the place we stayed. It was so nice sitting in the shade of the palapa roof, listening to groovy music, drinking wicked strong coffee, and looking out at the beautiful ocean.

Fortunately there were quite a few trees along the beach for us to string up our hammocks so we could change our view daily.

No skinny dipping for's a halter suit.

There is a reef a few hundred feet from the beach. The lack of waves made the water perfect for prolonged back floating.

Another idyllic scene.

When the tide went out intersting sea life emerged.

Although some of it was pretty yucky. I think this is a sea slug.

We saw these signs on both of the islands we visited. A reminder of what can happen even in a place that feels so safe and peaceful.

Interior of the Island

The opposite side of the island (Sunset Beach) was more rocky and supported a number of wild pineapple trees.

It was pretty but there were sand fleas and only a few bare patches of sand. Needless to say, we didn't spend much time over there.

The path across the island was a nice way to keep cool and soak in a bit of the tropical atmosphere is the late afternoons.

I didn't know clematis grew on sand.

Kids in Kayaks

On New Year's Eve, Jason and I sat on the beach and watched the full moon rise.

Near midnight, the guys who worked at the resort lit these paper laterns. When they filled with enough hot air they took flight. It wasn't a very smooth operation, and luckily nothing substantial started on fire.

No high pressure sales tactics here. (Sales office for buying trips or boat rides to other islands.)

This little cutie pie liked to sit under our hammocks and keep us company in the afternoons.


Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Penang, Malaysia

Jason and I like to set different paces when we’re on the road, be it a two hour drive somewhere or traveling in another country. It doesn’t matter. I’m always worried about wasting time, while Jason’s trying to stop and smell the roses. Not that I’m all get up and go…I spend hours upon hours sitting on my butt reading books. However on vacation, I tend to want to go out and see it all, which propels me along at a faster clip than Jason cares for.

In fact, I think he’s still mad at me for “making” him leave San Pedro on our Central American trip. In my defense, I thought we were going to be thrown into jail or have to pay thousands of dollars in fines if we didn’t get entry stamps on our passports. Jason, on the other hand, thought since we’d been in Guatemala for a week without any stamps, what were a few more days going to matter. In hindsight, he was probably right. We didn’t need to rush off to Guatemala City, but I’m glad we got things sorted out and didn’t have to check out the provisions inside a Central American prison.

Up till now on our SE Asia trip, we’d spent around 4 days in each place. This was the general plan until we hit the beaches in Thailand - where we planned to adopt a snail’s pace. Unfortunately…or fortunately, we ended up staying in Penang for a whole week.

With so much time on our hands, we were able to fully explore the little island. We toured the major sites, walked around the residential areas, ate many different meals in a variety of restaurants, learned the bus routes, and saw the old, new, and clashing areas of the island. It turned out to be a good thing that we were waylaid for a few extra days.

The reason for the abrupt change of plans was not so good. I know certain rules about traveling in foreign countries…especially when it comes to hygiene and food safety. But that doesn’t mean I always follow those rules. And it was one of those that got me. Sauces…they’re deadly. Not the ones that come out of the kitchen piping hot; those are fine. I’m talking about the ones that sit in glass jars on cafĂ© tables, ones that are sitting out in the heat of the day breeding unhealthy bacteria. Even as I was spooning the delicious garlic-ginger sauce onto my chicken and rice dish, I knew it was wrong.

I didn’t know how wrong until a day later as I struggled with a 101.9 degree fever, body aches, a headache, and many trips to the bathroom. Thankfully we didn’t make a hospital visit while in Penang. We held off on that fun time until a little further into our trip.

Penang was great though. I really enjoyed the city, the people, the food (with exceptions of course), the architecture…everything really. Plus, I got to see the biggest rats EVER!

From Tana Rata, we caught a direct bus to Butterworth. From there, we jumped on a ferry that cut travel time to the island by an hour or more. We didn't travel on this bridge to the island, but we did on our way back to the mainland. The bridge is one of the longest in the world at 8 1/2 miles long.

The ferry took us to Georgetown, the capital city of Penang.

Picture of a ferry pulling into the harbor.

Our lovely hotel.

As with most places on our trip, we stayed in Chinatown. It tends to have more affordable hotels and lots of interesting sights to see.

Evil food.

I'm not sure why they need a 24 hour funeral service here...and I'm glad the food poisoning wasn't terrible enough for me to find out.

The area we stayed in is a UNESCO heritage site. The two-story buildings dominate the area, some in better shape than others.

Klasik Rut Bir...yummy in any language.

It was hard to tell which buildings were vacant. A lot of places that looked decrepit had potted plants out front or laundry drying in the sun.

I think this is an awesome picture. Good job, babe!

If you look closely at this picture you can see the top of the gutters. They ran along the streets and were two to three feet deep. Singapore was similar in this regard. I think it might be due to heavy rains in the monsoon season - to avoid flooding streets. They also turn out to be great places for rats to hang out. I only saw a few, but they were memorable for sure.

Do you think they're hoping for a good samaritan to stop and fix this on their way
to work one day???

Not too far from Chinatown, a different aspect of Georgetown is revealed.

The streets were clean, buildings well-kept, and the prices for food in restaurants skyrocketed.

Kek Lok Si Temple

The Malaysian signs that are printed in romanized letter are quite phonetic. I found this to be very helpful more than a time or two.

Kek Lok Si Temple is a Chinese Buddhist temple.

There was something funny going on in the pond at the temple. The fish swam in circular patterns.

Seven Story Pagoda

The temple was much more colorful and vibrant than a Korean temple...but it was a bit garish.

We get our couple pictures when we can.

There were also Christian churches in Penang that were quite beautiful.

This is some sort of government building...I think the governor may live here.

Here's my proof.

This is a tri-shaw. They tended to be operated by the oldest men in all of Penang.

While standing on a median trying to cross a road, we found ourselves in the middle of a motorcycle rally. The bikers all seemed pretty friendly as many of them waved to us as they rode past. I would estimate over a hundred bikers participated in...whatever is was.


We found a good coffee shop on one of our wanderings.

Another pretty church...

Chinese Buddhist Temple

I couldn't get over the size of the incense they burned in the courtyard.

Wild, eh?

This beautiful artwork is done with bits of glass and ceramic tile.

The artwork was set into the columns of a row of buildings that had had a full face lift. Workers were still putting on the finishing touches, but there were For Sale signs in the windows of the future shops.

Mosque near Armenian Street.

We came across a parade one evening. We'd gone a far distance from our hotel for dinner. On our way back, our taxi became stuck in the traffic that was being held up for the parade. We quickly jumped out of the cab so see what it was all about.

Groups of young men carried these 30-35 foot flags. One of the guys would try to balance the bamboo pole on his head and balance it as long as possible. This was a crowd favorite as everyone had to keep moving out of the way as the flags threatened to fall on the spectators watching. I didn't see any injuries though.

Along with the floats, there were Chinese dragons, a bands marching down the street.

On our last day there, we ventured to the northern part of the island to check out the beach area.

Fisherman using nets off the beach to catch fish.

While it was pretty, it's not somewhere I would swim. These waters are smack dab in the middle of one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

We wandered around a Spice Garden for a few hours. Jason was enamored with the size of the house plants he ran across.

Jason does have a green thumb, but he's not this good.

This video shows us on a lovely swing. The ropes were 20 feet long and attached to a tree high up in the canopy, which made for a very smooth ride.

Inside the Spice Garden.

This little guy freaked me out something good. I'm still not quite sure what he is...I'm going to guess that he's a monitor lizard. Any objections?