Friday, February 27, 2009

The Southern Gulf

(Photo downloading not working for this blog. :( )

Tuesday a.m. meant time to leave Phi Phi and head for the Southern Gulf of Thailand. In pursuit of the Sumai Archipelago stretch (a group of 80+ islands, most famous for Samui, Tao and Phagnan (where you supposedly are able to get more "bang for your baht") we were off! The morning started strong - an 8am start on our long tail to hop aboard the ferry to Krabi. I'm not sure how it happened, as we are what I would consider smart, semi-well traveled folks - but we were conned. We have heard you haven't been to Thailand 'til you've been "had" by one con man or another, but this one kept the day "entertaining", and by that I mean... well, let's just map out our travel day.

In pursuit of Phangnan Island we knew that it would involve a ferry ride (check! success!) a bus ride (to cross Krabi Island) and ANOTHER ferry to get to Phangnan. Lonely Planet said bus shouldn't be more than 2 hours, and ferry about 2 1/2. "Con Man" quoted a 2.5 hour bus ride, followed by a 2p hop aboard the ferry, "arrive like no other transport can provide, and before dark." (I know, sounds fishy now that I repeat it, but in our groggy and trusty state it souned like a great idea. Anyhow...) I guess what he really meant is that the bus ride COULD end up lasting 6 hours (it did) and involved stops for him to drop off various shipments over the entire island (yep), pick up friends (naturallY), and drop us at a random buddy's restaurant so we could help fund a little cash in is pocket with a required bus switch and hour "layover." (we did not purchase a thing). Needless to say, this "incident" reminded me I should never volunteer for the Amazing Race or any other reality show, as my "reaction" was not one I'd want any of you, let alone National Broadcast see. We arrived in Bottle Beach/Phagnan around 10p (including 2 long tail boat trips, 2 ferries, an additional "songthaew" (a vehicle common here which is really a bed of a pick up turned public transport) across the island and another long tail to Hat Kuat (our beach).

We checked in to our bungalow (highly recommended by a fellow traveler). To say we suffered a downgrade from Phi Phi would be generous... but hey for $10/night who would expect their bungalow to have a sink in their bathroom (or a flushing toilet, or hot water) - it had none of those things - or their room to have AC (or electricity between the hours of 8a and 6p?!) :)

Luckily when we awoke and headed to the beach we were reminded it was all worth while. On Phangnan Island two world's exist. First, the southeaster corner houses Hat Rin. Home of the "young backpackers party paradise and famous for Full Moon Parties". As we were reminded it was not a full moon... and we weren't 21 anymore, we headed to the norther coast. to Hat Khuat/Bottle Beach. Our beach was beautiful, had a low key atmosphere and a bay backed by lush green jungle and PERFECT swimming water.

Our days at Bottle Beach were filled with mid morning naps on the beach, lots of delicious food, beach side beers watching the sun go down, a couple of books, bottles sunscreen, hands of cards, and refreshing dips in the water! After a few days of this relaxing it was sadly time to leave our relaxing island to head to Koa Samui.

We arrived today to the third largest island (Coconut Island/Samui) around mid-day. This area has become one of the most popular in SE Asia (even more so since the tsunami has sadly scared some folks from the Adamen Sea.) We settled in Hat Bo Phut (Fisherman's Village) on the north coast of the islands we are enjoying this romantic seaside village - it's quiet with great eats, a view and lots of shopping (which we managed to partake in for most of the afternoon.)

We get one more day in Samui tomorrow then off to Bangkok where we've already got a room booked in the hotel attached to the rumored biggest shopping area of the town (thanks for the recco Tyde's!)

...Trying hard to forget the trip is almost over, hope this finds you all well!!

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Islands... Paradise!

On Friday we landed in Phuket )poo+get= ...if you can't tell already, the symbols on this keyboard are not like home Ø= that was a smiley face! This is the largest of the islands n the Andaman Coast-on the west side of the southern tip of Thailand. Upon arrival we opted for the more chill area of the island in the town of Hat Kata on the SW side. We managed to score a hillside bungalow equipped with a huge marble deck with a view AND a mini+fridge! The beaches of Kata-Phuket were bustling. Lots of water sports, warm water, and cute children playing a game that was a mix between volleyball and soccer )volleyball net and ball, but no hands! We enjoyed our evening watching children light \fire balloons\ or at least that's what we were calling them. Looked like little mini hot air balloons that float off into the night sky + very cool, and supposedly good luck! At dinner we made the decision that while Phuket was nice + we had heard of more beautiful islands, with less +seedy sightings+ (unfortunately there is a high volume of prostitution that is popular with Western\American men in Phuket) and as our time was limited we decided to hop on the first ferry to Ko Phi Phi! \photo from deck of Phuket+Kata bungalow\

Upon the ferry we opted for rooftop front chairs + great view \ dumb decision with little SPF and no hats + we d be paying for that later Ø= After about 2 hours on the boat and 2 Dramamine for Brett, we spotted Phi Phi aka Paradise! Words can not describe and pics will never do justice. This is a top 10 see in a lifetime. The jagged limestone peaks, tropical jungle, jade water, white beaches along curved bays are breathtaking... as are the reminders of the effects of the 9.5 magnitude earthquake turned tsunami just over 4 years ago. It shakes you to think of the 6 thousand lives lost. Just being on those beaches you canæt help envisioning where the nightmare took place. But the beautiful country and its people have and continue to rebuild. They are focused on moving forward and we've been told the towns and beaches look just almost as they did pre+tsunami.The island's ban form cars, motorbikes and tuk tuks is a nice break + our beach (Hat Yao\Long Beach) has no pay phones and is only accessible by long tail. Our ocean view bungalow is fit for honeymooners (our trip +splurge+ at the price of 70 bucks-night, but heck, when a dinner for 2 WITH bottled water AND beer comes to 3 bucks, you deserve a splurge!) During the day we find time to at last just sit, crack open our books, and enjoy the beach! In the afternoon we took a break to head into town for a rewarding hike atop Phi Phi View point. Back from the hike I decide it's been too long since I've shopped )the shopping here is crazy, so cheap, and everywhere) after 15 minutes and only 15 bucks I managed to find a 100% linen sundress, a new purse-bag, AND some coconut coasters to replace those Lucy mistaken for a chew toy a few months back. \photo of room entry way in PhiPhi\\photo from Long Beach-Hat Yao\were our bungalow is\\fun pic brett caught while i was reading on a beach chair\\time for some bartering\shopping!\post hike \view from phi phi point\Our last day in Phi Phi we wake early to board our private longtail we've hired to tour us around Phi Phi Ley + the island where The Beach was filmed. Early bird DOES catch the worm + we were the first 3 +farange\foreginers+ on the beach!
This is the most beautiful place I have ever been in my life. Truly.

Next stop + snorkeling! Thousands of fish, water so clear you don't even really need a mask + breathtaking!

After lots of swimming stops in amazing emerald waters we made our last stop at Monkey Beach. These silly little guys scale down the jagged slate cliffs as soon as they hear a boat, as they know a boat means free fruit. You just had it over and away they go. So cute!
Ahhh, all this computer work has me worn out, time for a break, maybe a 5 dollar Thai massage is in order this evening! Ø=

Off to Ko Phangan in the Lower Souther Gulf tomorrow!

p.s. We have two cameras, and for some reason Iæm only getting the smaller one to upload pics, so the really great landscape-scenic-y ones youæll have to wait for!

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Up North!

We arrived in Northern Thailand by plane on Monday. (saved SEVERAL hours by doing plane vs. bus - our hour flight only cost about $45 per person!) The city of Chiang Mai (second largest in Thailand) is a vast difference (a pleasant one) from the bustling mayhem of Bangkok. This city is nestled in the foothills of the Himalayans not far from Burma and peppered with neighboring mountain villages. At the airport we were greeted by a 70 year old man holding a sign with our names on it ready to take us to our hostel via "tuk tuk"/a 3 wheeled motorbike vehicle. It was too perfect. We landed at the Libra Guest House (awesome recco from Brooke & Tydemans) with plenty of time to meet the family who owned the place and head out to explore the "Old City" (or the area INSIDE the 1.5 km of the city that we were staying in inside the square shaped MOAT that surrounds the entire town.) The day was spent exploring amazing "wats"/temples, and the evening shopping, watching live entertainment, drinks at dinner at the town's massive Night Bazaar.
We spent our second day in Chiang Mai attending the "Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School" owned and run by a famous Thai chef (think Bobby Flay of Thailand - this guy has his own TV show and everything!). The class started with a trip to the market to learn about the ingredients unique to Thai cooking, followed by open air classes and cooking of six different courses. Learn, cook, eat... learn, cook, eat. Eating left time for socializing with the other students - met some great ladies from both Australia and another from the Netherlands. (Everyone's first guess here seems to think we much younger, and Australian - as it's just a 4 hour flight from there.) Enjoyed the evening over a few "Changs" (one of the local brews) in the hostel courtyard as we planned our island travel followed by a visit to city Rooftop Bar (a cool bohemian bar where you sit on the floor at low tables). Days 4 & 5 - our overnight Jungle Trek!

Our group for the trek was amazing (these people made this adventure even more spectacular than it would've been) - 3 English, 3 Americans, 3 Germans and 1 Greek, all between 20 and 30 and up for a great time. Hilarious, fun people that were warm and welcoming and just amusing to be around. Email addresses and Facebook info was exchanged - neat group!

The first day started with a trip to the market to grab food for the trek, followed by a visit the most amazing waterfall dunk (Brett was brave enough to go in for a dip, it was early and I was cold - I know, cold in Thailand where it's been 90 degrees and perfect - but I was), then a visit to the hot springs (of course I was all about that) before our 4 1/2 mile hike through the jungle visiting various hillside villages (cutest little children and most amazing lifestyle - they live in huts and live off the land - yet they have small solar panels near their roofs to allow for night light.) The end of the hike left us in our final village where we were able to bath in the river, eat some great pad thai and sit around the fire for singing, exchange of travel stories, and beers - Toto, the guide, warned of a "Changover". We managed a couple hours of sleep despite the spiders Brett found nesting above our heads and the roosters that started up around 2am.

We woke a bit sore, but our work was done, time to play! As we head to the river to brush teeth and wake up we saw elephants drinking in the river, and our bamboo rafts being constructed for a mid-day float. After breakfast we hopped on our elephant for a two hour tour through the river and jungle. These animals are amazing. Our group rode on a family of 5 Thai Indian Elephants elephants, ranging from 8-43 years old. Next was bamboo rafting. The boys were in charge of steering via bamboo sticks while the ladies were there to relax... or so we thought until the water picked up and we were not so much floating but instead heading through rapids. Our guide had a bit of trouble keeping us out of the rocks and we hit one head on causing Katie and I to be thrown from the raft, hit against a rock (Toto said I got a "free souvenir" aka multiple cuts and welts to the knee. :) ) We managed to stay afloat the bamboo rafts for a couple hours 'til lunch then hopped in white water rafts and navigated through some very technical and adrenaline inducing rapids.

At last we made it back to the guest house with the ambitious plan to shower up and head out to a Thai boxing match... until the plan was interrupted when I lost my lunch. :( I'll spare the details but it got ugly, and worse before it got better. This is the Thai sickness that I was warned about. Dr. Brett was great and ran out to find the closest thing he could to "sprite and saltines" and the guest house even upgraded us to a room with a t.v. so we could relax in comfort while I fought the bug just in time to head out the next a.m. for our flight to the southern island of Phuket!
Thanks to everyone for your notes - we are having an incredible adventure. We could not have picked a better couple weeks to visit Thailand - the weather is AMAZING, and yet it's not too crowded. The people here are gracious and charming... yes they are after your money and trying to squeeze an extra buck where they can but they are not threatening and your money truly feels like the only thing they are after, not safety, etc. Everything is different here - the language the letters/characters, the food (yum!), laws (there are none), lifestyle, bathrooms (THANK YOU Brooke for teaching me how these work before I left) etc. and that is what has made this so incredible!

One more week - and all to bask in the sun down on the islands!

Hope this note finds you all well!

Sunday, February 15, 2009

We Made It!

Our journey to Bangkok was a long, eventful, yet safe one! We woke at 3:30a to catch our 6am flight to San Francisco. Our layover allowed just enough time for me to realize I managed to loose my credit card before even leaving our STATE (no charges were made, card is cancelled) and to get his and hers blow up pillows for the 14 1/2 hour flight to Hong Kong. Flight started out great - we were wedged between a group of about 25 travelers from San Fran heading to Bangladesh on a humanitary mission to fix cleft lips in children - fun group, shared a few beers and some interesting convos between naps and bad airline movies... however about 13 hours into the flight the pilot hopped on the speaker and annouced that strong tail winds had caused a greater than expected use of fuel and we were not going to make it to Hong Kong with out stopping somewhere to gas up. Needless to say, we made a stop in Taipai, Taiwan - fuled up, changed flight crews, and were back on track leaving just enough time for a fabulous Valentine's celebration over Coca-Cola Lights in the Hong Kong airport.

We managed to make it to our hostel just of Koshan Road (popular backpacker haven in Bangkok) around 1:30am where we threw down our stuff and walked next door for our first Chang beer and green curry - yum! (Wasn't 'til the morning that we realized this restaurant was in the same hostel Brooke stayed in when she was here - fun to feel like you are walking in someone's footsteps! 3am crept up fast and it was time for bed after our 30 hour travel day(s)!

Sunday, Feb. 15 was devoted to a whirlwind jam packed "Bangkok in a Day". It was perfect - managed to see all the "must sees", including the massive "Wat"/temples, the Grand Palace, float along the Choa Phraya River, put a python around our necks (um not sure how the con man managed that one?!), shopping in China Town, a ride on the Sky Train and elbowed through the massive Chatuchak market (8k stalls with everything from live animals, food, clothing, plants, beer stalls, etc.) All before 8pm (our early bedtime on Day 2). :)

Today (Monday, Feb. 16) we hop on a plane to Chiang Mai for our elephant trek - more details to come!

Hope this finds you well - we are having an amazing time!!

p.s. We are TRYING to add pics, but the computer is insanely slow, so it's not been easy - stay tuned!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Getting Ready for Our Big Trip!

The last minute Thailand Trip Planning is in full force! Our dining room table has been taken over as headquarters for domestic flight booking, research on where to stay, making sure bills are paid before we leave and the house (thanks Steph) and Lucy (thanks Jan, Newmans, Kerstons & SIL!!) are taken care of while we are gone... and lots working overtime to ensure things are buttoned up at the office(s) before we leave.A spare room/office has turned into the Packing Plant (our first run of, “Here’s what we think we’ll need” is all laid out… to be followed by, let’s cut this in half so it all fits in the pack and we can actually lug these suckers around across the world.)Lucy has succeeded in her mission of, “let’s see how much noise I can make with my toys or how pathetic I can look sitting by myself at their feet so they’ll feel bad and walk me a couple times a day.”And we have officially moved to the, “It doesn’t make sense to go to the grocery when we’re only here a couple more days Stage” and are trying our best to get creative with the fresh stuff in the fridge so we don’t do a big dump when we leave. (Here’s a pic of the homemade pizza from Saturday night).Our itinerary is loosely set (no reservations YET, but we did make a Costco run today to grab an International Phone card to attempt to book our Bangkok accommodations since we get in around midnight.) My customary trip journal is just getting warmed up (pic of first page with initial run at our trip itinerary we made over a brew at Hattie’s Hat).

This will likely be our last blog entry before we leave – I’ll do my best to update along our journey!

Laa Kawn! (That’s “goodbye” in Thai, or at least that’s what Lonely Planet tells us) :)

Sunday, February 1, 2009

A peek into the typical Schlameus Family busy week!

Monday: While Ali enjoyed getting to know her new account (SONY) at a “business dinner” at The Garage (a trendy billiards/bowling alley), Brett met up with his buddy Chris for a farewell brew, before Chris’ big move to San Diego.

Tuesday: Stayed much too late in the office, but came home to a VERY tasty late night snack – Brett had some Asian style marinade going on some grilled halibut (still have filets from the “big one” that Jeff & Papa caught up in Alaska!)

Wednesday: Brooke & Jake Turn 28! Brett’s younger sister & her boyfriend were born in the same hospital just one week apart. As tradition, family celebration was hosted by Jan up in Edmonds (see pics!) Oh, and thanks to some advice from the birthday boy - Jake (friend, Brooke’s bf and real estate agent) – we took advantage of the amazing interest rates and did the final signing for Big Blue’s refi! Big day!

Thursday: Enjoyed a free screening of “Slumdog Millionaire” – is it weird I was more excited about the free drink, popcorn and candy more than the free tix?! Really enjoyed the show: - loved the bonus surprise during the credits!

Friday: Birthday week continues… While we celebrated earlier in the week as a family on Brooke’s “Golden Birthday” (28 on the 28th), Friday was the “Friends Celebration Night” starting with Mexican (weird, who knew that Brooke would want to eat Mexican for her bday dinner) with the Kertons and SIL, followed by the big party at a fun local German bar called Bierstube in the Roosevelt neighborhood of Seattle. Between meeting new friends (Jake’s buddies we had not yet met) and seeing some old ones that were in for the weekend (yay Benzels!) made for a fun night!

Saturday: With Todd in town from Wenatchee, Brett found the perfect excuse to get out and enjoy a day on the golf course at Willow Run with the guys. Brett made it home just in time to clean up and head to the Newman’s (new friends from work that coincidentally moved two houses down from my dad’s old house in Magnolia) before the Amazon Post-Holiday Party at the Museum of Flight.

Sunday: While I stuck around the house and powered through some work, Brett made it to Jud & Em’s for their annual Super Bowl party… this year’s theme was “Bring something that starts with a “B”” –I sent Brett off with Jan’s famous Baked Brie dish – always a fan favorite!

Whew! Is it already Monday again?? Motivation = We leave for Thailand NEXT WEEK!!