Friday, December 23, 2016

November 23

Long travel day ahead! 

We woke up early and were headed to the airport on our transfer around 6:45 AM. Upon arrival at the airport we checked in with Korean Air (which would be our first leg back to Seoul) and as they printed our tickets there was some confusion. Brandon and I had three tickets for the three legs of the trip, but Duane and Shauna had only been given two tickets, one to Seoul and one "direct" flight from Seoul to Las Vegas. We tried explaining this to the ticket agent, but decided we'd worry about it in Seoul or Seattle, depending on where we had time. The problem was that the flight number for their last two flights was the same - even though the actual planes were different. 

Through security (#9) and departure immigration, we walked down to our gate. Seeing generally where it was from a little ways away, we turned back and got some breakfast - smoothies and donuts for us. We exchanged the rest of our remaining baht back into USD. When we finally went back to our gate, as with every other flight that we'd taken over the trip in Asia, they checked our tickets and passports at every stage of getting on the flight. They checked them at the security, at immigration, at the top of the little ramp that led down to our gate area, at the bottom of the little ramp down to our gate area, as we went through the "boarding door," and after we got on the flight. I'm not sure why they felt they needed to constantly check it at every stage, but they did. 

Our flight from Bangkok to Seoul went well, about five hours long. As before, we watched movies, at a meal, and relaxed. Brandon and I had gotten tired of eating the Korean bibimbap, but it unavoidably was the only thing left when they got to us, so that's what we got. I've had bibimbap before, but airplane bibimbap is not the best, or I'm unskilled enough in combining things in the right proportions to make it work well. 

Arriving in Seoul we underwent the same transfer game. We arrived and were immediately met outside the plane by some Delta agents who would lead us to the gate. This was fortunate, as we had a somewhat close connection for all that would need to happen between getting off this flight and boarding the next. Once they were sure they had everyone, we set out. We walked and walked (down the infinite hallways) and finally were led to an "International Transit" security area (#10). The reason they have these securities everywhere is because, in theory, international arrivals have access to their luggage before they recheck them and enter back into the main airport or pass through immigration. Because we never checked luggage, the redundancy of all the securities got old. Regardless, we passed through security and then raced from the gate area we came out in to the gate area where we needed to be (involving another underground transit). The Delta agent guiding us made this much easier than it otherwise would have been. Still, we arrived after almost everyone else was on. But we were on! 

The flight between Seoul and Seattle was long(ish), but didn't feel too long. More movies. More bibimbop. I think I may have slept for about an hour at some point.

And then we were in Seattle! We excitedly thought that Jaime and Angie would be waiting for us outside our gate, but reality met with that quickly when it became apparent that (obviously) we would have to go through immigration and customs first. Ironically, the immigration and customs for US citizens re-entering the US through the Seattle airport was the longest immigration line that we stood in anywhere during the entire trip. Such a long line. They had an computers that everyone would enter their information into (rather than filling out a form). I'm sure the intent is probably good, but the outcome was slow. Far slower than foreign passport holders who'd filled out a form. But, after a long wait, another security (#11), we were through and exchanging hugs with Angie and Jaime! As a group we proceeded back up to the gates and sat down at Duane, Shauna, and Angie's gate to Las Vegas (not leaving for a few hours). It was lovely to catch up and look through some pictures with Jaime as well as grab some lunch (clam chowder!). Jaime finally headed out and Duane, Shauna, and Angie gathered their things to get on the airplane. As we headed over to where those with a few extra needs could get on early, a good friend spoke my name! Unbeknownst to us, Antony and Denisse (and their kids) had been waiting at the same gate and were getting on the same flight to Vegas! It was a quick and fun surprise to see them. 

We waved our goodbyes and set out to find our own gate. Our gate area was much less spacious, but we were boarding before too long. The flight back to Salt Lake was one of the longest flights of our entire trip for me. I just wanted to be home and there was a lot of turbulence. But we made it and hurried down to the pick up area to meet the friend who had agreed so generously to pick us up (Ryan and Kirsten!) and take us home.

As a stark contrast, we'd left the high eighties/nineties of the weather in Thailand for the low thirties and snow in Salt Lake. Home. :)

Peaches was wonderfully excited to see us, content only when she was able to lie on our chests and rub her face repeatedly into ours. We didn't mind. :) 

And with a long holiday weekend in front of us, we knew we'd have plenty of time to relax and work on recovering. 

Thailand was wonderful. There was so much to see and do that we didn't have time for. You could live there for months or years and not see it all. But, it feels so good to be home, to sleep in our own beds (though, seriously, yet lag is a REAL thing), to cuddle our cat, and to be slightly less sticky every day.

November 22

Our last full day in Thailand! And a travel day.

We took the morning very leisurely at our hotel in Railay. A leisurely breakfast, leisurely packing. Shauna and I did run over to the walking street area to mail some postcards and buy a climbing shirt. On our way back, we tried to come a different way and ended up wandering through an area where some permanent residents lived. It was much more humble and a little wild - helped to remind me that we were enjoying a level of lavishness that most of the Thai people were not. Shauna and Duane needed to be out of their room by 11:00 AM (so it could be prepared for a guest arriving that day), but we had until 12:00 PM, so around 11:00 AM they came over and hung out with us for that hour in the air conditioning. Around 12:00 PM we walked to the front lobby and hung out for about thirty minutes until our boat transfer.

One kind of funny thing that the hotels near ours chose to do was to offer a "private" dock experience (a very unnecessary thing for us, particularly as we had backpacks). Pretty much from the steps of our hotel, we boarded a little raised dock pulled by a tractor. Once we were all on, the tractor wheeled us out into the water (the West Beach was a very shallow beach) and the boats drove up to us. Another couple and their child got into the first boat, and we got into the second boat.

All things relative, our boat transfer back Ao Nammao Pier was sooooooo slow. Seriously slow. We were going slow from the get go, and never sped up. In fact, when we got "close" to the pier (still two to three hundred feet away), the boat slowed down even more! And then, closer in, but still a ways to go, it pretty much turned off the engine and we coasted into the pier. It was a test of our patience at a very weird moment.

Once we got off the boat, we were met at the end of the pier by a golf cart. We were then driven down the pier and a little farther to where our van was waiting for us. The drive back to the airport was quick and comfortable. At the airport, things were a little more confusing. As our tickets had been printed several days earlier in Bangkok, they didn't have any information on them about terminal or gate. We just knew that we didn't need to check in. So, Brandon acting as our guinea pig, we tried to go through security. But after looking at his ticket for a minute they pointed us down towards a ramp to another terminal. Wandering that way we came to the next terminal and went through security there (#8). But, while there were gate numbers, there were never any signs or indicators anywhere to tell us that we were at the right place. Not until it was truly time to board did some AirAisa staff materialize, as well as a few indicators (a sign hand placed on one of the desk) that we were in the right place.

We boarded and our fight was quick and easy. Back at DMK we walked out into the main transportation area and someone immediately asked us if we needed a taxi. We did, so we showed them where we needed to go and they exclaimed over how far it was (they said it would take an hour, though it only took 45 minutes). They said it would cost something around 2400 baht (my brain is really foggy on how much they asked for, but it was a lot more than we though it should cost). We thanked them and walked on. As we stopped by an exchange to make sure we had enough baht in case we wanted to buy and keepsakes that evening, there was a "limo" service close by and Brandon went and asked just to see how much that would be. Turned out that by "limo" they meant another Lexus. No admittedly, the Lexus was definitely more comfortable than the taxis we'd driven in, but it was no limo.

Anyway, we ended up at the regular taxi area and when we were finally called, we showed them where we wanted to go. They still let us know that it was pretty far, but there was no other push back aside from that.  And we were off! The drive felt fairly quick. We passed a few tolls (that we paid) and just generally enjoyed Bangkok from the car windows. Our hotel for the night (Paragon Inn) was located near the BKK airport (the one we'd originally flown into and where we'd fly from). It was located at the end of a long slender road. We paid our taxi (I think it was between 500 and 700 baht), checked in, arranged our transfer to the airport for the next morning, and headed to our rooms to relax for a bit. We'd considered taking a taxi to one of the night markets, but decided to just walk over to a local mall for dinner and to see if we could find anything interesting. We did find dinner, but no keepsakes. Our best shopping opportunity had really been back in Chiang Mai, but we hadn't wanted to carry anything large around for the rest for the trip, so we really hadn't bought much. But, we had our photos and memories, and so we made do.

The rooms didn't have great wifi, but other than that it was clean and comfortable.

November 21

This morning after breakfast we headed over to the walking street near the West Beach and walked up to the climbing place we'd gotten signed up at the day before. Brandon and I were the only ones signed up to climb, but we'd asked the night before if Duane and Shauna could come and watch if they wanted, and they said that would be fine.

So, we got our gear (shoes, harness, chalk bag) and then went on a long walk back to the East Beach and then around a long side path (felt a little like we were in a cave with a large overhang) that led over to Phra Nang Beach. We walked along the beach and then a little farther back up into the jungle to the base of a good cliff where we could climb. This was my first outdoors climbing experience. Somehow, in all the time that I've been climbing now, it has only ever been indoors. Not a bad place to start! We were climbing with our guide (Su) and an Australian couple (Bruce and Kari, if I remember correctly) who'd climbed the day before and would climb that afternoon as well. Su got Bruce started going up one route (leading the route, so setting his rope/quick draws into the anchors in the rock as he went up) and then Bruce and Kari climbed on that one for awhile. While they were on that route, Su lead climbed our route, setting it up so we could top rope from it. I belayed for him while he lead the route and I'll admit I was a little intimidated! I'd never done it before, and while I knew the theory, it still felt like a risky space to me. But it went completely fine, the rope was set, and Brandon and I climbed the route! After we'd all climbed our own route we switched routes and did the same for those. Duane and Shauna hung out with us for awhile and finally left around this time to explore other things and relax out of the sun.

The third (and final) route we tried started by going up and around an awkward overhang. Brandon went first (always the most difficult place to start as you've not had an opportunity to watch anyone else really do it). He tried a few times but the overhang portion proved extremely awkward and he was pumped out after a few tries. I went next and angrily pushed my way past the overhang and up to the top. Aside from the overhang, there were definitely other parts where if Su hadn't been yelling at me to just stand up, I wouldn't have made it up. But I did! Bruce and Kari tried next. After many attempts, Bruce did make it over the overhang, but was too pumped out to go any farther. Kari eventually made it up from another route around the overhang, but also gave up part way after that. I think Brandon tried again once or twice more, but everyone was feeling out of steam at this point. Needing to clear the route, I went up one more time. I was going to deviate and go the way that Kari had gone around the overhang, but Su convinced me (pressured me!) to go the hard way. And I did, and I cleared the route (unhooked all of our quick draws from the anchors as I came down)!

We packed up everything and headed back down to the beach to walk around, but as we got down there, Su told us we could all jump in a boat and just head over - about a five minute boat ride, as opposed to a 30 minute walk. Now, with more forewarning, I might have been fine with this, but the boat was leaving and we needed to get on now! The problem was that I was wearing rolled up capris, so there was no way to get on without getting the legs of my pants wet, which I reallllly didn't want to do. But not seeing an immediate way around it at such short notice, I waded into the water and got on the boat. It was much faster, but I was not happy. I now had to walk around with the lower parts of my pants slogging around my calves and ankles, feeling decidedly unpleasant. And as I result, I was not in a particularly pleasant mood or amenable to discussions of what to do next. I needed to change and I needed food. In that order. Or grumpy Geneva wasn't going away.

We walked back to the hotel, changed our clothes, and I immediately felt better. Duane was off exploring, but we told Shauna we'd be heading back to the walking street to grab some food. She met us over there a little later and then Duane showed up a little after that. We had lunch at a little open restaurant and they had some ice cream and coconut across the street at the same restaurant.

After lunch Brandon and I rented a kayak and spent the next hour wandering around some of the little islands around Railay. There are so many of them! Following that, Brandon wanted to swim a little, so I went with him back to Phra Nang Beach. Exiting into the beach area there were a number of monkies hanging out near a trash receptacle and stealing any food they could from staring strangers. We watched them for awhile and then wandered to the two caves that were a little further down the beach. Both caves were full of phallic carvings of different sizes and materials. It was...very weird.

We swam for a little while in the bay there and as we swam we watched an ripped old(ish) man with a long white beard free climb (no harness or rope) a tall ledge close to the beach where other climbers were lead climbing. It was simultaneously very impressive, and very very stupid. Free climbing looks and sounds really cool, but it is a sport that has a very high mortality rate. I climbed out of the water, anxious to get clean and not feel so salty and grimy, and as I waited for Brandon we watched this same man proceed to lead a yoga group on the beach. We didn't quite know what to make of him. Brandon swam for a while longer and then we walked back to the hotel and got clean. Together, the four of us walked back to the same restaurant of the night before and had another delicious dinner.

We talked to the hotel staff when we got back and arranged a transfer with them for the next day, leaving at 12:30 PM. The price? 1200 baht total for the four of us - waaaay cheaper than our previous transfer had been.

November 20

First, an adventure in the night. At some point in the middle of the night I got up to use the bathroom in the dark, barefoot. When I walked into the bathroom, I stepped on something. I quickly picked my foot up and peered at the floor, not being able to make out what it was without contacts/glasses and in the dark. I used the bathroom, covered the thing with a piece of toilet paper as a reminder to deal with it in the morning, and went back out to bed. As I got into bed, Brandon got out of bed, on the same errand. I then warned him that I had stepped on something, but that I was pretty sure I'd killed it and had covered it with a piece of toilet paper so he wouldn't step on it. Pausing, he asked me to turn the lights on, just in case. I did, he went in, and when he came out he said that it was some sort of centipede and it definitely looked dead. I squealed a little (not something I normally do!) as no one likes to step on squishy little creatures in the dark. In the morning I got up and took a good look at it and determined that I would neither walk around barefoot at night any more or go into the bathroom without turning on the light first.

Happily away from that experience, I've just read this little piece of information collected on the internet and I realize how close of a miss it might have been for me.

If you spend some time in Thailand, however brief your visit, you should be aware of the Centipedes, known in the Thai language as 'Tdakab'. There are several varieties found throughout the country and most are capable of giving you a very nasty sting. If you see one, don't attempt to touch it, play with it or pick it up, as it will certainly sting you and if it does, you'll be in great pain for several days and while not fatal, it will be an experience you'll never forget. 
They vary in size, from just an inch or so, up to five inches, so they're very easy to spot, unless they find their way into your shoes or clothing and giving you a shock when you put them on. The Thais take them very seriously, almost as much as snakes. The ones most feared are quite large and appear to be quite flat. They are also notoriously hard to kill. You should take care lifting stones, logs, or when gardening. They are also often found within homes. 
It's best to avoid any kind of centipede in Thailand.
(I've now read quite enough about centipedes to be thoroughly repulsed and creeped out by them.)


Our first morning in Railay! We got up and had breakfast at the hotel, the nicest selection we probably had had since our first hotel in Bangkok. We met the man we'd arranged the excursion with at the hotel front lobby around 9:00 AM and headed to the West Beach to meet our boat.

We had a tour with a large motor boat with about twenty people on it, not including the three or four staff. The boat ride to the Phi Phi Islands (a.k.a. Ko Phi Phi) took about 45 minutes, passing a number of small islands on our way there. There are two main islands, Phi Phi Don (the big island) and Phi Phi Ley (the small island).

Now, honestly, it is a little difficult to remember the names of the places where we were, but I can get most of them. First we stopped at a bay-like are for some snorkeling. I thiiiink it was Loh Samah Bay on Phi Phi Ley (nope), but don't hold me to that. For the record, I do not love snorkeling. By ability to immediately calm my breathing down to function properly with the snorkeling gear leaves something significant to be desired. I should probably never scuba dive. Anyway, we all snorkeled a bit and then I decided to ditch the mask and just swim for a bit. Brandon and I swam over to the little beach and then back to the boat.

From there we took the boat to the Viking Caves area (still on Phi Phi Ley). I should mention that Brandon hadn't been feeling great when we set out that morning and the rocking of the boat was making both him and Duane a little dizzy. They both "fed the fish" at some point, and for Brandon it was around now. :/

On from the Viking Caves are we headed Pileh Lagoon to wait a little longer for Maya Bay to clear out. Maya Bay is the location where the movie "The Beach" was filmed. I have never actually seen that movie, but the film is popular enough to have made the beach a huge draw to tourists. As such, we were happy to hang out for awhile either on the boat or in the water at Pileh Lagoon.

After awhile we finally set off for Maya Bay. Even after waiting for it to clear out a bit it was still very busy. We got off and walked around on the beach and then headed into the jungle to walk to the other side. We'd heard there was a waterfall but instead we found a little deck like area that led to a rope net that Brandon and I climbed down to the water with. We didn't get in as the pull and push of the waves was pretty strong there. We wandered the island space a bit more, stopping at the restrooms, and then headed back to the boat area to wander the beach more before heading out.

Lunch time! Finally waving goodbye to Phi Phi Ley we headed up to Phi Phi Don. There the boat driver shimmied our boat into a previously non-existent space and we hopped off to head to lunch at a pavilion set up for exactly these types of tours. After lunch we found some ice cream at a local shop (not 7-Eleven for once) and then hopped back on to the boat.

Our last stop of the tour was Monkey Beach (Phi Phi Don). We were here for quite awhile observing the monkeys. Having been warned carefully by the international health staff before we came, I knew we needed to avoid getting bitten or anything like that, as that would necessitate a rabies shot which would probably mean going back to Bangkok or some such. So I definitely poo-pooed the idea of feeding them. I can be a little bit of a spoil sport sometimes. :)

But, as we watched them, I felt completely vindicated as those little monkeys were brutal little beasts! As I came over to where they were, I first observed three or four of them all over a guy who was holding things in his hands. Notably, at least one of the bags was full of food. As the ones in front distracted him, one ran around behind and ripped the bag out of his back hand and then proceeded to spread the contents around (mostly food). Understandably, the guy was not happy, although I didn't feel very bad for him. Probably the worst part, in my opinion, was that all he was wearing was a speedo, so the little critters and left little scratches all over him.

Worse, a little while later the monkeys mysteriously attacked two women - neither of whom had any food on them. One monkey ran at the first woman and then three more quickly followed, thinking there must be food. She ran, screaming, to the waters edge and they left off. The second was slightly less lucky as one bit her as she was running away. The staff from our boat looked at it and cleaned it, but that was all they could do.

The boat ride back to Railay was uneventful. And we were back! We showered and relaxed until dinner time and then headed over to the little walking street to drop off Duane and Shauna's laundry and pick up our own. We also signed up for a rock climbing excursion for Brandon and myself for the next morning. Then we wandered the hotels at the West Beach to find a different one to eat dinner at. And after dinner we headed back to our villas and called it a night!