February 15, 2018

Matiu/Somes Island, NZ

One of the things I’ve learned while traveling for an extended period of time with a loose plan is that when you find yourself in a place you like you should really consider staying a little longer than anticipated. I like Wellington and it just seems to suit me right now so I inquired if it would be possible to stay a little longer. I also asked how much I had paid for the first three nights. Well, I had the exchange rate mixed up and actually I’ve been paying around $33 USD for a top floor single room with a view. Breakfast included. They said I could stay until the 18th. After that the building is vacated and prepared for students to move back in on the 25th. Campus stays in the summer are a real bargain but sometimes you kind of have to seek them out. I just lucked into this one via the internet.

Naturally I had to tweek the plans I made a couple of days ago but it was no problem. So, I’ve extended my time in Wellington by 3 days. My revised travel plans are better than the original. I need not fret over any decisions for the next few days as I have it all worked out. I don’t generally like to plan too much but sometimes a little structure is good as it keeps me moving forward more efficiently. Sometimes I can become indecisive with too many options coupled with no specific goals or direction. Being totally open can make one available for some great last minute options but if your not still moving forward with some sort of a loose plan a lot of time can be wasted going nowhere.

Everyday I’ve been doing some interesting. Today I went to Matiu/Somes Island. It’s a nature preserve and only a 20 to 25 minute small ferry ride away. There’s a network of hiking trails and great views all around. It once served as a quarantine station for immigrants, an internment camp for 80 or so Italian/German POW’s during WW2, and then a quarantine station for livestock which ended in the mid 1990’s. Atop the highest point are the concrete remains of several foundations that once supported large guns to protect the bay from enemy boats during WW2. Now it’s a very peaceful place to visit and makes for a nice day trip.

One of the things I’ve been kind of missing out on in Wellington is meeting people. I guess I’ve been more content to kind of keep to myself. I haven’t been running into any real characters but I will say I have noticed a couple of odd looking folks during breakfast. The breakfast crowd is a mix of mostly college aged kids of different nationalities that appear to be participating in some sort of group trip, workshop, seminar, travel, I don’t know. I did meet a really nice young woman from Canada in the floor common area who is a physiotherapist that has relocated to Wellington for a new job. She was booked in while finding a place to live. Anyway, we got to talking and one of her specialties is working with cardiologist and heart patients which related to some of the issues my father had before passing. We talked for awhile and I told her about what my father had gone through etc. She was very good at conveying her knowledge and it made me feel more like the right decisions were made in the final days before my father passed. It’s funny how at times a chance meeting can lead to a conversation that’s very pertinent and can make you feel better.

As for now I’ve got a couple of more full days in Wellington then I’ll hop a ferry for the South Island. The photo above is a picture from Matiu/Somes Island with Wellington in the distance.

February 13, 2018

A Nice Day In Wellington

Today was a nice day. One of the better days I’ve had in awhile. I awoke, formed a plan for the rest of my time in New Zealand, bought a couple of tickets, booked a hotel for later, and went for a nice hike/walk. The weather was more or less perfect.

I left the Northland of New Zealand a couple of days ago. At first I had a couple of beautiful days up there then the weather turned consistently fowl. When I left it was during the fourth day of rain. Sometimes the rain was light and other times quite heavy. I had a good visit with Deb that turned out to be seven days in total which is kind of what I had in mind. The place she’s caretaking is really nice but a little bit isolated. Just enough to make it kind of difficult to get away without some sort of transportation. She walked the mile with me to the road where I had to hitch a short ride in the rain to Kaoe. For there I caught a bus to Auckland where I walked around for awhile before catching an overnight bus to Wellington a the southern tip of the North Island.

Wellington is my favorite city in New Zealand. It has all I like in a city. It’s built on hills and mountains that flow down to a harbor. There is plenty of culture and arts. Coffee shops are everywhere. People tend to be very active. I’ve been amazed by how many people I see running on trails during the middle of the day on a weekday. The university draws a lot of young people which keeps things fresh and new as well as the artists. And like most all of New Zealand people are nice.

In places such as New Zealand, Australia, and Europe some Universities turn a dorm or two into a hotel in the summer for budget travelers. It can be a very good value. In Wellington I was able to book three nights at Te Puni Village which is a dorm complex for Victoria University. It’s built on a hillside overlooking the city and harbor. For around $43 USD I get my own room with breakfast. I am on the top floor with an amazing view. Considering the cost of New Zealand is on par with more expensive regions of Western Europe, it’s a very good deal. Ah, and it’s quiet as well. The students move back in around February 24. You have to remember that the seasons are opposite south of the equator.

Anyway, today was a really nice day. Not just because of the lovely weather but because I felt more like myself. I did a walk that started from my accommodation on the University grounds. I found the Northern Walkway at the botanic gardens where it begins. From there it’s a 10 mile route into the hills that eventually climbs up for a spectacular view atop of Mt Kaukau. Beyond the summit the path continues down to conveniently end at a train station for a very pleasant ride back to the city.

I finished my day with a nice Miso Ramen at a Japanese place before heading up the hill at the end of Vivian street to Te Puni village. Wellington has a very good variety of places to eat. Tomorrow I’ll have another full day in the city and there’s supposed to be more nice weather.

February 8, 2018


Yesterday was a lovely day but today it’s cloudy and raining steadily. I went for a run this morning along a couple of rural roads while the rain was really light. Last night was the best I’ve slept since leaving home. I’m laying low and giving myself a little time to just rest.

Deb is out in the rain working on tangerine trees. As a caretaker I don’t your going to find anyone who is more responsible and conscientious not to mention honest. The rabbit killing cat got another one today which gave Deb quite a scare as she at first thought it was a rat. I suppose most people have a phobia of one thing or another and Deb’s is rats. Rats don’t bother me at all. I’m not sure rats are an issue here but she seems to think they might be around.

In my last post I talked about the Indian yelling into his cell phone. He was just one of many characters I have met traveling. Sabbis was a tiny slice of India in the north of New Zealand but chill by Indian standards. Before Sabbis in Kaeo I was staying at a Hostel/Lodge outside of Kerikeri that was run by an older Swedish guy in his early 70’s. The lodge is a simple Scandinavian design originally built by a Dutch man who skimped on things to keep construction costs down which meant for thin walls. It’s called Relax a lodge and could potentially live up to it’s name if the owner didn’t like to stay up late drinking with guests. The place is surrounded by an orchard with a nice verandah and swimming pool. The downside is that it’s a little close to a busy highway but the noise is tolerable.

I stayed three nights. The first night wasn’t bad. The second night a middle aged Aussie showed up around 9 pm with wine. He and the owner drank and talked loudly until 1 am. Of course the Aussie snored like a freight train when he finally turned in. Remarkably I still got ok sleep with my ear plugs. I commented to the owner the next day that things were a little loud the previous night. He didn’t deny it at all and kind of apologized. He said he wouldn’t be doing that the coming evening but he did to a lesser degree and things got quiet around midnight. That night my neighbor in the room next to me was a young tattooed Chinese guy who checked in late. I don’t know if he was alone or not but the noises coming from the room were kind of odd. It sounded like he was sharpening or working on something. However, it also sounded like there might be someone with him and monkey business was going on. I slept poorly that night and actually banged on the wall a couple of times for him to quiet down which is something I never do.

In the morning I woke kind of tired and stressed so I went for a nice one hour run in the rain, showered, fixed breakfast, and got my stuff together. Around that time a few others started getting up. I almost left in time to miss an older Scandinavian guy with a big gut wearing nothing but a small towel and flip flops. He was searching the kitchen for stuff to make coffee and obviously felt perfectly at home.

I just needed to get about 12 miles down the road to Kaeo and asked the lodge owner if he knew of anyone headed that direction. He wasn’t very helpful so I just walked out to the road and hitched a ride. A divorced single woman about my age picked me up in a nice vehicle. She was simply getting away from Auckland for a few days and actually went out of her way to drop me right in Kaoe. It’s not uncommon for local driver to go a little out of their way to help a foreign traveler in New Zealand which is very nice.

So, who else have I met? I met a guy from Canada hiking on Great Barrier who had been living on sailboat with his ex-wife and her boy friend because he and his ex have a seven year old daughter. The kicker is that the ex wife also has a baby with her current boyfriend. Ex wife, new baby with boyfriend, and 7 year old daughter with ex husband all on a sailboat. Needless to say he was kicked off the boat. As he put it, “The experiment failed”.

While at the campground on Great Barrier Island a seagull flew down the vent pipe to a pit toilet and was stuck in the hold. An American woman staying in the campground became obsessed with rescuing the seagull. News spread around the island in no time. An older barefoot woman living on the island showed up with a net. The obsessed American was leaning over the toilet trying to fish out the seagull with some fish. A blue collar New Zealander from Auckland commented to me, “Bloody hell. It’s a seagull! There are plenty at the dump. Flying rats. Bloody Hell! It’s not an endangered species.” I kept my distance. I wasn’t getting involved. In the end the seagull was not rescuable and died in the toilet. Later I was to find out that the obsessed American woman was going through quite an ordeal at home. Her husband is transitioning to a woman. I mean seriously, I could right about someone everyday and maybe I should. You can’t make this stuff up. I can talk to anyone when I want to and people love to tell their story. I like to listen.

People travel for all kinds of reasons. The younger backpackers tend to simply be out for an adventure. Plain as that. The older backpacker type travelers are more of a mixed bag and travel for many reasons. Some are getting over a divorce or serious relationship, are between jobs, having a midlife crises or are running away to or from something. The older stable couples and those with money tend to be traveling more for the sake of travel and at a higher standard than I normally do. Occasionally I’ll fork out a little money and travel like a normal person my age but unfortunately I don’t meet many interesting people that way.

February 7, 2018

The Northland

It was 12:30 at night and I could hear a guy yelling in Hindi. It was very loud. I got out of bed, turned a corner, and sitting in the common area kitchen was an overweight East Indian yelling into the tiny microphone on his ear buds attached to his phone. Obviously he was talking to someone in India. India is a long way from New Zealand so yelling into the microphone is important otherwise the person, in India, might not be able to hear you. Makes perfect sense.

The Indian was surprised when I appeared and I asked if everything was ok. I told him he was kind of loud. He apologized profusely and I returned to my bed in the empty hostel dorm above Sabbis Indian Grill. I was spending the night in Kaoe located in the Northland of New Zealand on a two lane highway. It’s the only road in town and does not have a stop light. Kind of an odd place to be. A truck roared by. I put in my ear plugs and did my best to get a little sleep.

My friend Debbie from England was the reason I traveled up north. She’s been setting herself up with house sitting, pet sitting, and farm sitting situations. She grew up on a farm, is fiercely independent, wants nothing to do with English winters and loves New Zealand. So, she volunteers in exchange for a nice place to stay, food/meals, and misc. perks.

Currently Deb is watching over a good size parcel of land with orchards, olive trees, ducks, chickens, a green house with flowers, and a cat with no tail that likes to kill and eat rabbits. It’s all beautifully situated on a hillside with views of Whangaroa harbor in the distance.

After two nights in Kaeo Debbie got the ok from the owners for me to come up and stay on the property. I hitched a ride with a rough looking character I met at the grocery store otherwise I would have had to walk about 5 miles along a busy road with pack and groceries. I don’t like to hitch and rarely if ever do but New Zealand is still considered about as safe as it gets for hitching a ride.

After spending a week on the Great Barrier Island I ferried back to Auckland for a night then caught a bus to Kerikeri for three nights. From there I hitched a ride to Kaeo for two nights then to Deb’s. To be honest this trip has been up and down for me. Overall things are rolling along fine but I can’t say I am enjoying myself as much as I’d like. The obvious reason is that my father just passed over Christmas and grieving takes time. No matter what I’m doing, whether it be work or play, I am bound to feel out of sorts awhile.

I was never sure about taking this trip in the first place. I have moments when I’m definitely not enjoying myself which makes me feel like I should just cut my losses, save some money, and go home. However, there’s another part to what’s going on. If I go back home I know exactly what I’ll do. I’ll do what I do every time I get home from a trip and that is dive back into work, headfirst. After all, I do enjoying working and money is a necessary evil. However, I’m currently tired, burned out, exhausted and frustrated with my failure to invest more time into creative projects. I keep repeating a familiar pattern over and over. It’s not a bad pattern it’s just not as full filling as it was say a few years ago. I’ve addressed this issue in the blog before. For over a year I’ve a had a torn strip of paper where I’ve written a phrase that says, “Make space for the magic to happen”. I have it sitting on my computer at home. I see it everyday. I can’t remember exactly when I placed the paper there but whenever I see it I think, Tomorrow. What the heck is up with that? Tomorrow?

Well, anyway, seeing Deb has been great. We’ve known each other for 10 years and I figured we have either traveled or crossed paths in 11 countries. It’s always nice to catch up with a good friend you get along with. After a few years you share a little history and the friendship strengthens. The property she is taking care of has a main house at the top and work quarters at about halfway. Deb is up at the main house and I’ve got the quarters to myself which is really nice and quiet. I know I’m a bit sleep deprived so just having a chance to catch up on sleep will do me wonders. I’m still taking it day by day but for the most part feel better about staying in New Zealand for the planned duration. Don’t get me wrong I’ve had some good times and Great Barrier Island is awesome but it’s not one of those kind of trips where everyday is a bucket full of sunshine. I’m more or less grieving in a beautiful place with some good times mixed in while not working myself into ground back home. The weather has been absolutely gorgeous. Clear and sunny. About 72 degrees….. The photo at the top of the post is a waterfall I found on one of my walks near Kerikeri.

January 27, 2018

Great Barrier Island, NZ

Walking from Port Fitzroy up and over Mt Hobson to Whangaparapara then to Medlands Beach and Tryphena is good for a re-set. The hiking trails are fantastic, the beaches are idyllic and the waterfall pools are divine for swimming. Crowds? What crowds? I shared a campsite with one other hiker, a hut with 4 others, and then a campsite all to myself. This weekend is what I was told would be a busy 3 day holiday so now I am sharing a good sized shady beach campground with 8 other camps. There’s plenty of room. No revelers, no boozers, just people enjoying themselves. Most anywhere else in the world such a place would be a disaster on a holiday weekend but not the Great Barrier Island of New Zealand. A little slice of heaven.

Not a bad place to be if the rest of the world blows up. No central power or utilities. People are self reliant and well organized. The roads are very good and things are quite well laid out. The campgrounds and trails are excellent as well as the mountain huts. The windward side hosts some great surf beaches while the leeward side offers quiet coves popular for boaties.

To get to the Great Barrier Island you either take a daily 4 ½ hour ferry ride or you fly 30 minutes on a ferry small plane that puts the excitement back into flying. Otherwise, you hitch a ride on private boat.

I took the ferry. The ride over was beautiful with few people and calm seas under sunny clear skies.

The climate is sub tropical but the island has every bit the feel of tropical minus the hotter temps and tropical diseases. The locals drink the water right out of the streams and the mosquitoes are nothing to be feared. Just a nuisance. Most everyone is very friendly. Yesterday I chose to walk along a road from one side of the island to the other. Five separate cars stopped along the way and asked if I would like a ride. It was quite impressive considering there are not many cars on the Island. I declined as I was happy to walk.

It’s kind of difficult not to feel better and start to unwind on an Island like Great Barrier. Another week of this and I might start to feel like my old self again.

January 22, 2018

Auckland - Back After Two Years

It’s been exactly two years since I sat upon the top floor verandah at Verandahs Backpackers Lodge in Auckland, NZ. It seems like yesterday but not quite the same.

I sit with my laptop glancing above tree tops for a view of the Auckland Sky Tower and downtown. A few cranes muddy up the view as a symbol of a healthy economy but weaker exchange rate for the Yankee dollar. New Zealand has never been cheap but now it’s expensive. I spent my first 3 nights in the city at a nice hotel with a ninth floor balcony view via a fair internet rate but now I've returned to the backpacker trail. Verandahs is a mix of private and shared rooms set inside a large old Victorian home. Facilities are shared and there is a good sized kitchen/common area. It backs up to a park which makes it a pleasant setting. I was able to check into the same room I stayed in two years ago but the floor is sinking down to one side. I had to turn the bed around to be more comfortable which wasn’t the case before. Fine for a night.

I am not really sure why I purchased a ticket to New Zealand last November on cyber Monday other than it was a very good deal that was too hard to pass up. I guess the price, direct flights, and the fact I hadn’t traveled in awhile just made me pull out the credit card and push the buy button. That night I lost sleep not totally at peace with the purchase. The next day I almost canceled within the 24 grace period but didn’t. I figured if worse came to worse I could re-coupe most of the cost by changing to a later date. Maybe a ticket to a Cook Islands or something like that. Anyway, considering my fathers health I seriously doubted I would be going as planned but something told me not to cancel the ticket.

My father passed 3 weeks before I was do to leave but even so I thought it would be too soon to go. I was concerned that I simply wouldn’t be in the right frame of mind for a trip and there would be things that needed to be handled at home. Nonetheless, I was encouraged by friends and family to go anyway. Also, I thought it might be a good idea to just get away. It’s kind of a tough call but no big deal really. To change my ticket for an early return would cost but it’s much less expensive when changed in New Zealand. If I’m not feeling into it I can always make easy arrangements to pack it in early.

So far New Zealand feels ok. I’ve enjoyed a nice day in the seaside community of Devonport and got in a couple of nice runs around city parks as well as walked a lot. I can’t say I’m really feeling the spark or buzz that I normally feel at the beginning of a trip, however, sometimes travel just kind of goes that way until you get to moving about. Three days in Auckland is plenty but I am sticking around a couple of more as my friend Debbie is in the country and will be traveling through Auckland tomorrow. I wanted to catch up with her for a day before I got going. She’s en-route to house sit up North and I am curious about the Great Barrier Island of NZ. I suspect while crossing paths we will come up with a plan to meet up again at some point.

Anyway, The plan is one more day in Auckland then a 4 1/2 hour boat ride to the Great Barrier, Island.

2017 - The Lost Year

Over a year has gone by since my last post. For lack of a better expression I kind of consider 2017 to a lost year. It’s not that I didn’t do a lot. In fact it was an extremely busy and full year but not in the way I really wanted. I felt it was more important to pay attention to some things I didn’t really want to deal with so I re-set my priorities. Doing the right thing doesn’t always mean doing what you want to do. I wrote very little over the past year. I did write a couple of stories that I never got around to cleaning up and posting. Creatively I was flat and uninspired. I can't believe I let an entire year slip buy without a post. As a side note the Dec 25 comment and link on this blog were not posted by me. Somehow my account was hacked.

Most all of my time during the course of 2017 was filled with work or duties of some sort. The first half of the year had me in a holding pattern as my sister and I made arrangements to help my mother move back to Texas from Colorado. In the spring I made time to take my friend Deb from England on a nice two week road trip through West Texas, New Mexico and Arizona. It was her first time to the USA. Later in the Summer I took another two week road trip by myself to see the eclipse in Nebraska before rolling across Colorado on my way to Mammoth Lakes, Ca then back to Texas via Arizona and New Mexico. The later part of the year I simply wasn’t comfortable straying away from home as I could see my fathers health declining. Two domestic roads trips were my only travel for 2017 aside of a brief 3 day get away to visit a friend in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Normally I would have taken an interesting trip overseas in the fall but that was not to be the case.

As far as I was concerned travel was out for the fall as I took my father to periodic Dr’s appointments. He seemed to bounce back from time to time but an overall steady decline in his health had been becoming more noticeable. Something was telling me to stay close to home. Then came the ER visits.

On the first ER visit he was hospitalized for a couple of days, released, and then seemed to rebound pretty good. The second time we were in and out of the ER within about 3 hours. No big deal. The third ER visit would be the last. It was the Friday before Christmas that my stepmother took him in. He was admitted to the hospital but I wasn’t too worried. The first couple of days my stepmother and I took turns spending time with him. By Sunday things turned more serious and he was transferred to a better hospital in the medical center. By Monday it became clear that my father would be passing soon. There wasn’t really anything the Dr’s could do. On Wednesday he passed. My sister, stepmother and myself were at his side as he took his last breath. It was incredibly emotional. Although my fathers health had been declining I didn’t expect him to go quite so soon and so fast. I saw a lot of dad over the course of 2017 and now feel that it was a blessing I didn't travel in the fall. To have been gone while he passed would have been all the more painful.

Back in the day the cause of my father’s death would have likely been referred to as old age. Heart and organs were wearing out. On thing begins to fail and another thing follows. He went fast and peacefully which is how he or most anyone would hope to go. Needless to say his passing has been a really big deal for me. A heck of a way to end the year.

December 15, 2016

Bangkok - Ko Kret - Back Home

I think it was a good choice to return to Bangkok when I did. I leave tonight and have enjoyed my last few days here. I guess I was just in the mood. I explored a few parts of the city that I hadn’t been to and made the day trip up to the river island of Ko Kret (pronounced croquet) which was definitely interesting and worthwhile.

I took a round about way up to Ko Kret via skytrain then ferry partway up the Chao Phraya river which was kind of scenic. From there it was a taxi to a ferry dock near Pak Kret to make a short crossing to the island. Ko Kret is and artificial river island that was created about 300 years ago when the powers that be decided to take out and ox bow by straightening the river. Today the islands hosts a small population with a few temples and small businesses that cater to Thai tourists that like to visit on the weekends. During the week the island is very quiet.

Most all of the houses are built on stilts as I’m sure the Island is prone to flooding in the rainy season. To get around there’s a network of concrete paths that create narrow roads. The roads are not wide enough for a car but fine for a motorbike and bicycle. For forty bhat, a little over two dollars, you can rent a basic bike for the day so that’s what I did. There’s a nice 6 km loop with some side paths to various piers. In some spots the path is notably elevated and there are no railings. During the week is a great time to bike but I don’t think it would be very enjoyable on the weekends when crowded.

I spent two hours biking the paths and felt that was enough time to have a good look around. Since I wanted to beat the traffic back into Bangkok and wasn’t exactly sure where to find a bus I decided to call it done upon returning the bike. I paid another 3 bhat (about 8 cents) to cross with the ferry back to the mainland.

I had read that bus #166 in Pak Kret would get me back to Bangkok at Victory Monument. I talked with a motorcycle taxi guy who didn’t speak good English but seemed to understand quite well. He drove me directly to Pak Kret and literally pulled in front a bus marked 166 to stop it. I paid the  motorcycle taxi guy 20 bhat and got on the bus. Before I could do anything, an attendant who was dressed in very official looking attire, asked where I was going. I said Victory Monument. She said no and starting going off about something in Thai that made it sound like I was on the wrong bus. I was confused as I know I had the bus number right. Regardless, she wanted me off the bus. I got off and looked up. In clear English there was a tourist map showing the stops that bus #166 makes and Victory monument was on the list. As the bus started to move I could see a woman through the window signaling me like the bus I had just been kicked off of was the bus I wanted. At that moment I was a little peeved. Especially since the motorcycle taxi driver had so efficiently delivered me to the bus I wanted.

So, I began to wait for another #166 bus. I then noticed mini van transportation. Mini vans function like independent buses all over Bangkok. They can be a great way to get around. You just flag them down and get it. Usually the fare is around 25 bhat and they run a circular route. The problem is that normally all the writing on the outside of the van is in Thai as they really cater to the average local just trying to get to work, school, or shopping. Mini vans can be very confusing for tourists so not many use them. Well, I spotted a mini van that had it’s writing in Thai and English. It listed a skytrain station that I’m familiar with. I waved him down and got in. Not a problem. The driver spoke good English and the van proved to be more efficient than the bus. Funny how things work out.

Ko Kret was a great little day trip to top off this trip. Other than Ko Kret I’ve gotten in some good runs at Lumphini park. I also found a surprisingly quiet bike path away from roads that links Lumphini with another park that's also good for running.

By pure chance, or should I say mistake, I wandered right onto Soi 4 in the Nana district of Bangkok. I approached it by accident via the bike path I had just discovered. At first the street looked fine then I noticed a couple of bars and massage parlors with suspicious names. I then started seeing lady boys hawking outside of massage businesses. From there it was downhill big time as I passed bars packed with western men drinking at 4:00 in the afternoon with women who were obviously questionable. I saw one man who appeared to be having a serious conversation with a woman like he was after something meaningful. Good luck. I saw another guy, probably in his forties, who was bald aside of a miniature white mohawk right on the top of the middle of his head. Really? The music got louder and I passed a very out of place looking “Hooters” that I’m sure guys go to for more things than just beer and wings. By time I exited Soi 4 I felt like I needed to rush back to the hostel for a shower. All I did was walk down the street while avoiding eye contact but it felt seedy as hell. I later found out that one of the buildings I passed on Soi 4 is famous for hotel rooms let buy the hour. And to think, people travel from all over the world to go to Soi 4. Sex tourism is the dark side of Southeast Asia in my opinion. God knows the stories of how the women who work the clubs wind up in them.

Fortunately, my stroll down Nana’s Soi 4 was a short one and the rest of my walks have been quite nice as I've discovered funky little shops, bars with themes, and numerous cool restaurants and food stalls. I stopped at one art gallery that is also a bar called WTF. The art in the name is that WTF is the abbreviation for many things and not just what one assumes. Like, "Welcome Thai Friends" and "Wisdom Trounces Fear". In a lot of ways Bangkok is kind of like an Asian version of New York City. I like it.

The hostel I’ve been staying at has a nice rooftop with lots of plants and a view. It’s a pleasant place to hang out and relax. The road noise is far enough away to not be distracting or annoying. I got a late check out a 1 pm and am on the roof now. Around 7 pm I’ll take the skytrain, which now runs all the to the airport, to catch a very long flight home. The past five weeks have gone by really fast. No matter how long I travel the trips I take seem to be going by faster and faster. Two week or a month seems like no time at all anymore. Anyway, for now, it’s back to home for the holidays.

December 12, 2016

Goodbye To The Islands - Back To Bangkok

After six nights on Ko Lipe with 3 days of snorkeling and a couple of afternoons on the beach I was ready to move on. With a little time left I figured I could make a short visit to one more Island or simply head back to Bangkok. I basically had 3 days to play with. Ultimately, I felt like I’d pretty much had my fill for now and for whatever reason going back to Bangkok sounded good. Once in Bangkok I could check into a comfortable place I like, save some money, and kick around a bit.

The should part of me wanted to make another quick Island stop. The what I felt like doing part of me just wanted to go back to Bangkok and hang out without having to hassle with anything else aside of getting to the airport for my flight home.

Thailand is a super easy place to travel. Once I decided to return to Bangkok I just went to one of the many travel agents on Ko Lipe and said I wanted to go to Bangkok by train. I wasn’t sure exactly how to go about it but half a brain is not necessary when traveling touristy areas in Thailand. The woman who helped me said I needed to take the 9 am speedboat ferry to some pier where a van would be waiting for me and some others. The van would drop me at the train station in Trang and all I had to do was walk across the street to some tour operator who would have my train ticket. Total cost for all transportation along with 2nd class air conditioned sleeper was around $47 USD including a small service charge.

So, the two hour speedboat ferry was pretty cool as I rode outside up front. Finding the van at the pier was made very easy by tagging along with a German looking for the same van. My train ticket was initially a little disappointing since I had booked last minute. The berth I was originally assigned was a top bed by the toilet with no window. Luckily, they must have added a car or something because when I met the tour operator who had my ticket she said she had checked before I arrived and I could change if I wanted to. She walked over to the train station with me and I was able to get the exact berth I wanted. I like the middle of the car with a bottom berth. The bottom bed has a window. Being in the middle is quieter and a better ride.

Not many tourists take the train back up to Bangkok from Trang since you can buy an airline ticket for as low as $50 USD depending. I only saw a couple of western foreigners in Trang and had lunch at a local restaurant. It was nice to be off the tourist track which is full of Germans, French, and Swedes all over the Southern Islands. On the fifteen hour train ride up to Bangkok I didn’t see a single tourist. For a moment, I felt like a traveler again. Back in Bangkok it was easy to find the way to my accommodation via metro and skytrain.

At this point I feel like I’m half way home. I’ve passed through Bangkok a number of times over the years and am quite familiar with the city. I checked into a single room with shared bathroom for around $22 USD a night at a hostel I’ve stayed out several times. It’s more like a budget hotel. Very comfortable, clean, and in a quiet location. Last night an Austrain guy traveling alone joined me for a trip up to the top of the Marriot which is about a seven or eight minute walk from the hostel. The open air bar, forty eight stories up, offers an amazing view. Drink prices are closer to the moon than the streets below but tolerable if you catch a beverage during sunset half price happy hour.

This morning I hopped the skytrain for a short ride and then a fifiteen minute walk to Lumphini park. The park is a good size with trees, pond, and so forth. It’s also the best, if not only place, inside the city which is really good for running and exercising. This morning there were lots of people. With cool temps in the low 70’s and a nice little breeze it was a great morning to be in the park. The roads are all closed for pedestrian traffic in the morning and bicycles in the afternoon. The outer road makes a nice loop of about a mile and a half upon black asphalt. The atmosphere is quite pleasant with lots of runners and various other groups doing Tai Chi and the like.

As I was running along I heard the sound of a voice on an intercom then a few chimes of some kind of bell. Everyone stopped and froze. It took a moment before I realized I was the only person moving so I figured I better stop and did. At that moment, what sounded like the national anthem, began to play. I took my hat off. As soon as it was over everyone got right back into what they were doing.

Right now is kind of an interesting time In Thailand. Obviously the country is doing pretty well but it hasn’t been without a few problems during recent years with attempted coups and such. Just recently the King died and the country is in a period of mourning. You see the King’s image everywhere. The king was in power for 70 years and the heir to thrown has yet to be officially appointed. It’s all being put off until sometime next year but it’s a little uncertain how it’s all going to play out.

Now I basically have 3 days in the city. I’ll likely go to the park every morning to run and plan to visit a few sites I haven’t been to like Ko Kreet, an Island in the middle of a river. It’s an easy day trip from Bangkok. Hey! I do have time to visit one more Island. How about that?

December 7, 2016

Ko Lipe - The Sun Arrives

Finally after a week of crappy weather the sun appeared full on and proper when Tuesday afternoon arrived. The seas were a little roughed up by wind but I tried snorkeling off a couple of beaches. It wasn’t good. Just a bunch of sandy coral and murky water with a few fish here and there. I did get in a good swim though and found a great section of quiet beach with white sand and a shady mix of trees. I sat awhile as my attitude adjusted to an environment that looks so much better under the sun. The water no longer looked drab. Turquoise reached out to abruptly meet a much deeper shade of blue with the horizon backed by another Island in the distance. The beach was sparsely populated with a few Europeans and one obvious American with knee length multi pocketed shorts, beer gut, and #26 Nascar hat.
Later in the day I walked around the rougher pockets of the Island and took some photos of the squalor. It doesn’t look as bad when the skies are clear. I took a photo a guy building a fire in front of his shack to cook dinner. A really great photo would have been of the entire family sitting on the front porch of their corrugated tin home but I was too embarrassed to ask. It reminded me of an early 1900’s photo of a black share cropping family in Mississippi but in a tropical setting. With so few windows and no air conditioning I wondered if they even have a fan. I assume they do. I think the section of tin homes, from what I can tell, is where the original natives live. The ones that were on the Island before it was developed for tourism.
Tuesday night I was sleeping pretty well until about 4:30 am. Around 5 am I felt an earthquake. A small one but definitely without a doubt an earthquake. I got on the internet a little later and sure enough, pretty much due west, off the tip of Indonesia, there was a 6.5 quake around 5 am. A strong quake. My first thought was Tsunami but I couldn’t find any warnings issued. Indonesia gets a lot earthquakes but very few actually trigger a Tsunami. It all has to do with geology, depth, etc.
A little later as locals started moving about I asked if anyone felt the quake. No one knew there was a quake and everyone commented they were sleeping at 5 am anyway. Around 9 am I met up with Mr Same, my snorkeling guide, I asked him if he knew about the earthquake. He didn’t know what I was talking about. I asked if there would be a Tsunami today and he said no so we went out for a great day of snorkeling.
It’s taken me a little while but I’ve kind of figured out how the Thai Island thing works. Basically, there are a bunch of Islands. Certain Islands are well set up for tourism so that’s where everyone goes. Some of the Islands like Koh Phi Phi are way over developed and appeal to young people wanting to party etc. while other Islands are a bit more low key and relatively quiet. A few of the harder to get to Islands are naturally much nicer but have limited accommodation and prices tend to be a bit upscale if not expensive. With a little research and planning you can probably find an idyllic vacation at one of those islands. Now, there are also few lesser known and harder to get Islands that are not very developed at all. Turantaro, is probably the wildest and a national park. Accommodation is offered by the park and can vary from tent camping to basic bungalows. I suspect supplies and amenities are limited as well. Also, you might have to deal with monkeys raiding your camp and so forth.
Now, there are a bunch of smaller Islands that don’t have anything except a nice beach and good places to dive and snorkel. So, the way it works is that you stay at one of the Islands set up for tourism and use it as a base. From there you book a day trip from a tour operator that seems to be on just about every corner. Whatever you want to do can be done and usually the price is very reasonable if not cheap.
Yesterday, Wednesday, I went on a guided snorkel trip with a long tail boat for the entire day. A group of seven with guide and boat driver. It cost me around $17 USD with lunch and equipment included. Ko Lipe is actually a group of Islands with everyone staying on one main Island. The other Islands are completely unspoiled aside of visiting tourists raiding certain beaches every day.
The shining sun has done wonders to turn around my initial impression. I’ve more or less switched into a vacation mode without feeling like I have to be an adventure traveler or rough it too much. In Thailand I can afford to travel at a little higher level. Since I seem to be liking Ko Lipe I’ve decided to stay put a couple of extra days at the boutique hotel.
Yesterday while snorkeling I saw lots of colorful fish, a moray eel, and a sea snake. The sea snake sort of scared me at first because I have never seen one and they are very poisonous. I swam back to the boat fairly quickly to ask about it. The guide said they are dangerous but not from a distance. The boat driver said the same and that they just like like to feed on small reef fish. Not to worry. We also visited monkey beach on an island guarded by monkeys. I don't much like monkeys. They steal your stuff and bite. 
At one spot, when I was snorkeling with the boat driver and guide, we spotted a squid. Squid are really cool to watch under water. I watched it a while then turned away only to look back again and see the boat driver sneak up to it with a knife. When he stabbed the squid it emitted a huge cloud of black ink. I was more than a little surprised. The reefs and Islands are supposed to be part of a national park. At another reef the boat driver hopped in and caught a couple of fish with a spear. Ok well, I’m sure it was all eaten by the evening but I think the locals need to be educated a bit on conservation.
For Ko Lipe the vacation season is just getting started. It looks like dry season has just arrived. The bad weather that I experienced the previous week was caused by a very slow moving low pressure system. Well, the low is on it’s way to India and appears to have developed into a cyclone. Probably the last of the season. In retrospect I kind of wish I’d spent another week in Myanmar but really it’s all good and not every day is going to be perfect. I’ve got one week left before I return home so I’m just going to enjoy it as much as I can. As always, these trips go by way too fast.