Archive for February, 2008

Phuket

In a country full of popular tourist destinations, Phuket ranks #1. I was expecting to find nothing but resorts catering to Westerners, and although the beach areas fit that description pretty well, I was pleased to discover that there is definitely more to this island. I am staying in the old section of Phuket town on Thalang Road, which is about a 45 minute bus ride away from the beaches. My $10/night guesthouse has high ceilings, hardwood floors, a great view looking over rooftops to a nearby temple and a selection of neighboring art galleries, used bookstores and cafes. Pretty cool.

Yesterday I went out to Kamala Beach to meet up with friends Suzanne and Andrew who now live in Singapore and were vacationing in Phuket. It was nice to catch up and soak up some of their vacation vibe. When I came back to town I had a meal that finally truly tested the limits of my tolerance for spicy food. After a few bites of my seafood curry, I got the sniffles, but it was tasty and I was sure that my childhood training with Tabasco sauce had me well-prepared to meet this challenge. By midway through, my head was throbbing and I couldn’t see anymore due to the tears running out of my eyes, and I had to admit defeat. I think it was a perfect last meal to remember South Thailand!

Later this afternoon I will get on a bus back to Bangkok and then begin making my way East to Cambodia. I promise to replace my camera by the time I get there so I can post some pictures again!

Also, I have been meaning to say thanks for all of the nice messages and birthday wishes I have received and I apologize if I haven’t written you back yet. Please know that you are all in my thoughts every day! I feel so extraordinarily lucky to be having this experience, and to have all of your good wishes and inspiration with me as well is just amazing. Thanks!

Similan Island #4

I can’t believe I found a wifi connection out here! I have to post something just because I can. Tonight I am sleeping in a tent on the beach of #4 of the Similan Island chain off the coast of Thailand.

I started my advanced scuba course today. I successfully did math underwater and used a compass to navigate. I was also lucky and saw a ghost pipe fish and frogfish and a sea turtle! The turtle was like a little celebrity in the midst of a group of about 8 divers. He was just cruising along looking at everyone with a hint of disdain.

I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s dives – then the course will be finished and then I will stop back in Khao Lak before continuing to Phuket.

Gibbon Songs

I made a recording of the gibbons. It didn’t turn out great, but turn up your volume and have a listen to what I was waking up to for the last week.

Listen to gibbons sing (mp3)

Talae Nork Tidbits

Today marks a week at Talea Nork, and things have settled into a bit of a routine. Get up at 6am to go survey the beach by boat or motorbike to look for turtle activity, feed the monkeys, go to the market or do some office work, lunch (simple and delicious chicken or seafood curry w/ rice), feed the monkeys again, nap, down to the beach for a swim, dinner, bed.

After dinner the Beer Chang (Elephant) comes out and things tend to get a little silly. There’s a Thai guy from the forestry service who comes by most nights and plays the guitar and tells lots of jokes – I don’t understand much of anything he says, but he uses a lot of pantomine and is hilarious. Last night after dinner they lit candles and he sang me a Thai version of happy birthday. It was really sweet.

I still don’t have a camera, but I do have some photos to share now, some that I took and some from other volunteers. Here are a few shots of the place I have been calling home.

hut.JPG btn-beach.jpg View from the treehouseboat.JPG

Talea Nork was hit hard by the tsunami a little over 3 years ago. It completely destroyed the provincial village near the beach (including the school) and 47 people lost their lives. Only 200 people live in the village, so it really was devastating. Things seem to be going ok for them now. They received aid money and have rebuilt, and now they have a community-based tourism project going where the villagers open up their homes for tourists to stay and that brings money into the community.

The other day, kids from the village came with us to to release a turtle. The truck got stuck in the sand on the way and everyone jumped out to push!

kids_in_truck.JPG push_truck.JPG carry_turtle.JPG turtle_closeup.JPG

The village kids know quite a bit of English and are very friendly and talkative. The other night I was joined by 2 young girls while walking back from the beach and they taught me Thai words for the animals we passed by – goat, water buffalo, cat, chicken. When I was able to repeat the words correctly, they told me “Very Gooood!”. It was too cute.

Here are some of the animals I have been hanging out with at the project: gibbons, macaques and a slow loris.
gibbon.jpg macaque.jpg macaque-2.jpg slow-loris2.jpg

Many of the gibbons will be released at some point, but not around here. They can only be released in areas where gibbons are extinct; and Talea Nork has wild gibbons living in the mountains and they are very territorial communities.

Tomorrow I will leave Talea Nork to go to a smallish beach town called Khao Lak a little south of here. I plan to stay for a few days and do some scuba diving there before braving the tourist masses in Phuket. Although I know it is time to move on, I will definitely miss this place and the people I have met here.

Sea Turtle and Sting Ray

The last 24 hours have been pretty exciting. Yesterday I was down at the beach with a staff member named Deed to remove an unused fishing net when we came across a young green sea turtle. Too young to be nesting, Dr. Tum (the vet here) was not sure why it came onto the beach, but it seems healthy. We took it back to office for examination and tagging and then release it in a few days. They asked me to write up a news article about it to post on their website – I will post the link once its online.

green_turtle_closeup.jpg measuring.jpg

Then, this morning Deed and I were back out at the beach looking for any turtle tracks. We were wading through some water and all of a sudden I felt a very sharp pinch on my foot. I thought maybe it was a crab but it bled quit a bit and my whole foot was throbbing. Deed doesn’t speak much English but when we got back to the project office Dr. Tum translated for me that I was stung by a sting ray! A very small one probably, but still! So I cleaned it up and Deed prepared some of the local remedy to apply to the sting. Several hours have passed and it doesn’t hurt much at all anymore. The staff was impressed that I didn’t cry or limp around much, so I’m feeling pretty tough!

Just in case the pain returns, when we went to the market today I bought some liquid “medicine” – a few bottles of the cheap and ubiquitous “Beer Chang”.

Baan Talae Nork

I have arrived at Baan Talea Nork, where I am volunteering for the Wild Animal Rescue Foundation of Thailand. The project is located within a small fishing village surrounded by rolling hills and forest. I have come to assist with sea turtle conservation efforts, but unfortunately the project hasn’t been finding any nests this season. The project staff tells me that this is because the local villagers have been better at finding the nests and the eggs get a good price at the market. Sad. But we will continue to monitor and maybe we will get lucky.

I’ve gone down to the beach a few times, and it is practically deserted except for tons of tiny sand crabs. There are several uninhabited islands just offshore. We are trying to set up a boat trip around the islands next week so we can do a reef survey – either snorkelling or scuba (keeping my fingers crossed!).

In addition to the sea turtle conservation activities, the project houses and cares for monkeys that were wounded or taken into captivity and mistreated. Most of the monkeys here are ultra-cute gibbons or macaques,. The gibbons sing every morning (I hear them clearly from my hut) and it is such a unique and beautiful sound. I am going to try to make a recording to post here.

I am happy that I decided to come here. It is a peaceful, beautiful place, the project staff and villagers are very friendly, and my little hut already feels like home (for awhile). Sadly, I lost my camera on route from Bangkok, so I don’t have any pictures to share right now.

Bangkok

Kaoh San Road Wat Prah Kraew Wat Prah Kraew detail

Today is my fourth day in Bangkok and I have adjusted pretty well to the extreme heat and humidity and overall chaos of this city. For the last 2 nights I have been staying in the Khoa San Road area – which seems to be the Disneyland of backpacker culture. Favorite things so far: riding the Express Boat and the SkyTrain to get around town, visiting my first Buddhist temple (Wat Phra Kraew– home of the Emerald Buddha), and (believe it or not) shopping at the weekend market (over 8,000 vendors selling everything imaginable.) Oh and the food! I’ve been eating pretty much nonstop from the street vendors that are on every practically every corner.

Tonight I will be taking a bus to a small town on the Andaman coast near Ranong where I will be volunteering with a wildlife organization for a week. I’m definitely looking forward to the change of pace – I will be in the midst of a national park and on the beach!