Wednesday, September 24, 2008

I hate being sick.

There is little I hate worse than being sick. It just throws everything in my life out of whack (eating, sleeping, exercising, working, EVERYTHING) and even the smallest of colds can take me weeks to recover from 100%. I don't even know what I have, but everyone (but me) is pretty sure it's not the bird flu, SARS, or the hanta virus. Probably just a cold or a sinus infection. But that on top of mild jet lag on top of trying to return to real life after two and a half weeks of vacation sucks.

The in-laws returned home today. It's nice to get my house back and feel like I can do whatever I want, whenever I want, without disturbing anyone else, but they were a godsend, both while we were gone and before/after our trip (especially with me being sick this week). And I'm sure Nacho and Sara are super sad that they no longer have someone at the house 24/7 to let them out whenever they want to go. Grandma and Grandpa will definitely be asked to return for future long trips, if they can be bribed to come back. They were the best housesitters we've had.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Days 16 and 17: Headed Home

This was our last day in Hong Kong, but a full one as our flight didn't leave until almost 11:00 p.m. We had planned to go to the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, which we missed the previous day due to the communication gap with our taxi driver, but I wasn't feeling up to it. I think I'm actually sick, and not just with allergies.

Instead, we met Jay & Cheron for dim sum at Tao Yuan Restaurant in the Great Eagle Centre in Wan Chai. Fortunately we had Cheron there to order for us, as the dim sum menu (which was ordered off a menu like sushi, not off of the more traditional dim sum carts) was all in Chinese. We had a delicious sampling of soup, dumplings, vegetables, and sweets, my favorite of which was the chicken soup with dumplings and cabbage. Afterwards, we headed back to Mongkok, where Che & I needed to pick up a new piece of luggage. After spending the morning in the hotel packing up, we realized that two of our three checked pieces would be over the allowed weight limit on Singapore Airlines for our return flight to Hong Kong. Cheron & I went off in search of a bag while Jay & Che hit the Fish Market one last time.

From there, we headed back down to our tailor in Tsim Sha Tsui to pick up our clothes. They fit great! My dress will be perfect for next year's Chinese New Year party. We did a little more last-minute souvenir shopping, then Che & I went back to the hotel to collect our stuff and repack our luggage. From there, it was off to the airport. We took a taxi to the Hong Kong MTR station, where there is an Airport Express line to the airport. However, all of the major airlines have ticket counters at the MTR station, so you can check in for your flights, get your boarding passes, and, best of all, check your luggage in! That way, you can ride the train in comfort to the airport carrying only your carry-on items and not worry about having to transport large suitcases as well. Very convenient.

The flight to San Francisco left just before 11:00 p.m. Hong Kong time on Saturday. With the time change, though, our 12-hour flight would be arriving in San Francisco at about 8:30 p.m. Saturday, SF time. We had booked a hotel room at the San Francisco Airport knowing it would be too late to get a direct flight home. We knew we couldn't sleep the whole return flight because we needed to get off the plane and pretty much be ready for bed in order to adjust our sleep schedule as quickly as possible. So we stayed up long enough to eat dinner on the plane and watch a movie, then napped for a few hours, and we were awake for the last 4-5 hours of the flight. By the time we arrived in San Francisco, got our luggage (why is it that baggage claim in every other country is so much faster than in the US?), cleared immigration and customs, caught a shuttle to the airport, checked in to our hotel, showered, and ate room service for dinner, we were pretty much winding down and ready to call it a night. Success on avoiding jet lag!!

Or so we thought. We both woke up Sunday morning at 4:30 a.m., wide awake and ready for the day. So we watched a movie in the room, went downstairs for breakfast as soon as the restaurant opened, then leisurely showered and packed our bags up for the last flight of our trip - home to Phoenix!! We arrived home mid-afternoon on Sunday and were just as excited to see the animals as they were to see us. And then the fatigue hit me. I was ready for a nap by 4:00, but Che talked me out of it for about an hour and we spent the hour showing his parents our trip pictures. By 5:00, I couldn't keep my eyelids open any longer, so at 5:30, I laid down for a nap. I got up at 7:00 thinking I would eat dinner, catch up with my in-laws, and maybe watch a movie, but a half hour later, I was ready for bed for the night. I got a good night's sleep and got up Monday morning bright and early at 6:30 a.m. feeling pretty well rested but officially sick with a cold or sinus infection, not sure which yet. So I'm hoping that the worst of the jet lag is done. Otherwise, it's going to be a very long week.

Day 15: Victoria Peak

Woke up with a scratchy throat and head/sinus congestion. Either the pollution is finally getting to me or I'm getting sick. Just before lunchtime, we headed out by taxi to the Victoria Peak tram terminal. Victoria Peak is the highest point on Hong Kong Island and is one of the wealthiest residential neighborhoods in Hong Kong. The tram is a funicular railway built in the 1800s that is still in operation today and transports people from the Central District of Hong Kong the 1.4 km up to Victoria Peak, with a few intermediate stops on the way. At the top, there is a shopping mall of sorts with some dining options and, on the top level, a Peak observatory that offers amazing 360-degree views of Hong Kong.

We got off the Tram and had lunch at Tien Yi, a Chinese restaurant located just one level below the observatory. Our table was right next to the window and we had a spectacular view of the city while we enjoyed a prix fixe dim sum lunch. Everything was delicious. Afterwards, we headed up to the observatory and walked around the terrace looking at views of the city from all angles. When we were done, we took the tram back down to Central.

From there, we tried to hop a cab to the Zoological and Botanical Gardens, but we kept getting English-challenged cab drivers, none of which could comprehend our destination (even with me pointing to the location on a map). So we headed back to the hotel instead and got cleaned up. We took the MTR to Tsim Sha Tsui and returned to the tailor for a fitting on our custom clothes. Then, I decided I was underdressed to meet our friends Amy & Erik for drinks at a swanky bar later that night, so I went off in search of a new outfit. I settled for a new top and shoes, which drew attention away from the ratty jeans I was wearing better than the t-shirt I had on. We were fairly far north in TST and needed to get back to the waterfront area quickly (not to mention I was wearing new shoes) so we tried to hop a cab and struck out again with the language barrier. Although this time, we had an English-speaking cab driver who clearly understood me when I said "One Peking Road," but kept asking for the address. Um, that IS the address -- ONE PEKING ROAD. He didn't get it, so we ended up high-tailing down there on foot.

Aqua Spirit is located on the top floor of One Peking Building (located at, yes, One Peking Road) and has awesome views of the Hong Kong Island skyline. As it turns out, though, the views were even better from Amy & Erik's apartment nearby. We had some drinks and appetizers, then went off in search of real food. We ended up at a restaurant close to where Amy & Erik live and had delicious and inexpensive late-night noodles. Amy & Erik were kind enough to invite us over for an impromptu visit at their apartment, which was incredible. They live on the 60-some floor of an apartment building in Kowloon, and from their balcony (which is a little high off the ground for me, but I did step outside and look for a bit while clutching the handrail tightly) they have breathtaking views of the Hong Kong Island skyline. It would be so easy to sit in their apartment every night and just be overwhelmed by looking outside the window. Their apartment is large by Hong Kong standards (and US standards in many big cities as well) and just gorgeous. We had a blast hanging out with them and hearing about their lives in Hong Kong as American expats. But we long overstayed our welcome and headed home by taxi after 1:00 a.m.

The tram to Victoria Peak:

Dim sum lunch at Tien Yi:

Views from Victoria Peak:

Che getting fitted for his new suit!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Day 14: Kowloon Markets

We spent the entire day today in the Kowloon part of Hong Kong, north across the harbor from Hong Kong Island. Our first stop was a custom tailor shop, where Che wanted to have a suit and shirt made. I was just along for the ride but couldn't pass up the opportunity to have a Chinese dress made for myself. The staff was very patient in helping us choose the fabrics and styles we were looking for, then measured us for our new clothes. We go back tomorrow afternoon for a second fitting, then our clothes should be done and ready for us to pick up before we leave on Saturday. We're very excited to see how they turn out!

After the tailor, we met Jay, Cheron, and several of her coworkers for a traditional family-style Cantonese lunch, which was delicious. Cheron returned to work, and three of us set out to explore Kowloon, starting with Mong Kok. One of the interesting things about shopping in Hong Kong is that oftentimes, you will find a single street with hundreds of the same type of store. So if you are looking for something aquarium-related, you would go to the Goldfish Market. If you are looking for plants or flowers, the Flower Market. And for birds? You guessed it, the Bird Market. The same is true for many other types of goods, so it's extremely difficult to do one-stop shopping.

I wanted to take a quick stroll through the Flower Market, which is a street lined with nurseries, gardens, and shops and stalls selling tons of blooms and greenery. The variety of plants and flowers was overwhelming, and the street was so colorful and lively. And there was a huge range from very inexpensive flower stems (huge stems of lilies for only cents) to very expensive (rare and exotic orchids in the thousands of dollars). From there, we headed to the Goldfish Market, an obvious stop for the boys, who are both reef keepers. I tagged along for about two hours, but got bored of fish, corals, lights, and pumps, especially when I realized that they hadn't even made it through half the stores yet. We parted ways, and I headed south to the Jade Market, which was just closing up shop when I arrived. The Jade Market consists of over 400 vendors crammed in a warehouse-type space, each stall full of all things jade - carvings, jewelry, etc. Even with more than half the vendors packed or packing away, I was overwhelmed. I browsed but didn't buy. From there, I just wandered different areas of Kowloon - Yau Ma Tei, the shops along Nathan Road, Tsim Sha Tsui - and eventually made my way down to the MTR station at TST where I met up with Jay, Che, and Cheron.

The four of us walked down to the TST promenade, where Che & I had been a few nights before with Amy & Erik. Between 8:00 and 8:20 every night, the skyscrapers on Hong Kong Island put on a colorful laser light display that is synchronized to music on the Kowloon side. The show was a lot of fun to watch, although it was difficult to capture any decent photographs. Afterwards, we headed back north to the Temple Street Night Market, Hong Kong's largest and most popular night market. Temple Street is closed to traffic after 6:00 p.m., and the street is crammed full of vendor stalls hawking anything and everything you might want to buy and/or eat. We picked up some souvenirs there, grabbed a bite for dinner, and finally made it back to the hotel room after midnight. It was a long day to be on our feet the whole time, and we're thinking massages might be on the agenda for tomorrow. We won't expect to pay Thai prices, though. I think the days of $7 massages are over for us.

Gorgeous rows of blooms at the Flower Market:

Can anyone tell me what these purple/pink flowers are? I thought the ones on the left were peonies. I have no idea about the ones on the right. Either way, I would have loved to have bought some. Each cluster (you can sort of see them arranged in clusters in the picture), at least three large blooms, was only $18 HKD (that's a little over $2 US).

Hong Kong Island's light show:

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Day 13: Ocean Park

Ocean Park is a marine center and amusement park, a Sea World of sorts, on the south side of Hong Kong Island in Aberdeen. Our main interest in going was to see giant pandas. I have only seen them in real life once, on a junior high field trip to Washington D.C., and Che never has. I have been obsessed with pandas and all things pandas since I was a little kid, and seeing the pandas up close and personal at Ocean Park were well worth every penny of the (relatively) steep admission price and what turned out to be the most miserably hot and humid day on record.

The pandas were our first stop at Ocean Park, and I could have spent the entire day there. The park was nearly empty on this Wednesday, and the pandas were all playing and romping about their habitats. Soooooooo cute. One was napping (and sometimes stirring around) right up at the front glass, so we got some great pictures of them in their enclosures and had zero crowds to deal with in the process. I had planned to get a second glimpse of them at the end of the day before leaving the park, but we stayed too late and the exhibit was closed.

We spent the rest of the day sweating our asses off at the park. You can actually see the sweat on my skin in some of the pictures. Gross. Che & Jay rode most of the rides there, we saw a cool jellyfish exhibit, an aviary, a very nice large atoll reef exhibit, a marine mammal (seals and dolphins) show, and some other marine-related attractions and stayed until the park closed. After desperately-needed and greatly-refreshing showers, we met Cheron (who had to go back to work today) for dinner at a Japanese restaurant in Causeway Bay, then walked around a small mall to burn off our gigantic desserts. Interestingly, most stores here are open very late, like midnight. As it turns out (and much to my surprise), Hong Kong people (I haven't figured out yet how to refer to people from Hong Kong - Hong Kongers? Hong Kongites? Hong Kongians?) work very long hours, typically 12 hours a day, 6 days a week. Every night that we have been on the subway late, like returning from dinner, the trains have been packed with people leaving work, even at 10:00 p.m. or later. And here I thought I had it bad.

Che & Jay on the Bungee Trampoline:

This is Ying Ying, a three-year old female panda, being playful:

An An, a 20+ year old male panda, came right to the window to greet his visitors.

Sea lions performing at the marine mammal show:

Che's "Chocolate Mountain":

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Day 12: Po Lin Monastery, Tian Tan Buddha

We took a 40-minute MTR ride to Lantau Island, the largest of Hong Kong's 230+ islands (and the one where the international airport is located), to visit the Po Lin Monastery and the Tian Tan Buddha. Upon arrival at Lantau, we followed the signs to the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car, a relatively-new 25-minute aerial ride from the MTR station at Tung Chung to Ngong Ping, where the monastery and the Buddha are located. The only alternative to the cable car is a one-hour bus journey through Lantau. The ride there was spectacular; the ride back was terrifying. There was really no difference between the two, other than my sudden realization that I was suspended by a cable more than 50 meters in the air, but I started to freak out and wish we had opted for the bus trip instead. (And, as it turns out, I learned only afterwards that the Ngong Ping 360 Cable Car only reopened in December after a cable car fell from the cable last year - the car was empty at the time, but that was not much reassurance to me. Had I known that at the time, I surely would have opted for the bus.)

Upon arrival, we bought tickets for the Tian Tan Buddha, which came with a vegetarian lunch served cafeteria-style at the monastery. We chose to eat lunch first, then head up to the Buddha. Lunch was quite good. Each table (we were seated at our own table, although it isn't uncommon for strangers to be seated together) received a bowl of eggplant soup, a pot of steamed white rice, and four entrees: vegetarian spring rolls, mushrooms with bok choy, stir-fried tofu with vegetables, and ma po tofu with peas and corn. After lunch, we wandered the monastery grounds. Po Lin Monastery is an active Buddhist monastery founded more than 100 years ago by reclusive Buddhist monks. We only saw a couple of monks while we walked the grounds. Afterwards, we headed up the 260 steps to see the world's largest seated bronze Buddha. Built in 1993, Tian Tan Buddha is 102 feet high and weighs 250 tons. Standing below it, it appears absolutely massive, and there are also great views of the monastery and Lantau Island from the top.

The cable car to Ngong Ping:

View of Lantau Island from the cable car:

Looking towards Tian Tan Buddha from Po Lin Monastery:

Tian Tan Buddha:

Close-up of the Buddha:

Overlooking Po Lin Monastery from the Buddha:

Monday, September 15, 2008

Day 11: Exploring Hong Kong

After a leisurely brunch with Jay & Cheron, the four of us headed to Hollywood Street and the SoHo area of Hong Kong Island to shop and explore. We parted ways mid-afternoon, and Che & I continued to walk around on our own, eventually wandering back to our hotel in the late afternoon. The subway system (MTR) in Hong Kong is extremely user-friendly and has been easy to navigate. An octopus card makes it even more convenient. For $150 HKD (or approx. $20 US), you get a debit card with a balance of $100 HKD to use on all forms of public transportation (MTR, buses, ferries) and at many convenience stores and restaurants as well. The remaining $50 HKD is a deposit that is refunded to you when you return the card. It allows you to conveniently access the subway and not have to worry about purchasing a ticket for each ride, figuring out the appropriate fare, or carrying exact change for the buses.

We cleaned up and rested for a bit at the hotel, then met up with new friends Amy and her husband Erik for dinner at a fabulous Vietnamese restaurant, Indochine, for delicious food and wonderful company. Afterwards, we took the Star Ferry to Kowloon to walk along the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront, which affords incredible views of Hong Kong Island's brightly-lit night skyline. There was also a wonderful and huge lantern exhibit on display at the waterfront called WonderWaterWorld, an artistic effort to increase public awareness of environmental protection, in particular marine and wetland creatures.

Che at the Admiralty MTR station adjoining our hotel at Pacific Place:

Full moon at the WonderWaterWorld lantern exhibit on the Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront:

Sea life at the WonderWaterWorld lantern display:

Pearl in oyster:

View of Hong Kong Island skyline from Tsim Sha Tsui waterfront on Kowloon:

Day 10 Post-Script: Mid-Autumn Festival

Jay and Cheron called at 9:00 p.m. and asked if we wanted to join them for Mid-Autumn Festival festivities at the beach. Having done hardly anything on our first day in Hong Kong, we felt obliged. We took the bus to Repulse Bay Beach, where thousands of people were gathered to sit on the beach and light candles and lanterns in honor of the full moon that appears around the 15th day of the 8th lunar month. It was also an excuse for lots of young people to get drunk on the beach and set things on fire.

According to the paper the next morning, this year's Mid-Autumn Festival experienced the hottest temperatures in 13 years. As a result, we only stayed long enough to watch our candles burn out, then headed back to the hotel.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Day 10: First Day in Hong Kong

Today was a rest day. We are both showing signs of getting sick (scratchy throats, achy muscles, general fatigue, etc.) so we decided we were better off just taking it easy today. It's also a holiday here in Hong Kong (the Mid-Autumn Festival) so many shops were closing early. Seemed like a good day to just stay in.

We slept in late, then I wandered off in search of cold and sinus medicine for Che. Our hotel is connected to Pacific Place, a large upscale shopping mall full of high-end boutique stores (Versace, Fendi, Escada, Tiffany, Hermes, etc.) and cafes and restaurants. Fortunately, there is also a Watson's drugstore, where I picked up meds. I then followed the signs that said "Great Foodhall," thinking I could pick up food for lunch and take it back to the hotel room. Great Foodhall, however, was not a food court like I thought it would be. It's actually a fantastic Western-style grocery store complete with a gelato bar, juice bar, deli, and amazing bakery. I picked us both up fresh-squeezed juices chock full of Vitamin C and headed back to the hotel room. By then, Che was up and about, so we headed back to the mall for some lunch.

Pacific Place does not have a standard fast-food food court area like most malls. Everything here is a sit-down restaurant. Che was craving an American breakfast/brunch, so we hit a grill-style restaurant and afterwards he started feeling lousy again. He headed back to the room, and I headed off to the grocery store to get pastries for breakfast and a coffee from Starbucks. When I got back to the room, he was asleep. I was pretty beat too, so I laid down for a nap, and that's been our day - lounging around the hotel room, resting, and watching TV. I've also mapped out an itinerary for the week, so it wasn't a completely wasted day. Plus, we have great views from our hotel room (if you look past the reflection back into the hotel room):

High-end shopping at Pacific Place Mall:

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Day 9: Leaving Phuket, Arriving Hong Kong

It was a long day but not much to write about. We had planned an early morning swim before checkout, but the rain was coming down and the winds were gusty. So we packed up leisurely, then checked out and headed towards Phuket Town for some last-minute souvenir shopping. We picked up some great things at a shop on Rasada Street selling all Thai handmade goods, then grabbed a quick lunch before heading to the airport.

First task was dropping off the rental car. I neglected to mention that earlier in the week, we had a minor casualty with the car when Che backed it into a big cement post and dented and scratched the bumper plus broke the tail light out. Hey, at least it wasn't another car or, worse, a guy on a scooter. Thankfully, we had picked up the insurance (something we never do in the states but would definitely do again when renting a car abroad), so we handed over the keys and all was good.

We had an uneventful flight to Singapore and then to Hong Kong, arriving Hong Kong late Saturday night. We took the subway to Hong Kong Island and then a short cab ride later, we were arriving at the JW Marriott Hotel at just after midnight, just in time for bed.

The nicest subway by far! It was more like riding a passenger train from the airport to Hong Kong Island.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Day 8: Khao Phra Thaeo, Wat Chalong, and Muay Thai Boxing

Finally, our first sunny day in Phuket! It would turn out to be our only sunny day in Phuket, but it was a gorgeous one. We had another lazy morning swimming at the resort and relaxing in the hot tub and sauna before cleaning up and headed off for the day. First stop was Khao Phra Thaeo, a national park with hiking trails to Ton Sai and Bang Prae Waterfalls. Time didn't allow for the full hike to both waterfalls, but we did hike about 5 km through the forest and along Ton Sai Waterfall. The waterfalls in Phuket are small, not like the tall falls you might see in Hawaii, but feed into long, flowing streams.

After sweating in the forest for a couple of hours, we headed down to the southern part of Phuket to visit Wat Chalong, the largest of the 29 Buddhist monasteries/temples in Phuket. This is an active Buddhist temple and, surprisingly, they invited us inside despite that we were not dressed appropriately. We had only planned to walk the grounds and take pictures from outside, but the temple was closing to visitors and before shutting the doors, the guard motioned for us to come in. Inside, the temple has granite floors and marble staircases as well as detailed and intricate painted woodwork and large colorful murals. There was also a small market on the temple grounds with various food and craft vendors.

Next stop was Phromthep Cape, the southern tip of Phuket Island, to watch the sunset. Unfortunately, our sunset was obscured by clouds despite it being a gorgeous sunny day, but we still had beautiful views of the shoreline from the Cape.

Jay does Muay Thai Boxing, and he really wanted to see some real fights in Thailand, so we headed to Suwit Boxing Stadium to pick up tickets for their weekly Friday night fights. With tickets in hand, we had some time to kill before the fights started at 8:30, so we headed off in search of dinner. Instead, we ended up at a night market selling produce and meats, much like a Farmer's market. We walked around just to look, then headed off again in search of food, not just ingredients. We ended up at a roadside "restaurant" for more stir-fried noodles and rice. A half hour and $6 US later (that's for all four of us), we were full and happy and ready to watch some fights.

Muay Thai Boxing is sort of a combination of regular boxing and kickboxing. Striking with fists, shins, knees, and elbows is all allowed during a fight. Matches are 5 rounds, 3 minutes each round. There were seven fights leading up to the main event, which was a 130-pound weight class fight. The first six fights were youth of all ages, some as young as 6 or 7, the oldest being late teens or early twenties. The fight just before the main event was one of only two adult fights, and the only one with a foreigner (Australian) fighting. It was an interesting cultural experience, particularly to see many of the rituals associated with the fights. For example, fighters pray and perform a Ram Muay ritual dance before each fight, wearing Mongkon headbands and Prajed woven armbands for blessings and protection.

We arrived back at the resort at midnight and had a late night of laundry and packing. Headed off to Hong Kong tomorrow. This week has flown by.

A gorgeous sunny day in Phuket:

Hiking through Khao Phra Thaeo to the Ton Sai Waterfall:

Wat Chalong Buddhist Temple:

Eva & Che at Phromthep Cape:

Ringside seats for Muay Thai Boxing:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Day 7: Relaxation

We slept in again and spent the morning just relaxing around the resort and enjoying the property's beautiful pools. On our way to the pool, though, we stopped to take in a ride on the beach on an elephant! It was scarier and harder than I thought it would be. The elephant was very sweet, though, and his handler very accommodating. I could have spent the day just hanging out with the elephant. We checked out both the pool closest to our villa (which had a fabulous swim-up bar where we enjoyed pina coladas and mango daiquiris) and the main pool, which is huge and beautiful. The water was a bit chilly and we got a little bit of light rain, but once you got in, the water felt great. And looking out towards the ocean and watching the huge waves breaking in the distance from the relaxing resort pool was sheer heaven.

After a lazy morning swim and liquid breakfast, we cleaned up and headed into town for the day, stopping at the seafood restaurant we missed the previous night for lunch. The restaurant was right on the bay and we saw all of our lunch selections live in tanks just before they were cooked and served, so we knew it was fresh. It was the most expensive meal we've had in Thailand but well worth it and still cheaper than what we'd pay in the states for a comparable meal.

In town, we hit the spa again for massages. This time, we chose a different spa. It was just as nice as the first but I still think my first foot massage was the best. I opted for an hour-long aromatherapy massage plus an hour-long foot massage, for a total of $20 US including tip. Soooo relaxing. (Happy, Em?) Afterwards, we ate street food for dinner, shopped in Phuket Town, and headed back to the hotel.

Che & Eva riding an elephant on the beach!

Che getting elephant kisses:

Eva & Che enjoying drinks at the swim-up bar:

Che & Eva at Tha Lay Long for lunch, with a view of the bay:

Eva's squid in chili sauce for lunch:

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Day 6: Surfing!

Not for me. Che wanted to try his hand at surfing, so we headed down south to Kata Main Beach, which is reputed to be the best beginner beach in Phuket for surfing. On the drive down, we got hit hard by more rain. By the time we arrived at Kata Main Beach (this was only the tenth time, I think, that we've gotten lost - the maps and road signs are terrible!), even though it was only drizzling, most of the surfboard rental stands on the beach (as well as every other kind of stand) had shut down from being poured on all day long. We found one stand still open, only because the guy was out surfing himself. We happened to catch him when he came back to shore between runs, and Che & Jay were able to rent surfboards for about $12 US for 3 hours.

Cheron & I watched from the shore for about 30 minutes, taking pictures (of them floating in the water mostly, since we never saw them catch any waves), and eventually got bored. We headed off to find a place to get massages. Perfect timing too, as about 5 minutes after we got inside the spa, the rain started coming down in buckets. This "spa" was more like a hair and nail salon. Not nearly as pampering-feeling as the spa earlier in the week, but my foot massage was nearly as good. And for $7 US, who can really complain?

An hour later, we headed back to the beach in the pouring rain. Che had already returned his surfboard and was just playing in the water; we called Jay in and headed back to the resort to clean up and shower. Apparently the boys did catch waves (or so they say) after we left. But there's no photographic evidence of that. Either way, they had a great time so time and money well spent.

We called the concierge for a local seafood restaurant recommendation and managed to get a name and cryptic directions. Amazingly enough, we found it, but it was closed. So we headed north from the hotel and ended up crossing Sarasin Bridge into mainland Thailand (Phang Nga province) and stopping at the first roadside restaurant we saw. Dinner was very good, although more expensive than other places we've eaten. Still, less than $20 US for four people for a full meal isn't too shabby, especially when three of those dishes were seafood. We drove around afterwards for a place that was still open for dessert but came up short - everything was already closed.

Che gearing up for his first surfing attempt!

Che & Jay headed out to sea:

View from Kata Main Beach:

Dinner at Thanoon:

Day 5: Snorkeling Excursion to Phi Phi Islands

We booked a full day boat trip to the Phi Phi Islands for Tuesday for about $50 US each. The van picked us up at our hotel bright and early at 7:30 a.m. and drove us to Ratsada Pier, where we enjoyed coffee while others trickled in. A speedboat loaded up with passengers left the pier at about 9:00 a.m. for a 45-minute boat ride to Phi Phi Leh Island in the Andaman Sea. We stopped first at Maya Bay, the backdrop for the movie "The Beach." The Phi Phi Islands were hit hard by the tsunami and redevelopment has been slow, but the islands looked beautiful to us. The limestone cliffs jutting out of the middle of the ocean were amazing. The speedboat ride, though, was miserable. Next time, I have to remember to take Dramamine earlier. Blech.

Once the drugs kicked in, it was better. We circled around the Islands just to look at the beautiful scenery and take pictures, then headed next to Phi Phi Don Island, the largest of the Phi Phi Islands and the only one with permanent inhabitants. We stopped first at Monkey Beach, which is inhabited by, yes, monkeys. Lots of them. And they're not at all afraid of humans. They will come right up and grab any food you have right out of your hands. Che, of course, was creeped out by the monkey hands. We left there, then anchored just off the island to snorkel. We saw lots of cool corals and fish, including tons of giant and super colorful clams. After the first snorkeling stop, we headed to the beach for lunch. After lunch, we took the boat to Khai Nok Island for more snorkeling and relaxing. The snorkeling and relaxing were cut short by a big storm that blew in, so we took shelter from the rain and eventually headed back in the 9-foot swells. Thank god for Dramamine.

We got back to the resort late and ended up eating dinner at the resort and calling it a night early after our long day.

Che & Eva headed to Phi Phi Islands:

Phi Phi Leh:

Che & Eva at Maya Bay:

Phi Phi Don:

Leaving Phi Phi Don: