Living in a Postcard

Trip Start Jan 03, 2004
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Trip End Dec 2004


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Thursday, January 15, 2004

Ao Nang is a small beach resort town in southern Thailand teeming with European tourists and other travelers seeking white, sandy beaches and clear turqouise waters. There are Thai people here, although they seem to be outnumbered. The beaches face the Indian Ocean and are bordered by high vertical walls of limestone cliffs and swaying palm trees. The nearest town with an airport is Krabi, where we flew in on January 9th.
Our week in Ao Nang has been all a honeymoon should be -- sun, sand and sunburns. But we're getting ahead of ourselves.
Let's start with our takeoff from Denver on Jan. 3. Snow was lightly falling, a fitting send-off to a yearlong journey following the summer sun around the world. Our first stop was Southern California where we spent five days visiting friends and transitioning into our new lives as nomadic travelers. We got a healthy dose of American food, movies, and bathrooms with sit-down toilets and toilet paper. On Jan. 7 we stepped onto a Cathay Pacific plane for a 15-hour trans-Pacific flight, which was mainly spent trying to find a comfortable position to sleep and watching movies. We had a short layover in Hong Kong before flying to Bangkok. While waiting for our next flight to Krabi, we accidentally sat in white plastic waiting chairs until we noticed the sign "For Monks Only." This was surely a sign we had, indeed, landed in Thailand.
One of our first indulgences in Ao Nang was getting a traditional Thai massasge under a palm-thatched hut on the beach. Thai massages consist mainly of pulling, pushing and some thumping of your body parts. We splurged our first two nights and stayed at the upscale Ao Nang Princeville Resort. The large room had air-conditioning, hot water and HBO. On the third day we found cheaper accommodations on the neighboring Napphorat Thara Beach. (Try saying that 10 times fast.) The Blue Bayou (aka Blue Bay You and Blue Ba You) Bungalows and Restaurant has a view of the beach and rooms for under $20. We don't even miss the hot water and HBO! The food has been spicy, fresh, and delicious. Jill is hooked on the Spring Rolls and Andy orders a different seafood dish at each restaurant. We are slowly learning how transportation works around here. You get from one area to another by sea on a longboat -- as the name implies they're long wooden boats. Drivers sit on the beach waiting for passengers who ride for 50 baht (about $1) each. They do have public transportation. The local bus is a covered open bed truck with two benches nailed to the sides. It drives slowly down the main street waiting for people to hop on and lets you off wherever you need to stop.
The main attraction is the beautiful beaches. Knowing you're on vacation for the next 50 weeks gives you the freedom to let your thoughts wonder. At one point on the beach, Andy turned to Jill and said quite seriously, "How fast would my butt burn if I took my pants off?" That's just one of the deep, deep thoughts from these globetrekkers.
(Sidenote: Jill has become fascinated by a phenomenon she has called Asian Fetish Men and their Fancy Thai Girlfriends. If she had the nerve, she'd like to ask a few of them how these arrangements are made, how long they last and why they're so common. Of course, she doesn't have any nerve, so she'll continue to watch the hordes of these odd couples in puzzled curiosity.)
We haven't spent all of our time lying on the beach doing nothing. We went kayaking in Thalen, which is a network of rivers, canyons, caves, and mangrove forests. Our guide took us through a patch of trees with long-tailed macaques (?) waiting for us. These monkey creatures seemed exotic from afar but tame once they jumped on our kayaks to get free banana handouts. The next day, we took a daylong snorkeling and swimming tour around various islands including the famous Phi Phi Islands. The fish were colorful, plentiful and amazing. We could see clear down to the ocean floor with our snorkel masks. Not tired yet, we signed up for a half-day rock climbing course. The high vertical cliffs on Railay Beach are famous among rock climbers. Although the day was sold to us as a course, we can't say that instructions were included. When Jill informed her "instructor" that this was her first rock-climbing attempt and inquired how it should be done, the nice Thai man simply said, "Go up." But that seemed to be enough as she made it to the top. We hardly believe this course would satisfy American safety and liability standards!
Tomorrow we fly from Krabi back to Bangkok to catch a train to Nakhon Ratchasima, a city in northeast Thailand close to Phimai, where we'll spend a week volunteering on an archaeological dig through Earthwatch.
Our Ao Nang recommendations: We'd highly recommend staying at the Blue Bayou Bungalows, booking a kayaking tour with Sea Canoe Kayaking, dining at Ao Nang Cuisine Restaurant, and visiting Phra Nang Beach.
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