Monday, June 22, 2009

Certifiably Diving!

Koh Tao, Thailand - Well, it's official Betsy and I are now certified divers! Woohoo! We completed our Open Water course with two dives yesterday, one called White Rock and the other Japanese Gardens. It was great fun and we both really enjoyed it. We got down to a depth of about 20m (60ft) and got to see a lot of interesting things.

The highlights of the dives yesterday were probably a blue spotted stingray and a school of barracuda that we swam through. We also were chased by a titan triggerfish (nasty little buggers!). Apart from that we saw all the usual suspects including sea urchin, "nemo" fish, bannerfish and an assortment of other colored creatures and critters.

The course was a blast, our instructor Woz was awesome and our classmates Rebecca and Clive were good fun. The school we went with Simple Life Divers was excellent and all the staff were great and very accomodating with us having to delay our diving a few days due to Betsy's cold.

We were accompanied on our open water dives yesterday by a videographer (thanks Amber) who filmed our setup and diving and turned it into a 20min DVD. We got to watch it last night at a local watering hole and it was great fun. Look for it in stores everywhere soon!

Since we have enjoyed ourselves so much we have decided to do the advanced open water certification which consists of 5 dives including a deep dive to 30m (100ft), underwater navigation, fish identification, a night dive and a buoyancy control dive.

This new found love for diving has altered our travel plans once again as we are now planning our trip around what dive locations we can hit.

We've been in Koh Tao for a week now and will probably be here another week. We are enjoying the island and not in any real hurry to move on at this point.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Koh Tao Diving

Koh Tao, Thailand - Betsy and I completed our first dive today, actually it was really just our "shallow water" or "confined water" training but it was a real dive nonetheless.

We were supposed to start the course a few days ago but Betsy picked up a cold so we had to delay and as such haven't been doing much the last couple of days but relaxing and letting her recover.

Yesterday we did the "academic" part of the course...yawn. Today we went out on the boat to a dive site called Japanese Garden. Once we were geared up in we went. We swam from the boat to the beach (about 50m) where the water was only about 2m deep. We then "dropped" to the bottom and practiced some basic skills like taking your regulator out of your mouth and putting it back into your mouth remembering to purge it before breathing in! Also filling your mask with water and clearing it underwater.

We also got to scuba around the site for about 20minutes after we had practiced our skills. Even while we were practicing our skills there were many fish swimming right up to us, schools of small brightly colored fish, larger colored fish even a barracuda was seen.

Betsy was a little nervous that she wouldn't be able to equalize her ears due to her cold but she did pretty good. We only went as deep as 7m (22 ft) but still were able to see a lot. All in all we were underwater for about 50minutes.

Tomorrow we have a bit more academics and then we have two dives in the afternoon to 12m (40ft).

On Sunday we do our final two dives at a place called Chumphon Pinnacle which is famous for its Whale Sharks (large plankton eating sharks that grow up to 12m (40ft) long).

The dive operator we are doing our course with is called Simple Life. So far they have been excellent. I actually got my dive certification 10 years ago in Seattle and didn't really enjoy the course or the instructors. I only went for a real dive once after that and then soon moved to Denver and never dived again.

Simple Life has made this a much better diving experience. They were very flexible with Betsy's cold and our instructor "Woz" has been great. We've also got a small group of just 4 so it makes the instruction that much more personal.

We are looking forward to doing some serious diving in the last couple of months of our trip as we journey down through Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Oceans Away!

Chumphon, Thailand - We just arrived in Chumphon which is down on the east coast in southern Thailand and the gateway to the eastern islands of Ko Tao, Ko Pha Ngan and Ko Samui. This is the first glimpse of the ocean we've had in 2 months since we left Nha Trang in Vietnam.

We had what should have been a 6 hour train ride and turned out to be a 9 hour trip. We were late leaving Bangkok and also hit a cow on the way though that didn't seem to slow us down much. It sounded like we hit a speedbump and then there was gravel flying and cows running all over the place...not sure what the result was for the cow but Betsy said there was a streak of "Cow Digested Grass" down the side of the train.

You have to love Thai Railways, we've taken 3 trips and while the trains are comfortable enough, 2 of the 3 have been a couple of hours late. We were commenting about all the traveling we've done up to this point and had zero delays until we started using Thai Railways!

Anyhow we are staying about 20 minutes from Chumphon next to where the catamaran will take us to Ko Tao Island tomorrow where we will do our diving certification...hopefully!

I say hopefully because Betsy thinks she might be coming down with a cold. That isn't the end of the world but would delay us diving a few days.

I feel like we've gotten into a bit of a rut traveling since we arrived in Thailand. Thailand is very modern compared to the other countries we've been to and as such it has been a lot of shopping, going to the mall, different restaurants and not a lot of touring.

Hopefully being on the islands will rejuvenate us a bit.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Big Mango

Bangkok, Thailand - We arrived by train in Bangkok this afternoon from Phitsanulok. We had taken a train to Phitsanulok from Chiang Mai a couple of days ago with the intention of seeing the historical ruins at Sukhothai about an hour away from Phitsanulok but both of us are going through a bit of temple fatigue so we bagged that plan. That coupled with the fact that I have had "Thailand Tummy" the last 4 days it wasn't hard to skip Sukhothai.

It is great to be in Bangkok aka The Big Mango, we found a nice little boutique hotel that just opened a month ago so we've gotten a great "Grand Opening" rate. We will be here about 5 days. The plan is to get our Indonesian visas here and also go see a movie. We haven't seen a movie in ages and Bangkok has lots of first run movies in english.

From here we may go to Kanchanburi which was made famous in the movie "Bridge on the River Kwai" and is the site of the "Death Railway" built by Allied prisoners in WW2 but it seems like a bit of a slog and we are both feeling pretty lazy these days so we'll see...

The other more likely option is to head down to the Thai islands for a few weeks. We are thinking that we might do our diving certification while we are here. Betsy has never dived and I actually got certified about 10 years ago but then only dived a couple of times after that.

It seems a shame to come to some of the best diving areas in the world and not take advantage of it. So if we do that we will head to Ko Tao an island in the Gulf of Thailand that grants more diving certifications each year than anywhere in the world except Cairns, Australia.

Our Thai visas are good until July 26th so we have plenty of time left to explore the country.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Thai Cooking Class...

Chiang Mai, THAILAND - Stacy was suffering from a bout of traveler's tummy so he was not up to attending the cooking class at the Thai Orchid Cookery School, so I was on my own.

The class was held at a local family home that they had arranged to support a cooking class. The day started with a great tour of a local market and to purchase produce for our class. Then it was off to the school for some cooking.

The instructors would demonstrate each dish and then we would go to our individual cooking stations and try it for ourselves. We made Tom Yum (spicy Thai) soup with shrimp, deep fried spring rolls (picture is me assembling the spring rolls), panang curry, pad thai, green papaya salad and steamed banana cake. Very proud to say that all of my dishes actually turned out great. They also gave us a cookbook so hopefully I can replicate my cooking skills for Stacy when we get home. It was a fun filled day.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Flying Through the Jungle

Chiang Mai, Thailand - We've been in Chiang Mai now for almost a week and it has been great.  The food has been great, the weather, our hotel, the shopping, everything.  We were only planning on being here 3 days but have been extending our stay a day every couple of days. On Friday though we will catch the train and head down south towards Phitsanulok & Sukhothai.

Yesterday we did something that neither have us have tried lining.  We went zip lining & abseiling (rappelling) in the jungles north of Chiang Mai with a company called Flight of the Gibbon.

It was great fun, we did 11 zip lines with the longest being 150m (450ft) at a height of 150m above the ground and 3 rappels, the longest being 45m (135ft).

Betsy was a little nervous at the start as she has a fear of heights but by the end of the day she was ready to jump off the platforms to get a running start.  She was a trooper and we both had a great time.

Here is a video I took while zip lining:

Here is a video of Betsy's first zip line, the look of sheer terror was gone by the 3rd zip line: