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Thailand

Watching the World Go Crazy in Koh Tao


View 2020 on mrb430's travel map.

It's been a month since my last post and there are a few reasons for that disturbance in the flow.

Perhaps the primary one is that lately we've been focused on a lot of mundane things like rebuilding our life and figuring out the future. Historically this blog has been about our travels. Sure there is a bit of what we're thinking or feeling thrown in but primarily it's about the places and the people and our reactions to it all. And I suppose that's what those of you that follow us or those who stumble upon us are looking for us to tell you about. But it's also for us to look back on and remember how it felt, what we were doing and thinking, and the challenges we faced. I often go back and read old entries and even just the tone of my writing clues me in to how we were feeling. And right now how we are feeling is changing daily so it's been hard to put into words.

The other, much more practical, issue is that our mornings are now more active and that was my writing time historically. I'm less fresh and more reflective in the evenings so I wasn't sure how much that would change the "tone" and if it would change it too much.

But here we are. If I don't just jump in again I many never and I'm not okay with that. So we'll see how this goes.

LOVELY ISLAND LIFE ON KOH TAO

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Of course it's great to lead with a sunset. It's wonderful to have a balcony and beach facing West again. But really I should lead with this one.

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Because what we love here is the simple, easy, island pace of life, including that the laundry across the street hangs our clothes out on lines by the beach to dry. It's just off the beach road, at the quiet end where we are, but there is zero worry that anyone will take anything and there's this special feeling about putting those clothes on - weird as it sounds. We've moved back to beach dresses for me and tank tops for Scott. We wear flip-flops or go barefoot, which is easier because you remove your shoes to enter every establishment anyway.

This is a typical "road". There are very few cars, mostly just scooters. And although the young backpackers can be a bit crazy the difference from Bangkok or Nha Trang is that of Manhattan cabbies to the backroads of the Eastern Shore. The traffic that is here may not always do the speed limit but there's so little of it!
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This is the view from our "front yard" in Mae Haad, which is a little private area of beach with loungers. Mae Haad is the "bigger" town with plenty of businesses and dive shops but it's also less popular with the backpacker crowd so it has less loud bars and many fewer goings on at night, which we like.
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We look out on the docks that bring and take tourists to and from the island and on the dive boats that go out each day. We can sit for hours watching the activity and have learned to tell time by the comings and goings of the different ferries. Our little one bedroom apartment is in a building of just eight units, most of which are empty on any given night, and although we have A/C in the bedroom we only use it at night. It's certainly hot and humid here but we've learned the rhythm of the day: activity before two, rest on the beach or under the fan in the afternoon, evenings on the deck or out for dinner and/or drinks. It's quiet at night and easy to sleep.

We've started walking again. Scott is even going on hikes with me!
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We've both started yoga again at a great studio that's not too far away. Just in the next beach town over, Sairee Beach (the party area), that you get to by walking the beach "road". Just a wide concrete path lined with shops, restaurants, and hotels.

Scott has been diving.
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There are more dive shops in Koh Tao than restaurants, or at least it seems like it. It's really popular with the backpacker crowd for inexpensive certification classes. It's also has some pretty good dive sites. The visibility here can change from great to murky within a few hours this time of year so it's always a bit of a crap shoot. For example, Scott dove the same site two days in a row and the first day the visibility was less than two meters and the next it was 12-15. The dives are cheap here so you just go with the flow and they have pretty good communication between all the divers on the sites that were poor in the morning so afternoon dives can be adjusted accordingly.

We've been snorkeling from our beach. The water is so clean and warm and there is a great reef that even has a sunken ship just at the other end of our cove.
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I've been having fun identifying fish and lizards in my iNaturalist App and birds for eBird. I've identified eight new birds for my life list here including the amazing White-bellied Sea Eagle that flies with the Ospreys in the skies out in front of us and Pacific Reef Herons that perch all along the waterfront on the boats and piers.

I've also been volunteering at an animal clinic with these sweet pups. Nothing glamorous. I help with laundry mostly - haha!
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We've made some friends, rediscovered the pleasure of rum, and play a lot more music. We have our local bar next door owned by a hard-drinking Aussie - who also becomes our DJ some nights when the mood strikes him and he cranks the speakers and runs through his extensive music library. There's a favorite Thai restaurant where a plate of Pad Thai, a dish of Penang Curry, and two watermelon juices is $7.50 and just steps down the road. Jun runs our favorite coffee shop and doubles as our entertainment director. There's live music in a few places. Just down the beach they have a nice band on weekends that we can hear from the deck and a place up the road has open mike nights that are good three nights a week. There's lots of good, cheap Western food, grocery stores and produce stands with recognizable brands and options, and a population that speaks enough English to make ourselves understood in pharmacies and stores. Koh Tao is checking all of our boxes and we are way under-burning our budget, which is frosting on this tasty cake!

THAILAND AS HOME DURING THE PANDEMIC

The Thais are a sweet, proud, and honorable people. Some of their government types rival some of ours on the speaking, and occasionally acting, before thinking front - but most of the government seems to us to be forthright and dignified. There is something very peaceful and reassuring about being here in the midst of the pandemic. Cases are very low still, even though they were one of the first countries infected, their focus on tracking, testing, and isolating those affected seems effective and reasonable, and they are actively planning for it to get worse if it should by identifying special hospitals to take the cases. Some foreigners complain about being targeted with border closings but the honest truth is it's foreigners bringing it to Thailand - there is no local spread here yet. And, so far, they are only closed to seriously affected countries - well and also some weird ones like Cyprus and Vanuatu - which honestly seems reasonable to us. We just hope they hold off on the US until we can get our visas settled!

We've spent long days contemplating what to do. Should we go back to the States? Our insurance only allows us to be in the States for 6 of 12 months a year so we need to save that option for an emergency - plus we're not too impressed with the US reaction to the problem, frankly. Should we be in a bigger place with better access to hospitals in case we get sick? We can get medical evacuation from here to Bangkok and, as I know first hand, their hospitals are awesome. At the end of the day, we feel pretty isolated here and are hopeful it may skip us as fewer and fewer other foreigners are let in. Tourism is waaaaayyyyy down here. Fewer and fewer people get off the ferries every day. Also it's an easy place to "self-isolate" if we had to do that and the local population of expats seem like fun people to ride out the storm with.

In short, we've found our home for awhile if they'll let us stay. They do have a retirement visa that we can meet the requirements of given time. We go tomorrow to the Immigration office over on Koh Samui to figure out what it will take. We're relatively confident we can figure it out even if we have to do a border run to Myanmar (Burma). So far that border is still open and Americans can still enter (as long as we haven't actually been in America!) If we are successful we should be able to stay for up to year if that's what it takes to ride out the storm. Wish us luck! We wish you all stay safe and healthy!

Posted by mrb430 05:11 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Goodbye Vietnam, Hello Bangkok


View 2020 on mrb430's travel map.

We arrived in Bangkok on February 5th so I'm definitely due for an update!

But before we talk about Thailand, a few more thoughts and images from Nha Trang.

PONAGAR TOWER (Tháp Bà PoNagar)

On a granite promontory just across the Cai River from central Nha Trang, this Cham temple tower founded sometime before 781 A.D. is dedicated to Yan Po Nagar, the goddess of the country, who came to be identified with the Hindu goddesses Bhagavati and Mahishasuramardini. At this point just upriver from the ocean, the river is filled with colorful fishing boats.
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Built between the 7th and 12th centuries and originally Hindu, the towers are still actively used for worship by Cham, Chinese and Vietnamese Buddhists. Originally the complex had seven or eight towers, but only four remain. The independent Cham political states extended across the coast of what is today central and southern Vietnam from approximately the 2nd century A.D. before being absorbed and annexed by Vietnamese Emperor Minh Mạng in AD 1832. Cham peoples still exist in Vietnam though they are a small minority.

The temples are unlike any we have seen so far. Built of red brick, they have weathered and softened over time but are still incredibly beautiful.
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The whole area is surrounded by beautiful gardens and rock out crops and the views are awesome.large_96F81FFF-B2A5-4148-BF5F-6AEF7BFF5106_1_201_a.jpeglarge_B647F9ED-94D4-4B4A-99B3-00F0A76D7AF8_1_201_a.jpeglarge_IMG_4138.jpeglarge_IMG_4145.jpeglarge_IMG_4144.jpeg

SUPERBOWL LIV

In which my Kansas City Chiefs win it all! We watched with a group of friends we'd met over our weeks in Nha Trang. We did begin to establish friends and a small community, even in the short time we were there - a testament to the fact that anywhere can be home if you try. We wish we had liked Nha Trang better but...and yes those are VICTORY Duck Farts for those in the know. (One is for Scott who had to be photographer but he was celebrating, too!)
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LASTING IMAGES OF NHA TRANG

Of course there are the motor bikes but there are also a few other lasting impressions we will take with us from Vietnam. One of the most lasting images for us is the juxtaposition of old Nha Trang, the sleepy fishing village, with new Nha Trang, the tourist Mecca. These pictures capture that feeling.
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Vietnam is a coffee culture and having an ice coffee prepared at one of the many coffee shops was a favorite activity. Oddly, they serve you a glass of complimentary iced green tea with each cup.
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Vietnamese street food is cheap, safe, and delicious. It's also pretty easy because most vendors only sell one thing. Bánh Mì vendors sell Bánh Mì. Pho vendors sell Pho. And Banh Can vendors sell Banh Can, one of our favorites.
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The food is simple with easily identifiable ingredients. And it's generally not too spicy. We came to really like a lot of it, although we could see it getting a little boring over time.

Vietnam is really inexpensive. Compared to Thailand, it's cheap! We can see the appeal for expats on limited budgets.

The communist presence is limited as I discussed in my last post but the entry to the neighborhoods throughout the city remind you of that past.
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And unique to Nha Trang, at least for us, is the use of Bougainvillea as a street tree.
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Lastly, over the time we were in Vietnam as the Coronavirus spread, face masks because as ubiquitous as in Japan. Thanks to the many Chinese tourists (although by the time we left there were very few remaining and it was like a ghost town), the Vietnamese went a bit crazy. All of the staff in our hotel were wearing masks. The government had posters everywhere and were making public announcements in the street, and of course as a result finding face masks to purchase was next to impossible. That didn't stop us from finding them and they felt like a necessity, if only for our peace of mind, on our flight to Bangkok.
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As was wiping everything with disinfecting wipes, being maniacal about hand washing and hand sanitizer (though truthfully that obsession has been with us for awhile). Arriving in Thailand, the mood is much more relaxed, at least after leaving the airport, which is a relief.

BANGKOK, THAILAND

Our arrival to Bangkok was like going from rural America to NYC. Back in the big leagues! Almost from the moment we arrived and realized there weren't any cars or motorbikes parked on the sidewalks, we knew we would be happier here. It's just true that we are more comfortable with places able to provide a few more of the creature comforts we need to feel at home.
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Of course, it comes at a price. Housing is still very affordable, especially now that tourism is taking such a huge hit from the virus, and transportation is very inexpensive but food and clothing are only slightly cheaper than in the West.

Don't get me wrong, there are motorbikes and traffic here, too. But there are stoplights and crosswalks! And they make use of overpasses over the really big roads.
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And they have public transportation! The Sky Tram is an awesome elevated train and a great way to see the city.
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As a major international city, it has great food from all over the world. German, French, Italian, Indian, and of course Thai - one of our favorites! We've been eating really well! We haven't tried street food yet although it's supposed to be amazing. Unfortunately, unlike Vietnam it's hard to tell exactly what's on offer, the ingredients are unfamiliar, and it's usually really spicy. Maybe we'll do a food tour to get our feet wet.

SALA DAENG, SILOM - LUMPINI PARK - SUKHUMVIT

Our first place was in a small hotel in the neighborhood of Sala Daeng in the Silom district. It's mainly a business district so its quiet at night but has great coffee shops and cheap lunch spots. The best part is it's right across the street from Lumpini Park, the Central Park of Bangkok.
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It is closed to traffic and has great walking paths and bike lanes as well as ponds and tons of birds. In my first few days I recorded 16 new birds! It also has great views of all of the tall buildings of Bangkok's amazing skyline. There is some amazing architecture here and they spend extra to make their buildings unique.

We've moved now to an apartment in the Sukhumvit district. It's full of more upscale hotels, residences, and as the major shopping area, tons of huge, very nice malls. It's close to Nana, which is the big expat party district, and we've made a few forays over there. We're moving around exploring different parts of the city in case we do decide to settle here for awhile. Our last week here, we will move again. Not sure where yet. Have any suggestions?

BUDDHISM AND THE KING

If the primary imagery of Vietnam was the Communist Party, in Bangkok, Buddhism and the King share the spotlight. There are pictures of the King everywhere, on buildings, on banners along streets, and this huge one as you exit the highway from the airport. I don't know enough to comment on it really other to say it's different and interesting.
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And religion is a huge part of the culture here, too. Almost every building of any size be it a home, business, parking garage, etc., as a Buddhist shrine. These are maintained daily with fresh offerings of food and drink and flowers. It's really interesting and many are really beautiful.
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They call Thailand the land of smiles. Many people comment on this, both bad and good, but for us it's true. In our experience, Thai people are very warm, welcoming, and genuinely nice. It's a big piece of why we feel more comfortable here. It's a little strange to have them bow to us but we try to take it as it's meant and recognize it is a part of what makes their culture so deep and interesting.

So I know this is light on sights after three weeks in Bangkok but we've been catching up on some medical stuff while in the land of inexpensive, high quality healthcare, so we haven't seen or done too much yet. But stay tuned, that will change.

WHAT'S NEXT

Our plans change frequently as we discuss different options but for now we have decided to move on at the beginning of March to Koh Tao, a Thai island. Although we are flirting with staying in Bangkok, at the end of the day we want to be at the beach so we're gonna go try it out and see if it might work as a home base. We're working out our visas and continuing to take this year one day and one step at a time.

Posted by mrb430 18:23 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

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