Thursday, December 18, 2008

Koh Tao, South Thailand

We are still in S. Thailand on the islands-- at least we made our new year's reservations today for a guesthouse in Pai in North Thailand so we have a destination and deadline. This is our third day in Koh Tao and we are leaving for Bangkok tomorrow. We came here to try the diving in Thailand. It was a fairly good experience for me since we went with a very professional company and I did a refresher course to regain my confidence with diving. The diving itself wasn't so great, since the visibility wasn't so good. The roads here have proved to be very challenging. We rented an off-road motorcycle, and Mario has gotten pretty good at driving on the worst roads that I have ever seen (using his feet to help our poor 125cc bike through the rough patches) and I've gotten good at hanging on tight and jumping off when the bike has had enough of carrying 2 people up a particularly steep and loose part.

Our little motorbike

Mario and Cao the dog - who was totally awesome and would sneak away like a mile down the mountain to the beach to terrorize the sunbathing girls

The beauty of Koh Tao

Since I left Bangkok we've been to Koh Yao Noi, Krabi city, Ton Sai beach (close to Railey), Ranong to do a visa run, and then here to Koh Tao. Ton Sai has been our favorite so far. We were there about 5 days and went hiking, cave exploring, kayaking, and rock climbing. The vibe there is very chill and the people very nice. Mario told me that its the best place that he has been to during his trip around the world. I was there about 5 years ago, and it hasn't changed all that much. This is also a good sign. Still quaint, friendly, and very cool.

Ranong was a bit of a nightmare. We crossed the border to Myanmar so that I could do a visa run. Can you believe that Brazilians get 3 month visas in Thailand and Americans get only 15 days (after a one month visa first)? I was very disappointed to find this out, since I have to do yet another one before leaving Thailand. Visa runs are like a blackhole for money. We took a tour around the border town of Myanmar and saw.... just about nothing. A couple of run down temples and a beach. Our guide was a very young Myanmar man (18 YO). He was a terrible motorcycle driver and a show-off: a very bad combination. Probably the most interesting thing that we saw was this LONG wooden makeshift bridge. It connected the mainland to a small island. It must have been quite old because it had clearly been patched up quite a bit. The original bridge had been built upon so that two new wheel-sized tracks were made to accommodate 4-wheel vehicles. Since we were crossing with a motorcycle with three people on it (oh I forgot to mention that our guide probably weighed about 90 pounds and it was his first time driving across the bridge) it would be a a sure disaster if we fell off these two tracks: falling into a hole and busting on the bridge or going through the bridge completely into the ocean--both options seemed realistic. Mario and I discussed suggesting to our guide that Mario drive across the bridge for the return trip : "Can I try to drive the bike? It looks like fun." -- we proposed was the best way to approach him. But in the end we decided that the guide's ego (and potential future guide business) would probably not survive if the tourists commandeered his vehicle so we decided to hang on for dear life. Clearly we survived in the end. But not without an unforgettable (and hopefully not repeated) return trip across this bridge-- and alot of cheering at the end of it. ("Can you take us back to the boat dock please? We're ready to go back to Thailand, thanks.")

Mario and some friendly burmese kids

The infamous bridge