Friday, September 16, 2005

Bangkok to Perth

I arrived back in Bangkok ~4am and checked back into the Sitdhi Guesthouse just off of Khao San Rd. Grabbed my journal and went to use the internet at the Israeli house. There was no one manning the desk so I wound up there for about two hours.

Went back to my room and got two hours sleep and then I was up for breakfast and to go shopping for my airline ticket to OZ. Value Air, pronounced "Waloo Air" by the Thai's, is the best deal. However, I can't use them because they are apparently suffering a slow death , don't have a schedule past October and may not even be around by the time I'm ready to return. So I pay a few bucks more for Royal Brunei which in the end was well worth it.

I then went out to replace my stolen flip flops. Also bought some rubbing alcohol to dry out my ear which is still clogged with water and really starting to annoy me.

Later I found Alan my dive buddy from Koh Tao and had a Singha and a springroll while taking in "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory". The original is much better or maybe I'm just an old nostalgic fart?! Spent this night just like we would the next two, cruising Khao San road , the clubs and people watching. We even got gutsy the last night and ate some street vendor's octapus on a stick. Not bad actually. We passed on the cockroaches, grubs, grasshoppers and scorpions though. Interestingly these delicacies only become available late at night (When everyone is pissed!) I Spent the next two days mainly shopping for shirts and shorts for OZ and splurged on a dive watch which I honed my haggling skills on.

My last night I spent my last $4 on a t-shirt, said goodbye to Alan, retrieved my bags and headed to the bus stop for the 1am airport bus. I made sure to get there early and that's always a good idea in Thailand. They tend to make up their schedules according to god knows what, often leaving earlier than forecasted. I got there at 12:30 and confirmed it was the 1am bus and then confirmed I had enough time to take five minutes to get some Pad Thai from the corner. "Oh yes, 10-15 minutes at least before the bus leaves". Well 4 minutes later I returned and they hurriedly ushered me onto the bus which promptly left for the airport at about 12:36!!

My flight wasn't till 7:50am so at the airport I alternated between trying to sleep and watching CNN. I got no sleep and recieved little information. Around 6am I checked in, paid the 500 Baht departure tax and went thru passport control. At this point I thought it best not to fall asleep so I perused the Duty Free Shops and waited to board, hardly able to keep my eyes open.

Nearly on time we boarded the Royal Brunei jet which is very nice. Everyone gets their own video screen complete with movie choices and video games. The seats are comfy and the food was very good also. They even had a vegetarian meal for me even though I didn't pre-order it.
We were to have a stop over in Brunei which is a country I was not at all familar with. It is apparently a very weathly country mainly from Oil. It is also a dry Muslim country, the kind that gives out the death penalty for drug possesion. Both the flights to Brunei and then on to Perth began with a prayer to Allah. I guess that us infidels are also covered since we are all together in the cabin?! Altogether they were nice flights, but between the meals, the video games and a screaming toddler I didn't get any sleep.
So I arrived in Perth tired and in a fog. It was quite cool, spring just having started, and a nice change from the heat I've experienced of late. Auzzie customs, the toughest in the world, wanted to confiscate my Indian hand drum. In the end they compromised and only cut off the skins allowing me to at least keep the shell. Oh well, I'll reskin later.

My Auzzie mate, Shannon wasn't around yet, but showed up shortly as I was talking to a Perth local. So we hopped into his old man's pickup truck and began the journey to Bunbury. I had no idea it was 2.5 hours away!! Geez, if I had known that I would have never let Shannon pick me up. After taking a wrong turn in the "big city" we eventually made it to Bunbury where I met Gup's mom. She made me feel at home and the combination of being in an acutal home and taking my first truly hot shower in 6 months was fantastic. I slept like a baby in thru the chilly Bunbury night.

Spent a couple of days chillin and walking around. Tonight we head up to Perth for the weekend. It turns out that the Western Australia Eagles are playing in the AFL semifinals this week and Gup got us tickets. So my first Aussie Footy game should be a great experience.Now all I have to do is try to understand the game and keep up with Gup and his buddies!!!!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Thailand's Islands

So I hop on the bus and was just falling asleep when they turned on the movie. And for some reason it's in French?! Around 5am we arrive at the end of the line for this bus and are forced to wait at a restaurant till our ferry leaves @ 7:30am. So in the meantime I finish reading "The Alchemist" which everybody raves about. It has a nice message, but I found it kind of remedial and not that special.

So on the ferry I got a little nap and some sun on deck and we arrived at Koh Samui ~ 11:30am. An hour later we pulled into Koh Pangnan and two German girls and I accepted a ride to check out "Dreamhill Bungalows" in the northwest part of the island. We all decided to stay there, at least for one night. We thru our bags in our rooms and headed straight for the beach. The water was so warm, almost too warm. Also very shallow with a coral reef about 30 meters out. After my swim I noticed the Germans as well as most of the girls here are topless. This will do :) Too bad it seems like a couples place :( That is unless it's during the Full Moon Party (which it wasn't). Then it is debatibly the world's wildest party island with 20-30,000 people showing up to party their faces off.

I went for a jog and already the fresh salt air is making me feel better. After dinner I feel asleep and awoke around midnight. I figured I should walk along the beach and check out the bars just to make sure I wasn't missing anything. It turns out I wasn't as it was pretty quiet. So I walked a little, meditated and then went back to sleep.

In the morning I awoke to see that the German girls were packed and ready to search for other accomadations. So I let them stow their gear in my room so they could chill on the beach. I followed shortly and then shared a taxi with them into town. They wanted to stay on the east side of the island and I was thinking along the same lines. But in any case I wanted to rent a scooter. Which is what I did.

I headed southeast along the coast towards Had Rin where the Full Moon Party is held and saw a few places to stay, but nothing that jumped out at me. So I made my way back to Dreamhill, swam, relaxed on the beach, read a cheap novel I found, and had a nice Thai dinner on the beach listening to the Doors and watching a lovely sunset.

The next morning I awoke and had breakfast on the tranquil beach and then rode the Honda into town to get prices for diving in Koh Tao. Armed with that information I took some time to explore the island. I followed some signs to a state park with some waterfalls but there wasn't much water flowing. Carried on to the lookout view with a nice panoramic view of vividly green palm tree tops all over the island. I hopped back on the Honda for more cruising and somehow missed a turn. No problem though, it's a small island. I just enjoyed the longer route and followed the sun back to the bungalow.

I duplicated last night with the exception that I got invited to a party. So when I heard the music kick in I went to check it out. However, I didn't stay long due to the fact that I wasn't really in a party mood and the rather bad guitar playing and singing did nothing to entice me to stay.

In the morning I had to yell for a bit until someone woke up so I could pay my bill. I hopped on the Honda and hoped I had enough gas to make it back. Traded the scooter for my passport and booked my dive class. It's a very hot day so I'm sweating buckets until I could board the boat and go down below for some air conditioning. Disembarked and was escorted to the Ban's pickup truck where I met a couple of Canadian girls who are also heading to Perth shortly.

We arrived at a rather nicely set up dive resort and I secured my room. The scuba orientation is at 4pm so I stroll around for a while and check out the food and movie menus. The movies are all bootlegged and you are lucky if large chunks of the movie aren't missing.

At 4pm we met our Dive Instructor, Steef from Denmark. He came here 7 years ago and never left. Now he's married to a Thai lady and has a beautiful little girl. The other students include Shirley & Joe (Ireland), Alan (Scotland), James (CA), Nathan & Kathy (OZ) and John (England) who has never dived before yet has signed up for the "zero to hero course" to become an instructor. We start off slow, Steef talks to us for a while and then we watch the PADI video for a while.

Afterwards I took a dip in the pool and then went for some burritos. Did some homework, played my drum and got eaten alive by mosquitos. They say malaria isn't a problem here, I hope they're right!?!

In the morning we started our confined water instruction where we meet Johan (Denmark) who is our assistant instructor. The sea is flat so I'm hoping to do the instruction there, but Steef says there isn't enough water so off to the pool we go and start off with a 200m swim test. Then we set up our equipment and got into the pool for some skills: clearing water from your mask, taking on/off your mask/weights/BCD, swim w/o a mask, buoyancy control, losing and finding your regulator and sharing your octapus (back up air supply).

The next morning we started our open water dives. Up at 7am and we all meet for breakfast. Then went to the beach, hopped on a speed boat which took us to the big dive boat which then took us to our first dive site: Twin Peaks. Very nice conditions: 20-25 Meter Visibility and 86 degree water. After our dive briefing we got into the water. A shallow dive of only 12m for 40 minutes. A nice dive, felt pretty good. Really nice coral and lots of fish. After the dive we debriefed , snacked on the complimentary cookies and coffee and sailed to our second dive site, White Rock.

After planning the dive we entered the water this time using the "Dead Mexican" entry. A Fall backwards into the water like you've been shot in one of those old Mexican cowboy movies. Practiced a few more skills and then swam around checking out the fish and coral formations. Another good dive, more relaxed. Back on land we had some classroom time and all decided to get the final exam out of the way early. I got a perfect score.

That evening I had a tofu cheeseburger for dinner and caught up with Alan for a beer. We went to Ban's Bar and met up with Joe and Shirley for some more beers and watched some football. Played some pool and had some more beers. Too many actually. On the way out I realized that someone had stolen my flip flops :(

Our 11:30 meeting came way too early as Alan and I were quite hung over. I didn't realize those Chang's are 6.4%! Today we will be completing our Open Water course with two more dives. First back to Twin Peaks, but we went to 18m this time. Also along with us is a film crew so for the camera we all show off with a "James Bond" somersault entry. Practiced a few more skills under water and took off our masks, put on some sunglasses and waved to the camera while sitting on the bottom of the ocean. Then a swim thru an arch formation and we were off to explore. Saw some Trigger fish which on Koh Tao can be aggressive and start biting your fins, but they weren't biting today. No Fun!!

Anyway, later we had a graduation dinner together and then watched the film of our day. It was nicely produced and fun to watch. It would be nice though if they didn't charge $50 for a copy.

The next day I opted to continue my dive education and take the Advanced Open Water course and met my new dive buddy, Neil from England. This day we were kept busy with three seperate dives. First we head to Chumpon Pinacle which is Steef's favorite site. He told us there was a good possibility of seeing some Leopard Sharks and maybe even the elusive and huge but harmless Whale Shark. Again the visibility was excellent and we got to go down to 30 meters. A great dive, but everyone else seems to suck more air than me which shortens my dive time. Gotta be a team player though. On our second dive we saw a giant jellyfish which had loads of tiny silver fish inside its bell. Apparently they were snacking on the Jelly which didn't have much longer to live.

Just before sunset we set off for our Night Dive, were briefed and in the darkness dove into the water torches ablazing. A nice experience, but other than some sleeping Triggers and a large hermit crab we didn't get to see any of the really cool nocturnal things like octapusses or feeding Baracudas. After a seriously long day of diving we still had 3 chapters of homework to do so we all decided to do it together piecemeal over dinner. Afterwards we all went to bed and I'm sure slept very soundly.

The next day would finish up the Advanced course with our final two dives. First we went to Southwest Pinnacle for our Fish I.D. dive. The objective was simple: spot and I.D. as many fish as possible. And we saw many. Then on board the boat we consulted our fish slates and Johan's infamous fish book which he is never without.

Next we cruised to Ao Leuk Point for our Navigation Dive. The main exercise here was to navigate a big square with the aid of a compass. We had one big problem though. Neil was wearing the compass and his mask was fogged up. We were flying blind so it's no wonder we got lost! Luckily I spotted a couple of other diving buddies and suggested we follow them. Fortunately they weren't lost like us and we made it back to square one. Then we were set loose on our own for the first time which was great. It was really nice not to have to follow a guide around and we got to see a ton of fish including a nice Mooray Eel. Except for having to surface for a minute to defog Neil's mask it was a great dive. The best one yet. Neil even did much better on air consumption so we were able to max out our dive time at 45 minutes and we were the last ones back on the boat.

Back on land we grabbed a taxi into town to check out some dive equipment and had some more excellent Thai food. Walked back and drank a few beers at Ban's bar. We were just about to head to "Choppers Bar" when the skys opened up so we ordered another round. The rain cleared and Johan showed up so we finished our beers and began walking to Choppers. Johan had his scooter so he shuttled us one by one to the bar where a live band was playing to a packed house. The band wasn't technically that good, but they were fun and everyone really got into it. After closing we stopped for some banana/chocolate pancakes and said our goodbyes to Joe & Shirley who were leaving the next morning.

No diving the next day so I went into town and bought a mask and snorkel and then tested them out. There was some pretty cool stuff not even 50 meters offshore. I followed a small school of feeding fish for a while and saw an impressive array of fish for being so close to shore.
The next morning when I went to pay my bill they tried to charge me for someone elses food, but quickly rectified it. While waiting for the taxi to the pier I ran into Team Denmark from my class. The previous day they got to see some sharks and that morning they got attacked by a giant trigger fish. Some people have all the fun.

So now I prepare to sail back to Bangkok and make arrangements to visit the wonderful wizard of OZ!!!! :)