Sunday, July 31, 2011

Doi Suthep, very impressive. Especially so for the Naga, whose heads adorned the 304 step ascent to its mountain-top location, when the temple was founded in the 12th C by kings of Lanna.

The Thais are sometimes very unkind, here relics of the Buddha are guarded by something a little more ferocious than D. Duck esq.

More impressive templry in Chiang Mai, this one perhaps unique in that the supporting cast includes a nasi-munching Donald Fauntleroy Duck.

Chiang Mai is a bit of an adventure sport destination, with some great limestone cliffs just outside town. The feesh warmed up in 42*C heat at the climbing gym, just across the road from our amazing little guest house.

Coolest travelling street cocktail bar in the back of a small converted daihatsu truck

Sticky rice and mango!

Returning from the amazing flower market - orchids and other beautiful blooms abound

T selecting the finest in hilltribe inspired couture in one of the Chiang Mai bazaars

Monday, July 25, 2011


One of the classic touristy things to do in northern thailand is take a cookery course. "Flight of the Gibbon" zip-lining, or tiger petting park, I ask you. No thanks. But cooking good food? Bring it on! So, clad in my sleek bright pink apron, I grasped the nettle.

A huge amount of fun and now dik from the chow, since we eat each of the seven dishes we prepare. Of course every ingredient you need is available locally and quite cheap, so pulling these dishes out of the bag back home will be a little tricky: challenge to Jax and EarthFair to see if the market can deliver !?

Our cooking class took place on a lush everything-grows-here smallholding far out of town, complete with water buffalo sulking in their allocated paddies. But, like home, old meets new here really well and the cooking stations looked like something out of a TV show, all glitzy, modern and equipped with the best of the best.

I will have to revisit my stance on rice from today: sticky rice and mango, prepared well, is absolutely delicious.

Wandering around the hills of Northern Thailand

Back from a few days away in the sweltering jungle, having waded our way through the thickest, slickest and gloopiest clays (eroded granites) I've ever seen. The forest has 100% humidity and is a breezeless sauna once you're beneath the canopy.

Biodiversity wise it is in no way anything like pristine shape (the great teak forests of Northern Thailand and Burma having been one of the attractions for British colonial interests) with logging paths and hunting shelters evident throughout, but for the rushing torrent in the valley it is also eerily quiet.

Great stands of bamboo, I suspect doing well in a disturbed ecosystem, rise 20m overhead and we kept expecting Michelle O or Chow Yun Fat to emerge from a thicket, sword in hand.

But there are large trees remaining, over crowning the dwarf secondary forest by 15m or more. These are all honey trees, fitted with the most daring ladders I've ever seen. Hardwood pegs placed every half metre or so into the trunk, split a single piece of bamboo, which, fitted end to end with similar pieces, rise to the canopy along the entire length of the trunk. It doesn't look like it can even hold itself, let alone a honey hunter at 40m.

Bamboo is impressive, and is pervasive in the hill tribes' agri-tech. Our multi-level hut was placed on a steep slope near a waterfall, and built entirely from bamboo. Sort of like Clifton, but way cooler. And cheaper.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Thai straw technology, and deeper problems such as bent chopsticks

There is a fabulous straw culture in Thailand. Very sophisticated. The one I'm presently clutching has the bore of a snorkel plus it's bendy too!- you can pretty much shoot anything you find in a coconut soup across the street with it.... food fights have universal appeal, right?

And speaking of bendy: bent chopsticks, what's that all about, eh? Fine when straight, oh yes, but not so good for soup, rice, or even gardening when they're bent, and there are tasty morsels of chicken-on-the-bone lurking. Fingers might be considered rude, but so is not finishing yer meal, me mum always said, beating me with a wet tea towel.


Later, having reflected on the mystery of the bent chopsticks, and undertaken some research, these feesh have concluded that this is an early Chinese, probably Han, invention, and almost certainly the Emperor's ingenious response to famine.

Politics is relentless and unforgiving, political solutions borne of desperate necessity often surprising in their daring simplicity. Emperor Weech Wei, realising his peril, directed the nation to employ only bendy ones thenceforth, the peasantry -and his Kingdom- saved in an instant as a hundred million families sat down to dinner that night, each nosing a half dozen grains of rice up and down the side of each of their bowls for an hour, momentarily distracted from rebellion by the frustration of achieving the impossible.

Heading for the hills

So, having ducked into and out of bilgey Bangkok in under a day, we caught the night bus up to Chiang Mai. Slick and smooth experience, even running ahead of schedule, complete with dinner, almost fully reclinable seats, and at first, ghastly Thai sitcoms with blacked out sections of scenes where folks had their feet up on the desks.

No matter how I try, I have yet to sleep on a bus, train or aeroplane for longer than perhaps 5 minutes at a time. This was worse, since the conditions seemed so amenable, but I failed wretchedly. But Chiang Mai is a welcoming place for the weary.

We have eaten what I suspect were goats' balls, not particularly invigorating I concede, unless you are taken by surprise, which we were, expecting the famous delicacies of the "best dining in Thailand" but not expecting our Tom Kha Gai to be reinterpreted in such a progressive fashion.

We watched monks, and many many monklets too -this is a growth business judging from the demographics- wandering the slumbering streets at dawn, collecting rice alms from elderly ladies.

The next few days sees us trekking (we have hunted for walking that involves walking, not wandering around an elephant park, let's pray we are successful), and doing Thai massage and cookery courses. Bangkok might have Jozi's spirit and energy, but Chiang Mai seems to have Cape Town's love of the finer things in life.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Helluva walk over the mountain to Hin Wong Bay, but the coolest little beach bar once you get there made it all worthwhile...

T working off her shortie wetsuit tan -like a double farmers' tan- on the beach in front of Blue Immersion

Hin Wong Bay II

We paid our farewells to Koh Tao today with another visit to the bait ball of trevallies at Hin Wong Bay.

I remember flicking through -it seems- a hundred thousand fish, the perfect swarm splitting and reforming around me again and again.

I remember finding clams, tiger striped lips grinning at me from the seabed, wider than my arm is long.

Beds of soft corals and sponges, sheltering thousands of nervous fish, darting in and out of the shelter but exquisitely beautiful when you peer at them up close.

Graveyards of jumbled reindeer antlers -hard corals- and stretches of uncountable mushroom corals that are over as quickly as they start.

Massive fan corals and hand maiden sponges, sheltering a pair of chocolate brown groupers.

Irritable triggerfish circling their territories, pilot fish in attendance.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Hin Wong Bay

Fantastic day today! Onno and I walked over to the other side of the island (not too far, but super steep)and spent the day at Hin Wong Bay - much smaller than our local beach, quiet, calm bay, one little beachside bar. Had an incredible snorkel. Apart from the usual (ho hum) ridiculously fabulous range of sea life, this time we stumbled upon a resident school of fish (to be identified tonight). Easily 30 000 of them, each about 15 cm long, swarming beneath us. We took it in turns to dive into the school and swim around - they would respond immediately as one body and swirl around us. An incredible experience.
Off to the Grand Opening of Rocktopus Dive School tonight to celebrate a new friend's birthday.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Living in the provinces ....

Like Cape Town, and you forget how majestic summer, or here -tropical- storms, are.

Billowing leaden balloons, darkening and racing towards us, the first smattering of rain, warm. A stiffening breeze and short seconds after the first drops, the smattering is a blattering and now a deluge. Just as suddenly it is as dark as dusk, and the inviting sea is being whipped into a froth.

We were caught out at sea while training yesterday, with waves breaking over us, swamping our bouy and our snorkels, the wind and current dragging us far from our original drop off point. It was wild, and exhilirating, crazy on the surface but quiet and peaceful beneath.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Best Pancakes in Asia? Well, the show is good, and judging from how these children squabbled over the chocolate and banana ones, the pancakes are pretty hot too

Setting the pace

Island Life is slowly taking us over, little by little. This suits the free diving vibe well, where even taking a breath too quickly is greeted with dismay - like, too much energy, gotta learn to relax.

It seems the most natural thing in the world now to be wet for 8 hours a day, to seldom wear much more than boardies or a bikini, to share a pineapple shake & ginger chicken & rice for lunch at our local, scoff banana pancakes from our fave mobile street chef, and to sweat underneath a creaky fan at night as the bed rolls & twists beneath me.

Yup, land sickness has struck badly. I feel uncomfortable the moment i set foot back on land and yearn to get back on the boat and under the water with nothing more than a set of mega fins, mask and snorkel, and cruise the reefs at 15m with dolphin kick, eyeballing the myriads of citizens, occasionally swimming past a SCUBA diver too. Yesterday we narrowly missed seeing a pod of pilot whales.

Today T and I qualified from our free dive courses, and will celebrate courtesy of the good folks at the SA Receiver, who have returned some of my confiscated earnings. Island is getting quieter today and tomorrow, too, which means less insane fireworks in all directions on the beach at night and less liquored 18 year old scooter drivers. Party boat leaves tomorrow for Full moon party at the neighbouring island; we stay to swim swim and swim until we can't anymore, before leaving on Monday.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Same same

Third day on Koh Tao coming to an end. Another beautifully warm, palm waving sea lolling day. Onno did fabulously well today - got down to 19 metres! I - joy of joys - was at last not sea sick, so had my first real attempt at free diving. Last day of course tomorrow.
We'll post pictures just as soon as we figure out how :)

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Gotta love evolution

We, like all other mammals, have the coolest reflex. It's the Mammalian Dive Reflex, which if you read about it in a textbook (which I did in Physiology class back in the Pleistocene) doesn't sound like much. OK if you're a seal, but it's not like we're furry punks that survive on sushi. So I never gave it much thought, until today.

Today was our second on the free diving course here at Koh Tao. Swell was up, and a stiff driving breeze put T out of action in spite of some serious meds she had taken in advance. Unfortunately, with free diving there is no alcohol (at all), caffeine of any sort, no dairy if you battle with getting bunged up, oh and no breakfast that morning either. All these things interfere with your performance, and chiefly that MDR.

This means taking sea sick meds is tough, to say the least.

But getting the MDR to work is how you dive to ridiculous depths, and breathold for many minutes. It shuts down peripheral blood flow, shunts blood to the thorax, buffers the lungs and blood, and causes seriously significant lowered heart rate - all of these things keep you going underwater, for longer.

I hit 18m today and T and I celebrated with an epic snorkel amongst the most colourful kaleidoscope of fish I have ever seen. mind blowing.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Trying to swim upstream

Kho Tao is clearly a Mecca of sorts, if you are an American or European twenty-something that has a high, very high, affinity for tattoos, don't mind sludgy accommodation and mass market diving experiences.

In spite of this we have done well - a nice well priced "resort" close, but not too close, to the high street and our dive shop, with a quieter and slightly more classy brand of beach bar. And we are the only two on our (free) diving course, which combos up with a mad crowd of cliff jumpers / rock climbers . Our one dive instructor turns out to be one of the best in the world (just finished a 4-way freedive through the Dahab Blue Hole and tunnel! Breathhold record 8mins+). His partner is a very good teacher, so we landed right side up.

We both took some strain today on our first time out, T with sea sickness and I with equalisation. I got it partially right and made it to 14m on the last dive! For which I'm stoked :) tomorrow more of same, aiming for 20m...

Thursday, July 7, 2011

To be knowingly scammed... the subtle dance of scammed & scamee

So today's deal was we get super cheap tuk-tuk and free entry to temples IF in between each temple visit we obliged to be taken to a govt share outlet. The beauty of it is that today is a holy buddhist day, so many temples that would not otherwise be open to tourists, are. Govt sponsors entry and tuk-tuk petrol for umlungus but the deal is you get special tours and deals at Govt owned tailors, travel agencies, jewellery stores etc. How thoughtful.

I've threatened enough that I would. And I did.

So number three it was. And the best part of it was having my "fringe" trimmed with crimping scissors and a full blow-dry (be careful, i said blowdry) when done! T reckons I look very rof now. But it shakes a couple of degrees off an overheated body.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

What makes a good curry?

Best part of digging around the bottom of your curry bowl with rusty chopstick skills is the "identify with reasons" debate that then ensues. Various proposals were tabled but we settled on green fig, fennel bulb, and shelled green peas (these were easy) in our mussaman. Unexpectedly marvellous...

Friday, July 1, 2011

Going to Sumatra with a bit of bling

2 more sleeps!!
Porno pants for Sumatran jungle hiking purchased, broad spectrum antibiotics packed alongside bikini, mask and snorkel. What more could I need?