Thailand

Hello 2015

I haven’t done one of these posts since 2012 because I got lazy with my blog, so time to start again. It’s been a banger of a year for sure. 2014 sucked but it was also awesome, it’s definitely the most complex year I’ve ever had and hope never to have again. It’s tough when you have something like a cancer diagnosis take up 1/2 the year because it’s easy to throw the baby out with the bathwater, but there were too many good things that happened to do that, so instead I’m just going to record my year’s highlights.

1. Work. I got promoted towards the end of 2013 and finally caught my title up to my experience. It was a discouraging process and I am grateful that I found an agency who recognized my experience and didn’t just string me along as I’d had happen a bit with past employers (amazing how often places love to work you far above your title, but are so reluctant to pay you for it). I was only there for three months out of 2014 but I accomplished a lot. I traveled for work more than I ever have which helped me feel more independent and see new places. I made awesome new friends and spent quality time with existing ones. I worked on probably the most complicated project I will ever work on and am really proud of how it turned out. Professionally I felt very fulfilled and sad to leave.

2. Thailand. A. and I decided since we were moving across the country we would take off for a month and bum around Thailand. It was amazing. We played with elephants, rode hundreds of miles on scooters, ate everything (except curry for me), snorkeled, swam in beautiful places, and best of all, got to see a whole new part of the world. We could have easily stayed another month and not gotten tired of it.

3. Leaving SF. This was easy and hard to do. It was easy because we’ve been talking about moving to New Orleans for most of our relationship and it was really exciting to finally be going. For me I’d reached a bit of a rut in terms of wanting to not live in an apartment anymore, get a dog, be closer to our families, and start thinking about kids. SF didn’t feel like the right place to do this and it felt like life was on hold. However, it was also so so so so hard to leave our friends and family in SF. These are the people that we grew into adults with and have been able to take for granted and enjoy their company almost the entire time we’ve lived in SF. Moving to New Orleans is not a little move and leaving everyone was really hard. I also miss burritos.

California Thanksgiving

California Thanksgiving

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Totally the best breakfast burrito in SF

4. Cross Country Trip. Our car didn’t break down this time! We got to do everything and see everything we wanted to and it was all amazing. The driving wasn’t too rough and we had great weather for the whole trip. I especially loved Portland and it will be on my list of regrets never getting to live there. Yellowstone was another huge highlight for me, I love animals. Hiking over 7 miles in Glacier was a big accomplishment for me and one I’m glad I got to do before getting laid up the back half of the year.

5. Coming home again. Although the extended circumstances sucked, I still got 5 months in Vermont where I really got to feel home again and see and do everything I could want. I reconnected with some old friends, spent lots of time with my family, and had a beautiful summer and fall.

6. Cancer. Cancer sucks. I’ve got nothing positive to say about this one. It’s still mind boggling to me that I had cancer at 30, how does that even happen? It’s insane. It has taken a lot from me in health, days, and experiences and I’ll be looking to make up for those soon. A family friend told me to look for the gifts and this is one I go back and forth on weekly/daily. Some days I think of all of the support and love I’ve gotten through this and all of the friends that have made time to see me while I’m down and out. It’s been amazing and wouldn’t have happened without this. I feel very very fortunate I have you all. However, I’d trade it all in a hot second to not have gotten cancer which I know isn’t the point, but I think it’s hard to think of it as a gift related to my diagnosis and more of a gift in my life in general (hopefully you’d all love me still with no cancer even though I’d hear from you less). Feeling grateful in relationship to cancer is an up and down experience too, sometimes I’m flooded with it and sometimes I want to tell the world to fuck off. I’m still in the thick of things though so only time will tell on how I’ll eventually reflect back on this.

Yar

Yar

7. New Orleans. We finally made it here. I feel really good about how I planned things out. In the beginning my doctors were pushing me to get chemo before surgery and I am so glad that I pushed back and did it the way I did it. Chemo was worse than surgery and I can’t imagine mentally having to go into surgical recovery after getting through this and I also think one of the reasons I’ve healed so well is that my immune system and body were in fighting shape when I had surgery which is certainly not the case now. I’d also be in the position of probably still being in Vermont where it’s cold and dark and isolating as opposed to being down here where we’re moving into our place, getting a dog, and starting a new life. Everyone’s treatment plan is different and one of the few things I feel very secure about making a decisions on is my treatment schedule. I picked the right one for me.

I usually don’t do resolutions, I’m more of a no pressure or maybe things I hope for in the new year rather than try and set up a strict list of things I probably won’t follow through on. This year is different though. Given my more fragile lease on life I think it’s appropriate to come out of this and have something to focus on. I don’t have to resolve to be more healthy because that’s a rule from my doctor. Since my cancer is triple negative (no hormone receptors) I won’t be able to take any medication to prevent reoccurrence. Those meds tend to have all sorts of fun side effects (like causing cancer) so I’m not sad about this, but it is more scary because I just have to hope my body can do a better job this time around and that the chemo worked. The only thing I can do is keep a healthy BMI through eating well, exercising, and drinking moderately. So this one doesn’t count as a resolution because I actually medically need to do it.

Anyways, my resolution for 2015 is to say “yes” to more things. I’m not a big “yes” person. I tend to not like a lot of plans and be just as happy staying in on my couch or in my bed. However I just moved to a new city and need to meet people and experience things. I also have had 5 months of having to say “no” to a lot of things because of my health and I think it’s time to reclaim my life through saying “yes”. Please notice that I said “to more things” and specifically not “to everything”. I’m not trying to be a new person, just more of a person.

We’re moving into our new place tomorrow and hopefully obtaining a puppy this weekend so 2015 is off and rolling.

I ❤ Ko Tao

I could write a love letter to Ko Tao. Definitely my favorite spot on the trip. We arrived in Ko Tao via our ferry speedboat around sunset. image

 We found our hotel pretty easily. We were staying in town which was a nice change from our previous stops because we could walk to food, massages, bars, etc. We rented two scooters the first day for around $7 a day each, hard to pass up a deal like that. Most of the “taxis” were guys on scooters, so also made a lot of sense for two people getting around a small island.
Ko Tao is known as a diving island, people come from all over to go to the many dive spots off the island. It also turns out that most of the beaches have great snorkeling right off of them. They also aren’t crowded because most people are diving. We rented snorkeling masks for about 75 cents a day and traveled to the local beaches. The roads were pretty bad and also really steep which was interesting at times with our sub par scooters. However, this also meant there were absolutely stunning views.

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I traded my scooter in after one day because the back breaks were shot. The guy tried to tighten them and I had to explain that the break pad was obviously gone, so that wasn’t going to work. Little did he know I am well versed in scooter break issues. Our first night we went to a japanese restaurant on a hill that over looked the bay and it was one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. We were on a porch overlooking it and it was lit up by the town and boat lights and just gorgeous. Food was great too.
One of the first places we snorkeled was a bit of a disaster for me. A big reason we came to Ko Tao is we were told there were reef sharks you could swim with (from a french dude on our elephant trip). We went to a place called “shark bay” and went to the wrong entry point which required a long walk down and getting in via some rocks. It also turned out to be really shallow which was pretty stressful for me. Try snorkeling in water that’s only a few feet deep and not being able to touch the bottom anywhere. Lots of sucking in and thinking floaty type thoughts. Also great with a somewhat gangsta snorkel set that leaks. I tried to take a break and stand on a harmless looking rock after we’d been there for a while and ended up slicing up all of my toes and some of my fingers. Pretty lame. A. saw some sharks, but I unfortunately did not after all that.

Next beach we went to was more my speed. White sand, easy entry, and deep water to snorkel in with no fear of accidentally touching anything. Lot of parrot fish and the second time we went there we saw about 12 baby reef sharks which was really cool. We also ran into these super creepy little fish with black and silver stripes that were only as long as a finger, but there were hundreds of them. We discovered they will bite you if you stay still, so it gets pretty creepy when you’re being followed by hundreds of them. When you’re treading water to clean your snorkel out, it puts a lot of pressure on you to keep everything moving. Other than that, the snorkeling was amazing. We saw lots of beautiful fish, you could hear coral being chomped on under the water, lots of urchins, sea cucumbers, corals of different types, and about 12 or so baby sharks.

This was one of our last stops and the beginning of the low season so we decided to splurge for a couple of nights. We originally tried to stay at a place on a hill (lots of these) but they didn’t have anything available in our price range. So instead we went there and snuck into their infinity pool which overlooked the water on a cliff and watched the sunset. Pretty sweet and free.

Another fun place we went to was a tiny restaurant on top of a hill that some people we met told us about (never would have found it otherwise). We were the only ones there and it was an amazing view.

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Which you can’t see at all in this photo, but oh well. Look how happy I am, must have been an awesome view right?

After this place we headed down into town and sat on the beach at a hookah bar and watched the sunset.

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It was pretty much the best hookah bar setup ever. Big comfy beanbag cushions, white sand, perfect weather.

imageTerrible sunset right?

We then walked around the town which had closed the street to vehicles. Great place to walk around and look at stuff. Lots of restaurants with fresh seafood you could select and have grilled. We were wondering where everyone was though. Then we walked up to this bar that had a pool and discovered everyone and their Mom was on a giant organized bar crawl that included t-shirts (super cool), and some chick was in the pool topless and everyone was cheering. It was pretty weird. Not that people were cheering about the topless chick, because I mean that’s what you do in that sort of situation I guess, but that the whole island had signed up for an organized bar crawl.

Here’s what the non-pub crawl part of the street looked like:

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(empty)

While we did not attend the pub crawl, we did finally stay up past 9:30 and actually go out while on Ko Tao. The second night we were here we went to party at a bar/hostel/restaurant that seemed to have been built by burning man aficionados. There was a tree house, an igloo thing that had a religious style stained glass window and other things inside, bean bags (of course), and other random seating arrangements. They also had a band upstairs that probably has a price on their head based how bad they murdered everything they played.

A couple of nights later we went to the Castle which was another sort of art bar, but this one was made for parties. It had an upstairs and downstairs (three floors in all), a triceratops, at least 4 different spots that were selling nitrous (apparently a ko tao favorite), and multiple bars. We shared a tai whiskey with coke in a bucket and hung out for a while. The DJs weren’t exactly something to write home about, but one of them mixed No Diggity which made me very happy. I think we managed to stay out until midnight, crazy!

The second place we stayed at was this small resort setup which didn’t have a sign on their road to stay exclusive (so fancy). It was pretty great though because we basically had a little house to ourselves, bedroom, kitchen, and living room. It was nice after traveling so long to be able to spread out. There was also a pool that was nice to come back to lay around at.

The only disappointing thing that happened at Ko Tao was our night snorkeling. Two people we had met on our scooter trip up north had told us about night snorkeling, specifically glow in the dark algae that was supposed to be pretty awesome. Ko Tao was the place I found it available on our journey and was pretty pumped on the description (see below).

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Worse nightclub ever. The two of us went out with our snorkel guy who promised all sorts of amazing fish and coral. Well the UV Flashlights were pretty weak so you couldn’t see that well and mostly all you saw was some coral (definitely no anemones) that glowed green that was cool for the first 5 minutes and then was like, well, I’ve seen that. We did see a couple of fish, but we were out there for over an hour, so two fish and the same coral over and over again was pretty uninspiring. However, I did get to play with the algae which was cool. if you turned your light out so it was pitch black and moved your hands, the water would sparkle where you touched. A. unfortunately did not hear the guy explain this and I didn’t realize that, so he missed what I thought was the coolest part. Overall though, skip the UV snorkel.

I think A.’s favorite part (besides the snorkeling) was this huge rock that you could climb using a rope and jump off into the ocean. I unfortunately can’t do that because I can’t survive in the wild (more specifically I have some ear thing that causes me a lot of pain if I try to even jump off a diving board). A. does not have this problem so he had a great time. I saw on the beach and counted the slices on my toes and fingers.

Next up was Ko Samui and here are some view photos from the ferry.

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Real time update: We’re in Toronto, headed to Niagra Falls and Vermont on Thursday.

Jenga Is Universal

A week from now we’ll be back in San Francisco. We could happily spend another month here. Being free of stress and responsibility is amazing after working in fields that require long hours and daunting deadlines.
The next stop from Krabi was Ko Lanta. We took a moldy smelling ferry there and then hoped in the back of a truck to get to our place. It was a nice change from PAN beach because we could walk to places, but it was still pretty secluded and not crowded.
We had another beach bungalow, but thus one had a western toilet, a large mosquito net over the bed, and electricity 24 hours so the fan didn’t shut off. It also had a lovely porch with a hammock and comfy chairs.
The restaurant/bar was on the beach. The nice beach had to be walked to, but it wasn’t far and it was deep enough water that we could swim in low tide. A. also borrowed a snorkeling mask and did a little of that too.
There was a really good Tapas place called the Red Snapper in walking distance and an ok French Bakery. We were disappointed by the backpacker’s guide book recommendation an Indian food place, but it was on the beach so very pretty even if the food wasn’t great. We also had a dainty white cat that I named Noelle sit with us in our empty chair. A. gave her some chicken and she was very pleased. Another night/dinner we met a small black and white cat that I named Figuero but he was a fair weather friend and abandoned us for another table. There was also a pudgy Frenchy at our place that I called Ham and obviously broke the “do not pet fuzzy death” rule. I’ve broken it a bunch now, but A. said I’m not allowed to pet anything in Bangkok. I’ll probably stick with that.
We went on another four island tour that was much better. Way fewer people and more beautiful locations. When we were snorkeling we saw a giant eel and a small squid with a little fish in its tentacles. There was a very funny Easter European woman on our trip who was concerned about how not tan I was after being there for 2 weeks. She thought I had just arrived and when told I’d been there for two weeks looked very concerned at my paleness, especially my legs. I don’t think it helped that I was swimming in my long sleeve sun shirt.
We also got another scooter and hiked to a cave. It was a huge cave with cool formations and quite a lot of bats near the exit. I started to feel really claustrophobic towards the middle of our journey through the cave, but played it cool and survived. A. went to the national park and saw a ton of monkeys and was really happy about that.
We ended up staying 5 nights because it was so nice there. We swam every day, ate mostly good Thai food and enjoyed the company of the loud geckos.
We stayed true to our old people form and the latest we stayed out was 930 I think, at the bar at our place having beer and playing 3 games of jenga with a 9 year old who didn’t speak English, but jenga is universal.

I forgot to mention in my Krabi post about the rain storms. We had some big ones at night. The craziest happened in the middle of the night and woke us up from the loud thunder. It was so loud it was actually scary in our little shack. A. was thinking about how our accommodations would handle a lightning strike since it was right over us, and I forgot from sleepiness that we were 4 ft off the ground and was wondering if we’d flood.

Won’t You Take Me To Keanu Town

So Krabi is autocorrected to Keanu, which I find really funny. Keanu was the last planned stop we had for our trip other than our flight home from Bangkok on May 7. A. found us a bungalow outside of Keanu on the beach, I think it was PAN beach.
We ended up staying 3 nights. Low tide you could walk out to this island, which we did the first day. It had rocky/cliff sides so you could only walk around it. True to the name, there were tons of crabs around of all sorts of sizes. We also saw and picked up some starfish. On the rocky exterior we were about a third of the way around one side when we saw what looked like an enormous snake, but upon further examination turns to be a monitor lizard over 5 ft long that was fortunately very skittish. I saw one more while we were walking over there. Two mornings later we saw a smaller one right by our place, apparently they existed off the island too.
We met a German kid and some Dutch girls while staying there and sort of taught them how to play rummy. The water was clear and warm with lovely white sand. The only negative was if the tide was out you couldn’t swim because it was shallow a long way out, but not to bad of a problem.
The bungalow had electricity from 6pm to 6am so I woke up at 6am every morning when the fan shut off and the outside temperature made itself known. The toilet was flushed by dumping water into it.
We went on a four island snorkel trip that was totally misrepresented. The first island was actually two islands connected by a shallow sand bar the everyone was in. Totally shouldn’t have counted as 2 islands. Then the last island was not an island at all, but a peninsula. Total fraud. Other than the misrepresentation it was ok. It was beautiful and the water was warm and clear, but every stop had a million tourists so it was a little of a mixed bag. Then when we got back they forgot about me and Anton and let our ride leave us, so we had to wait over 2 hours for the next one. The wait did give me time to have my first beer in Thailand (finally over my problems) and I got a little drunk off a large Chang. It was like being 18 again.
There were three at the dogs at our place (not an unusual amount). One was a young easily excited dog that barked early and late and took up residence on the porch next to our place (that and the 6am fan stop were the two reasons we set up for Ko Lanta after 3 nights.) The best dog was the older, bigger dog with shaggy tan dog. We named him Poppa dog due to his respectability compared to the other two and droopy balls.
I also had to tell A. That if he didn’t want a fuzzy death to bother him that running away is not the answer.

NEW YEAR IN CHIANG MAI AND 350+ MILES ON SCOOTERS

Our first stop in Thailand was Chiang Mai, the second largest city. It was gritty, fast paced and overwhelming. It was also safe, friendly, and seemed like a place you could find anything in. It was a great a place to start. Our schedule was arrive, have one full day, day 2 leave for elephants, day 3 come back to Chiang Mai, day 4 Chiang Mai, days 5-7 take our 350+ mile scooter ride, day 7 return to Chiang Mao, day 8 fly to Krabi for the beach.

Thai New Year was day 3-5 (4/13-15). To purify you for the new year people throw water on you. For 3 days. Chiang Mai is also the biggest celebration of this. Everywhere along the moat around the inner city there are Thai people set up with buckets, water guns, and hoses drenching everyone around. We can’t drink the tap water here let alone the very brown moat water, so it’s also an exercise of clamping your eyes and mouth shut since lots of people get sick.

It is a hell of a lot of fun though. There are unspoken rules though, no water in restaurant or on people near food stalls, and no water in the face of little old ladies. Otherwise it’s every man for themselves. We cut the tops off large water bottles for our weapons and dipped into the many trash cans full of water on the street. It was also 90-100+° which made getting soaked great. There were thousands of people participating between Thai and tourists.

The trouble began on the first day of our scooter trip and the longest, about 5-6 hours of driving. The first 3+ hours of getting water thrown on you wasn’t so bad, it was hella hot and we dried immediately due to the dry heat. But the back half I went over my limit, not that there was a damn thing I could do about it. They took great joy in throwing about twice as many buckets on me than A. probably because I was a girl. I’d estimate I had around 50 buckets of water thrown in my face on the ride. I was not amused.

People would actually form a line in the road so you couldn’t get through and then they’d all line up and get you. Adults and kids. A lot of four letter words were used mentally. Every truck was also a potential danger because every truck back was full of people with a big container of water so they could drive around dousing people, preferably people on scooters. Getting a bucket of water thrown in your face at 40mph feels like getting punched in the nose.

Besides their never-ending New Year celebration (they continued in smaller numbers the day after it ended) the scooter trip was epic. We drove through the mountains and saw beautiful jungle, farm lands, small villages, and quite a few chickens. We went up the highest mountain in Thailand, went to some spectacular waterfalls, and peeped some gorgeous temples in the mountains. Our first night was in Mae Hong Son and we would have spent a few days there if we hadn’t already booked some other stuff. Very cool town and great/cheap place to stay (Piya Guest House). Some very cool temples and we got to see some muay thai boxing for free. We also met some dudes from Texas, I’m beginning to think Texans are like Australians, they’re everywhere.

**obviously our scooters were much more high powered than our poor scootscoot. We also wore helmets Mom and I wouldn’t go faster than 70kmh

Walking With Elephants

When we first started discussing Thailand I had a dream of petting tigers. I had read about Tiger Temple and imagine it this perfect place where monks really did exist harmoniously with tigers. I was beyond stolked. Then I started doing research and learned the really unsurprising (when you actually think about it) truth that to pet full grown tigers they have to be drugged or chained. I couldn’t bring myself to visit any of the Thailand tiger attractions as a result (A. was relieved since he believes you shouldn’t do anything that if you were to be hurt or die people would be like ‘duh’). However, I wasn’t leaving Thailand without some significant animal interaction.

So I started researching elephants and found a rescue center that we could visit and stay overnight, The Elephant Nature Park. We went on our 4th day in Thailand. It was hella hot (100°+), but the experience was amazing.

They rescue elephants from street begging, circuses, trekking camps (tourist rides), and logging camps in Burma. Each elephant needs to be purchased from their owners so despite the abuse the park needs to maintain positive relationships with the groups that own them or risk being shut out. Apparently every elephant you meet in Thailand that didn’t have the rare fortune of being born at the park or rescued at a young age was ‘broken’ through at least 3 days of torture in a tiny enclosure, we watched some video and it’s ugly stuff.

The park was pretty amazing. They have 38 elephants ranging from little babies to old ladies. Some are healthy and doing well, but most have some sort of trauma that may or may not be visible. The saddest was one very gentle girl who had a badly healed broken leg and hips from separate injury occasions. There were also several with broken backs from carrying tourists, apparently not a healthy activity for them.

While we were there we got to hand feed them, pet them, and was them over the two days we were there. They were absolutely amazing animals, especially looking at how they care for each other. They have several blind one from mistreatment and cataracts, and each has at least one “seeing elephant” that had bonded with them and stays with them always. Each elephant was with their Mahoot (a person responsible for them at all times) and no restraints or discipline tools. The gentle/friendly ones we got to interact with up close while they were loose, the less friendly or ones with babies we observed from a little distance. It was cool to b able to have so much interaction while not imposing on the animal’s needs.

The park also rescue dogs and cats and I finally got to pet some (A. calls them “fuzzy deaths”) because they rabies vaccinate. It was much needed since everyone has cats and dogs here. There were around 200 dogs there, most in the dog rescue kennel, but probably around 40 free range.

Overall it was amazing to spend time and learn about such beautiful animals. It was inspiring to hear about all of the park’s efforts to try and change something so ingrained in Thailand’s culture.

Look forward to lots of elephant photos when I have a real computer in a month or so.