Wednesday, June 29, 2005
Troy had to go to Bangkok for 2½ weeks so I went to join him for the weekend. You know, just another one of those weekend trips to Thailand!
Since we had been here before we moved to HK, I didn't want to do the same tours I did before. So one day I did a cooking class then the next a bicycle tour. The cooking class was fun. What I enjoyed most was talking to a group of high school students from Ho Chi Minh City and their teachers. I learned a few things about Thai cooking in the class, but I don't think I will be cooking Pad Thai from scratch at home anytime soon.
The bicycle tour was a whole different experience. There's nothing quite like riding a bike in rush hour traffic in the heart of Bangkok! We have a few friends in Colorado that are avid bike riders. I can't help to think that I might have out did them with this!!! :)
The tour guide stated that the route would be off the beaten path of where tourists normally go and he could not have been more right. We rode through slums, back alleyways, old neighborhoods and paths so narrow I almost hit an old lady! Every time we stopped for a break it was either on someone's porch or at a roadside kitchen eating traditional Thai noodles.
This was a fascinating experience because we saw first hand how the Thai people live as well as learning more about their Buddhist culture.
The afternoon after my cooking class I decided to walk around to see what interesting things I could find. I did find a place that you can get an express marriage for 5000 Baht. Do you think that is just the license or does that also include the girl? Anyways, as I'm walking along the edge of a park I notice something swimming in the water next to the sidewalk where I am. As it crawls out I realize I am seeing a 4' long lizard in the wild. It actually looked like a miniature Komodo Dragon. The Thai people even call the lizards dragons. It was probably one of the craziest things I've seen considering I saw 5 of them within 20 minutes! One was actually on the grass about 30' from a lady reading her newspaper.
As you have heard from Troy we went to the most amazing place on Saturday. I had read about this Tiger Temple in an Asia travel magazine that I happened to be randomly flipping through while I was waiting for someone. I decided that if Troy was to go back to Bangkok that I would go for the weekend and try to arrange transportation for us to go. We found out this place has been featured on several travel channels so if you watch any travel channels or Discovery Channel, you might have seen this place.
The Tiger Temple is about 150km west of Bangkok. People started bringing abandoned or injured animals for the monks to take care of them. Other animals started showing up on their own. Then people started bringing tigers. Right now there are 17 tigers with almost half of them being cubs that were born there.
There were 9 tigers in the canyon where we were, 5 of them being full grown adults. They are all tame (for the most part) and mainly want to sleep while tourists pet them because it's the middle of the day and not at night when they want to hunt. The other tigers are kept in cages while the tourists are there because they are unpredictable and sometimes uncontrollable. What is so funny is we are "seperated" from the tigers by a skinny rope - mainly to show where we need to stay if we are not being escorted to pet the tigers. Then there are 5 or 6 of these Thai men (boys actually) that are the handlers (for lack of a better word). They are there to lead us by the arm to the tigers and to also take pictures with our camera. They are the only ones to take care of a "situation" if one came up. There are no chains, weapons nothing if one of the tigers decided to get angry! In the 3 years that they have been doing this, there have been no accidents!
This was an amazing experience! Like Troy said it was emotional being so close to such huge creatures. As Troy was petting one of the cubs, the tiger actually put Troy's arm in his mouth. He didn't bite down (oh, that would have been bad) but the handler didn't like it. As I'm petting one of the humungous adults, the tiger slowly kept turning his head back to me to see what I was doing. Nevermind the fact that his mouth was getting closer to my hands, I didn't care. I just kept petting him and talking to him like he was Malachi "What are you doing?? What are you doing??"
Even though the drive was 3 hours, it was more then worth it by spending 2 hours roaming the grounds, seeing the wild horses, peacocks, water buffalo and deer. Oh yeah, and petting tigers!!!!
Saturday, June 25, 2005
Tiger Temple - Thailand
Shelly might be mad that I posted this, but I couldn't resist. I am sure she will write more (and more interesting) soon. But I had to let everyone know that she came to see me while I was in Bangkok and surprised me by taking me to the Tiger Temple where I got to PET TIGERS!!! Yes, you heard that right. They are not chained up and are freely walking around (within this little area). While the one sitting in this picture is only a cub, the other one lying down I am petting is the mom. There were about 9 in the area where we got to pet them. It was amazing and surprisingly emotional for me. That is now my favorite experience in Hong Kong. Thanks Shelly! I love you!
-More comming later...
Saturday, June 18, 2005
10,000 Buddha's Temple and Tap Mun Island
While Troy had to travel again for work, I decided to do more exploring on my own. I had read of a temple in the New Territories called the 10,000 Buddha’s Temple so I went to see if there were actually 10,000 Buddha’s there. (Not that I planned on counting them.)
The first challenge was finding the place. The signage around HK, whether it be for a hiking trail or for the MTR is horrible. After mistakenly walking around an Ancestral Home (graveyard for ashes) thinking I was in the right place, getting lost in a small village neighborhood, I decided to do the smart thing and ask for directions. Turns out the path leading to the temple was right around the corner from where I first started searching.
As I was walking down the path I thought I would end up at the same kind of temple that you see all around Hong Kong. As I turned the corner I immediately knew I was wrong. At the entrance of the temple, before the trek up 400 steps, are over 100 life size gold Buddha’s lining the path to the temple. What was remarkable is they were all different from each other. Different poses, facial expressions, standing, sitting, holding things, etc. I even saw one that reminded me of myself at our going away party!
These Buddha’s lead all the way to the top of the stairs to the main temple. Inside the temple are countless shelves climbing 3 stories holding the 10,000 Buddha’s that are about 6” tall. What is the most interesting fact is that, like their gold buddies outside, they are all different from each other. I also found out that there are actually over 13,000 of these small statues in the temple.
Since I had the rest of the day to kill, I decided to catch a ferry to one of the outlying islands. I thought I had a plan in mind but that was quickly trashed when I found out the island I wanted to go to was a four hour ferry ride. I ended up following an English family to an island called Tap Mun. I was feeling rather adventurous regardless of the fact that I had no idea where I was going and that I was by myself! I've done smarter things (and dumber things!)
Tap Mun is a very small island also known as Grass Island. As I walked to the back side of the island I came across breath taking views of the South China Sea and grass covered cliffs leading to the surf below. Other then the few village owners I saw when I first got off the ferry I only saw 4 other people on back side of the island. That was a little scary knowing there are no other people around, especially as I am being approached by a Chinese man. Oh wait, he’s just a friendly policeman! The path that winds around the island ended up going through a graveyard that overlooked the ocean. In Chinese culture, this is the best place for someone to be buried.
Getting back to the pier, I look at the ferry schedule and realize I have a 3 hour wait ahead of me until the next ferry comes. Long story short, I ended up taking a different ferry back to the mainland then a bus, then another bus then a subway then a bus. And I like not having a car because of why???
I started the day thinking I would be home by 2pm with time to go swimming. No... I got home at 7pm! Long day, but a good day!
Tuesday, June 14, 2005
Great week diving in Phuket
Troy and I had a great week in Phuket! Just for a FYI, Phuket, is a small island off the west coast of Thailand. You might have heard of it being one of the areas hit by the tsunami. It's their low season right now and not much to do other then dive and hang out by the pool and drink cocktails. We managed to attack both activities throughout the week with much gusto.
We stayed at a beautiful JW Marriott on the north end of the island with nothing much around except the jungle and ocean. It's about an hour drive from the town of Phuket so we were pretty much isolated.
We lucked out with the weather. It's their rainy season now (it's actually a very long rainy season) but we decided to take our chances and trade our timeshare for a week of diving and relaxing. Troy definitely needed the down time from work. I am on permanent down time in HK so I didn't need to relax anymore!
We arrived on Sunday to crappy weather. We were scheduled to dive Monday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Monday was great weather, Tuesday it dumped rain all day long, then Wednesday-Saturday was absolutely beautiful weather. We couldn't have asked for anything better.
Although Troy and I expected the diving in Phuket to be crystal clear water with 100' visibility, we were a little disappointed when it was not, but we still saw some amazingly brilliant colored coral reefs and an abundance of marine life. Each day we had anywhere from a 1-3 hour boat ride to the dive sites. We were able to do 3 dives each day with us returning to our hotel between 5-9pm. Very long days to say the least. I think a few times I fell into bed without even brushing my teeth because I was so tired.
The most exciting thing for me was we actually saw four octopus. Two were in a rock but you could see four eyes. Then we saw another one in a hole hiding out. A fish kept biting it so it came out to get away from the fish. It saw us then freaked out because it didn't know what to do. The bottom of him started to strobe and change colors because he was stressed out. He eventually found a new hold to hide from us and the biting fish. On another dive we came upon an octopus just hanging out on the sandy bottom. I 'm not sure what he was doing, maybe cruising for chicks. As we ventured a little closer he would slowly swim a few feet away while turning completely white. Unfortunately Troy was not able to get a picture because there were other people watching it causing the octopus to swim even further away.
On Tuesday we decided to go exploring despite the rainy weather. We drove through Patong Beach which is a complete party beach town. We walked down street after street with nothing but bars and clubs lining the sidewalks. This place probably gets wacky in the high season. We also drove through another small beach town where we saw the most devastation from the tsunami. Although, if you had not known of the tsunami, you would have never guessed anything so destructive had happened. You would have thought a bad storm had recently passed through.
Some of the signs we saw from the tsunami was the bottom floor of a two story building would be completely wiped out, while the top floor was ok. There would also be odd piles of trash in strange places that had not been cleaned up. Also there would be brand new shacks or huts built next to a destroyed building. I recently read that there are still 2000 unidentified bodies that are being kept in refrigerated cartons, actually not too far from our hotel.
Afterwards we went elephant trekking. We signed up for an hour trek because we knew we would not have gotten far in 20 minutes, considering elephants are not sprinters. Our guide let me ride the elephant near the end as opposed as to sitting in the chair. It started to rain on our way back and I almost kept slipping off him because he was wet. It's a long way to the ground from the back of an elephant! I think our guide liked me because he also made me a hat out of huge plant leaves. Although I think if he had made one for Troy, he would not have worn it like I did!
As much as we loved the elephant ride, an even cooler thing happened at the elephant trekking "office" (for the lack of a better word). The people who run the place have two monkeys, actually apes, that are free roaming. People brought the monkeys there many years ago and they have never left. The most sociable one was Charlie. He loved to hold your hand, have his belly rubbed and his head scratched. As soon as you pulled your hand away from his head, he instantly reached for your hand and put it back on his head indicating for you to keep scratching. You also had to keep an eye on your soda because as he swung from beam to beam, he would quickly reach down and take off with it and drink it. He was the sweetest thing. We even went back on our last day there to see him and the elephants again. We have never been this up close and personal with a monkey and we know we never will again.
We could not have asked for a better vacation!!!!
Friday, June 03, 2005
We're Dive Masters!!!!!!
On Thursday, Troy and I passed our final written exam and we are now both certified Dive Masters!!!! Whoo Hoo! It was a lot of work, but we also expected more work then it was.
We are both glad to have completed it and to have it over with. Shelly just about killed Troy on a dive by hogging the air we were sharing while completing a specific skill (you Flatirons Scuba people know what skill we're talking about!) Sorry Troy!
We are hoping to work (unpaid unfortunately) as Dive Masters through the dive shop we got certified through. There are always opportunities to assist the instructor in other classes as well as going out on the dive boat with certified divers who are diving for fun. The boat takes out large quantity of divers and there is always a need for Dive Masters to help out divers on the boat and to also make sure everyone get back on board.
We are hoping by gaining this experience that maybe when we are done with our time in Hong Kong, we can go work on a island somewhere at a dive resort!