It’s No Rayong – Siam Summer

Santhiya Resort on Koh Yao Yai

One of my friends at the school I am working at probably would not like me mentioning the joke that we use now when talking about the places we visit. We make reference to one of the places we visited earlier in the summer when we talk about the place we are staying. We may talk about the beautiful rooms, the expansive pool, the gorgeous beaches, and the way it just calms the nerves yet never be satisfied because, “It is no Rayong.” Rayong is the city that sits across the from Koh Samet, and many people only visit it long enough to catch a ferry over to the island. It is a nice place, but it is the great vacation place that Koh Samet is. We spent a couple of days there waiting for the island to open up, and though we had fun, it was not a place I would go back to for vacation.

A view of the resort that overlooking the bay

The place I have ventured to right now is no Rayong, but it will do. It is a resort tucked on the island of Koh Yao Yai all by itself. It is a paradise. Everything is made of teak wood including the song tols and there is a pool that is a hundred meter walk from the door to my room that overlooks the bay and gave me a beautiful sunset to watch last night. It is a five star hotel and we are getting it for a steal right now because they are trying to attract any person to come out here and enjoy their time. They have been hit just as hard by Covid-19 as many other places in the world, and they are starting to get things running again, but are doing everything in their power to be extremely careful so they do not have to backpedal later.

She told me she was smiling for this picture

This is the reason that I am bringing up Rayong, and the lesson that can be learned from what happened their recently. It turns out that an ambassador’s daughter broke her quarantine early to go out and party with her friends at one of the bars in town. She later found out the she was infected with Covid-19, and now because of her inability to follow the rules, she has caused problems for many people. First, there is the group of people she exposed to the virus. Hopefully, they do not have any health concerns because of this, but no matter what, they will not be able to go back to normal life until they can prove that they are not going to affect other people and cause the disease to spread again.

The marina in Phuket that we had to visit to be taken over to Koh Yao Yai

Secondly, there is the town of Rayong itself that has been affected. The school have been told to close down until further notice. The businesses are going to also have to shut down, and even if they were willing to break that request, there are people who are cancelling their plans to the area so they won’t have the customers they would have had if the outbreak had not happened there. The island of Koh Samet is a great example of going through this problem. As soon as the news came out, many people cancelled their reservations, causing them to slip back into the slump that they were trying to get out of in this first place.

There are many consequences to someone be selfish and not doing what is asked of them. I know that this person was given a special privilege due to their prestige considering that most people who come into Thailand have to quarantine in certain hotels that are closely watched, but the rules are in place for a reason. This disease does not care about who you are or your social status or your political leanings. It does not care about international borders or what timely thing that you might be missing out on. It functions under the laws of nature, and all we can do is the right thing to make sure that we are mitigating any potential of this spreading further and causing more disruption to our daily lives.

We took our masks for a second so we could get a picture on our song tol made completely of teak wood

Life does not have to be miserable and we do not all have to live in our houses if we play it smart. I am lucky to be in a place right now that is letting me have a vacation during my summer months, and I appreciate that. But I know that there are some things that I need to do to make sure that my loved ones, those who I come across and I are all safe. It is as simple as keeping a certain distance from people, wearing a mask while out in public, and if I do get sick, not to go out and try to grab a little bit of fun because I am afraid of missing out on something. If we all do our part, we can all enjoy life until we can discover that vaccine that will keep everybody safe.

Thanks for listening, and I hope you stay safe and think of others around you as we fight this pandemic together the best way we know how.

A Siam Sunset – Siam Summer

I have often talked about how spoiled I was growing up in Colorado and how it is such a place of infinite beauty. My heart will always find a home there and part of that reason is because of the sunsets over the Rockies. It does not happen every night, but on those special nights, there is a magic that happens over those mountains as the color in the sky changes to different kinds of oranges, reds and purples. There is a reason that so many people have a window that frames these mountains, and it is for those moments of intense beauty.

As I have traveled around the world, I have seen many other sunsets that rival the ones I have witnessed in Colorado. They usually fall over the sea, and it is fun watching the sun slowly sink into the horizon over this vast body of water. Though tears may form in my eyes, I just can’t pull away, and I have to watch every moment.

Though it is still beautiful with the light reflecting off of the deep blue of the water, it is still does not have the explosion of color that I get to see on those great sunsets in Colorado. It is still a moment that I look forward to and it is one I have been seeking out all summer because I knew that there must be spectacular ones to see in Thailand.

I think I have found the place where the best sunsets exists and as a man from Colorado, I am sorry to say that it is not along the Front Range. It is on the island of Koh Yao Yai on the southern end of Thailand. It is here that you get to experience the beauty of both moments in a sunset. You get to watch the sun dip below the horizon over the ocean while still experiencing the reflection that the fading daylight has over the cloud hanging over the distant mountains.

I don’t think I have ever seen anything like it in my lifetime. It was stunning and though it only lasted for less than an hour, it is easily my favorite moment so far this summer. I am happy that I did not miss it.

 

A Walk Through the Neighborhood – Siam Summer

Overlooking the old part of town of Phuket

I know that I was getting back into the groove of life after my last two trips. Things were getting back to normal, and I was getting used to donning the face mask as I walked around. The bars were still not open, but I never frequented them that much to really care anyway. So I was brought back to the reality of the situation when I finally made it to Phuket. This was one of the places that was hit the hardest during the first wave of the pandemic, and even though, it has been awhile since there has been a new case here, it has taken a little bit of time for it to open up again. We went strolling through the old neighborhood last night looking for a place to eat, but most of the restaurants were not opened up and it took us awhile to find a Tex-Mex place, Amore Cafe and Bar. We were lucky to have found it too because they made some great spicy margaritas, and it was easily the best Mexican food I have found since I have moved to Thailand.

The quiet streets of old town right now. This place is usually packed with tourists.

Though things are really quiet, it does not mean that I will not be able to enjoy my time out here. In fact, it might be the best time to visit Phuket. The throngs of tourists that usually come out here to visit are gone right now, and I get to have the streets to myself. The tourist sights seem to be closed right now, but I am sure I will be able to find a couple of the more natural settings in the area to enjoy. I might have to search a little bit longer for a place to eat, but when I find it, they will be so happy to have customers that they will give me their best service and show me what they can really do with food.

The pancakes available at Pancake Corner and Coffee Club

Besides the Mexican restaurant we found last night, there was also a pancake place, Pancake Corner and Coffee Club, we discovered for breakfast that had some amazing food. I am not really into pancakes because there are too many people that screw them up and they turn out doughy instead of fluffy like they should. This place knew what to do with them though and my favorite thing was they served a side of homemade vanilla ice-cream with the pancakes that added the perfect flavor to this meal. It seems to be a regular condiment that comes with many breakfasts out in Thailand because this is the third place I have been to out here that has served this with either pancakes or French toast.

A statue I found as I wandered towards the end of the street in the old part of town in Phuket

Though it may not be the ideal way to travel, I still cannot complain. At least I have landed in a country that was able to get the Covid-19 problem under control, and I am able to venture out to explore this country. There is enough out here to make it an exciting adventure even if I can’t experience it to the full extent that is available. Also because I have my car with me, I will be able to explore little corners that I wouldn’t have been able to if I had to do everything on foot. I do have a lot of time out here, so I am sure things will loosen up as well as time goes by. It just will have to be slower than I am used to, and considering the patience I have had to endure over the last couple of months, I think I am okay with doing that right now.

The Last Leg – Siam Summer

I was not able to snap many pictures today. It was my job to drive the final three hours to Phuket and our hotel there, and they kind of frown upon a person who is busy taking pictures while driving a car. I know I had a lot of free time to run around and take pictures after we had arrived, but the rains arrived and I was stuck in my hotel room for much of the afternoon. It is a shame too because the last three hours of this drive highlight a beautiful part of Thailand. There are palm tree hills all over the place that I was forced to weave through in order to make my way to our final destination. The clouds coming in from the ocean clung to the tops of these mountains and just added to the overall experience. Add in a huge golden Buddha sitting on top of a few of these hills and it was one of the better drives that I have experienced in a long time. This is something that I would have missed out on if I had flown down to Phuket instead of driving so I am glad that I did it this way instead. I will tell you that if you are considering doing the same thing, it is not an easy drive. The roads are just as windy as you can find in the mountains of Colorado, and the drivers do not improve just because you have found your way out of the big cities of Thailand. It is tempting to look at the view along the way, but you really need to pay attention to the road because you never know what the person next to you will do. Add in a rainy deluge and you have the perfect recipe for disaster. I took it slow and made it safely, but there were a couple of time where I was worried about the situation around me.

I am happy to be in Phuket, and the weather can’t stay bad the whole two weeks I am in this part of the world. I will make it out of the hotel and share the beauty of this place soon. I promise you will not regret seeing it.

Road Trip – Siam Summer

For those of you that get to talk to me from time to time, you have probably heard me complain about the troubles I have been having trying to purchase a car in Thailand. There is a lot of paperwork, and they seem to change the rules every time I reach that point where I can actually obtain the paperwork that they needed a week earlier. But I have finally caught up with the rules, and have now purchased a slightly used Ford Focus. I know it is not the most luxurious car, but it works for what I need it for, getting back and forth to work, and the occasional trip out of Bangkok. Considering I paid for it on Friday, and I don’t have to be back at work until August 10th, there is only one thing left to do, road trip.

I got up early this morning to take to the highways of Thailand and make my way down south to visit the fabled city of Phuket (pronounced Poo Ket (yes, I made the joke as well the first time I saw the name of this city)). I know that when you look at a map, Thailand does not look that big, but it stretches a lot further than you would imagine. A drive from Bangkok to Phuket, takes over twelve hours, and even though I could make it in one day, I decided to break the trip up into two.

As soon as I made it out of Bangkok, I noticed that the stress of driving in Thailand reduced dramatically, and it has been fun being out on the open road again. It is one of the things I miss the most about America. The ability to get into the car and drive aimlessly into the long stretches of road allows for endless tales to be told and adventures to be had. There is something romantic about seeing the landscape change from the typical things you see on a normal day to experiencing new climates, people, and places. The only problem with it is that the first day on the road does not have the great stories to tell that you would hope for on a road trip. It usually takes until you stay at various places that the stories start to unwind.

The typical parking lot found at rest stops in Thailand

I did visit many roadside rest stops. They are all over the place in Thailand, and it does not matter which one you stop at, they are all the same. You will find a 7-11, an Amazon coffee shop, and some type of American fast food chain, usually a KFC even though I have seen the occasional Subway. The fill-up is quick and they send you back on the road. They do have a building set off in the back corner dedicated to bathrooms, and it threw me off the first time I had to pee in stalls that were installed outside in the back of that building. But I got used to it, and it is a good use of space, plus it helps with the smell that they tend to generate.

The mustache lets me know that this bathroom is for me

They do try to distinguish the various stops with different statues you will find decorating the big slabs of concrete. Most of the time it is comic versions of children holding up signs, but every once in awhile, you come across something a little more creative. I enjoyed to Japanese cats outside the bathrooms the best. The one with the pink bow on the head indicated the women’s bathroom, and the one with the mustache was for the men.

It wasn’t the most exciting day being stuck in a car with the biggest form of entertainment being the rest stops I found along the way, but it is possibility for adventure that kept me excited and looking forward to the ticking kilometers I saw on my speedometer. I know that there will be exciting moments to share with you over the next couple of days, so I hope you join me as I share what the Phuket region of Thailand has to offer somebody with a car and hopefully you can get something out of the posts as well.

Until tomorrow.

Independence Day – Siam Summer

I have traveled all around the world, but most of the time, I am in the United States for Independence Day. It is a great time where family and friends gather together to eat and enjoy the freedom of being away from work for a day. If it falls on a long weekend this feeling is amplified because they know that they will not have to work the next day as well. It usually wraps up late in the evening with the echo of fireworks still ringing in the night sky. For the most part, it is a great celebration.

But there have been a few years where I have not been in the United States and the day does not take on the same meaning. Sometimes, a bar or restaurant will try to capitalize on the fact that there will be Americans abroad, and cater to them in order to make a little extra money, but I have found that this is usually not the case. The rest of the world forgets about the day, as they should.

During my first time I found myself out of the country on this day, I tried to make the most out of it, and celebrate my independence, but I looked like an arrogant fool who was not being considerate of the country I was in. Later, I acknowledged what the day was, but spent it looking at the smaller things and events that presented itself during the day. It wasn’t the American way of celebrating, but it still made for a nice day.

Recently, I have been seeing a lot of vitriol spewing from the social media sites from many of my friends back home in the United States, most of it centered around the loss of freedom and how one party or the other party is responsible for the situation concerning Covid-19 in that part of the world. I do understand that it is an election year, but it is still weird to see how this has been turned into a political argument. I have been forced to spend the summer in Thailand because of this pandemic and I have been reading how other countries have taken extreme measures to ensure the safety and health of their citizens. It does require some sacrifice on everybody’s part and because of their efforts, Thai people and many other places in the world have started to enjoy their freedoms once again. Yes, there are simple measures that people take such as social distancing and wearing masks, but in the greater picture, these are small steps that we can all take to make sure everybody is safe. Because of this, Thailand has not reported the transmission of a case in over thirty days and the only cases that have come into the country have come from Thai people moving back into the country. Due to these measures and the facts that have come out, I feel safe, secure and most importantly on Independence Day, free.

It comes to the statement that I have heard uttered by many Americans over the years, “Freedom isn’t free.” That statement is usually uttered when talking about the armed forces of the United States, and the sacrifice they have made for the nation. But the key to that statement is sacrifice. In order to have freedom, people need to work for it. They need to prove that they have earned it. Sometimes this means making painful sacrifices to ensure not only their freedom, but the freedoms of everybody within their society. This is a time for that sacrifice, but it is not coming from people serving in the armed forces this time. Guns and bombs will not be able to solve this problem no matter how much people want it to. It will only be solved by taking the precautions that will eradicate the Covid-19 virus until a vaccine can be discovered. The sacrifices that are being asked are not absurd. Wearing a face mask and respecting other people’s space in not hard to do. When that happens, then freedom can return. The restriction will be lifted because the safety of the people can be guaranteed.

I am enjoying my freedoms right now, but I would love to go home some day and see the mountains of Colorado and visit my family and friends. I know it might sound a little selfish, but I hope the people of America can make that sacrifice so I can have this happen. But I also hope that they can make that sacrifice for their freedom, so they can enjoy it again without this terrible disease hanging over them and controlling their freedom, so what they are enjoying is not really freedom.

Beach Living – Siam Summer

Somebody had the time to set up some rock castles during the time when no tourists were allowed on the island

Not that things have been really stressful or frantic ever since school wrapped up for the year, and we have been forced to go on summer vacation, but the short voyage over to Koh Samet, things have slowed down considerably and I have been forced to slow down to meet the demand as well. It has been basically nothing more than beach living. It is the perfect way to enjoy summer, sit under an umbrella, order smoothies, read a good book, and when things get a little too warm, go cool off in the clear water.

The beach next door, a little more rustic but still as inviting as all of the other beaches I have seen on the island

In fact, I have not ventured very much further from my resort room than down to the beach by the reception area. I did take a fifteen minute stroll to the other side of the island for dinner one evening, and I did rent a kayak to paddle out to other beaches nearby, but I have constantly be coming back to the idea of relaxation.

The sun setting through the clouds, a short fifteen minute hike from the resort I am staying at

I think it is important that this happens in everybody’s life. Too often we are told that we need to be constantly at work, and with the creation of emails, text messaging and the internet, it is even harder to get away from this responsibility. Our jobs now believe that because these leashes have been created for us that they can tug on them any time that they want to, but they need to know for the sake of sanity of humankind, it is important that they let us run out and be free.

a quiet restaurant waiting for the crowds that will soon arrive this coming long holiday weekend

Some times that means running for adventure and capturing what is out there to offer, but at other times, it is just as important to unwind from the stress and do nothing for a couple of days. Koh Samet is the perfect place to do the unwinding, and considering it has not amped up yet with its recent reopening, it is even more calm than it probably usually is. There are not crowds of tourists jostling for a spot on the beach. There are no large lines waiting for a table at the best restaurants. And there is nobody competing to outdo other people on their vacation. It is just a moment of pure relaxation, and I am glad to have been able to experience it for a time this summer.

These Things Make A Lot of Noise – Siam Summer

a monkey from Khoa Yai National Park

Thailand has a lot of wildlife. It is everywhere I go, and now that the rainy season has started, it has come out of the forest and is not as afraid to show that it is out there. I have seen a lot of wildlife on this little road trip and I am expecting to see more as I go along.

crabs can be found anywhere from the beaches to the mountains of Thailand

The beaches have been filled with crabs scurrying all over the sand and through the clear water on the beaches of Koh Samet, a snorkeler can see schools of fish and even large clams hiding among the rocks.

a turtle I came across after a heavy rain in my neighborhood

I have seen rugby ball sized turtles just strolling down the sidewalks in my neighborhood, and after any rain a cacophony of frogs sings their serenade to anybody that gets too close to them. I have seen a couple of snakes, and a few monitor lizards with the longest one being about six feet from the tip of it tail to its tooth, but they are hard to get picture of because I really do not want to get too close to them.

one of the geckos that didn’t make it in our room in Rayong

But it took until this little road trip that I learned more about these little critters, geckos. These guys are pretty much all over the place. We’ve always had two or three of them living in our house that I have know about, and there have probably been a couple others that are a little bit better at hiding in the corners not frequented as much. They do a lot more than just try to sell me car insurance. I have been told that they eat a lot of the bugs that you do not wish to have in your house, and for this reason, we usually end up leaving them alone.

It was a nice surprise when I was greeted by a couple bigger ones in our last two hotel rooms. I waved at them and then let them crawl behind the curtains. What I did not know is that when they get a little bigger, they like to make noise to let people know about their presence. I know many of you are trying to think about what noise a gecko makes right now, and I would have been in the same category a couple of days ago. It was when I was woken up by one of them the first night of this trip that I realized what they sounded like. At first, I did not think it was a gecko that was making the noise. It sounded like a bird had somehow gotten trapped in our room, but it wasn’t persistent like a bird would be. They only chirped for a couple of seconds and then they were quiet for the next hour or so. But it was a little annoying to be woken up every hour as they moved from one place in the room to another spot.

I have since learned how to sleep with the chirp, but it alarmed me the first evening. In fact, I have come to enjoy the noise because I know that they are keeping me safe from all of those mosquitoes looking to suck my blood. It just adds to the cycle of life that happen is Thailand during the rainy season.

The Opening of the National Parks – Siam Summer

The statue of a gigantic mermaid that greets you when you first arrive to Koh Samet

It is another sign that Thailand is returning back to a normal kind of life. Today was the one day we had been waiting for all summer long, the day when they reopened the national parks. Yes, there are a lot of cool towns and fun places to go in the big cities, but the magic of Thailand really comes to life when visiting the national parks. We have had a couple on our list to visit this summer, and the first one was the island of of Koh Samet. It is an island resort with pristine beaches and beautiful hikes through rain forests that is only a three hour drive from Bangkok, and a quick twenty minute speedboat ride from the dock in Rayong.

Squeezing into a song tol

But we did not find ourselves in Bangkok this morning. We had been staying in Rayong for the past few days, waiting for this island to open up. The beach resort we were staying at was nice, but it was tucked in a corner of town that not many people visit, and there were only a couple of restaurants to enjoy in the area. The sun rarely popped out from amongst the clouds, and the time there was spent waiting for the next part of our trip. We were told that we would be able to catch a shuttle from the resort to the pier and from there we could take a ferry over to the island.  We were so excited about the opening of this island that we had our bags out in front of the resort awaiting our shuttle.

Well, it turned out not to be like a shuttle like you would find in most parts of the world. It is what is called a song tol, which literally translates to two bench. They are very common in all of Thailand. Basically, somebody took a pickup truck, bolted two benches in the back of it, put a cover over those benches, and then started taxiing people around in it. Some are safer than others, but all of them are a treat to ride in. The one we took to the pier could not close its tail gate, so we packed in tight to make it to our next leg of the journey, hoping that we would not lose any luggage on the way.

The speed boat that took us from Rayong to Koh Samet

This involved taking some type of boat over the short distance of ocean to the island. There are two different types of boats you can book to get over there. The first is the ferry. It runs about once an hour, takes an hour to make the short distance, packs people in tightly, but is significantly cheaper than the other option. This is a speed boat. It is a lot quicker, but will jostle you around a little bit more as it takes you over the choppy seas. It did cost four hundred baht per person for a round trip, but that breaks down to about $12 American money. It was worth the price, and all we have to do is call ahead two hours in advance to let them know when we are ready to return.

The view from the back of our speed boat

The views weren’t great on the speed boat, and I was with a couple of people that get seasick easily, but we were able to make it over with everybody’s stomach intact. It was pretty comfortable, and the excitement of making it to this national treasure that had been untouched for the last four months had the anticipation building up within us. It would only be a short time until we found ourselves doing some beach living.

The view of the beach from the hotel we are staying at

When we arrived, there was one more quick song tol ride to our hotel, and then it was time to relax with soft sand, clear water and gorgeous skies. It was a little bit of an adventure to get to the resort, but it was well worth it. It is even nicer knowing that we are going to get to enjoy this island before the tourists start pouring into all of the hotel rooms here. It is Wednesday, and most people won’t be able to get out of their busy jobs from Bangkok until Friday. It is also a long holiday weekend coming up, and it will just add to the crowds. And even though there are a few people on the island right now, it is not enough to make it feel crowded. It will be a great stop for our longer road trip through this part of Thailand.

The Moments Between Storms – Siam Summer

I now know why they call it the rainy season. There had been the occasional storm that came through our neighborhood that would cool things off and water the trees, but it would only last a couple of hours at most, and we could go back to our lives afterwards. Ever since I have made it to the coast, the rain has come a little more consistently and has stuck around a little bit longer. One nice things about it is I am no longer complaining about the heat, but I am also stuck inside waiting for things to change so I can go back to enjoying life. I had spent too much of the last couple of months doing that, and I did not want to continue this routine into my vacation.

But that is essentially what life is about. We continue with our routine while sitting at the edge of what could happen, waiting for that moment when things calm down and we can grab a little something from our existence.It might be a world wide pandemic that causes us to hide in our houses, but if we are honest with ourselves, there are a lot of those storms that keep us in our homes. It might be that work has kept us too busy, or the maintenance of our possessions prevents us from venturing out into the world. Sometimes it is something so simple as being so accustomed to the little world that we have made for ourselves that we do not want to see what else there is out there for us. But eventually we tire of those things are have to go out for a change or scenery and create a new memory.

Luckily for us, the rain did stop in the afternoon, and we were able to get some pool time before joining our friends for dinner. Now Rayong is not known for its big restaurants and fancy beaches. In fact, it has been barely surviving as a resort town only booming when it gets the overflow from Koh Samet. Add on to the fact that the island has been closed since March and Covid has kept people in their homes, it has not been kind to the establishments out here. A walk down the beach will highlight the many resorts and restaurants that have gone under during the crisis and the rainy season is allowing the jungle to take back what originally was its possession.

There are a few places that were able to weather the storm. One of these was Ken’s. This open aired seaside bar is owned by no other than Ken. He is a friendly guy that hangs out by the shore and points out his establishment to people who happen to walk by. I know that this is a technique that is every large city in the world as restaurants try to compete with each other, but with Ken it feels natural and he makes you want to come back and enjoy a meal there.

And this is what we did. The food was good, but nothing to write home about. It was the atmosphere that kept us there and will have us coming back for more. Ken and his staff coming set up a couple of tables on the beach right next to the surf so we could let its gentle cadence entertain us during our meal. Because it was that sweet spot in between the closing of Thailand, and the opening of it back up to tourists, we were able to have the beach virtually to ourselves. It was the perfect way to enjoy an evening meal.

And it was right when we were packing up to go home for the evening that the rains started to return. It was only a drizzle until we found the shelter of our patio and that was when the rains really started to come down. We had found that perfect time to enjoy the moment, and took full advantage of it while we could.