One of the things I could not help but notice while relaxing on Phra Nang Beach in Railay, Thailand was the huge hole that had been carved out of one of the cliffs facing the sand. At first, I did not think that many people would be courageous enough to venture into it darkness, but every time I would look over, I would see a new set of people hanging on one of the precipices clearly visible and poses for photos because they wanted to preserve the moment for all time. It clearly was more easily accessible than what I believed from my vantage point.
It turns out that I was mostly correct. It is definitely accessible, but there are a couple of places where it might be a bit of a struggle, and even though I did see people accomplish this task while wearing flip flops, I am glad that I took the time to put on shoes before I made the attempt. Yes, they were a little uncomfortable as I made my way through the sand to the edge of the beach. I found the path right into the forest when I reached the place where the swing hung from one of the rocks, and if I had not found it on my own, there were enough people around who wanted to point me in the right direction. Once on the path, I had to duck and weave through a few branches to make it to the root of the mountain, and I don’t think it matters how tall a person is, they will have to do the same thing if they wish to continue.
Getting to the entrance of the cave is a little more difficult than coming back down. It is a steep hike, and I could see that if it rained the night before, the trail would be an muddy mess that would be impossible to climb. The town of Railay has tied up a thick rope that I used for support up which helped a lot, and I enjoyed it coming back down even more because I just repelled down the path making the descent really easy.
Once I got to the entrance of the cave, there was another new challenge if I really wanted to get up to the ledge where I saw so many tourists hanging out getting their picture. I had to climb up a rickety bamboo ladder that looked as if it was loosely tied to the side of the rocks. In reality, it was held into place better than it looked, and even though when I got to top it still looked a sketchy, it really was not that bad.
Once up there, I was able to explore the cave, and I went far back into it. The features were amazing and I could see the slow deliberate care that the elements used to carve out this little alcove into the cliff. There were many corners that I could look at, and I even brought a flashlight because I was told that it gets really dark the further back I got into it, but when I reached that entrance, my flashlight wouldn’t work anymore. So I didn’t go in.
It was probably for the best though. A few other people passed by me carrying rope and climbing gear and then disappeared down the same hole that I stood on the edge of, so a flashlight was probably not enough to get me in and out of that corner of the cave. There was still enough in the light to make the voyage up there worth it.
And the views were definitely worth it. It made an already spectacular place even more spectacular, and there were enough view that kept making it even greater. I could see why a couple people were always visible from the highest perch, and what brought people to this spot in the cliff.
It also gave both of us a sense of pride that we were able to conquer this little expedition. It was worth the trip, not only for the views, but also for the fun of getting up to the cave. It added a new twist to Phra Nang Beach and just another corner of Railay that was worth exploring.
I have talked about my struggle before. Is it fair of me to talk about my travels while so many people are under lockdown around the world? Would this just make them angry, jealous or depressed? Would it do more harm than good?
I could never decide if I should just wait until things opened up again before I started posting these stories again, and in the meantime, look towards other things I could write about while waiting for that moment. Things changed a little bit on this latest trip though. The day after we left, a large outbreak of Covid cases came out in Surat Sakorn, the province just southwest of Bangkok, and there was always talk of locking the country down again, making sure that its citizens were safe. During the first mention of the outbreak until this moment, I had to keep one eye on the news while keeping the other eye on my vacation. Well, the news came in the other day that they would restrict intra-provincial travel starting at 6 AM on Monday morning, and we were relaxing on the island of Koh Lanta on the southern tip of Thailand, a twelve-hour drive from our home. It meant that we needed to pack things up, get up early the next morning and take the drive back to our home before we got stuck somewhere far away from the comforts of home. It was Thailand’s turn to join the rest of the world as they braced itself for the fight against the second wave of Covid.
There were mixed emotions when this announcement was made. The uncertainty of what to do fought against doing the right thing even though it was not something that we would enjoy doing. Logic prevailed and we joined the rest of the people who made their ways back to their homes to do their part. We had to cut our vacation short by a couple of days, but it was a small price to pay in order to make sure that we and those around us were safe. And I really can’t complain because while a lot of other people were not allowed to partake in those travel experiences, I had been enjoying life on a tropical paradise. But I realized that there was another thing that I should also be grateful for, the fact that the threat of a lockdown loomed over our heads the whole time we were on our trip.
I know that sounds like a weird thing to appreciate, but hear me out because it changed the way I vacationed.
A semester of school for a high school teacher is an exhausting experience, and by the time I put in that final grade, I am spent. I need those three weeks off to get my energy back and change my attitude. We have usually travelled to someplace relaxing to start our break off, and we have spent that time sitting around doing nothing of any importance. It has usually taken a week for us to get the courage to go out an explore our surroundings. I would not consider that time wasted because it is needed to get our heads straightened out.
We were not given that opportunity this time around. Just knowing that our vacation could be taken away at any moment made us look at it in a different way. We needed to make the most out of our experience because the probability of spending time locked away in our home without anything to do loomed over our heads. It meant that if somebody offered us a kayak or paddleboard, we took them up on the offer. If there was a cave in a mountain that we could climb up to, we took on that challenge. If there was a choice of where to eat at for dinner, we did a little more research to make sure that we would not be disappointed in our choices. We sucked out the marrow from our vacation because the bone could be snatched away. In other words, we did not take the moments for granted.
I cannot say that I have done this on my recent travels. Before Covid hit, I would happily move from place to place and every once in awhile take in everything that the place had to offer. I had become a little complacent with my travels, but Covid rejuvenated in me the reasons I loved travel in the first place and forced me to get out there are experience it in that way again.
It takes me back to that struggle that I had when I first started writing about my travels, and now that I have thought about it, I am glad that I have made the choice that I have made. It demonstrated the ability to make the most out of every opportunity given to me. If this is the only thing that I take from this world-wide pandemic, I believe that it is an important lesson to learn. And I know that it might be hard for everybody else to see the same thing when they have been stuck in their homes through the holiday season, but I hope that they can see this as well.
Before the world went into lockdown, people just muddled their way through life, rarely appreciating those moments that were given them, and making the most out of them. This does not mean just travel, but any moment where they could look back at with fondness. It could even be the smallest moment that is happening in your life right now, playing a game with your loved ones, taking a walk and waving to a neighbor, enjoying a sunrise or a sunset, or even sharing a laugh over a Zoom call. Whatever small thing it is, I have learned to savor it, for it might be some time before I get to have a moment like it again.
I know I have been lucky with where I ended up and how well the situation has been handled in this country, but it had finally come to an end. This does not mean that I should be mad that this has been taken away from me; I should be happy that I was given the opportunity in the first place.
I hope you can see that as well.
P.S. I was in the middle of putting a couple of other posts together before I was given this news to return home. My plan is to finish these posts and release them in the coming days, but understand that the trip is over and these are things that have happened before the lockdown took place. I am at home now, and I do not know when I will have the opportunity to get out there in the world again, but when I do, I will make sure to share it with all of you.
Thank you for taking the time to read this, and please enjoy those moments when they are given.
It may only be a small outcropping of land on the southern tip of Thailand with only a handful of resorts on it, but it is one of the biggest tourist spots in the country. The pictures that are often shown of the country often include at least one from this location. Yet when I type in the name of this country into Facebook to share photos with my friends, the geniuses of grammar and spelling that put together their algorithm want to tell me that it is spelled Railway. In fact, it will often change it for me because they believe so much that this is what I wanted to say, but this is not where I am at. I am at Railay, Thailand.
Railay is a must see stop if you ever come to Thailand. It is located in the Krabi province, and even though it is part of the mainland, it can only be accessed by boat because of the huge cliffs that surround this stretch of land. You might have to wait a bit to get on one of these boats because they will wait until they have enough passengers to make sure that the trip is worth their time, but they only need a total of six to make it happen. And if you are traveling down here by car, there is an old parking lot that you can pay 200 baht at to make sure that your vehicle is secure.
But once you get there, the worries that you brought with you in your car get left behind quickly because you get lost in the views of this tiny resort town. It doesn’t matter where you turn, there is something new and exciting to see. They have huge cliffs that attract many rock climbers from all around the world. There are cave that have been dug into their limestones that can be explored. They have many beaches that you can lay out on, or even rent a kayak for a couple of hours to explore the tiny islands that pop up all along the coast. There is even a charming downtown area with nice bars and restaurants, and guides that will take you out kayaking or rock climbing.
It is a great town with lots to see and do. It is one of Thailand’s greatest tourist spots that people should know about including the fine people at autocorrect. It has been one of my biggest struggles while living in Asia. Many of the locations that I wish to texts about or post on Facebook are unknown to people out of Asia and the spelling of them is being constantly changed on me because some computer program is trying to tell me what it is I meant to say.
Either way, Railay is an amazing place and should be one that is written down on everybody’s bucket list. Just make sure that this list is not being kept on a computer because you will look at it later and wonder why you would want to go to the Railway before you die.
It is that time of the year again where we all look back at where we have been, and reflect on the lessons learned there. By far, 2020 will be remembered where there was a lot to be learned. I hope that we can take a lot from the experiences of this year and use it to grow not only as people but also as a world wide society.
When looking back at the posts that got the most views this year, I noticed that they had a sense of positivity to them, and I know that not all that I posted this year could say that they had that spin on them. It is nice to know that even though I might have found some dark places in this dark time, it did not bring people down and they still searched for that positivity in their lives.
I hope you enjoy the look back as much as I enjoy presenting it to you, and I hope, like me, that you look forward to 2021 with a new sense of revitalization as to what great prospects it may bring.
#10 To Choose a Side of the Valley – Wangen versus Murren
Most of my posts come from the first few days of 2020 when there was only a hint of disease taking over a small town in China. At this time, the hope of the year was still in front of me and I was wrapping up one of the best trips I have been on in a long time. It was great seeing snow again, and being forced to wear winter weather. This picture was taken on one of the last days on this trip as I sat on the balcony of our hotel room in Murren, Switzerland. My mind often wandered back to the beauty of this part of the world.
#9 In a Valley in the Swiss Alps – Lauterbrunnen, Switzerland
Like I said, many of the most popular posts come from my trip to Europe and the beginning of the year, and this is no exception. Lauterbrunnen is a small town in a valley in the Swiss Alps and is the perfect home base for exploring these mountains. It is not nearly as cold in the valley as it is when you find your way to the towns closer to the top, and the views from down below are still as dramatic as they are up top.
After a tough semester of teaching on-line and being quarantined, Thailand had done well enough with the world-wide pandemic to allow travel to open up again, but only for those who were living in the country. It was never my plan to get to know Thailand as well as I did this summer, and it was interesting to drive down to Phuket and see how much this island had been affected by Covid-19. It has picked up since then, but it is still wrangling with the devastating effects it had on its economy. I got to experience it with mainly only its residents, and I still wonder what it would be like to see it when it is full with its regular amount of tourists.
I am actually really glad that this post had the reception that it had. Dachau was one of the more earnest moments of an unforgettable year. I did not know it at the time that I walked around the site of the Nazi’s first concentration camp, but a lot of the images and lessons learned there would haunt me all year long as I saw similar things play out on the political stages all around the world. It is one of the places that I believe everybody should see at least once in their lifetimes, right up there with Auschwitz and Hiroshima.
Koa Yao Yai was one of the most pleasant surprises of the year. I was able to travel to this exclusive island in mid-July just as it was starting to open its doors again, and they were trying to entice tourists to come and stay. The prices were too good to pass up on this amazing island, and I am so happy that I was able to stay in this little paradise. I am pretty sure I will never be able to afford it again, but it is one of those things that make me look back at this year and realize that I was pretty lucky to be stuck in Thailand for this worldwide crisis.
This was one of the more touristy posts I gave on this trip. It is a must do if ever traveling to Salzburg, and it is really hard to forget about because no matter where you are in town, this imposing fortress is staring down at you from its hill. It is a fun way to spend a day in Salzburg and really lets you feel that medieval experience that you want to get when you travel to Europe.
When I was in this part of the world back in 2007, I was on a very limited budget and could not afford the brunch at the top of this Swiss peak. I almost did not believe it was worth the price earlier this year, but I am glad that I decided against being frugal and went up to this restaurant and had breakfast. It was fun going up and coming down this mountain, and I will never forget this experience. The post really picked up after the death of Sean Connery which is weird because this peak is most famous for the first Bond movie after he stopped playing the iconic character.
I have only had one of my other poems make the top ten list, but there was something that struck a nerve with a lot of people when I first posted this poem. It was early in the lockdown stage that everybody in the world was feeling, and they might have understood the sentiment I was trying to get at with this poem even though that was not what it was written about.
The image of a half full bottle of champagne sitting in front of this statue on the university campus in Salzburg is what inspired this poem. I did not post the poem with this picture until the end of the last school year, but it was around the holiday season this year that the poem started to gain in popularity. It took a year to get back to that feeling of the end of the semester, but I hope it helped everybody rejoice when the difficulty of both school semesters ended.
The title of this post started as a joke between a few people that I travelled to Rayong with earlier this summer. It was one of the first places that opened up after lockdown, and we went there for a couple of days before traveling to Koh Samet when that finally opened up. Rayong was not the best place to stay, but it was nice to be out of Bangkok. This post was about a comparison between Rayong and the amazing island of Koh Yao Yai, and people must have really loved it because the still visit it today. I do not know if it is because they want to know more about Koh Yao Yai, or if the title makes them laugh, but either way thank you for visiting it.
As always, these are posts that received a lot of traffic this year even though they were not posted this year. Some of them have taken a couple of years to gain in popularity, but the last one is the one I can guarantee somebody visits on a daily basis. The funny thing about “Bend Sucks! Move Somewhere Else” is that it was a throw away post that has now become one of the ones that gets the most traffic. It just goes to show that I do not know what will speak to the public, and what will not. It is always surprises me which posts do well, and which just disappear into obscurity.
You Can’t Go Back to the Green – The Holidays Day 20
Thank you for joining me in my travels this year. I am sorry that it was not as diverse as it has been in previous years, but it has been an interesting year for everybody. I hope that when things loosen up again next year that you find these posts and the other ones that I will continue to post inspiring and that you get out there and see the world. It is a great way to experience life and I would love to hear about some your adventures some day.
There are two major beaches that can be found on the little peninsula of Railay. One of them is the West Beach which is where the boats serving food come up to, and there are bars and restaurants lining up for your business at the edge of the sand. If you are looking for something a little more quiet, I would suggest going to the Phra Nang Beach, or Princess Beach, on the tip of the peninsula. There are a couple of resorts here, but they tried to hide themselves among the jungle so it makes you feel like you are in a more isolated place.
If you are not staying at one of these resorts, you can get there by finding the path on the southern tip of the town. It is an interesting path in itself and worth searching for. It follows along a cliff face and there are many places where you can stop and take pictures of the rock formations that are being created. It is like spelunking without have to travel into the darkness of the caves. It even has many formations that are highlighted for everybody to see. I won’t ruin what they are, but they allow for some fun conversations along the way.
When I went, I was surprised at the crowds I first encountered along the way, and was even more surprised at the tiny beach that could be found at the end of the trail. The map I was looking at showed that the beach extended a lot further down the coast. I found out later that it was because of the tide and the beach was hiding beneath the waves. The crowds came from tour boats and only came once in the morning and then disappeared. They basically stuck to that small sliver of beach and would not venture out to the other side of the beach.
But it only takes a little bit of wading through warm water if you get here during high tide to make it to the other part of the beach, and you leave the crowds behind if you do this. If you come during low tide, you do not have to worry about the crowds or the wading and you can just walk along the beach. It is really worth the trip because there a lot of great formations to explore, and when you get tired of that you can always cool off in the refreshing waters of the ocean. It is one of the hidden gems in this part of the world, and really worth the trouble of getting there.
I think I have become obsessed with sunsets. I have been collecting my things and rushing to the closest beach around 6 o’clock every night to try and witness the best one before the end of the year. For some reason, it makes me believe that when I see it, it will give me a sense of closure to a tough year, and it will let everyone out there know that there is still beauty in this world.
My new beach has given me the best sunsets so far. I had to do a little traveling to get there, and I arrived just in time to witness a pretty good one, but I still believe that it could have been better so I will keep on searching until I get that perfect one.
This sunset came of Railay’s west beach. Railay is a tourist destination on the tip of Thailand that is a small strip of rocky mountains and sand that juts out from the country’s mainland. You can not get there by car or airplane. You can only arrive by getting in a tiny boat and having them shuttle you around the tall jutting mountains that surround the beach.
But the promise of sunsets from the spot is huge, and it looks like the perfect playground to stay at for the next couple of days. I will let you know more about the place during the next couple of days, but for now I hope you enjoy the moment that my camera was able to capture.
One of the things that everybody visits if they come to the island of Phuket is the beach. It is impossible to miss one of them. They are all over the place. There are small beaches with an almost private feeling to them, big public beaches, sandy beaches, and even ones that are a little rocky. There are ones that look to the east in anticipation of the sunrise and there are one that look to the west and collect people on its shores to watch the sunset every night.
I have visited a lot of the beaches on my stay out here, and it has been a treat this time around. Phuket is still waiting for the tourists to return to the island, and the beaches are practically empty, but the city is ready for their return so they have been cleaning up the beaches which makes them really nice to walk on and enjoy.
The city life is a little different though. Many of the business owners have not returned and there are many for sale signs on buildings and restaurants that have not opened up in a long time. There are still enough of them out there to make it feel enough like a vacation and there are corners that are opening up again.
For the most part, I can feel a more positive vibe coming from the people of Phuket then I felt when I was out here during the summer. They know that there is hope around the corner and they can get back to the thriving economy that this place once was. It will be a slow process and there will be a struggle to get back there, but they are up for the challenge.
You can see it on the west facing beaches of Phuket. The people who live here have come down to watch the sunsets. They know it is the one feature of the island that can never be taken away even though they have not been as great as they are during the summer months. During my whole trip out here, there has been a collection of storm clouds gathering on the horizon, and I have never been able to see the sun set completely. I have had some nice views of it as it has reached the storm clouds, giving a hint at how glorious it can be, but it has never reached that level of spectacular. But just like the people of Phuket, I know that those clouds will eventually disappear and I will once again get to see its beauty. I just have to keep on chasing it until I get to see it for what it can be.
Until next time, stay safe and be kind to each other.
One of the things that I absolutely love about the Thai people is their love of celebration. The majority of them are Buddhist, and they will look for any opportunity to have a celebration. They have many traditional holidays that they observe, and they still adopt all of the other holidays around the world and celebrate those as well.
They don’t always reach the same level of excitement that they have in other places in the world, and Christmas is one such holiday. The malls are all decked out with holiday gear, and the night sky is lit up with the twinkling lights, especially when you get to the city centers, but the whole country does not shut down on Christmas day. It is just another day for them.
My students were still excited to wake up on Christmas morning and receive presents, and they all wanted to listen to Mariah Carey’s Christmas album. I don’t know why, out of all the Christmas albums ever made, this is the one that captured the country’s heartstrings, but I have heard it a little too much the last couple of weeks.
But after the morning festivities, it is life back to normal, and then they gear up for the next holiday only a couple of days away. It is always cause to be happy and get together with family and friends. It is part of the reason that there are so many smiles on the faces of people out here.
I hope today gives you the smile that the country is able to find, and you are able to spend it with family and friends, whether face to face or safely over Zoom. And I wish you all the happiest of holidays whichever ones you may observe.
It can’t all be about the beach and playing in the water. There has to be a time to fuel up, and the Nai Harn Beach part of Phuket has a lot of options of great food all over the place. I have not really found the street food stalls that you would expect to see in a city of Thailand, but enough of the restaurants serve good Thai food that I do not feel like I have to worry about talking much about that. It is all of the other cuisine that is made available out here that makes this place a gastronomical heaven.
To start off with, I have not eaten many lunches out here. I have been moving a little slow in the mornings; it is vacation after all. And the resort that we are staying in, Nai Harn Beach Resort, serves the best breakfast buffet I have ever seen. They will make omelettes, or eggs benedict for you fresh, and the rest of the food is so well prepared that it is hard to believe that you are eating at a buffet. I am usually so stuffed afterwards that I am not hungry again until mid afternoon, so there is no reason to think about lunch.
Dinner has been a different story, and I have thoroughly enjoyed every place we have been to. The highlights have to be Rustic and Blue, a favorite of ours from Chiang Mai. We have been to that place at least four time during our visits to this northern part of Thailand, and we were really excited to see that there was another one in Phuket, right by the place where we are staying. The food is western cuisine with a heavy dose of seafood dishes in the Phuket version of the restaurant, but there are still enough of the other favorites to make it a comfortable. My favorite is the grilled cheese sandwich with maple bacon and jalapenos.
There is also the Green Tamarind Burger which took a little longer to find, but it was worth the search. The food there is obviously burgers, but could easily be the best burger I have found in Thailand. They make their own buns, and they have fresh ingredients that just make the burger a juicy treat to eat.
And if you are in the mood for Italian, there is Trattoria del Buongustaio. This is right next to the Nai Harn Beach resort, but it is not associated with the resort. The owner is always around helping the customers, and the food has an authentic Italian flavor to it. Most of the food comes with fresh seafood, and has a little bit of a kick to it that reminds you that you are in Thailand.
It has been one of my favorite experiences in this part of Phuket, and I am glad that it has opened up more so I could experience it. It makes me just as excited for the rest of the trip and I hope that the country stays open long enough for me to experience it, but with new Covid cases confirmed up north, it might end sooner than usual. If that is the case, at least I was able to have these moments in Nai Harn Beach.
There are many reasons that many people go on vacation: to relax and recharge their batteries, to see and experience different places in the world, and to go visit loved ones. No matter the reason for travel, it is really important to understand and participate in one of the biggest aspects of it, play.
Play is one of the things I believe the most in. I know that there is a time to take things seriously, and we always need those moments to unwind, but play is the time in our life where we truly find our passion and make the most out of the moments that we are given. It is the time when we find real joy and experience a variety of emotions that allow us to say that we have really experienced life. It is the one thing that I try to incorporate into my lessons, because when my students are actually having fun with their learning, it is when they are really processing the information and internalizing it. The lesson that they are supposed to be learning suddenly becomes their passion because it is now a part of their playtime.
There are times on vacation where I just lounge by a pool or stroll on a beach and do not find time for play. It makes the trips relaxing, but it does not make them memorable. It is those times when I go out a play that I start to have a good time with my vacation. The Nai Harn Beach Resort understands this and gives their guests many opportunities for play on the beach that the resort overlooks. They supply the guests with boogie boards, paddle boards, snorkels, and kayaks. The waves are not big enough right now to make the boogie boards of much use, but the rest of the stuff there has made for some memorable moments.
I have gone out on the paddle board a couple of times to place myself in complete isolation from the rest of the society hanging out on the beach, and today Christine and I took one of the kayaks out to check out the other beaches nearby and the island right across the bay from us. It was a little bit of exercise to get out there, but it was completely worth it. We ran into local fishermen, and in the rocks near the shore we were able to observe schools of tropical fish float underneath our boat. It made for a memorable day.
Which makes the nights even more worth it. It is almost as if I earned the moments of relaxation after the moments of play. It has created the perfect balance on this trip to make every moment the most that it possibly can.