Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘beaches’

R & R

Ang Thong National Marine Park

Ang Thong National Marine Park

When  Megan last left you, we were getting our bearings back in Koh Samui, Thailand, an island in the south.  After our disappointments in Laos and our bout with homesickness, we needed something to get us out of our funk.  It turns out that a Thai island is just what the doctor ordered.

Though Koh Samui was a little more crowded, a little more developed, and not quite as stunningly beautiful as Koh Chang, the island we visited with my Mom and Andrea in May, it did the trick.  Though we complained about laziness and complacency when we were dealing with our little burnout thing, laziness and complacency didn’t seem to bother us when we were sitting on a beach in southern Thailand.

We lucked out and found an awesome little bungalow about 100 meters from the beach, complete with complimentary beach chairs and a very friendly staff.  There were the usual touts on the beach as there seem to be everywhere here in SE Asia, but they were all super friendly, always smiling, and very cordial when you gave them a “No Thank You”, provided it was accompanied by a big smile.

Most people’s complaints about Thailand are that it’s too touristy.  And while yes, it is that, it doesn’t seem to affect the local people.  They’re as friendly as ever, as evidenced by the two ice cream men (boys, really) that we became friends with throughout our week in Koh Samui.  Every day when they first saw us, they would come up to us, shake both of our hands, ask how our night was and what we did, and just sit and chat with us for a few minutes.  And every time they passed us throughout the day, they would always stop to say hello and see how we were doing.  And this was all before we ever bought a thing from either of them.  After a few days,  and since they were so nice, we did decide to purchase some ice cream from them a few times.  But it was solely because of the friendliness, I swear.

There’s not a whole lot more to tell about our time in Koh Samui.  We didn’t do much.  We had a few morning runs on the beach, and one morning we took a long walk early to get some pictures.

Hat Lamai

Hat Lamai 2

Hat Lamai 3

Hat Lamai 5

Hat Lamai 7

And while the weather was beautiful pretty much the entire time we were there, it did storm one late afternoon right before sunset, creating the opportunity for a great photoshoot.

Storm Pics

Storm Pics 2

Storm Pics 3

Storm Pics 4

Storm Pics 5

Storm Pics 6

Another great thing about Koh Samui was the seafood.  While we weren’t able to partake as often  as we would have liked to because of our limited budget, we did splurge for one dinner on the beach where we picked out our own red snapper and small, blue crabs that we ate for dinner.  We enjoyed a nice, quiet, beautiful, romantic beachfront dinner of the day’s fresh catch.

We had our choice

We had our choice

Our table for the night

Our table for the night

It wasn’t all lounging on the beach.  We did decide to take one day to visit the nearby Ang Thong National Marine Park, which consists of hundreds of little islands in the middle of the Gulf of Thailand.  We had a great day taking a boat ride around the islands and hiking straight up about 500 meters on one of the islands for some breathtaking views of the park.

Us

Ang Thong National Park

Ang Thong National Park 3

Ang Thong National Park 4

Ang Thong National Park 5

Ang Thong National Park 6

Ang Thong National Park 7

Ang Thong National Park 8

Ang Thong National Park 9

Us at Ang Thong National Park

And now we’re back in Bangkok for the fourth time, and it’s quickly becoming one of our favorite cities on the trip (Megan will have more on that in the next post).  We picked up our Vietnamese and Indian visas yesterday when we returned, and we fly to Hanoi on Tuesday, which we’re both very excited about.

We’ve also had many discussions about the end of this little adventure, as it is nearing.  While we haven’t made any clear cut decisions, yet, we are getting closer and closer to planning the rest of the trip and booking that final flight home back to the United States and St. Louis.  We don’t have an exact return date, yet, and the final decision depends on what kind of word we receive from Megan’s employer.  Hopefully we’ll find out sooner rather than later, and we will obviously keep everyone updated on our exact return date.

Have a great 4th of July weekend everyone, we miss you all a whole lot, and until next time…

Advertisements

Read Full Post »

The Island Life

Magic Garden Huts

One of our first stops in Thailand, other than Bangkok, was an island in the Gulf of Thailand, not terribly far from Bangkok and even closer to the Cambodian border–Koh Chang (elephant island in Thai).  Upon arriving in Koh Chang, we headed straight for a town called Lonely Beach, which is no longer exactly lonely, but does have a beautiful beach and crystal clear water.

Lonely Beach, early enough in the morning to be lonely

Lonely Beach, early enough in the morning to be lonely

Lonely Beach

Lonely Beach

Clear Water

Clear Water

We spent about four or five days on Koh Chang, and worked very dilligently at soaking up the much slower, why-worry island atmosphere (especially as compared to the slightly mad Bangkok).  It was the perfect location to allow Adam’s mom and sister, visiting from St. Louis, to get their bearings and ease into the traveling lifestyle.  Linda and Andrea have been champs, taking the unusual accomodations in style (mosquito nets and bathrooms without roofs, anyone?) and not even flinching at the local lawnmowing service.

Lawnmowers Koh Chang

It wasn’t all beach-bumming though; Andrea and Linda didn’t come all the way to the other side of the world just to lay on the beach.  We started out with a little sea kayaking and learned why a kayaking guide in New Zealand had told us that wind was a kayaker’s worst enemy.  The water was as smooth as a swimming pool when we started, but apparently a storm was kicking up, because by the time we were headed back to our beach, we were paddling directly into the wind.  It was not easy.  There are no photographs of this little outing.  A piece of advice: if you’re going to go kayaking with two people who have never been, check the weather first.  duh.  Sorry guys.

Our other (much more successful) excursion was a snorkeling trip.  We didn’t have an underwater camera, so unfortunately we can’t share photographs of the amazing underwater scenery.  However, I now understand why people flock to Thailand to learn to scuba dive.  We saw enormous rainbow striped fish nibbling away at the sand in the shallow water, teeny tiny electric blue fish darting all around us, deep purple fish with shockingly red mouths, dark pink starfish and semi-obscene looking sea cucumbers.  All of these were nestled among the coral in shapes and colors I had  no idea even existed underwater.

Adam Andrea Linda snorkeling

As much fun as our snorkeling trip was, we can’t downplay how much fun we had just checking out everyday life around the island and enjoying the scenery and each other’s company. Thanks guys, for coming to visit us–we had a wonderful time.

Koh Chang Fishermen (1)

Andrea and Adam

Andrea and Adam

Lonely Beach Sunset

Read Full Post »

old-town-square

A colonial city situated right on the Caribbean Sea, much of Cartagena’s charm can be discovered in the old quarter of town.  Still surrounded by the original walls built in the 1500s to protect the city’s wealth from pirates (often unsuccessfully), the colonial architecture, ancient churches and narrow streets evoke a romantic, old-world atmosphere.  The infusion of energy brought by the African roots of the Carribean culture ensures that the vibe is anything but sleepy.  I found that the best way to enjoy the city was just to start walking and get myself thoroughly lost in the old district—not a difficult task with winding, unsigned alleys and streets. 

The mid-day gets steamy-hot, but there’s no shortage of refreshment in the form of juice and fruit vendors.  One of my favorite gastronomic adventures so far has been sampling the native fruits.  I can’t say they were all delicious (zapote and nispero, I’m looking at you), but I’ve also discovered amazing flavors, some that explode with sweetness (maracuya) and intensity (tomate de arbol), others with a subtle delicacy that leave you wanting more (the lovely curuba).  

Cartagena Fruit Vendor

Cartagena Fruit Vendor

Some of the offerings from a Cartagena Juice Vendor.  From left to right: various types of oranges, zapote, pineapple on top of more zapote, mango on top of curuba, nispero (the gooey brown mess in that plastic bag), gobs of bananas (duh), mango on top of tomate de arbol, melon on top of maracuya, and pineapple on top of more oranges.  Yum.

Some of the offerings from a Cartagena juice stand. From left to right: several types of oranges, zapote, pineapple on top of more zapote, mango on top of curuba, nispero (the gooey brown mess in the plastic bag), gobs of bananas (duh), mango on top of tomate de arbol, melon on maracuya, and pineapple on top of more oranges. Yum.

Adam sampling the local fruit juice smoothies.

Adam sampling the local fruit juice smoothies.

 

Best of all, if you head out to explore early in the morning, you can have the streets of the old town to yourself—the charm of colonial architecture combines with the colors and flowers of the tropics to create a paradise for anyone who enjoys taking photos.  Here are some of my favorite shots from wandering the city:

windows1

 

blue-door1

morning 

old-town-arcades1

lizard-door-knocker1

old-city-main-gate

green-door1

dsc_00841

street-lamps1

breakfast

Some complain that Cartagena is too touristy. It is certainly a tourist destination, there’s no denying that, but even the hawkers in Colombia are generally friendly.  They tend to be a bit more aggressive in Cartagena than in the other beach cities we visited and there are so many more of them– emeralds, paintings, jewelry, hats, mini Boteros, you name it they sell it.  However, we had some interesting conversations with people trying to make a sale, so sometimes it can be to your benefit to wait a minute before pulling out the “no gracias.”  In addition to the vendors, some people are irritated by the hordes of cruiseshippers that are disgorged from the boats a couple of times a week.  But really, if you grab a seat in one of the many plazas (and maybe a beer from one of the street vendors), you’re set up for some top-notch people watching. 

The beaches of Cartagena are home to a string of high-rise resorts—not exactly our style.  So, to get another beach fix (although we were pretty sure nothing could compete after Parque Tayrona), we hopped a boat to Playa Blanca, a beach reputed to be the nicest beach near Cartagena.  On the way to the islands, the boat took a tour through the Islas Rosario.  The little bungalows on teeny tiny islands had us daydreaming about secluded island getaways and kept us well occupied until we arrived at Playa Blanca.

island-hutsPlaya Blanca definitely lived up to the hype regarding its natural beauty—the sand was powdery white and lined with palm trees and the ocean was a surreal turquoise. 

playa-blanca-wide-shot

playa-blanca

playa-blanca-sunset

We figured that a spot so pretty was worth more than an afternoon, so we hooked up with a crew of Irish boys from our boat and wandered off to sort out a place to sleep for the night.  The beach is lined with restaurants that will not only cook up some of the local fish and plantains for you, but will also happily rent you a hammock. 

playa-blanca-hammocksThe accommodations were even more rustic than those in Tayrona, only a few meters from the surf and with only a piece of mesh fabric between the hammocks and the threat of rain, but we just couldn’t turn down the opportunity to spend the night ON the beach again.  The other bonus?  Our accommodation expense for the evening—about US$2 each. 

Possibly because of the lack of accommodations, the majority of people who come to Playa Blanca do so only for a few hours in the afternoon.  There is one direct bus a week from Cartagena (Sunday morning) and daily boats that drop visitors for the afternoon, collecting them and returning to Cartagena as the sun starts to descend in the sky.  This means that the beach is downright packed in the afternoon and virtually deserted in the evening.  The daily crowds provide a perfect market for the local hawkers.  They sell mostly bracelets and necklaces made from the local stones and shells.  The funniest little quirk was that they all seemed to have adopted nicknames.  The first guy who introduced himself to me was “Punto Com” (dot com).  Later that day, I also met Picasso and Nelson Mandela.  I’m not sure how these pseudonyms began, but they definitely fall in the category of weird little quirks that keep travel interesting.

Picasso was from Santa Ana, a nearby town that, despite only having about 2000 residents, has two English schools.  Picasso was studying at one of them, so we had a nice conversation, him practicing his English and me practicing my Spanish.  We talked about his family and his work and the conversation inevitably turned back to the topic of me buying his stuff.  At one point, trying to convince me that I needed several new bracelets, he assured me that he would give me a very special price, only for me.  He was absolutely delighted when I exclaimed “Only for me??  Que suerte!!”  (What luck!).  Turns out that humor is an effective negotiating technique because promptly he dropped his price by half and we had a deal.  That’s one of the joys of this adventure–getting the opportunity to meet people from around the world and learn a bit about their lives, whether they are other travelers or locals.  Every time I have an experience like that, I find myself somewhat taken aback.  I am reminded of why we are here and am so utterly grateful.

 

Read Full Post »

view-from-cabo-campgrounds-2

Every experience continues to amaze me on this journey of ours. The beauty that we keep seeing on a near daily basis makes me feel like the luckiest person alive. There have been a handful of times; however, that have rendered me nearly speechless. Parque Nacional Tayrona on the Caribbean coast of Colombia was one of those places.

Machu Picchu, southwestern Bolivia, and Patagonia have all been standouts as far as landscapes and natural beauty is concerned. All have been simply amazing in their own unique way and will be the places we tell our kids about and remember vividly for the rest of our lives. Add another one to that list because Tayrona stands out with the best of them, perhaps topping the list.

Whenever we meet local people in the countries we visit, we always ask them their favorite part of their country. Tayrona National Park ALWAYS tops the list when speaking with Colombians. Tayrona is just up the coast from the little fishing village of Taganga, where we stayed for close to a week. It can be reached by boat or bus, taking about two hours by sea and about an hour by land. We decided to go by sea, which was a horrible mistake as the boat we took was quite small and no match for the middle of the Caribbean Sea. We thought we were in for a nice, relaxing ride with great views, but we got a white-knuckle, hair raising, vomit inducing (not us, luckily, but some of our boatmates were not so lucky) two hour ride that made the World’s Most Dangerous Road seem like a leisurely ride through a park.


The boat trip did have some positives, though. We went in the back way to Cabo San Juan, where we didn’t have to pay the park entrance fee, and it dropped us on one of the nicest beaches in the park, where we ended up staying for two nights. Had we went by bus, it would have dropped us at the park entrance, where there are places to sleep and beaches, but those beaches aren’t as nice, and the swimming is dangerous because of the rough surf. Also, there are actually huts and nice rooms to stay in near the entrance, which is nice, but it makes it more crowded. The only options for accommodations in Cabo were renting a hammock or a tent. That, coupled with the fact that it was a couple hour hike from the entrance and not accessible by road, made it much more relaxing and less crowded.

After renting hammocks, we put our valuables in a locker and checked out the campgrounds, which were definitely the most picturesque we’ve ever stayed at. The campgrounds even came complete with a futbol pitch, which provided views a bit different than the fields I grew up playing on (if I had played here, my mother would have never seen a minute of my games).

Our "room" for the night

Our "room" for the night

Our beds for the night (only two of them)

Our beds for the night (only two of them)

Soccer field

Soccer field

soccer-field-in-the-campground-1

soccer-field-in-the-campground-2

soccer-field-in-the-campground-3

soccer-field-in-the-campground-4

Cabo Campground

Cabo Campground

View from Cabo Campgrounds

View from Cabo Campgrounds

The campgrounds were literally right next to the crystal clear sea and a ribbon of beautiful white sand beach, dotted with huge palm trees, with a lush green jungle as the backdrop. Postcard views were everywhere around us in the most stunning tropical setting I have ever seen.

cabo-beach

cabo-beach-1

cabo-beach-2

cabo-beach-3

cabo-beach-4

cabo-beach-5

cabo-beach-6

Adam enjoying the views

Adam enjoying the views

el-mar

Cabo beach in the morning

Cabo beach in the morning

Us at Cabo beach

Us at Cabo beach

Anyone want to buy the rights of this image for a postcard?

Anyone want to buy the rights of this image for a postcard?

view-from-cabo-campgrounds-5

Everything written and every picture posted so far is probably enough to persuade most people that this place is special. We’ve expressed our love for Colombia already in the few posts we’ve written, but this country keeps managing to top itself. There always seem to be more around the next corner, always something extra. And while our first views of the park were amazing, believe it or not, it got better the more we explored.

Tayrona is a really big park which was still pretty dangerous within the last 5-10 years. Because of its remoteness, thick jungle, and many beaches, it was an ideal place for many drug cartels. It was a great launching point to transport their product by boat. Since Colombia’s revival; however, Tayrona has been cleaned up so to speak. But since it’s so “new”, the beaches remain unspoiled, and the lack of development within the park, as far as hotels and restaurants, keep the number of people visiting rather low comparative to other national parks.

There are so many different beaches in Tayrona, connected by hiking paths through the jungle, it’s possible to find yourself completely secluded from anyone else. There isn’t much to do in Tayrona besides lying on the beach, enjoying the clear, blue waters of the Caribbean, and wander around and explore.

Since we slept in hammocks out in the open, we were up pretty early the second day (which happened to be St. Patrick’s Day). We decided to explore some different beaches right around Cabo. One was a short 20 minute hike from the campgrounds. We walked all the way down that beach to find another little trail through the jungle that led to yet another beach. Once here, we walked to the end which was seemingly the end of the trails. We plopped our towels down and got settled, where we stayed for the rest of the afternoon. Not one person walked by us, and we only saw about five other people off in the distance the entire time we were there. It was like we had our own beach to ourselves and we had a simply amazing time (a little different than Dogtown, which we did talk about several times throughout the day).

Nobody around except us

Nobody around except us

Rolling coconut

Rolling coconut

It's a rough life

It's a rough life

Along with secluded beaches, there are also several other places to go and stay within the park. Cabo was at one far end of the park, furthest away from the entrance. Not far from Cabo in the other direction, towards the entrance, was perhaps the most beautiful place of all. A short walk through the palm tree filled jungle brought us to La Piscina (which means pool in Spanish). It wasn’t as secluded as “our” beach was, but the waters were much calmer, and in my opinion it was the most amazing place in the park. There was a big, rocky area next to the beach that was sort of cut off from the main part of the beach (it reminded us of Elephant Rocks but with the sea around it). The water in this area was fairly shallow all the way to about 30 meters out, surrounded by huge rocks on the shore and in the sea, and the water was as clear as a pool. I was in Heaven and easily could have stayed for days.

Hike to La Piscina

Hike to La Piscina

Watch out for falling coconuts!!

Watch out for falling coconuts!!

Entrance to La Piscina

Entrance to La Piscina

Meg on La Piscina

Meg on La Piscina

la-piscina

la-piscina-2

la-piscina-3

la-piscina-4

la-piscina-5

la-piscina-6

la-piscina-7

la-piscina-10la-piscina-8

la-piscina-91

la-piscina-101

us-at-la-piscina

Since we actually have a flight booked out of Colombia, we are on a bit of a time crunch to try to get everything in that we want to do, so our time in Tayrona wasn’t quite as long as we wanted it to be. It was a little odd when we left though because even though it was one of our favorite places on the trip so far, we were fine with leaving. We had such a perfect day the second day when we relaxed on our own beach with no one else around, then had such a wonderful morning the third day hanging around La Piscina, we thought that leaving on a high note was a good idea.

After leaving Tayrona and staying in Taganga for one more night, we headed off to Cartagena, a colonial city, right on the Caribbean (noticing a theme, here?). We are a little behind on the blogging as we are actually leaving Cartagena tonight to head to Medellin, but there will be more about this beautiful and unique city, along with the time we spent this past weekend on a nearby beach sleeping in hammocks yet again (we just can’t get enough). Hopefully we can find some good internet connections in Medellin to get this back up to date before we leave South America next Tuesday for the next leg of our adventures.

So until next time…

Read Full Post »

Imagine waking up, throwing on swimming trunks, walking outside of your room, turning a corner and seeing this…

View from the front of our hostel

View from the front of our hostel

Then imagine walking down the one main street in the town and ordering a jugo de frutas mixtas (mixed fruit juice smoothie) and receiving a concoction of fresh, tropical fruits I’ve never heard of. Imagine taking your fresh fruit smoothie breakfast and sitting down on the nearly abandoned beach and taking in the views…

Taganga beach in the morning

Taganga beach in the morning

Looking the other way

Looking the other way

Boats in the bay

Boats in the bay

Close up of beach

Close up of beach

Close up of beach and sea

Close up of beach and sea

Perfect

Perfect

Imagine walking down this small beach with crystal clear waters and climbing on and over the rocks to get a better view of this idyllic small little town…

dsc_0045

dsc_0056

dsc_0068

Megan is happy

Megan is happy

Us

Us

Imagine finding the perfect rocks for skipping on this calm, beautiful little bay…

The SMRST would be proud

The SMRST would be proud

Imagine laying your towels down for the day, just mere steps away from the perfect Caribbean waters, flagging down the man selling cups of fresh shrimp and squid, waving for the man selling recently homemade coconut cookies, checking out the various crafts and jewelry being sold by the nicest, not-at-all pushy vendors (non-pushy touts, only in Colombia), and spending the day reading and swimming and relaxing. Imagine ending your day with the perfect sunset…

We made it a point to watch the sunset each day we were in Taganga

We made it a point to watch the sunset each day we were in Taganga

This is Taganga, Colombia

Read Full Post »