Thailand: Return to the Phi Phi Islands

One of the greatest parts of my trip was camping at Maya Bay on Ko Phi Phi Leh.  The Beach, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, was actually filmed on this very beach.  Every night, Maya Bay Camping organizes an exclusive trip to the island.  Included is transportation, several meals, camping equipment (no tents, the weather is perfect and there is definitely no need), and lots of fun activities.  Of course, having the entire island to ourselves was the real draw.  My group had 17 people plus some staff, all on an uninhabited island.  In the daytime, the tourists come by the boatload and congest the place, but in the evening – it was ours.  Just after sunrise, the water was so clear we could see a small shark chasing a school of fish.  It was an unreal experience.

Our boat
To access the island, we had to swim to this location despite the choppy waves
Maya Bay
Sunset on Maya Bay

We also did some things on Ko Phi Phi Don, the inhabited tourist haven.  We decided to spend one more night on Hat Yao (Long Beach), as we had done before.  The next day we had to catch the ferry to Phuket so we could fly to Bangkok!

Climbing to the Phi Phi Viewpoint
At the Viewpoint.  The thin strip of land is Tonsai Village.
Killing time before camping… those are fish nibbling on my feet.  Good for your skin, supposedly?
Site of our post-camping Thai massage… a woman walked on Andy’s back! At Paradise Pearl, Hat Yao
Sunrise and Ko Phi Phi Leh (where we went camping the day before)

Read more about my trip:
Part 1 – Ko Phi Phi Don
Part 2 – Ko Lanta

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Thailand: Ko Lanta

After exploring Ko Phi Phi, we took the ferry to nearby Ko Lanta.  Ko Lanta is considerably larger than the Phi Phi islands, but it’s not quite as touristy.  Pair this mellow atmosphere with ongoing Ramadan (most of Ko Lanta’s residents are Muslim), and you get a sleepy slice of paradise.  Just what we wanted.

Our beachfront bungalow
Lanta Miami pool with ocean view
So close to the waves!

Due to rainy season, accommodations were ~50% off and definitely available.  Some resorts do close for the low season, but many remain open.  Upon disembarking, we took a free taxi to check out a resort.  We decided it wasn’t for us and went through the hassle of finding alternate transportation to check out another place (by alternate transportation I mean sitting in the back of an open pickup truck).  Finally we settled on the Lanta Miami Resort, full of beautiful bungalows, ocean views, and a great pool.  We decided to “splurge” and got a room literally 10 feet from the ocean waves (and poolside).  The bungalow cost 2000 baht, or about $65.  Amazing.

On Ko Lanta, we mostly relaxed at our resort, but one day we did rent a motorbike to fully explore the island.  Highly recommended, costs less than $8 for 24 hours.

Since everyone on Ko Lanta drives scooters, you can buy bottled gasoline at any roadside stand.
Ban Ko Lanta (Lanta Old Town)
Fill ‘er up
Typical architecture in Old Town; dates back to Arabic & Chinese trade routes between Phuket, Penang, & Singapore
Rubber tree plantations covered the interior parts of the island

Another highlight was eating at the Cook Kai restaurant.  We actually ate there both nights since it was so good! One of the best things I ate in Thailand was yam wunsen, a glass noodle salad with lots of citrus and fresh seafood.  Sooo good.

Cook Kai, best restaurant on Ko Lanta!

We left after two nights in order to return to Ko Phi Phi (Leh this time) for some isolated camping. Read about it here.

a beautiful sunset
one final balcony view

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Thailand: First leg of the trip

I recently went on an incredible trip to Thailand.  It would be way too long and wordy to properly explain here, so I’ll break it up into a few parts and share some photos.

The first day was spent mostly traveling (Daegu-> Shanghai -> Bangkok).  Less than eight hours after touchdown, Andy and I had a connecting flight to Phuket and then a ferry to Ko Phi Phi.  Needless to say, we were very tired!

Ko Phi Phi was absolutely beautiful.  It’s a tiny, touristy island located in the Andaman Sea.  It’s so small that there are no roads on the island, and so everyone travels by bicycle or push-cart.  To get to a different part of the island, it’s better to charter a longtail boat.  We got dropped off at the pier in Tonsai Village, but wanted a quieter locale.  100B (~$3) will get you to Hat Yao, Long Beach, which was perfect.

Longtail boats docked at the beach at Tonsai Village, Ko Phi Phi Don
Our bungalow! Paradise Pearl Resort, Hat Yao, Ko Phi Phi Don
Buddhist spirit house in Tonsai Village, Ko Phi Phi Don
Breakfast on Hat Yao, overlooking Ko Phi Phi Leh, the smaller sister island

As much as we loved Ko Phi Phi, we decided to check out Ko Lanta for the next few days.  My cousin and several friends raved about this quiet island, and for good reason.  After just one night, we boarded the ferry to Ko Lanta, which you can read about here.

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Camping at Geoje Island

Monday, May 28 was Buddha’s Birthday in South Korea.  It celebrates the date when Buddha came forward into this world, and is a federal holiday – meaning no work!

Rising to the occasion, I went camping with Andy and several of our friends.  We chose the less-frequented Geoje Island (거제도), two hours south of Daegu.  Geoje is the second-largest island in the ROK, after Jeju, and is home to most of Korea’s shipbuilding.  We spent a few weeks researching the locale, but little information was available on the internet.  Undeterred, we bought some bus tickets (and camping gear!) and were on our way.

Our group, sans Emily, the photographer from whom I stole this photo (left to right: me, Keir, Jenna, Claire, Andy, Deva)

We chose Gujora Beach as our campsite.  Gujora (구조라) is a sandy beach and is very close to a small town and harbor.  Possibly due to the holiday, the beach was very crowded during the day (with Koreans and foreigners alike), but at night it was mostly campers.  The Koreans all camped in a parking lot near the bathrooms, while the foreigners camped on the actual beach.  Wacky Koreans… We chose the wooded end of the beach, which was great for privacy and some scant shade in the daytime.  For firewood, we foraged through some construction site refuse.  All in all, I’d say it was pretty ideal.

Gujora Beach – we camped at the far end

The natural bay of Gujora Beach… the water was amazingly clear!
Tiny pink tent… my home away from home

After the first night, we trekked into the town to check out the boat schedules.  The boats fill up fast so I recommend buying tickets as soon as you arrive (this goes for the bus back to Daegu too).  We almost missed out on Oedo, but we were able to get some fancy tour in the nick of time.  At the harbor, there was a small seafood market with tables next to the water.  Across the road, there were many seafood restaurants as well.  Live seafood swam in tanks outside.

Oedo (외도), or Oe Island, is home to a large botanical garden.  It reminded me of the Bahá’í Gardens in Haifa, although not quite as impressive.  The owners of the garden tried to infuse as much Mediterranean influence as possible, so the flowers and shrubs were overshadowed by Greco-Roman statutes, amphitheaters, columns, etc.  It was chaotic and crowded, but the views of the sea were absolutely gorgeous.  I think Oedo would be much more enjoyable on a less crowded day, when you have time to wander at your own pace.

A pair of stone birds on Oedo

Mediterranean-style church

Partial image of the grounds

Most of the trip was spent on the beach, relaxing around a fire and talking with friends.  It was a perfect weekend escape from Daegu.  I love seeing more of Korea – I’m constantly surprised by how beautiful it is.

 Check out a short video I made of the trip here.

For fellow expats, there is more detailed information after the jump.

Expat Info:

  • Buses to Geoje were available at the Dong-bu bus terminal in Daegu.  Each way cost 13,600.
  • There are a few buses you can take to Gujora.  22 and 67 are two off the top of my head, but there were others.  From Gujora you must walk through the town to access the beach.  We just plopped down a tent and were not bothered by anyone.
  • Ferries to Oedo are 16,000 + 8,000 for admission, but we got some kind of special package for 23,000 which included both.  Definitely try to get tickets ASAP because there was a crowd of miffed Koreans who missed out.  Same for the bus back to your home city… we bought the tickets as soon as we arrived and were almost unable to be accommodated – although we had 7 people in our party.

If anyone has any questions, feel free to comment.  I know we struggled with the lack of information in planning this trip, and I’m happy to provide some.

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Daily Life in Korea

Check out some random photos of life in Korea:

A man prepares creme-filled dinosaurs for sale in Seomun Market, Daegu
Filling a bag with guk hwa bbang, a red bean-filled snack, at Seomun Market, Daegu
Spreading oil on a griddle at Jagalchi fish market, in Busan
A Turkish man performing tricks to boost ice cream sales and delight (or disappoint) children
A very un-PC Korean merchant dressed as a Native American

And a lighter note…

A dyed poodle in the latest canine fashions on Haeundae Beach, Busan

Dogs like this are pretty common sights all over Korea.  In Daegu, I recently saw a little white dog with four yellow rainboots.  It was not pleased and was walking in a ridiculous manner, although the owner certainly didn’t seem to notice.

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First trip to Busan

Early Saturday morning, Andy, Kaylyn and I caught the Mugungwa (Korail) train to Busan.  It cost 7,700 won (6.75 USD)  and took about 1 hour 30 minutes.  While not the most luxurious train, I would definitely recommend it and you can’t beat the low price.

As soon as we exited Busan Station, we could smell the sea and I was pretty happy! We took the subway to Jagalchi fish market, the largest fish market in South Korea.  After securing a delicious lunch for Kaylyn, we walked around admiring the beautiful and tasty seafood swimming around in buckets.  I was familiar with some of it, like crabs, oysters, and flounder, but other creatures were new to me.

Fish and other creatures for sale
In America, this is just decoration.  In Korea, it’s food.

 Jagalchi Market is a sprawling, outdoor market, but it also has a few large buildings.  In these buildings you can choose your seafood and they’ll cook it for you on the spot.  All of the vendors were eager to please and hopefully entice a few new customers.

Posing with a baby shark… yum?

On top of the main building, there is an observation deck.  (Also included inside… market, restaurants, guest house, noraebang/karaoke room, screen golf, wedding hall… Korea is odd sometimes.)  Look how pretty Busan is on a clear day!!

Busan Port

After the market, we took the subway to Haeundae Beach.  In the summer, every inch of sand is covered with Korean beachgoers.  Luckily for us… it’s still spring! There were still a good amount of people on the beach, either sunbathing, throwing a frisbee, or walking their dogs.  I found it ironic that all of the Westerners took off their shoes, yet the Koreans kept theirs on… since in Korea, you have to take off your shoes in any number of locations.

Haeundae Beach

Later that evening, we visited another beach – Gwangalli.  Gwangalli has the pretty Diamond Bridge which lights up and changes colors at night.  It just so happened that a fishing festival was going on (Gwangalli Eobang Festival), so we watched some of that ridiculousness and even got to see some fireworks! In October, Busan holds a tremendous fireworks festival in that same spot, and I would definitely like to come back for that.

Gwangalli Eobang Festival
Diamond Bridge from Gwangalli Beach

That night we wandered around in a group, checking out the local restaurants and bars.  The next morning was overcast, so we didn’t do much other than wander up and down Haeundae.  Andy and I took the KTX (high speed) train home, which took only 40 minutes and cost 11,000 won (under 10 USD) and was a considerably smoother and quieter ride.  Both trains were great but obviously the KTX was nicer and more luxurious, not to mention faster.

Our group, from left to right: Claire, Emily, Kaylyn, Keir & me on top of course!
Somewhere between Busan and Daegu, taken from the KTX

Some details for any expats reading this:
– Stayed in the Story Guesthouse in Haeundae, would recommend for the price, level of service, and excellent amenities.
– Korail and KTX were both great, although Korail offered standing room and some guy sat on my armrest.  Negative points.
– Cabs in Busan are expensive and the subway takes forever! This is more of a complaint than actual advice.

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