April 29, 2013

Best Week Ever! (Surin & Similan Islands, Thailand)

My favorite part of a dive is when the descent is over, I'm perfectly buoyant and I take my first calm breath 20 meters down and look around at my underwater world for the next hour. For me, there's nothing else like it. Tom's favorite moment is when we're at the surface, excitement and expectation running high for the dive about to come. We look around, regulators in place, making eye contact with our group. "Is everyone ready?" we mentally ask. 'OK' signal is given by all, followed by a down-pointing thumb. And then the real fun begins. From the moment we got our PADI Open Water certification in November, 2010, I've been hooked. At least once a week, I dream about diving, and sometimes I'm even swimming along side whales. Tom had the genius idea for us to board a dive boat to explore Thailand's Surin and Similan Islands and - no surprise here - it turned out to be one of the best weeks of my life. We booked our trip with Similan Diving Safaris and, after our time in Koh Lanta (read here), we took a bus up to Khao Lak, boarded the Similan Explorer, and set sail!

Scuba Swains - Photo by Greg Stirton

April 27, 2013

Getting Our (Diving) Groove Back (Koh Lanta, Thailand)

One of the strange things about traveling for such a long time is that we come across certain places to where one nationality flocks. There is usually no known reason why this happens, it just does. There were the scantily-clad Russians in Goa, the hash-smoking, guitar-playing Israelis in Hampi and, when we visited Koh Lanta, Thailand, after our 3.5 weeks in Burma (wrap-up coming soon), we were surrounded by over-tanned, blonde-haired Swedes. The main reason we went to Koh Lanta was to brush up on our diving skills before we set out on a dive boat for 5 days. Koh Lanta is a very long island so while there may be a lot of people on the island, there are so many beaches that it never gets too crowded. We stayed on a quiet stretch of Koh Lanta's Long Beach at Palm Beach Bungalows and our hut was only 50 meters from the sea.

Long Beach, Koh Lanta, Thailand

April 19, 2013

Stephanie Wears Silly Hats (in Inle Lake, Burma)

Sometimes, a place just isn't as impressive in real life as it is on paper. For us, Inle Lake in Burma was one of those places. You have to hear that with a few things in mind: 
  1. We're just 2 people with opinions.
  2. We had some overcast weather while we were there, so we didn't really get the views we wanted.
  3. We didn't do our homework in reserving a boat and guide for the day and I think we could have done a lot better.
  4. No matter what we say, you have to visit Inle Lake when you go to Burma.

Before we went to Inle Lake, I was expecting to get lots of shots like this:

Beautiful Bagan, Burma

Note: This is the first batch of photos we've edited with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. We hope you like them! (The shots were taken on our old camera, the Canon G10, and, occasionally, our Lumix TS-20 Tough.)

Bagan, an ancient city located on the Irrawaddy River, is the "must see" place in Burma for a very good reason. It's red sandstone landscape is dotted with thousands of stupas built in the 9th to 13th centuries. These stupas were built by generations of Burmese kings. If ever in Burma, you have to go there, but be aware there will probably be lots of tourists in the town and you may have to plan ahead to find good lodging at a decent price. We had a really hard time finding a place to stay and were a bit dismayed when we showed up at 8pm (after the bumpiest 6 hour bus ride ever) and were told that our hotel had lost our reservation. We tracked down an available room (a family room with 3 beds) at Eden Motel in Nyaung U (one of the 3 towns you can stay in around Bagan), but after 2 separate 6 hour bus journeys we overpaid willingly. The next few days were spent biking around the stupas, taking long lunches to avoid the blazing sun, and meeting up with Dave and Kate for dinner. While parts of the town felt crowded with tourists, the surrounding area of Bagan is so large that when you are touring the stupas for the day it can feel very quiet, and most places you can have to yourself. Steph was really excited to go to Bagan (after hearing me talk about it for 10 years) and she thinks it's just as impressive as Angkor Wat. 

April 10, 2013

We Can't Say (Pyin Oo Lwin, Burma)

After our trekking in Kyaukme, we were exhausted. (Read about it here.) We had been hiking over 6 hours a day in hot weather and had restless nights sleeping in the smokey houses of the villagers so we wanted a relaxing place to visit. We decided to go to Pyin Oo Lwin, which used to be a British hill station. They call these places "Hill Stations" because they are at higher elevations and have cooler climates. In colonial times, the Brits would spend time here when it was very hot in the rest of Burma. It turned out to be a nice, cool break for us as well. 

April 3, 2013

India: The Good, The Bad, The "Are You Effing Kidding Me?!?!"

Have you read my final thoughts on India? They're here.

And, as promised, here's our first official country wrap-up, where we'll share the best of the best, the worst of the worst, and the things we still can't reconcile in our heads. We're calling this, 'The Good, The Bad, The "Are You Effing Kidding Me?!?!" But, we'll start with "The Bad," then move on to "The 'Are You Effing Kidding Me?!?!'" and end with "The Good." You should always end things on a high note, right?

April 1, 2013

India, Revisited

When we first left India, I was in a hurry to write our wrap-up post and I've been kicking myself for not getting it done sooner. But, in hindsight, I think it was good to wait awhile to write it. The truth is that, for a month after we left Incredible India, I couldn't quite wrap my head around it. It all felt so surreal and we both struggled to decide how we felt about the vast and confusing country.