Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Laying low in Koh Lanta and Ao Nang Thailand

     After quite a bit of traveling and sightseeing in Northern Thailand and Cambodia last month we decided to take it a bit easier and spend most of the time chilling on the beach. This we did, with a purpose. Here are some highlights:

     Several times we rented a scooter (at $7 a day it's the ideal way to get around) and drove throughout Koh Lanta seeing the various beaches and whatnot. We went to the Southeastern most point and found the craziest little resort and hung out there for the day. It was hilarious.
     That is definitely up to code. LOL.The wiring was especially...creative. Another day we went to the National Marine Park on the Southwestern-most point and saw free roaming monkeys and monitor lizards. Anyone who refers to "hot monkey love" has never seen monkeys do it. The males last about 5 seconds then flee the scene at their best speed and don't look back LOL
     We went to quite a few restaurants, most of which I'm sorry to say were forgettable. This part of Thailand is rather more touristy (being on the beach) so most places offer more or less the same kinds of things, all at inflated prices. Pad Thai is ubiquitous, as are faux American dishes bearing little resemblance to the real thing.

     Some notable exceptions: Ton Gell in Old Lanta town had the BEST ribs and we went back there several times. The French bakery Faim De Loup was exquisite. Great coffee, sandwiches & baked goodies. They had real cheddar! Bacon & cheddar on a baguette, mmm-mmmm! Also, in Ao Nang the local Indian place Tandoori Nights was beyond delicious.

     We really dug the beach in Koh Lanta though. Not crowded, no touts, and very clean water. I admit I am disappointed at the level of trash throughout Thailand. No one seems to give a damn, locals or tourists. One Thai woman mistook me for a Thai (from behind) because I was picking up trash. She was mortified and asked if I owned the resort. No, I replied, I'm just a guy who hates trash. She helped me clean up some. I did that a lot here but it's daunting. I know from experience that I could spend days cleaning up and a week later it's trashed again. I hope we find a new planet and a way to get there before it's too late. We seem to be wrecking this one at an alarming pace.

     We took one snorkeling trip to the 4 islands on a longtail boat. We didn't see a huge amount of fish, but we swam through a pitch dark cave with a guide that came out on the other side on a beach with cliffs all around, called the Emerald Cave. As we were swimming out a huge boatload of Chinese tourists were swimming in holding onto the life jacket of the person in front of them in an endless conga line, everyone of them insisting on high-fiving us as we went by. It was one of many slightly surreal moments. Here's a video someone took:
     After that we went to Koh Ngai (pronounced Ko Hi) for lunch. It was lovely, with truly clear turquoise waters, gradually deepening to deep navy blue in the distance.
     In Koh Lanta we mostly swam, took walks on the beach, and built sand castles. Tough life.
     LuAnn painted and I played my guitar. I did a couple sets at the local bars and saw a couple great reggae bands. Here in Ao Nang we did some grocery shopping and have been cooking at home since we have a hot plate here. Been doing a lot of laps in the lap pool just outside our room and I've been doing the burpee challenge, working up to 100 burpees over 10 days. We been watching some American movies. Its been months since we've been able to do that! We're also reading a bunch, mostly researching all the intricacies of visiting Japan & generally just saving up our strength & money for our visit to Japan starting next week.

     As always, we ask that you please follow along on my Instagram  and LuAnn's, since by far most of our pictures end up there. We also have facebook, twitter if you like those. We want to hear from you so please comment / like etc, especially if you are also traveling. We love meeting other travel bloggers! OK, see you in the sunset! - Andy & LuAnn

Monday, March 16, 2015


Yep. Wow!

     1/3rd of a year without employment, a fixed address, a car or anything we can't carry with us. One might think a recap is in order! If you want a recap though, just keep clicking the previous post button. :-)

     Instead, we'll look ahead at a brief list of destinations for the immediate future since we have nailed down a number of our upcoming travel arrangements that were heretofore quite nebulous, to wit: At the end of this week we shall repair to an apartment near Ao Nang Beach, Krabi, Thailand.

     We are looking forward to doing some trips to market and our own cooking. Pork, chicken, beef and shrimp (respectively) are moo, gai, nua, and goong in Thai. I've been feeling good about my language skills here. I probably have 100 useful words now and I can count to 10,000. When you can do numbers in the native language that definitely helps haggling. Then again, as Julia Child's husband Paul once said "Don't start thinking you speak the language just because they don't bring you oysters when you order beer." I'm still woeful, but improving.

Anyway here is the new space:
     This is close enough to the Krabi airport to make the start of our next leg less painful since we leave at 6AM March 30th for Osaka, Japan. We'll have two days in Osaka, then 8 days in Kyoto, where we hope to see cherry blossoms galore. After that we'll visit our pal Takuo Nakamura in Nagoya, have a few days at a Ryokan near Mt Fuji, then 3 days in Tokyo where one highlight will be the insane Robot Restaurant that Anthony Bourdain hipped us to in his great show Parts Unknown. I don't have any good pix of that stuff now so you'll just have to wait LOL

     I was really bummed to limit our time in Japan to 15 days but the weather will be kind of early spring-ish and I wouldn't want to accidentally see any SNOW because this is, after all, the "Year Of No Snow" tour, subtitle "No Plan Is Too Complicated Tour, parte le deux". Anyhow, Japan is expensive, so they tell me.

     Moving on, we fly to Bali on April 15th, AKA tax day since that's when tax filings are due in the US. I'm sweating that because even though our accountant has all the stuff now my hopes to break even seem far fetched, even to me. Regardless, that's all over but the shouting so I shan't fret too much.

First up, a week in Sanur, here:
Then two weeks in Nusa Lembongan where we plan to go first instead of booking sight unseen.

     Finally a week in Ubud here:
     Moving on we fly to Singapore for 4 days where we will sling ourselves into things like the marina, the Gardens by the Bay, etc, etc...

Next up 3 nights in Istanbul at this lovely spot:
     Here we hope to see the tower, the Blue Mosque, the Sophia Hagia, the Bosphorus (which I keep calling the Bosephus in my head). The next 10 days are nebulous yet, but I think we'll go to Bodrum, Turkey then on to Rhodes and/or Crete before settling in Santorini, Greece for a whopping two weeks here:

By that time we'll have been 7 months on the road. Yikes. Thanks so much for following along, thanks for your comments, love and support and everything! Please follow on the social media of your choice, especially Instagram since we post a lot of pictures there that don't make it to the blog. Cheers!

Thursday, March 12, 2015

LuAnn Dunkinson, Watercolorist

     Today for something different, I decided to post some of the recent paintings I've done since we started traveling  As many of you may know I am an avid watercolorist. This trip is a challenge for me since I am seeing sooo many inspiring subjects to paint, yet I've had to limit my tools to the very bare minimum. We knew it was as inconceivable to me to travel without art supplies as it was to Andy to travel without a guitar, but my painting supplies had to be pared down considerably. Gone are the days when I could paint on a half sheet of Arches cold press paper 20x24 inches. I needed small paper we could fit in the guitar case and my tubes of paint had to be trimmed down to the primaries, and brushes too. As a result, my painting style had to change a bit. I always liked to draw and sketch (some painters cannot do either), so I decided to try freestyle pen sketches with just color washes added later. I'm still not painting as much as I feel like I should, but looking at what I've done on the trip so far, I figured I might as well share!

Here is a pen with a wash added later. Sketched on location in Old Lanta Town, Koh Lanta, Thailand while Andy was busking on the street there. 

A still life from our guesthouse in Chiang Mai, Thailand:
                         The next 2, same style, sketched in Sayulita, Mexico.

These two were done while Andy was out sailing in Akaroa, New Zealand. Straight watercolor:

And the last a panorama of Bon Ban Doi, the farm Homestay in northern Thailand:

Enjoy! If you want to see more of my work visit www.LuAnnDunkinson.com and, as always, prints or originals are for sale. Just click here to drop me an email and we can work it out. Thanks!

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Kampuchea AKA Cambodia and back to Thailand for the beach

Or "A Comedy of Errors"

    A large number of our travel pals assured us that getting a 60 day Visa for Thailand was a snap. What no one said though was that you have to do it before you arrive or it becomes a huge PITA. What's more although no one in Thailand immigration said one word about onward travel, Emirates wouldn't let us on the plane without tickets out of Thailand so we bought a cheap flight to Siem Reap since we wanted to see Angkor Wat anyway. That turned out to be good because apparently if you go overland you only get 15 days, not the full 30 you get arriving by air. I truly wish they would stop fooling around and just make it 90 days already. Sheesh. Seems like the immigration rules change weekly, depending on who you talk to.

     Cambodia was amazing yet heartbreaking. They have been caught between Thailand and Viet Nam for centuries, plus they were caught between the US and Russia in the proxy war in Viet Nam which saw millions of bombs and land mines deployed there. One in every 290 Cambodians is an amputee due to land mines.

     Then they became victims of the worst kind of brutal communist dictatorship that tortured and killed 2-3 million people, about a quarter of the population. They would kill you for wearing eyeglasses because that was the mark of an intellectual. Holy hell. Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge were monsters of the vilest sort and are a good reminder that communism kills as many or more people than fascism.
     Meanwhile, I have never met a nicer, kinder, gentler group of people anywhere. It makes me wonder how The Khmer Rouge found anyone for their ranks but I guess when someone sticks a gun in your hand at 10 years old and tells you they'll kill your whole family if you don't do what you're told...
     There is no doubt the country has many challenges. Poverty and lack of food and education, as well as severe government corruption is messing them up still. The Cambodian Circus not only puts on an amazing show but helps feed and educate children and teach them skills in the arts. I strongly recommend supporting them and do not fail to see the show if you are in Siem Reap.

     Since we were there mainly to see Angkor Wat I will let LuAnn tell you about that:

      We took 2 half day trips to Angkor Wat. Its a huge area made up of many different temples and complexes. I won;t go into the whole history of the place, but most was built between 900 and 1200.
The first day our tuk-tuk driver, Sok, picked us up at 5:00 am to see the sun rise from behind Angkor Wat. This is the iconic photo most of us have seen. Although we didn't care too much about getting "the perfect photo", we did want to see the spectacle, and tour during the morning when the heat is less. Lucky that we weren't intent on getting that perfect picture because we woke at 4:00 am to a terrific rainstorm. So when the sun came up at 6:00, even though the rain was over, it was misty and the air super heavy. A less than spectacular sunrise, but it was an experience to remember making our way through the dark, on the ancient walkways, trying not to trip. Very eerie. Then once the daylight appeared, everything being revealed to us.                                   
We toured the main Angkor Wat temple, Angkor Thom, and Ta Prohm. Ta Prohm was probably my favorite- this was the temple used in Tomb Raider, with the banyan trees intertwined with the temple.                      
      The second day, I actually went without Andy, who was feeling under the weather. This time, Sok picked me up later in the day, and we headed for Banteay Srei, which was about an hour away. I got a good overview of the Cambodian countryside, which as Andy mentioned, is heartbreakingly poor. The temple itself is known for its very elaborate carvings, which I could have looked at all day.

     On the way back, Sok stopped at the Cambodian Landmine Musuem. I was somewhat reluctant to go in, but I was glad I did. My $5 admission price, I'm told will go to the school they run for the children injured by landmines, as well as the NGO's which are still trying to clear the mines from the countryside.                                    
A few more temples after that and we called it a day. I was very happy to immediately dip in the hotel pool, because let me tell you, I don't think I was ever hotter in my life. Man was the Rose Boutique Hotel great.                     
As always please follow along by clicking on the social media links on the right there.
Many more pix on Andy's Instagram and Mine. Over and out!

Monday, March 2, 2015

The Life of Pai

Hi gang! Andy here
     Pai is a little mountain town in the North of Thailand known for it's laid back vibe and popularity with backpackers, ex-pats and the like. Theres also a lot of cool waterfalls, but since we are in the dry season, we were also told not to bother. We are also here, unfortunately, at the start of the burning season when the farmers burn last years crops so the air quality is not so great. It's also a little disconcerting to see the dry mountain on fire at night.
We were only here for 5 days and it has been sort of hit and miss.
     Hit: We found a really great restaurant called Silhouette that has actual wine! The Cabernet Savignon was to die for and every bite of food was better than the last. I cannot recommend it highly enough. The last place we went in Thailand that styled itself as a wine bar had two kinds; red and white, both by the same maker, both undrinkable. Needless to say I beam upon these guys.

     Miss: Our grumpy sleazebag old-white-guy neighbor started pounding on the wall at 8 PM telling me to stop playing guitar. Seriously? In 20 countries no one has ever complained before. I wasn't even playing loud or singing and anyway, how can you even hear me over the sound of you berating your half-your-age Thai girlfriend for not understanding you? In short, wow. DIAF.

     Hit: We are staying at a really cool bungalow, Paiardise, (get it?..hahah) complete with a hammock on the front porch, with a pond in the center. Feeding the huge collection of awesome fish in the pond is really fun! They are so pretty and so many! In fact the whole place is really very cool.
     Miss: LuAnn got food poisoning from (we think) her favorite dessert coconut sticky rice and mango. A whole day and a half of really unpleasant gastric distress followed and I shan't elaborate on that. Good thing antibiotics are over the counter here.

     Hit: Got to meet and smoke a lovely cigarette with a charming fellow who grows it legally now in Seattle. He was most profuse in his praise of my playing which I shall take to heart more so than our curmudgeonly neighbor. This led to some foolishness, no doubt.
     Miss: There's lots of nightlife but it's pretty much swarming with drunken 20-somethings from all over the world and so in general not that exciting for us. I really want to see the reggae festival which, unfortunately, starts the day we leave. Sigh.
     Hit: Grumpy white guys girlfriend saw me later and profusely apologized. Apparently she told him how much she liked hearing me play and he got all jealous, hence the pounding. Aha! LOL So that explains that.

     Miss: the bus ride to and from Chiang Mai had 416 switchbacks. That's 208 sharp S-curves. Needless to say it was tough bein' all back of the mini-bus and shiz. Yikes.
     All in all though it absolutely beat the hell out of freezing our butts off in the Northeastern US so therefore it gets a net win. So bidding good-bye to Northern Thailand. Next up: Siem Reap and a visit to the iconic Angkor Wat, then back to Thailand to explore the Southern beaches. As always please follow on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Carrier Pigeon, etc... Cheers! -Andy & LuAnn