What an adventure the last couple weeks were for us in Thailand. We only hit a couple of the major spots but it was all the more exciting as our friends Juli and Mike joined us for about 12 days.
Meeting up in Phuket we enjoyed the beach a bit and got to see a few rehabilitated gibbons at the National Park nearby. After Phuket we hopped on a minibus to Ao Nang, a small little beach town that is the jumping off point to Phi Phi and the multitude of other islands nearby. We booked a last minute dive trip with Raya divers, a Finnish company, out to a few spots near Phi Phi Don. New to diving, I asked the woman at the shop about the equipment and why should we dive with them. Her explanation: “We are Finnish, we trust anyone other than ourselves.” Interesting way to put it, but it worked for us. It was a bit choppy and it was different jumping off the big boat, but it was awesome. Our first dive we saw three black tipped reef sharks, a green sea turtle and a multitude of other little fishies. Some cool starfish, the crown of thorns in particular, and two giant moray eels greeted us on the second dive. Amazing to watch the eel so smoothly cut the water, graceful and mesmerizing in fact. Thanks to the large lungs of yours truly we came up and got onto the boat to go back to Ao Nang a few minutes earlier than most. Melissa’s little lady lungs could have kept her down twice as long!
Longtail Boat at the beach on Koh Phi Phi Don
After our day of diving we headed back on a ferry to spend a night on Ko Phi Phi Don. This is the way Thailand used to be, no cars and lots of palm trees lining the crystal clear water! The four of us and two other Americans went with Ibex climbing to do a half day of rock climbing on the Tonsai wall. That massive sheer face of rock you see as we are pulling out of the Phi Phi pier. I realize every time I climb how out of shape I truly am. Muscles ache that I never knew I had. The view at the top was well worth all of the effort!
Climbing the Tonsai Wall on Phi Phi
Koh Phi Phi Don as seen from atop the Tonsai Wall Climb
A quick flight up to Chiang Mai in the north of Thailand for the famous Festival of Lights, Yi Peng or Loy Krathong as the locals know it. The festival is known for its floating lanterns and floating candles. Originally meant for good luck, you make a wish as you send your lantern soaring into the dotted night sky. An amazing sight as thousands of the balloons are floating through the air and candles down the river, while fireworks and sparklers were being lit off in the background. These new constellations of lights floated and morphed in size for two days.
Floating Lanterns above Chiang Mai
Unfortunately, Mike got a little food poisoning and was down for a few days. After recuperating we had two days left together and we packed it with fun. Learning to become honorary mahouts for a day was an amazing experience! We got to feed the elephants sugar cane and a heap of bananas. We were taught a little about the care of the elephants and the program that they have at the park. Then within minutes we were hopping on an elephants back guiding him around with a few taps to the ear. We each got a few turns and then we were ready to Mahout our elepant through the jungle! After our elephant got some exercise we let them grab a little snack before heading off to the tub. Time for a good scrubbing, one of the three daily baths the elephants get. A bucket, a scrub brush, and a pachyderm. Most interesting bath I have ever had. The baby elephant in the group thought it was really funny to walk around and fill his trunk with water and spray it in your face!
The next day we got to experience a little Thai culture. A full day cooking class gave us a greater appreciation for the food we had been consuming for the last weeks. Curries, stir fries, and soups were a few of the things that we made. We even got a lesson in carving carrots into flowers! I left looking pregnant and feeling lethargic. Not even a chance of eating dinner that night. After a great day we had to say goodbye to Juli and Mike as we had a few more days in Chiang Mai before heading home.
Things are getting hot in the kitchen!
Three days in Chiang Mai visiting some friends and two more in Bangkok brought us to the end of our 14 month journey.
What a trip it was, almost a fairy tale, as I am sitting here at home writing it. Amazing stories and amazing friends that we met along the way are a only a few of the many blessings that God bestowed on us while we were gone. I know it is cliché to say it, but it was truly life changing. I am sure there are ways yet that God will use it to His glory and I look forward to that. I am extremely grateful to have had the opportunity to spend virtually every waking and sleeping second with my beautiful wife and only wish that it could continue day in and day out like that!
I am excited to have some good internet and hopefully a bit of time to really go through and get photos up on the website from our trip and from lots of previous work. I will put our contact details up when we get phones and things like that as we get settled back into this beautiful land!
Wanted to post a little update as its been a little while. Our friends Juli and Mike are here visiting us and we have a full lineup for the next weeks and won’t have so much time on the computer. We enjoyed our really relaxing weeks in Bali and a few days in Khao Sok National Park in Thailand. A few days in Phuket and now we are in Ao Nang. Tomorrow get to hit the water this time going diving, followed by some rock climbing the next day. Up to Chiang Mai for the week and then we are on the way home. So in a couple weeks I will put some pics up from the upcoming fun. Please pray for our safety as we are constantly on the move and as we all fly home soon.
A couple pics from Khao Sok:
Swimming at Ton Kloi Waterfall, Khao Sok National Park
No, not the coffee variety, just the island variety. Only a few days on Java, but we saw some amazing volcanoes.
Our wakeup call comes at 3am and we throw on our clothes and have a cup of tea before hopping into our jeep where a cool breeze rolls through the window as we start to gain elevation. Half four in the morning and the sky is already light with the promise of the coming sun. The end of the jeep ride leaves us with a 20 minute climb through about 2 inches of dust/ash while being offered the services of a local horse to take us up another leg of the path. Past the shabby canteen and the horse parking area began the climb up the stairs where the better vantage points were to take in the sunrise.
The sun rising over Semeru
The sight that awaited at the top was a volcano sitting atop a sea of cloud. And like a boy talking to a beautiful girl, the clouds blushed to a lovely rose as the sun neared the horizon.
The sun rising over Gunung Bromo
A stunning morning, as light filtered through the moist air hanging in the valley.
The sun burning through the valley below Bromo
As beautiful as the view was from far away, we wanted to look into the mouth of the beast. Back in the Jeep we retrace our pat, but with a sharp turn we are plunged into cloud. For some reason our driver turned our tour into an off road race across the dunes past all the other jeeps taking tourists. I’m not complaining as I enjoy the thrill of crazy fast driving, but it was not to the liking of everyone in the vehicle. Upon arriving more horses were offered for the 2km walk to the rim of the volcano. An unnecessary luxury. It was more fun to watch the others who were not so comfortable on horses, or their horse just wanted to run, or people who held out against all the touts only to cave as the hills got a little steep. We trudced on through the sand and up the last steps and until we were on the rim of Gunung Bromo.
The view into Bromo
Smoke lazily puffs out of the cone as all the the tourists wander on the edge, taking careful consideration of their steps. While we are enjoying the view, the belly of the beast rumbles and we look around at others wondering if that is normal for volcanoes. Everyone carries on and so do we. Back down the stairs, along the plains and back in the jeep.
Once we were back to the hotel we go onto the next bemo (van transport) back to Probolinggo for the next leg of our trip. Five hours by minibus and we are close the foot of Ijen. A place that is known for the sulphur miners that carry their bounty out of the volcanic crater on an 8km return journey. Another early start to the morning and we are off in quite bright morning light at 5:30am for our 4km trip up the mountain. A few miners already have a load being carried down, but most are on the way up. We are accompanied by someone we thought was a supplied guide for our group, found out at the end not so, and he told us a few things about the sulphur and the mountain. Once to the rim we follow a gentle sloping path before we really head down.
The first load down as most are coming up
Ijen Sulphur Mine
Counting the sign “No visitors beyond this point” more as a caution than a command, we follow our guide past all the men carrying sulphur up. With weights of 85-100 kilos (190-220lbs) on their shoulder, these men are tough, tough enough even to walk it with flip flops on. With shoulders scarred from transferring the weight from shoulder to shoulder, even the toughest men have to take breaks and rest on the way up the windy, rocky path.
Ijen Sulphur MIner
Finally, at the shore of the crater lake, the sulphur hits you and you have to put your scarf over your face to make breathing a little bit easier. We watch the men breaking up pieces and loading the baskets. Some men are working close to what I can only call the furnaces, dipping cups into the molten sulphur and then pouring it into water to harden. As we are in the thick of it, soon to be literally, the wind changed and all the smoke that was going up came back down hard at our faces. Mask or not, the burning of your eyes and the suffocating feeling in your throat is hard to bear. After emerging blindly from the cloud, coughing and gasping for life giving air, you pity the men who have to work in these condition day after day for only a few dollars.
In the sulphur cloud
Sulphur Miner Ijen Crater
Sulphur Miner gathering the pieces
Where the liquid sulphur pours from
A big chunk of sulphur
A miner wearing his protection unlike most of the others
The walk out of the crater by the miners
We stay down for about 45 minutes before making the climb back out. The stunning green of the volcanic lake only gets more vivid as we get higher and the sun illuminates it. Before heading back down to our van, we hike a little more up to the the highest point on the rim so we can get a good view over the crater, the lake, and the mine. Stunning, absolutely mind blowing this place is. The valleys that run down the crater, the smoke, the green water, the yellow sulphur; such beauty and such vivid colors that will leave a very lasting impression in my mind.
A view over Ijen Crater
The next leg of our journey that day brought us to Bali, where the culture just came alive. But right now there is not much to say about a place where we get to sit at the beach, enjoy the surf, relax and read. The only thing that I can say is that we did survive the big quake!
The jungle is always a nice respite from all the concrete of the city. Taste the salt on the tongue and the wind across your face and you are free. This is Bako National Park in Sarawak, Borneo. The promise of wildlife and wildlife close is what brought us to the park and ultimately to Borneo.
Arriving at the main jetty we catch the last boat to the park. Thought were going to have to push as the motor chewed up sand because the tide was so low. Now way were we making it to the jetty. So a beach landing it is.
The claims of wildlife were true, within minutes we sight one of the many Bornean bearded pigs that roams freely about the camp. We check in and get the key to our very own hostel room, four beds when all we want is one. Kind of fun, makes it feel like camp as a kid. Our room is lacking, smells like wetness, has mold on the ceiling, the flickering light eventually fails us, but our hearts our set outside. A quick snack at the canteen and more wild boars before we head toward the jetty where the monkeys apparently love to stay.
Bornean Bearded Pig
Arriving I thought a storm had come on us as the crack of thunder roared around us. Cheeky Macaques were running along the tin roofs chasing off the proboscis monkeys. But true enough, the monkeys abound down at the jetty. Once the proboscis are gone, the troop of long-tailed macaques settle into a tree nice and low and there are four little babies that are having so much fun learning how the maneuver in the trees.
Baby Long-tailed Macaque
Adult Long-tailed Macaque with baby
Baby Long-tailed Macaque
Baby Long-tailed Macaques playing rough
Lots of nice people around the camp to point you in the direction of the wildlife. I was looking for snakes and just walking along the boardwalk someone pointed them out to me. Just feet away from where we had walked past many times. A beautiful trio of Wagler’s Pit Vipers. Male, Female, and a juvenile.
Male Wagler’s Pit Viper
Male Wagler’s Pit Viper
Female Wagler’s Pit Viper
Juvenile Wagler’s Pit Viper
On the first night we went on a night walk where you get a chance to see some of the nocturnal jungle neighbors. Before we got out of camp we saw our first Sunda flying lemur. What a unique creature. Looks so much more like a bat. Fortunately we got to see another during the daytime to get a longer look while it was sleeping. The next thing we encountered was rain and a light drizzle for a while. No big animals, only a few frogs and insects. But we did see a Sarawak Spiny stick insect and a Poisonous Rock Frog.
Sunda Flying Lemur
Sarawak Spiny Stick Insect
Poisonous Rock Frog
A walk to a few nearby beaches did not provide us with much wildlife viewing, but the sea view made up for it. Lovely clean beaches with mountains sitting atop the turquoise water in the background. A dip in the water, crab and mudskipper watching, and then the return to camp. A few proboscis on the way back past the jetty, but there were on the run to beat the tide coming in and getting stuck out over the water. Back to camp for some more viper pictures when the tree that the vipers were in shook violently under the weight of a massive male proboscis sitting down for his dinner. Some great close interaction with him, totally unafraid of us. A new phenomenon according to a veteran of 20 years coming to the park. And small world it is, the veteran I speak of runs a travel agency out of Cromwell, New Zealand and a connection is made.
Feeding Proboscis Monkey
The last morning comes and I have missed the silver leaf monkeys and I am on a mission to find them. I get interrupted by a very pleasant surprise. Another close encounter with a male proboscis on the ground this time. Lets me follow him as he hops tree to tree getting his morning snack along the beach.
Adult Male Proboscis Monkey
Breakfast on the beach
I ask all the park staff and they tell me where they saw them, but I seem to always be behind them. So what does a person do when they can’t find the animals, why have breakfast of course. Half way through my rice and fried chicken, Melissa said she saw something cross the path down aways and saw somebody take a picture. So, I leave the rice, hopefully not to any bold macaques, and I am off in search. Eyes toward the trees, but the prize is at my fight. Three little piglets. No fairy tale here, only three striped piglets with momma, rooting around and hopping like only piglets can. No monkeys, but I can’t complain with subjects like that. So back to breakfast after our little photo shoot.
Bornean Bearded Pig and Piglet
Our time was running short before our boat brought us back, but God was good to me that morning. The troop of silver leafs came right by the canteen. The cutest, most photogenic monkeys. A lovely silver color, hence the name, but a baby is a wonderful brilliant gold. Several of the babies are too old, but one is only half way through his transition and is so fun to watch as he learns from his parents. A dull gold now, but still set apart from the others. I am covered with sand as I follow them along the beach until all my memory cards are full. Sand in my pockets, sand in my beard, but a couple good shots makes it all worth it.
Silvered Leaf Monkey
Silvered Leaf Monkey adult and baby
Young Silvered Leaf Monkey
Young Silvered Leaf Monkey
After having such a great experience with scuba, it was hard to think that anything would be able to keep up with it, but Borneo always seems to have an ace up its sleeve.
The Kinabatangan River stretches almost 560km to the interior of Malaysian Borneo from the Sulu Sea. As we ride up the river we see the effects of palm oil reaching even here. A narrow corridor of lowland rainforest is all the remains with the sea of palms spreading as far as the eyes can see beyond. But thankfully this corridor still provides habitat for many of the endemic species of Borneo, and a wonderful opportunity to see it very close. We joined a 3 day excursion with Uncle Tans to go wildlife viewing along the Kinabatangan.
Cruising the Kinabatangan
A very rustic jungle camp was our home for the next three days consisting of open air stilted bungalows perched around the mangrove swamp. The basic itinerary was boat safaris and jungle treks, some in the morning and others at night.
Our Jungle hut at Uncle Tans Widlife Safari
As was the big hope, we did see some orangutans in the wild, along with so many other things that I won’t bore you with all of them. I will highlight a few with some pictures. I do apologize for the poor quality of them, but it was super dark flat light and I was not outfitted for the distance we were covering. But I think you will get the idea.We did see a few things that I did not have a camera for including a civet cat, flying foxes, lesser mouse deer, silver leaf monkeys, and various other birds. What an experience to see these creatures in the wild. As a kid and later in life, I loved the zoo and all the creatures it held. Seeing some of the more unique ones in person is thrilling.
Honey, I blew up the leaf
Harlequin Tree Frog
Orangutan and Bornean Gibbon
The Orangutan Called Lora
Red Breasted Partridge
Frilled Tree Frog
Buffy Fish Owl
Long Tailed Macaque with baby
Jumping Proboscis Monkey
Asian Black Hornbill
We had another opportunity to see orangutans in an rehabilitation center yesterday. This is the only orangutan rehabilitation center that is not enclosed in any way. They are free to roam but choose to stay in the Nature Reserve. We were very fortunate as usually they only see one or two, but we saw about ten at the same time. Watching them swing so gracefully at the same time ripping a coconut apart with ease makes you stand in awe.
As you know it has been a while since I posted anything and the last one, the gibbon experience was at the end of August. Hard to believe that it is October already. More feelings of oddness as my mind still tells me that October means Fall, cooling weather, and all the joys of my favorite season. But the heat is unending so close to equator. But none the less, Borneo is a treasure. If you can get away from the palm oil plantations, stunning islands and majestic wildlife awaits!
local fishing boat cruising the clear waters
Our first days in Borneo we spent in Semporna, a gateway to the Philippines. But making Semporna famous is its access to some of the worlds best diving. There are about 12 dive sites within easy reach, the most famous being Sipidan Island. A dream of mine came true here. Like stepping into the magical wardrobe and you end up in Narnia, you break the plane of the water and you are in a whole new world. New looks, new sounds. Learning the basics of “living” underwater. You take your first artificial breath and your mind tells you that you are going to draw in water, but nothing comes. After a bit of time you become more comfortable, but still wary. It will take many more dives to really get the feeling down, but looking forward to the opportunities to practice.
warming up on the dive boat
In the shallows of Sibuan Island is where we spent most of our time with several fun dives at the sites around the island. The sea life that we saw was incredible. What a testament to the creativity of God! Needlefish, Trumpetfish, Lion Fish, Mandarin fish, Hawksbill Turtles, Green Turtles, Barracuda, Spotted Eagle Ray, Blue Spotted Ray, Giant Sea Cucumber, and so many other creatures. Amazing! Anemones hiding Nemo and amazing coral, always a visual feast under the surface. Melissa is dreading what this means. Underwater photo gear does not come cheap! I will keep dreaming, but maybe one day.
Getting prepped for our entry
about to go down
The Gibbon Experience was by far one of the coolest things we have ever done! The concept of zip lining from tree to tree and sleeping suspended 150 feet in the air in a big treehouse…brilliant, why didn’t I think of that! Of course it would never fly in America, not without weeks of training and safety regulations.
Treehouse #5, Gibbon Experience
After a 30 minute briefing we were on our way to the jungle. Lucky for us, the jeep was able to bring us most of the way up the muddy path to the village. We did have to get out and work on our teamwork skills a few times though.
Getting to the biggon experience
Our treehouse was the furthest away so we had to hike in a few hours first. Zip lining with our packs on really got you going. It’s a good thing they had a crash pad on the tree coming into our treehouse!
The next 3 days were spent trekking, zipping, and wildlife watching in the Laotian jungle bordering Thailand. Here are a few of the things we saw.
This snake was over 4 feet long!
- lizard of some sorts
This big hairy spider was our nightly pet on the roof of our treehouse!
The highlight was on our way out on day 3. We got up at 3:30 am to go look for gibbons where they were spotted the day before. We were the one exception to the ‘No zip lining in the pitch dark’ rule. There was a storm in the distance and lightning lit up the sky as we zipped in the black night hoping there was nothing in our path. The lines seemed to go on forever in the darkness and I found I go a lot faster when I can’t see the end! Being 300 feet in the air on a 1 kilometer long zip line in pitch black is my new favorite way to wake up in the morning!
Unfortunately as soon as the sun was supposed to come up it started to rain. Gibbons don’t like the rain. So after waiting it out for a while we started what would be our 6 hour trek out of the jungle, along the muddy path (the jeep got stuck so we had to hoof it the whole way), and back to civilization.
Clouds so thick and soft looking that they would make Charmin jealous hung over the cliffs as we cruised up the Nam Ou river. Fleeting glimpses of the higher peaks were revealed only as the clouds lazily rolled down the mountainsides. Majestic is the only way to describe the scene as the brown water rushed underneath our wooden cruiser. It was like being carried into another world.
Our wooden cruiser making waves in the muddy water
A small village nested into the river valley surrounded by pristine jungle accessible only by boat is known as Muang Ngoi Neau. This village is the jumping off point to several remote ethnic minority villages that can take up to two days to trek to. A place for adventure but small enough for relaxation. As amazing as the trekking is, it is too tempting to enjoy our four dollar river view bungalow and cozy up in the hammocks.
Hammocks on the front porch!
Four dollar room with a view!
The height of rainy season here in Laos makes the trekking a little more interesting. Going barefoot proves to be a better option at times than wearing sandals.
Along the path to the villages, the Tham Kong cave beckons you to explore its inside. As you near the noise of bats the rush of a river comes flooding out. Lights illuminate the slow drips that help bring the floor and ceiling closer together. You never know what you might find in a cave if you are willing to go deep enough inside.
What you might behold deep in the cave…
Finally our path dried up as we entered the rice paddies that provide the sustaining sticky rice for the remote villages. What a feeling to be walking on these narrow winding paths as the rush of water fills your ears and fills the fields with the life giving water necessary for growth. Thatched buildings devoid of life was a cause for wonder, as normally there seems to be constant comings and goings out of the fields.
rice, rice, and more….rice
The rice paddies of Ban Na
Greeted in the village by nothing but smiles and inquisitive looks at us falang, we catch a glimpse of life in rural Laos. A quick snack in the village and before we leave we enjoy a little Lao dancing and lao-lao (homemade whiskey) with the villagers before we have to head back to beat the darkness. One thing that we did not beat was the rain.
A few of the animal sightings on our trek include the seemingly hundreds of different butterflies. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to find them at their local mud hole and then witness them swirl away in a dancing tornado of color.
gathering of butterflies
The village animals include your overgrown sow and the beast of burden, the water buffalo. Both of these guys are evidence of the mud that is everywhere.
a boofalo as the locals say
Another way of experiencing a bit of Lao was to join our new buddy Jay and a friend on a fishing tour. Our bungalow neighbor Josena, Melissa, and I joined Jay and Sai for a day on the Nam Ou learning how the locals take advantage of the abundance of food the Lord provides in the rivers.
Fishing and tubing with Jay
We set about 20 lines along the riverbank with only our memory to find them when we returned. We caught only two fish and it was very time consuming to set up. What proved more successful for the time was to cast out the net and haul in the goods. Jay here proving to be much better at it than our poor selves.
Jay throwing out the net
We even attempted hand fishing. This is how the lesson went for us. We pull along on the inside bend of the river where there was a slight sandbar slowing the current and a bit of vegetation breaking the waters surface. We hop out of the boat and Jay looks up and tells us all to encircle what must be a big bush under the water. So we do that, and I see the point in this at least. Trap the fish in our little circle. The next instructions were not so easy to follow. These being: ok, go! Jay dove under the water, and with a shrug of the shoulders we were all off. Doing what, who knows. Coming to the surface I find no one had much success. The girls thought this to be a waste of time, but I thought there had to be something to this. So I prodded Jay a little more and he finally told me that you just hold on to the branches and pull/swim along feeling near the bottom until you feel a fish. When you feel a fish you just squeeze really tight and don’t let it slip away. Ha, sounds so easy. Try and try again but I never even felt a fish. But just to show us that it is possible Jay come up with one to add to our lunch. I’ll tell you he was not playing a trick on us either. You’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that there was no place for him to hide a fish in his swimming attire.