RTW Trip Itinerary - Current Country: Laos

My RTW Trip Itinerary
Countries Cities Dates
USA Los Angeles 12/31/2011
New Zealand Auckland, Waitomo, Rotorua, Taupo, Wellington, Christchurch, Franz Josef Glacier, Queenstown, Dunedin, Lake Ohau 01/03 thru 01/18
Australia Melbourne, Hobart Tasmania, Sydney, Brisbane, Cairns 01/18 thru 02/16
Singapore Singapore 02/16 thru 02/20
Thailand Phuket, Ko Samui, Ko Tao, Bangkok 02/20 thru 03/02
Cambodia Siem Rep, Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville 03/02 thru 03/08
Vietnam Hanoi, Hue, Hoi An, Nha Trang, Ho Chi Minh 03/08 thru 03/21
Loas Vientiane, Vang Vieng, Luang Prabang, Huay Xai 03/21 thru 04/04
Singapore Singapore 04/04 thru 04/05
China Beijing, Lhasa 04/05 thru 04/22
South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe Cape Town, Citrusdal, Noordoewer, Namib Desert, Sesriem, Soussusvlei, Swakopmund, Spitzkoppe, Etosha National Park, Grootfontein, Bagani, Okavango Delta, Chobe National Park, Victoria Falls 04/22 thru 05/18
Switzerland Zurich 05/18 thru 05/21
Germany Munich 05/21 thru 05/25
Czech Republic Prague, Olomouc 05/25 thru 06/02
Poland Krakow, Zakopane 06/02 thru 06/05
Hungary Budapest 06/05 thru 06/07
Croatia Plitvice, Split, Omis, Markarska, Stari Grad, Hvar, Korcula, Mljet, Dubrovnik 06/07 thru 06/18
Greece Athens, Mykonos, Paros, Los, Santorini 06/18 thru 07/02
Switzerland Zurich 07/02 thru 07/04
USA Los Angeles 07/04

Saturday, June 16, 2012

Thailand - Koh Tao Rocks!

I liked Koh Samui, but I loved Koh Tao. Koh Tao is a much more lazy island then Koh Samui. The roads are less developed, the tourists fewer, the pace slower, the beaches more beautiful, and the scuba diving killer. Koh Tao is really a divers island. It's one of the cheapest places in the world to get your various diving certifications and many people choose Koh Tao to do it at. Thus, I chose Koh Tao as the place to get my Advanced Diver certification. I already had my Open Water certification and I completed a few advanced dives in Cairns so now it was time to finish it.

Your typical Koh Tao beach front restaurant

Life is difficult for these backpackers

One of my favorite beach bars in Koh Tao. Note the beer pong table.

I chose Scuba Junction as the place to get it done at. Scuba Junction has a great reputation, new equipment, and your dive groups are no bigger than 4 people which is great. I had three dives to complete along with some course work. The dives were Perfect Buoyancy, Wreck Dive, and Underwater Navigation. My dive master is this crazy, foul mouthed, vulgar, anti-establishment guy from London whom I will call John. My dive mates were these two equally foul-mouthed and vulgar British girls. Needless to say it was fun to hang with this crew of misfits. The girls would fill time between the dives with "F this John, F that John, John I need a new wetsuit cause I peed in this one" John's responses were equally funny, "Come on you hussies it just air you're breathing, Get me my coffee and cigarettes!" They were all chain smokers.

The diving place
As for the dives the coral was clean, the fish abundant, and the wreck dive was super cool. The only problem with Koh Tao is because it is such a diver island the dive sites themselves are packed with a lot of divers from various dive companies. It can get a little crowded down there so you never really felt like you were diving alone.

At night I went to the usual after diving watering holes. The beach bars on Koh Tao are way more laid back. They are filled with hamocks, bean bags, pillows, right on the beach. And people just lounge and have a few drinks sharing stories from their dives. This one bar I went to had a giant four foot tall oversized Jenga game with 2X4s as Jenga blocks. Of course being a Sotelo I can never pass up a good game of Jenga so I joined in with a group of travelers from Peru and a spit fire American Dina from the NYC. Dina founded a successful internet startup company and left it to travel. We bond over our experiences in the IT industry and our guilt for choosing nicer accomodations then our fellow backpackers every once and awhile. Thank God Dina was playing Jenga with us because she definitely kept causing the blocks to fall and buying everyone more drinks as was the penalty for losing. We also met these 2 super drunk Japanese students who were infatuated with Dina and kept saying "So pretty, So pretty". "Your girlfriend, Your girlfriend?" No bro she is available. "Oh so handsome, so handsome!" Hey man do you like Dina or me? Make up your mind. These guys were draped all over us and definitely provided entertainment.

Fire shows at the Beach bar in Koh Tao

The next day included more diving and that night I met up with Dina and her traveling buddies from Germany and the Netherlands for sunset pictures. Koh Tao has amazing sunsets check them out!

Traditional Thai Longboats at sunset

Taking it all in!
Dina performing Yoga maneuvers at sunset

My last day on Koh Tao I spent time renting a motorscooter and exploring other areas of the island. As I said before the roads are less developed in Koh Tao and there were some pretty scary moments trying to navigate a scooter up and down steep mountain dirt roads. The payoff was well worth it as I found this lookout spot overlooking the island. When I got up there I met a couple from Germany and another single German guy who was scouting out the area as a place he planned to propose to his girlfiend tomorrow. I bought the guy a beer and wished him luck! I then headed to another spot that over looks the smaller "Nang Yuan Island" off the coast of Koh Tao.

View of Koh Tao from the lookout spot
Nang Yuan Island in the distance from restaurant bar
Boulder Lookout

Pic from boulder lookout with Nang Yuan in background
One more shot
Sunset before our night dive
Getting ready to board our diving boat
A moment of Nirvana
Secluded beach area on my scooter tour of Koh Tao
Stopping in Chalok Habour for an afternoon siesta!

Everyone should try sunbathing with their socks on. I know this picture looks ridiculous!
The next morning I caught the Ferry back to Koh Samui and then caught a flight to Bangkok to start my 3 week Gap Adventure tour through Cambodia and Vietnam. Koh Tao is really a beautiful place and if you love diving, being lazy, and less crowds definitely visit this island. Overall Thailand continues to be a favorite place of mine due to it's low cost, beautiful beaches, friendly people, and breathtaking Islands.

Friday, June 1, 2012

Thailand - Koh Samui and Ao Nang

As were on final approach into Koh Samui the island looks spectacular, sunny beaches, clear blue green water, palm tress everywhere, I'm excited. Koh Samui used to be a little known island but now it has become a tourist mecca complete with five star resorts. Doru and I chose to stay in Chaweng beach which is known as the party beach of Koh Samui. We check in and I immediately head to the beach, Doru stays behind to catch up on internet.

Yeah We Landed!

Our lovely hotel pool steps from the beach
Wow what a beach! The beach is lined with restaurants, bars with cushions and lounges, massage places, food stands, jet ski rentals, etc. This beach is definitely bustling. I decide to go ahead and get my adrenaline going so I opt to rent a jetski for 300 baht or roughly $10 USD dollars for 30 minutes a bargain compared to anywhere else. I head out and the swells are somewhat big. I do a series of jumps, 180s, etc. Jet skis are fun anywhere you go and it was great to explore the coast of the island with a jet ski.

Back in the Tropics my kind of living

Many days were spent under these umbrellas!

I head back to the hotel and Doru is getting ready for his run so I opt to head to happy hour at the Famous Cargo beach bar. It was at this bar that I met the infamous Becki from England. Becki ironically was in Koh Samui to get married, except she was not getting married. It turns out Becky called off the engagement 3 months prior but had already purchased non-refundable airplane tickets and hotel stays. Rather than lose the money she decided to come out with her family and celebrate what I call her "un-wedding". And ironically her ex-fiancee's parents were also somewhere on the island as well although I'm not sure there was as much celebrating for them. How crazy is this? In anycase I met her on the night of what would have been her rehearsal dinner and we decide to have our own impromptu rehearsal dinner at a local Thai Food stand/restaurant followed by drinks back at the Cargo bar. Doru joins us and Becki and I bond over the dramas in our lives.

Runaway Bride Becki at Cargo Bar! (JK)
The next day we spend most of our time at the beach. I purchase a paddle ball set and Becki and I try out our skills or lack thereof. And Doru heads out for his training swim. Doru has decided to head back to Singapore early to spend more time with work buddies and Becki is leaving early tomorrow morning back to England. So I decide to bond with Doru over some more adrenaline jet ski's and meet Becki for her un-wedding celebration.

Catching beach time with Becki

Doru takes a break from swimming to shoot our poor paddle ball skills. Notice no ball in the air
Oops My Bad!
Doru and I head out on jet ski's take pictures and explore the coast. Our time is running short so I head back to the beach thinking Doru is right behind me. About 5 minutes into my trip back and I notice Doru is no longer with me. I try to find him but cannot locate him and my time is running out so I head back thinking he might have taken another route. I get back and no Doru to be found. The Thai guys on the beach are getting restless and they are starting to look at me like it's my fault. Dudes I have no clue where he is. They hop on jet skis to go find him. 20 minutes has passed and still no Doru. What happened to the guy? Damn it what am I going to say to his folks his girlfriend. Hangover line, "Carmen I lost Doru!". As these thoughts are running through my head I look up see Doru riding double with a Thai guy on a jet ski. Thank God! It turns out Doru's jet ski broke down somewhere out in the ocean and the Doru had to swim the damn thing ashore. Good thing he was training for a triathalon. I guess he took care of his training swim for the day haha! I was happy everything turned out okay.

Doru before getting lost

Taking my jetski for a ride!

Whats wrong with this picture it's me and no Doru!
That night we celebrated the funny story over dinner back at our local Thai stands and then met up with some of Becki's new friends who were Thai locals that make money performing fire shows on the beach. BTW fire shows are big on Koh Samui at night and every evening the beach is lined with displays of fire hoops, spinning fire balls, etc. The other thing I was introduced to in Koh Samui was the concept of a bucket drink. A bucket drink is essentially a large bucket filled with your alcohol and mixer of choice. One bucket and you are good to go, two buckets and you are done, three buckets and you have no clue how you got home. The infamous "Kohsam bucket" is made with Thai Whiskey, red bull, and coke. Believe or not Thai whiskey is cheaper then water in Thailand so you can imagine they pack the bucket full of whiskey. The next days are never pretty after the Kohsam buck. I think Kohsam means "splitting headache". We celebrated the night away with fire shows and dancing at the Green Mango. Becki and her Thai buddies were a ton of fun!

Before the bucket!
After the Bucket!
The next day Doru heads out and I decide to rent a motorscooter and explore the island a little further on my own. I head south to find untouched beaches and less touristy areas. I also heard of this place called Dining On The Rocks. Dining On The Rocks is at the 5 star ultra exclusive Amara hotel and it is a series of decks at various levels on the side of a cliff. On these decks they have tables, chairs, and lounges and you sit out there at sunset looking northwest towards Koh Phangang. Incredible views. When I arrive they make me park my motorscooter and escort me to Dining On The Rocks via golf cart. I sit out there by myself and enjoy a cocktail which is $8USD or super expensive by Thai standards.

Motorbike rental and notice the bottles of gasoline that sit in regular coke bottles
Thai long boats
Stopped at a Buddhist Temple during my scooter tour

View from top of the Temple
I donated money to the Temple re-building project and wrote a dedication on one of the slabs I bought. It will be used for the Temple Floor.

Sun setting at the Amara Hotel

View of the decks from Dinning On The Rocks

Me and my empty $8 cocktail with Koh Phangang in the background
A couple enjoying a romantic dinner
The next day I head out on a full day tour of the Ao Nang islands. This is a highlight of Thailand. The Ao Nang islands are incredible with jagged granite rock formations seemingly coming right out of the ocean and towering several hundred feet tall. It takes about 90 minutes to reach the islands and we start with a 45 minute kayak trip to secluded beaches and rock formations. This is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. We then head to this Mae Koh island that has a secret lagoon that you hike to. The views from the top of this island are incredible. Thailand is such a beautiful place.

On this day tour I meet Joshua and his girlfriend Chloe? Joshua is from New Zealand and Chloe is from Australia. They are going to be living in Melbourne. They are super nice and we bond over our love for Mexican food. I share with them my super secret (not really) guacamole and Margarita recipes. We decide to meet up back on Koh Samui for dinner and drinks at a Mexican restaurant. Also on this tour were some what I politely will say demanding Israelis. Yes Israelis were everywhere in Thailand. There were 4 couples all in their mid forties early fifties. It was quite entertaining watching these mid forty year old women take a million pictures on the boat in different model poses. Were these women trying to make a Calendar? If so they had no business doing so. In addition, they bitched about everything. The lunch was not good enough, the life jackets were not clean enough for them to Kayak. When we finished Kayaking they cut the line to get their boats out of the water first. It's very interesting when you travel how a few choice people can shape your opinion of an entire country. I can now see why Americans have such a bad reputation because a few rude and demanding Americans can make others think our entire country is this way. Come on Israel we need better representation!

Setting sail for Ao Nang
We have arrived!

Heading out on our Kayaks!

Navigating under cool rock formations!

Kayak Break!

Josh and Chloe taking a dip
More Cool Rocks!

Back on the beach!

My Favorite shot with the Long Boat

This looks straight out of Fantasy Island, Tatoo?
View of surrounding islands

The Incredible Lagoon!

It takes some steps to get down there
Chloe makes her way down carefully
What a view!

These Israelis beginning their modeling shoot.

Views of surrounding islands from lookout point

A few more of my favorite shots!

My new favorite Thailand spot!
Joshua, Chloe, and I shared our stories from the day over some wanna be Mexican food. Yes the food wasn't great but it wasn't bad either. I guess I shouldn't complain because it was Thailand. We grab a few drinks afterwards and then the next day I catch the Ferry that took me from Koh Samui to Koh Tao.