Friday, January 29, 2010

Inle & Bagan

Yes, these two do probably deserve a post each, but I'm feeling lazy and tired, and the internet access speeds here in Burma are nothing short of infuriating, so it'll be a one post summary for both... Now to see if I can actually upload 15 pictures.

Besides, Inle Lake, while certainly being beautiful and interesting, wasn't quite the awe-inspiring, can't miss sort of destination, in my mind. The biggest attraction of Inle is, of course, the lake, which is beautiful, a little reminiscent of Bolivia's Titikaka, with the mountains rising up just beyond it. It also has the unique distinction of lacking any actual shoreline - the water slowly morphs into reeds, and tall grass, and marsh-like areas, and eventually, voila, dry land! Beyond the lake though, you get to just see everyday Burmese life (in a very pretty setting, and with a little too much of tourist point-of-sale thrown in), which I didn't find quite as interesting. But equipped with a 300mm zoom lens, I set off documenting said every day life, with the long zoom allowing me to feel mildly less intrusive

The definitive view of Inle - the lake, the mountains, and a lone fisherman paddling a canoe along, with his leg(!)

This fisherman choosing to use his arms to paddle - so much less picturesque!

A lady piloting her boat along, hidden beneath the wide brims of her hat

Not really sure what this was all about, but these guys were all rowing their boats along in the morning. Monks? Students?

Well, I may have lied a bit when I said (only implied, technically) that there were no temples at Inle. There are, but now that I'm in Bagan, unless you built your temples by the thousand, you might as well not have bothered building at all!

Well, Inn Dein, a short canal ride away from Inle, actually comes pretty close, supposedly sporting 1054 Zedi (the pointy-things behind me) on top of a hill. Bagan still scoffs at you, Inn Dein!

So, if Inle Lake can be descibed as 'interesting,' the word that comes to mind for the Bagan Plain is 'jaw dropping' (ok, so, it's two words). The bus ride from Inle to Bagan can, incidentally, be best described as jaw-shattering. During that bumpy ride, I did, however, manage to read a bit of my guide book, learning that the old Bamar Kings had built over 4,400 temples in Bagan over the course of about 230 years (before getting properly beaten down by the Mongols, of course...) to remind the population that they were all Buddhists now, I suppose. Upon reading that, I figured I'd see a few dozen restored temples, and the rest would be piles of rock, sort of like the Inca ruins in Peru, where some archaeologist has authoritatively stated that every single rock you come across is actually an integral part of an Inca Temple... Well, I was wrong:

The plain of Bagan is quite literally filled with thousands of temples - still standing, restored, it's hard to tell the difference, but all unmistakably amazing

Golden domes hiding behind brick domes, as far as the eye can see

So, naturally, the first thing I did upon arriving in Bagan was ... leave. Well, I didn't really live, I just ran into Heinrich and Martina, a Norwegian couple, on my first morning in Bagan, and decided to go with them to Mt. Popa. I'd been hoping to see Mt. Popa anyway, but it's about 50km away, so you have to go with a taxi of some sorts, and having people there already to share the costs with was enough to convince me, so off we went

Mt. Popa, an extinct volcano, rising in the background.

We made a little detour on the way too, stopping to see the locals harvest palm trees and make palm juice, beer, and distill a spirit, which is 45% alcohol by volume... Not the most awful moonshine I've ever tasted either. The mountain itself was highlighted by the monkeys, who inhabit the stairwells leading up, and the nats, who inhabit the temples on and around the mountain. The nats are basically guardian spirits - pre-Buddhist era deities, which were kept around just in case. My favorite was the patron saint of gamblers (who gets whiskey bottles as offerings) - clearly, if you're going to get started in cock fighting, you might as well have your bases covered, since I'm not sure Buddha himself has ever revealed his true feelings on the subject.

Bagan, Day 2: Bring on the temples in full force! I got up, rented a bike, picked up a detailed map, and headed off, camera at the ready. I only returned after the sun had set. Along the way...

The beautiful Ananda Phaya, sporting a Golden Peak

Maha-Bodi Pagoda, closely resembling the one in Bohdgaya, India, at the spot where Buddha achieved enlightenment.

If you have a minor fortune, and remembered to bring most of it with you, in crisp new American dollar bills, to Myanmar, you can afford to take in sunrise over Bagan from a balloon. I was happy to settle for taking pictures of the balloons floating over the Gaw-daw-palin Temple

And then, of course, there is the small matter of the sun - setting and rising, creating a spectacular sight over the temple-filled plains. There is a few temples that you can scale and join a couple dozen other tourists gazing away at the spectacle of the sun coming up and down over the horizon. Snapping away lots of pictures, of course, as was I:

Sunset view from atop the Buledi Temple. That-byin-nyu Temple featuring prominently in the middle

The temples leaving nothing but silhouettes behind as the sun descends

And a little before seven the following morning, the sun comes back up into the sky, basking everything around in a deep red colour.

By the middle of my third (and last) day in Bagan, I was getting a little tired, after spending the previous day and a half on a bike, temple-hopping, and dodging the crowds of souvenir trinket salesmen (sales-children?), not to mention the whole getting up in time to see the sunrise thing. But it's the crowds of souvenir hawkers that really start to wear on you (the locals are clearly keenly aware that Bagan is the prime tourist attraction of their country). So, at about 2 in the afternoon, feeling like I had dodged the crowds enough to see all the temples I had wanted to see, I felt ready to head back and relax for an afternoon. But then I spotted this guy, while at Dhamma-ya-za-ka Zedi

I was intrigued...

The temple was clearly huge, and I was making a point to hit most of the big ones, but they were generally specially marked on my map, and attracted throngs of tourists. This one I was having trouble identifying and couldn't see anyone there. So, I hopped back on the bike and headed in the general direction trying to navigate the sandy goat paths, and remaining glad that I had chosen to pay extra for a proper mountain bike, with its thick spiky tires, and 7 gears. After 15 minutes of traversing the worst goat-paths yet, I arrived, and was greeted by the glorious sounds of ... silence! I had the place (Pya-tha-da Pagoda, as I later identified it by triangulating my position relative to the other big temples I could see) all to myself. No tourists, no salespeople, no shady ruby dealers, no kids following you around the whole temple, offering some postcards (or a copy of Orwell's Burma Days), just Buddha sitting there, in glorious, serene, meditative silence. I was starting to feel like I could relate to Buddha... After making a circle through the temple's interior, I emerged, ready to head home, but now I finally saw somebody stir in the nearby shade - ahh, I wasn't alone after all... I was ready to ignore the man, but instead of coming up to ask "Where you come from?" (the de facto tourist greeting around these parts), he just called out "You want to go?" I had to think about this for a moment, but soon enough the image of the closed off staircase popped into my head
- go up?
- yes
- yes, definitely!
So, in summary, Pya-tha-da actually got better at this point, when the gatekeeper let me up onto the roof. Not showing any desire to sell me anything in the process, nor to find out where I come from... In fact, the only desire I was able to discern was to lock the staircase back up after I was done, head back to his spot in the shade, and go back to napping. I liked the guy, and his temple!

Friday, January 22, 2010

A Rock of Gold and the Wrong Buddha

Legend states that the boulder maintains its precarious balance due to a precisely placed Buddha hair in the stupa. Apparently King Tissa received the Buddha hair in the 11th century from a hermit who had secreted the hair in his own topknot. The hermit instructed the king to search for a boulder whose shape resembled the hermit's head, and then enshrine the hair in a stupa on top. The king, who inherited supernatural powers as a result of his birth to a zawgyi (an accomplished alchemist) father and naga (dragon serpent) princess, found the rock at the bottom of the sea. Upon its miraculous arrival at the mountain top, the boat used to transport the rock then turned to stone.

So, naturally, I figured I should go see this Golden Rock of legend for myself:

The Rock at sunrise

To see said rock, you get on a bus in Yangon in the morning, spend a fairly uncomfortable six hours onboard, them disembark at the town on Kinpun to spend a more uncomfortable 45 minutes in the back of a truck going up the mountain, just as soon each and every one of the 48 seats in the back is filled (or, technically speaking, paid for). Then, of course, you have the final 45 minute climb to the top on foot (half way was my hotel - I chose to leave most of my things down in Kinpun). On the way up you see idyllic drawings of what things must've looked like a hundred year ago - a tiny dirt path winding its way up the mountain, with the Golden Rock serving as a lighthouse at the end. Capitalism has put a quick end to all the idyllic settings - the mountain is still here, and is still surrounded by lush greenness. The path, however, is now paved and surrounded by shops, restaurants, and guesthouses (for locals only - foreigners can stay for cheap in Kinpun, or if you want to see sunset/sunrise, you have exactly 3 choices on the mountain, all priced accordingly to the lack of competition). So after all this adventure, I arrived at the top at about 5:30 in the afternoon for the 5:45 sunset, and again early the next morning for sunrise.

Sun starting to head down as I was heading up

The rock in the fading dusk light - I figured framing it with empty space was better than the shops and gaudy temples on the other side

Admittedly, the rock is nicely lit up at night

Dinner at the peak with Roman (Swiss) and his girlfriend, Nun (Thai), the only other foreigners on the full bus from Yangon. Burma is definitely not Thailand when it comes to tourism

So, the next morning, after getting up, oh 5 in the morning, to witness sunrise, we all headed back down the mountain and climbed back aboard the bus (this one said it was the Radisson Hotel Narita Airport - I like that Burma doesn't even bother repainting the buses it gets from Japan, as donations, I presume). I was headed for Inle Lake, Roman and Nun were trying to get to Mandalay - we both had to change buses in the town of Bago, where we had a couple of hours to explore while waiting for the next bus. A quick scan of the guidebook and the tourist advertising at the bus station told us there was a giant reclining Buddha within easy walking distance. It also came with a legend of its very own:

Once upon a time a nasty king, who went by the name of Mgadeikpa, ruled the lands around what is today Bago. His reign was marked by corruption and violence [kinda like the current government...], but one day his son was out hunting in the forest when he came upon a village of Suvannabhumi, where his eye fell upon a Mon girl who caused his heart to flutter. Even though she was a Buddhist and he, like everyone in his father's kingdom, worshipped pagan idols, the two became lovers and married after he promised her that she could continue to practice Buddhism.

Back at the court the king was furious when he discovered this and ordered both the girl and his son executed. Yet, when the new bride prayed in front of the pagan idol it cracked and broke. The king was seized with fear, and realizing the error of his ways, he ordered a statue of the Buddha to be built and the population to convert to Buddhism

So, we headed for the Buddha, and half an hour later, came upon an appropriately huge and gaudy reclining deity:

Well, it's the biggest reclining Budha, I've ever seen!

After spending 20 minutes marveling at the giant deity (and trying to ignore Ton Ton, who was really intent on selling us on a tour of Bago), we headed back to grab some lunch and catch our respective buses.

With the luxury of 16 unoccupied hours that followed before I arrived at Inle, I reviewed the guidebook some more, and, sadly, discovered that we had photographed the wrong Buddha - the one we found is Naung Daw Gyi Mya Tha Lyaung, built in 2003. The ancient one we were looking for is the Shwethalyaung Buddha, half a block further. Ahh Burma, where every street corner has a gold-domed pagoda or a gigantic reclining Buddha!

* Don't you love that all the sights in Burma come with their very own legends? All legends here are courtesy of Lonely Planet by the way, so I cannot vouch for the accuracy...

Monday, January 18, 2010

Burma, Day 1

First day in Burma down, and so far so good! So far, while I'm still in the capital city of Yangon, I even have an internet connection. A highly flaky and a lot less than reliable internet connection, but it's something. Specifically, something that may very well be superior to what I'll have in the coming few days when I venture outside the capital.

So, a few pictures from today, I spent the day wandering around town, taking pictures of the gigantic golden stuppas that dot the landscape (and arranging for my plane ticket out of Burma in my spare time).

First stop was the Shwedagon Pagoda, which doubles as the symbol of this country

It's a gigantic golden spire sitting atop a hill

There's not a lot of tourists here in Burma (especially compared to Thailand), but I found a couple to take a picture of me with the pagoda

My first reaction to seeing it literally was "Wow!" - it's giant, it's golden, and the pictures really don't do it justice, as it's not just the one stuppa - it's an entire complex of structures occupying this hill. It's the first time I can remember that I approached a local attraction, was told that I had to pay an entrance fee because of being a foreigner, and went 'Yeah, for this one it seems fair!' It does help that the entrance fee was all of $6, I suppose...

After getting my fill of the Shwedagon Pagoda, I went off to see the rest of the town, visiting a couple more pagodas, and some relics of British colonial architecture in the center of town

As far as I understand, back in the colonial days, Rangoon (as it was called then) was a major British trade port, on par with places like Hong Kong and Singapore. Independence clearly hasn't been as kind to the Burmese...

The other surprise in town is the religious diversity on display - just in my few hours walking around I saw plenty of Buddhist structures, of course, but there's also Hindu temples, Islamic mosques, and Christian churches dotting the landscape. The magazine I picked up on the flight claims there's a synagogue someplace too, but I didn't go looking. The religious diversity must be a point of pride as it shows up in the in-flight magazines...

A Cathedral. Anglican, I presume, but then again, Yangon has had plenty of surprises so far, so maybe they've got Catholics too... There's actually two Cathedrals I've seen so far, and a big Baptist church right in the center of town.

In the evening, it was time to go back up to the big stuppa to practice some night photography on the brilliantly lit up sacred sights. The crowds of locals coming to pray and burn incense do not decrease appreciably with the sunset, by the way

The gold of the Shwedagon Pagoda shining brightly at night

Just to underscore the number of Buddhist shrines around town, this is another Pagoda just across the street from the Shwedagon

Tomorrow, I'm off away from the capital to the more outlying regions, first and foremost to see the 'Golden Rock', one of the 'Big 3' Buddhist sights in Burma, along with Yangon's Shwedagon Pagoda and another shrine in the ancient capital of Mandalay (my last stop). Odds of internet near the Golden Rock seem pretty slim. Elsewhere where I'll end up around the country? TBD, keep checking the blog!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Now, with less gunfire!

Last time I was in Bangkok, in May of 2008, I went to play frisbee pickup with the locals here. The field they play on is actually on an army base, and that time we got to play with the troops practicing on the firing range next door, which made for some unusual background noises. My two and a half day stay in Bangkok this time happened to fall on the weekend, and the Soidawgz (the Bangkok frisbee team) even decided to move the pickup game from Sunday to Saturday afternoon to accommodate me (well, it may have had something to do with the army needing the field on Sunday too...). So, I made my way over to the fields for some three hours of running around in the heat, fully expecting a background serenade of gun fire again. Sadly, the Thai military has apparently relocated the firing range, so, still plenty of troops marching all around us, but not gun fire this time. Frisbee was still a lot of fun - starting to justify dragging the cleats around the world with me. If any of the people from 18 months ago were still there, I failed to recognize them, but they didn't seem to have any trouble accepting me anyway.

Beyond frisbee, Bangkok was more of a business trip this time - I got my visa to Burma, my plane ticket to Yangon, tried (and failed) to get my laptop's keyboard repaired (it now comes with a little roll-up pink USB keyboard) and did get my sandals repaired. This didn't leave a lot of room for sightseeing, and having been to Bangkok on three previous occasions, I didn't really feel like I needed much sightseeing anyway, so here are the only two pictures I took this time through Bangkok:

Minis are everywhere around the world, but I don't think I'd seen one in
Thailand before. Has to belong to an expat...

A summary of Khao San road - we buy things. And we sell things. And, really, we do whatever things you want just so we can be of service and get your tourist money!

So, since there are no more pictures, some random musings...

How do you define irony? Well, there's plenty of ways, of course. My favorite at the moment centers on Burma (or call it Myanmar if you like). In 2003, the G.W. Bush administration declared a trade embargo against Burma - probably sensible, the country is being run by a highly oppressive military junta. Result: no trade with America, so no American companies can operate here (this, sadly includes all credit card companies and ATM networks!). Unintended ironic consequence: the country's currency has effectively switched to the US dollar. Pain in the ass for a tourist: need to estimate how much money Burma will cost, get that in crisp new dollar bills in Bangkok, and bring it with you. Otherwise, no money. Secondary annoying consequence: my cell phone doesn't work, I presume because it's ATT, and American company, and they're not allowed to do business here.

[un] fair trade
I upgraded my Burma guide book back in Bangkok - I had arrived with a guide book in Spanish, which I had ordered by mistake, but figured it was better than nothing, and it was, marginally. In Bangkok, I traded it, along with a few other books I had finished, for a nice new English guide book. I felt a little guilty momentarily when I suspected that the lady running the shop didn't realize that my guidebook was actually in Spanish, not just an older English edition. My guilt quickly dissipated when I opened my 'new' guidebook and realized it's just a very well made photo copy. Incredibly well made, admittedly - properly bound, with all the color photos in the right places and I suspect with the outside cover siphoned from the original factory. But the inside pages are all photo copies. And I'm OK with that, actually - it has everything I need. But it certainly isn't a brand new original edition, so she deserves her Spanish guide book - karma!

Skies over Burma
Adding to my list of exotic airlines: Myanmar International Airways for the flight from Bangkok to Yangon. Actually, a perfectly nice airline, and due to local Asian form, they insist on giving us a meal over the course of the flight, which was barely over an hour in duration. First impressions of Burma upon arrival in Yangon? It's every bit as poor and destitute as you hear - most buildings seem rather dilapidated, while the cars (primarily Toyotas and Mazdas) are uniformly ancient and are in various states of disrepair. The people are every bit as nice as I had heard. At one point, while I was trying to find my hotel, wandering around the streets, a lady (with an iPhone, which I also found astounding) insisted on walking me there. Everybody else on the street had tried to help as well, they just weren't that good at it, since the locals don't need hotels a whole lot, I presume.

As for the unexpected
Burma is positioned right between Thailand and India. And it shows as the way the people look, dress, and act all seems like a combination of the two cultures (I couldn't, of course, tell you how much of this is natural and how much is due to the British, former colonial masters, bringing a lot of Indian laborers over, in their infinite wisdom, but the result is unmistakable). One thing that India and Thailand do have in common however is that both drive on the British (wrong, i.e. left) side of the road. Burma? We drive on the right (as in American) side here! Even though every car I've seen so far has the steering wheel on the right. This seems like one of those snap decisions by the military junta in charge of the place - "starting tomorrow, you will all drive on the right side! Done!" Maybe they're just trying to get closer with China, the other major neighboring nation, but so far they don't seem to have a whole lot in common, other than the side of the road on which they drive.

PS. If you're using the website:, I've had some issues recently (in part caused by the painfully slow internet connections here in Burma), and since my next six or so weeks are in Burma and China, there's no guarantees how fast I'll be able to resolve anything. I'll keep making updates though, so for the most up to date location information, you can try checking the twitter feed (, as it will have all of my updates, even should the site itself not process one of them correctly.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Won't Somebody Think of the Children!

The week in Koh Tao wasn't actually entirely unproductive - we met James (who was doing acupuncture treatment at one of the resorts on the island) and his girlfriend, Faie. She had friends back on the mainland who were involved in putting together a two day English language camp for the local kids, and they wanted a few foreigners to come and, well, mostly just speak English (they even took the Brits and the Irish with all their funny accents). Spending a couple of days on a beach playing with Thai kids sounded like fun, so a bunch of signed up to go, and a day after getting off the boat from the Similans, I ended up back in Chumphon meeting up with the other volunteers to head off to the camp.

They got things off on the right foot by putting all of us up at the Nanaburi hotel for the night, which, I suspect, is the nicest hotel in town (and most likely the nicest I'll be staying in on the trip). Sadly it was still a Thai hotel, so it came equipped with standard rock-hard Thai mattresses, but I'm learning to live with those... It must be good for your back, or something...

Fancy in Chumphon

The following morning, we were up at 6AM to head over to the train station, where we were suddenly thrust right into the fire, sharing two train carriages with the 170 kids heading for the camp over the next two hours.

We got along with the kids quite well though. They had a good time too!

And pretty soon we were all at the camp

Can't beat the location - at a beach resort, with a big temple overlooking things

It's not exactly all hard work here...

Marina on the guitar

To say that I thought that the camp was well oranized would be a gross over-statement. I'm pretty sure that the staff just figured putting kids next to a bunch of foreigners would cause them to learn by osmosis... or something along the lines. So the teachers would spend eternities listening to themselves speak, while giving the kids lots of useless rules and regulations. Then they'd release the kids on to us, and get out of the way. We, of course, didn't have much of an idea what to do, but improvised pretty well, singing songs, playing games (some that even involved some basic English), and generally being silly. The kids all had fun, regardless of whether or not they learned anything, and the teachers seemed to enjoy pawning the kids off onto us, so everybody wins! (i think we had fun too, not that any of us were particularly inclined to actually become teachers afterwards). One of the problem was actually that the kids didn't really know all that much English, which made explaining things a little tough, so we stuck to simple games.

The morning of the second day, the monks showed up, the kids gave them alms (food), and we all troooped up the hill to visit the temple. More endlessly boring instructions ensued from the teachers (in Thai only, so it's possible they had a sense of humor, and I just missed it, but I doubt it). The monks also lectured/preached, but that seemed a lot more appropriate, since they are, you know, Buddhist monks.

Monks passing by the kids

Getting closer to the temple

It's a big, imposing structure

Not quite so imposing to keep Adrian and the kids from having a good time

After lunch, it was time to draw what we had all seen at the camp

And play a few more games - Monika and I educated/entertained with a cross between hang man and pictionary. Pet, and his hat (in front) is clearly hoping to grow up to be a gangsta!

And that evening, we all gathered together for one last round of boring lecturing and fun singing, with everyone saying good bye at the finale

Dave, taking in the lectures

All of us at the conclusion

And at this point, I promptly hopped onto a bus and headed off to Bangkok and Burma, hoping that something we had done may eventually be useful for the kids. And if not? Well, we all had fun anyway! Having the most fun was probably little Ahm, who is only 12 years old, but appears to be well on his way to growing up to be a ladyboy. Which, I had heard, isn't entirely unusual in Thailand, but was still a little surprsing to see...

Friday, January 15, 2010

Diving Similan

Remember me? I used to post, tried to even post frequently. Recently though, I've been spending a lot of my time far removed from such civilized commodities as the internet, and when near the internet, I've been struggling to figure out how to actually use my laptop where half the keyboard works fine, and the other half is on a 2 for 1 program, as in every time you press a key, two characters show up... Makes for some hard to read writing.

So, now that I've left my poor battered laptop in the [hopefully] capable hands of a technician at Bangkok's very own electronics Mecca - the Panthip Plaza, it's time to start catching up (and hopefully, come tomorrow, I'll have a fully functional laptop back, so when I depart for Burma tomorrow evening, I'll be able to interact with the world at large once more.)

So, Life in the Similans: after a week on Koh Tao, which involved a lot of relaxing and hanging out with friends, and not really a lot of doing much of anything else (I tried to go diving actually, but the dive site I had wanted had excessively bad conditions the day we were scheduled to go), I went across the tip of South Thailand's peninsula to a little touristy town of Khao Lak to board the Manta Queen II, and spend four days diving in the Similan Islands. This was roughly the same trip that Lott had done a couple of years ago, and after hearing him rave on and on about how amazing it was, I figured, I couldn't pass up the chance to go!

Our boat, as viewed from sea level

In the Similan Islands National Park

The trip departed Khao Lak in the evening, and what was to follow was four nights on board, and 14 dives in between. There were 20 divers, along with 5 staff, and the boat's crew. As soon as we got onboard, it was explained to us that our lives would hereby consist of diving, eating, and sleeping. We managed to throw in a little bit of drinking in the evenings, and some relaxing on the sun deck in between the dives, but at four dives and five meals a day, there really wasn't time for much else.

The itinerary included sailing down to the Similan Islands, a few dives there, then dives at Koh Bon, Koh Tachai, an entire day at Richelieu Rock (a so-called 'top 2' dive site in the world... wonder what the others are, I'm sure there's more than two that make this claim), and a wreck dive on the way back.

Following some frantic last-second searching back in Hong Kong, I was equipped with an underwater camera once again, and ready to document the proceedings. Eventually, a full fledged album of my favorite under-water sights is going to materialize on the interweb, but for now, a few highlights:

Fully decked out for life underwater! Maybe not life, but a good 45 minutes to an hour

A shark waiting for us, sleeping on the sandy floor in the Similans

In between dives, a turtle came up to the boat, so we all jumped in to snorkel with it. Eventually, I started to feel bad that the turtle had an entourage of some 10 people with it, but he didn't seem to mind

We have found Nemo!

Some crazy, colorful formations of coral and life underwater

Spotting a manta ray, slowly gliding by us, at the end of the dive at Koh Bon was certainly the highlight of the trip.

Seeing a squid near Richelieu Rock was pretty cool too, as I'd never seen one before

Take a fish's body and give it some of the squid's tentacles, and you get a cuttlefish!

The clumsy-looking boxfish were everywhere, and were not at all clumsy

The remnants of the ship's skeleton at the wreck dive looking like something out of a sci-fi movie

Some hungry monsters living on the wreck

And a video of the turtle hanging out with us. If you can't see the video embedded above, try following this link:

And that was our life in the Similans. I came away thoroughly exhausted - all this diving, combined with sleeping on a boat will do that to you, and I even skipped one of the night dives (there wasn't much to see at night anyway). Overall, I definitely enjoyed the trip - the downsides are that you do get exhausted, the dive sites are actually somewhat crowded, and I didn't always see eye-to-eye with my dive guide, even though she was the nicest person in the world... just not the best dive guide I've ever been around. As for the crowds, our group of 20 was split up into 5 smaller groups, and we generally tried to stay out of each other's way. At a few of our dives, we kept running into other groups though, including 20 Japanese divers, all diving together in one group, each with an impressive array of photo and video equipment... On the upside, did I mention 14 dives in four days, including a manta ray, a squid, a leopard shark, snorkeling with a turtle, good company, and being fed (quite deliciously) whenever not in the water? I dare say the upsides more than balance out the downsides! Still, none of the individual dives were as good as Sipidan in Borneo, my favorite dive so far...

And we'll leave you with this:

The cutest creature we saw wasn't underwater - it was a little puppy that one of the crew had. Clearly being a boy-puppy, he attacked Rana's bikini top with due diligence...