Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Koh Losin


That's about all I can say about Koh Losin. It is an island for sure, but not much of one. It is about 100 square meters in area (small) and maybe 3 meters above sea level at its maximum height at low tide. What a place. But thanks to it's location 100 Km from the nearest land, it boasts plenty of clear water and we were treated to 30+ meters visibility on our trip. Great water indeed.

We were all hoping to see sights like the pic here, but none of the big animals felt like coming around the day we were there. Still, it was a great dive.

I had some "not unusual for me" sinus problem during this trip. I picked up a minor cold a few days before we left. As a result, I was unable to clear my ears properly and the text books all say that when that happens, you should do the smart thing and just stay on the boat, or better yet, stay home. But I had been looking forward to this trip for two months, and the visibility was so good, I figured I could stay at a comfortable 5 meters depth if I needed to and still see alot of what was there to see. It turns out I was right on the vis issue, but by descending slowly, I was also able to reach the same depth as my dive group and see the sites up close. It just took a little while longer and I had to be more careful than usual.

To get to Koh Losin from Bangkok, we flew South into Hat Yai, and drove an hour or so to Songkla, TH to pick up the boat. The boat cruised about 9 hours through the night and into the morning arriving at Koh Losin at 8:30 AM Saturday. The tiny Koh Losin is approx 62 miles (100 Km) East of Naritiwat, TH. The island houses a small light standard to warn off ships.

I was very pleased when I entered the water and put my face down to clearly see the 26-28 meter bottom from the surface. We spent the day in this area and planned to make a night dive at the nearby Losin Pinnacle, but a squall blew in and cancelled those plans, so we just relaxed on the boat and cruised toward our dive site for the next day.

Overnight we steamed to a large bay near Naritiwat, TH. Naritiwat has been plagued in the past few years by violence in the Muslim community. We stayed well offshore and in a fleet of 4 dive boats, presumably for safety. In the morning we made a quick trip south about 15 minutes to Lopi, a 24 meter site with poor vis and moderate current. We saw lots of small life including a resting lion fish and several large parrot fish. During our efforts to photograph the life, our dive group swam out of visibility so my dive buddy and I just kept poking around on our own. Most of the group got stung by small jellies on this dive, including me. No big deal. One more thing to say I've done I guess.

The Second dive of Sunday was the most enjoyable for me. We moved toward shore just a few dozen meters to an island larger than Koh Losin, but not named. At this site there was little current and lots (LOTS) of life from small to medium sized. We found a beautiful Blue spotted ray at this site, along with the Nalopeon Wrasse, a cool nudibranch and some bigger fish. This was my favorite dive of the trip.

The Third dive of Sunday was a couple of hours back to the Northwest at "Train Bogey" a 28 meter site made up of about 9 rail cars sunk there in 2001. My dive buddy split off on his own causing me some concern as I was still having problems descending as fast at the rest of the group and by the time I got to the dive depth, I could not find him. I spent most of this dive looking for my buddy, but finaly decided that he must have had camera problems and returned to the boat becaues he had told me that he did that anytime his camera enclosure showed signs of water intrusion. I was not right, but my buddy was OK and had just decided to make his own dive instead of complying with normal buddy protocol. As for myself, I was still plenty safe as I maintained close contact with the larger group so the only real risk was to my buddy and he brought it on himself. I guess all is well that ends well.

Visibility was not good on this dive, but I could clearly see that the site had plenty of potential if you could get there on a day when vis was good. Nine rail cars sunk to the sea floor provides plenty of cool places for sealife to gather and thrive.

Koh Losin is a good trip, but for my money I would go back to Koh Tao instead of taking this airplane/bus/boat trip. I guess if we had seen some whale sharks, my opinion might be different.


Thursday, September 13, 2007

Koh Losin - Pre-trip report

My Koh Losin dive trip is almost here. This will be my second "Live Aboard" dive trip, which is where you go out on a boat and just stay on board for a day or two or maybe longer. On Live-aboads you can dive more remote sites where hopefully the ecological pressure brought by divers is less, and you can (again hopefully) see stuff that is not impacted so much by us air breathers.

Koh Losin is so remote that it is only accessible by live-aboard trip. It is about 100 Km from the nearest land, which is Narawhitwat, Thailand. Narawhitwit is in the far South of Thailand, almost to Malasia, and Koh Losin is 62 miles East of that. It is on the border of the Gulf of Thailand and the Deeper South China Sea and there are no other land masses around.

The big hope for everyone diving Koh Losin is that they will see some of the Pelagic visitors that frequent the Island. I had to look up the word Pelagic, so I see no reason to tell you what it means in this Blog. Just do a websearch for yourself and get back to me.

I am hoping to see some of the "Bigs" that come around the island, but even if I don't this will be my Southernmost dive so far. I have been farther South, having crossed the Equator during my Naval career, but I honestly can't tell you what that looks like. Remember, I was in submarines.

I will leave for my trip tomorrow afternoon (Friday), and I will return Monday having made at least 7 dives including one more night dive.

Tuesday I get to pack up a few things and then Wednesday morning I head for the US for a visit. It will be a quick few days so I may not get to post any pics for a little while, but I hope that will be made up for by my ability to visit some of you while I am home.


Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Meeting People

Well today was more interesting than normal. I got bored sitting around the house so at around 10:30 in the morning I logged on to the internet and looked for a good movie to go see. I found one showing at 11:15 so I headed out and arrived at the theater in plenty of time. Actually I arrived at 11:13, but I know that the movies here show a half hour of previews, advertisements and a mandatory tribute to the king before each show so I had plenty of time.

I went to the box office to buy my ticket and was informed that the 11:15 showing had been cancelled today. The next showing was at 1:45 so I walked over to the MBK mall to have lunch and kill some time "people watching." MBK is one of the more interesting malls in Bangkok because it has a huge mix of small shops and almost everything you can think of is somewhere in the mall. It is also on the less expensive end of the shopping spectrum in Bangkok so it attracts all sorts of people from Thais to farang looking for good deals.

After lunch, I walked one of the six or so floors, not moving fast, just poking around and seeing what there was to see. After an hour or so, I decided to take a seat in one of the common areas to rest a bit and still be able to see the humanity flow past. After five minutes or so, a pretty, young Thai girl sat down next to me and ate meatballs on a stick, dipping each bite in a plastic bag of hot sauce for extra flavor. When she sat down, I turned and nodded. She smiled and nodded back. At that time, I didn’t notice the tattoo on the upper part of her breast, visible thanks to her low cut tee shirt. Do you see where this is going? I did not.

She finished her lunch and after a few more minutes she got my attention by saying “Hello.” I turned and greeted her and she continued with her thought. She said “You go home with me?” I only know that she said that because in what was likely a fairly surprised tone of voice I said “Excuse me?” And she repeated herself “You go home with me?” with a big smile.

I thanked my new friend but declined her very hospitable offer. I guess I must have looked homeless or something. Such a generous young lady.

A little while passed, and my potential new roommate got my attention again with her tried and true method of saying “Hello” and once again I turned, not sure exactly what to expect next. She said “Hello” again followed immediately by “Goodbye” with that same friendly smile on her face before rising and walking down the mall in search of her next friend. Who says it is hard to meet people in a strange land?

I watched her a bit as she walked away toward the escalator and as she turned to go down a floor, she looked up with the biggest smile yet and waved goodbye. Yup, some of these Thai folks sure are friendly.


Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Wreck of the Suddahadib (The Hardeep)

We took a little two dive day trip to Sattahip today. Sattahip is on the Gulf of Thailand South and East of Pattaya, which is South and East of Bangkok. It takes about three hours to drive to the pier and than another hour aboard the Marlin to reach the dive site.

The Gulf of Thailand was more calm than I have seen it so far. That should translate into good diving with no current and excellent Vis(ability) but it didn't. When we reached the site, another dive boat was already tied up to the permanent bouy so we had to enter the water on the fly. Our boat drove by the bouy and we just jumped. Sort of like Marines do I guess.

Once in the water, the current took us and took us hard. We fought to reach the bouy, which had an anchor line we could follow down to the wreck. By the time I reached the bouy, and began to "down climb" the anchor line into a zero visability green soup, I knew the bottom was 26 meters (85 ft) down and I could see no reason to continue this dive. Diving in poor vis is bad enough, but add a multi-knot current to it and it just seems like work. I called my dive (that means I returned to the boat) without ever going below 15 feet in depth.

My team (4 other intrepid divers) made it varying distances into the void and stayed down between 5 and 15 minutes. Not a great dive by any standard. When were all back aboard the Marlin, we headed to a calmer spot, protected by an island and featuring a small, but interesting reef (there are no un-interesting reefs.)

I "entered" and enjoyed a pleasant and easy dive with some fellow beginners and re-surfaced having had a wonderful, and not exciting dive. Not-exciting is a good thing for a dive since "exciting" usually means something went wrong and maybe you sort of .... drowned. (just kidding Mom)

When I surface and re-boarded the Marlin, my dive instructor SaN, asked me how the dive went as he always does, and I reported favorably. He then told me that he and "The Team" were going to dive the wreck again and he thought I should come. I readily agreed knowing that I could always call my dive again if I didn't like the way things were going, and I fully expected to call my dive because I could see a rip in the surface waters near the nearby wreck.

We motored over to the wreck site and bailed off of the security of the Marlin once again. I swam over toward the bouy having to look up every few seconds because the current was still strong and was taking me North back to Sattahip just about as fast as I could swim South toward the bouy.

I reached the bouy and emptied my Bouyancy Contol Device to begin my descent. I down-climbed the anchor line hand over hand for 10 meters (33 feet) in a current that had to be 3 - 4 knots. If you think that is slow.... think again. Hanging on to the anchor line I figured I now know what a flag in a stiff breeze feels like.

But at about 35 feet, the Vis started clearing up and the current diminished. At 60 feet I could see the bottom (at 85 ft) and the wreck was in full view. It was a massive feature rising from the sandy bottom in rusted steel beams and corroded metal plates.

We tucked into the "shadow" of the wreck and began to probe "foreward" toward the bow. As we reached the bow SaN poked his head out from the protection of the old ship and immediatly signaled that we should turn and go toward the stern. The current was still strong, even on the bottom, but the wreck was shielding us from it.

We turned and headed aft along the 90 degree listed deck of the wreck. About a third of the way aft, a large opening in the deck made itself too inviting to resist and we all entered the bowels of the ship. Divers call this an "overhead environment" because if something happens and you need to surface quickly, you must first reach an exit or else you will just hit your head on the overhead. I have never entered an overhead before, and I didn't expect to enjoy it. I am a BIG guy at 6'5 and 210 lbs and small spaces in places where there is no air to breath do not appeal to me. But I went in and I must say it was WAY cool. I really enjoyed it, but honestly it was not crowded and the 65 years beneath the waves had rusted away the deck (hull) enough that there was plenty of light so it was not at all what I expected. Hmmmm I wonder what cave diving might be like?

We fiddled and piddled until I was nearly out of air in my tank. At that point I headed back toward the bouy anchor line and began to up-climb the line toward the surface, once again flapping in the current like a cartoon character.

We all had such a good dive, but only after we were able to descend beyond the first 33 feet of turbulent, turbid waters and into the relative calm afforded by the protection of the old wreck. I am so glad I gave this dive site a second effort. Hmmm I wonder if there is a life lesson in that?

If you want to see more about the Hardeep (Suddahidib), go here.

One of our team had a camera, and he may send me pics of me around the Hardeep. If so I will update this post to include at least one. Til then....


Friday, August 17, 2007

Brenda Working

jumpcut movie:Brenda WorkingAnyone who knows Brenda, knows that she works too hard. But from time to time, she can surprise you with a team building outing to a world class resort or...... a bowling alley. Click on the pic here, and then click the arrow that looks like a "play button" on your VCR. Be sure to watch until her ball hits the pins.... You may be here awhile.



Monday, August 13, 2007

Practice Dive - 11 Aug 2007

Some new friends took me to Pattaya for a quick training session in the milky green waters just off the mainland. Pattaya is not great diving, but it is close, only a couple of hours drive, and it is reasonably predictable. Sort of like McDonalds, you are not going to have a great meal there but you can count on it being acceptable most of the time.

My training is yielding benefits. I am more and more comfortable in the water so I am more relaxed. I am breathing better and using less air, although I have a long way to go before I am proficient at air usage.

I am also controlling my bouyancy better and I think I am about ready to drop a couple of pounds off my kit. I have been diving with a 6 lb backplate (the thing my tanks strap to) and a 6 lb lead weight on the tank adaptor, and another 2 lb weight on the upper tank strap for a total of 14 lbs of weight on the kit. All this weight is necessary to overcome the bouyancy of my wetsuit and my body, but also to compensate for poor breathing practices that I have been trying to eliminate. I think I have just about conquered the worst part of my breathing. We'll see next trip when I try to reduce my weight to 12 lb.

The highlight of this trip was the scooter ride. One of the group has two Diver Propulsion Vehicles (DPV or Scooter.) He broke them out and let us all try them. Some fun. Unfortunatly, the visability was very poor Saturday so this pic is not of our trip, but is of the owner of the DPVs. Jim, the owner also has a website that has some dive video of his trips if you want to see some of the stuff we see on our dives go to Jim's Web Site


Monday, August 06, 2007

Diving - Koh Tao: August 2007

What a great dive trip! Koh Tao is pretty isolated in the Gulf of Thailand but the island and it's surrounds has over 25 named dive sites and we were lucky enough to hit one of the best on an exceptional day.

Chumporn Pinacle is a site that has a beautiful reef starting at about 15 meters and having a vertical drop off to 40 meters. All along the vertical drop are different species of sea life. And patrolling the outskirts for careless animals (and/or divers) on the day we were there were some ominous gliding shadows that were clearly identifiable as Bull Sharks. I felt pretty secure because the sharks generally stayed below 30 meters, and usually at least 15 meters away from the reef. Our dive group was 20 divers and there were also three other dive boats at the site the day we were there, so I was counting on being only one of maybe 60 potential meals for these guys too. As it turned out, we all returned to the boat with our fingers and toes in tact and having seen some amazing coral, anemones, a turtle and fish of all types. Such a good trip.

All in all we made 7 dives in two days at sites that went to 40 meters, and a few places that only went to 10 - 20 meters. We had one night dive but the site was apparently not a night spot because we didn't see much activity. Most of us on that dive were doing some sort of certification that required a night dive using only a compass to swim away from the instructor and back to her without getting lost. Most of us made it!

I don't have an underwater enclosure for my camera, but I am lucky enough to have friends who take pictures and let me have copies. My "above the surface" pics can be found at http://perfectloop.vox.com/ if you would like to look around. The two exceptional pics shown here were taken by Kuhn Nat, a professional underwater photographer who generously let me have these pics just because I liked them so much.

Can't wait for the next trip.


Monday, July 23, 2007

Angkor Wat - Cambodia

Angkor is an ancient city in Cambodia. Angkor Wat means "The city that is a Temple" or something like that. The kings of this day had a great deal going. They were gods (of course) and they told their subjects that anyone who helped build the temple, or supplied materials, or supplied food for the people building were assured of going to heaven upon leaving this life. Well, like all pyramid schemes (pun intended) that worked for awhile but eventually everyone who was interested in gaining their spot in heaven had been pretty much worked out. So the free labor scheme turned into true multi-level marketing when the king proclaimed that there are 36 levels to heaven, and only those who gave their all would gain the highest levels. One king used this tactic to build a new temple every 5 years.

These ruins are 800 - 1100 years old. If you do a web search on the 7 wonders of the ancient world, you will see that Angkor Wat usually comes in at number 9 or 10, just out of the money. Not bad though considering that of the original 7 only 1 survives until now and Angkor is still going strong.

Some of these temples took only 5 years or less to build but the grand dame of the region took over 35 years to erect. It is still in the best shape of all the ruins despite being the oldest. Over the years, France, Japan and other countries have undertaken both restoration and humanitarian projects in this war ravaged region. We saw numerous water wells spotting the country-side, each with a sign giving credit to the country or Non-profit agency that drilled it. The ones we saw were heavily utilized too, with activities from simply drawing water to taking a bath from a bucket right at the well. Bullet holes are also evident in the structures as Cambodia has generally been in a civil war for the last 1000 years only emerging from it around 1979 with the demise of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge.

As we drove through the North part of town, our guide told us that the people here in the North end of town are the business people and are generally in much better financial position than the farmers in the South. Hmmmm.... The homes we saw there on the “right side of the tracks” were predominantly grass huts varying in size from 8x10 to around 10x20. I figured that our guide, clearly one of the well off folks in this town has the potential to bring in about $5000 per year if he works 200 days a year.

Speaking of money, you don't need to exchange your money in Cambodia. Everyone eagerly accepts the good old American Greenback and can even make change in US$ as long as it doesn't require coinage. They price things for the American tourist too. Our guide says that the attitude when they see a tourist is "Hey, the Millionaires are here." And yes that is a quote. Most of the stuff you see is not worth half of what they ask, so they have signs everywhere claiming that all the items are made locally by orphans and land mine victims. Never mind the labels on the back that say made in Malaysia.

This was a good trip. It was hot, too hot but it was the slow season (did I mention that it was hot) so it wasn’t too crowded. In the busy season I can imagine not being able to get a picture at all without another tourist in the frame.

Before we left Bankok on this trip, we had asked the Thai people that we know if they had ever been to Cambodia. We were a little surprised when no one had ever been, but once we got there and learned the origin of the town that we stayed in we lost our surprise. Angkor is the ancient town, but Siam Reap is the modern town nearby. Siam means Thailand. Reap means Defeated. So the Cambodians named this little town for the point in time when the Khmer warriors defeated the Thai army and gained their independence from Siam. The Khmer speak glowingly of their fierce army and how they struck fear into the weaker Thai army. The Thais on the other hand giggle at our reports of the dirt roads and primitive living conditions of their neighbors. I’m not sure anyone has won any significant battles in this struggle.


Sunday, July 01, 2007

SCUBA Diving - First Dive Jitters

I took my first "fun dive" yesterday; a dive that involved no certification or mandatory skills to demonstrate. I was surprised when I got to the sea floor on my first dive of the day and became "uneasy." It was a strange feeling, but exactly like the first dive on my certification trip. I just felt the urgent need to "surface, surface, surface." I wasn't afraid, or worried that something bad would happen, just anxious for some reason.

I think I have it figured out now. I think it takes 30 seconds, or maybe a minute or two to descend to ten meters or so. During that time, I am thinking about equalizing my ears and trying to remain or attain some sort of controlled posture while slowly falling to the bottom. Then, as soon as I get down and settled my body starts sending these messages that sort of say "HEY!!! WE CAN'T BREATHE DOWN HERE! LET'S GO!!!" It's a strange feeling since I obviously can breathe down there with the help of a little equipment. But my body thinks it knows better than I do and it just almost insists that we surface, and do so as fast as possible. Very strange.

I have to take a few deep breaths which is exactly what you want to avoid in order to conserve air, and after a few minutes I calm down a bit. Within 15 minutes or so, my body has given up talking to me and we swim happily around the sea without a care in the world. Then on the subsequent dives of the day my primal instincts are apparently suppressed. I consider this phase sort of like my body giving me the silent treatment. You know, "Since I am not going to listen anyway." Can't you just hear it pitching a little hissy fit inside? But the result is that my second dive is nice and relaxed. Not a worry in the world. It is a strange sensation, those "first dive jitters." But at least I have a working theory about what is going on down there.

Got another dive planned for July 14 and then a big 2 day/2 night "live aboard" trip to Koh Tao (Turtle Island) on August 3 - 5. Stay tuned.


Saturday, June 23, 2007

Depth of Field

I have a new camera and I have had the same problem over and over - insufficient depth of field (DOF) So I decided to try to figure it out. Here is the result.

Depth of Field is the distance from the focal plane of the camera over which a picture is in focus. With insufficient DOF, sometimes my subject is either out of focus, or partly out of focus. So I did a quick study for myself to see how DOF is controlled with my new camera. If anyone technical is reading this, here are the important specs on my camera. It is a Nikon D200, 10.2 Mpix, with a 17-35 mm f2.8 lense. The lense is designed for a film camera and due to some other techincal stuff, this lense performs like a 24 - 52 mm lense on my digital camera. All the other stuff will be cited below. Remember, I need a deeper depth of field in order to overcome my inexperience as a photographer. That's the goal.

For Scenario 1 I set a pencil on a ruler approximately 30 inches from the camera's focal plane. With my lense, that means the pencil is about 24 inches from the front edge of the lense. I took pics on Apperture Priority with onboard flash. Here are the results

At f2.8 (apperture wide open - pictured on the right here) the pencil is in focus and you can see from the ruler that the pic starts coming into focus at about 26 inches and stays in focus until about 33 inches. That means two things. First, the camera did not actually focus on the pencil at 30 inches. The area around 28 - 29 inches is actually the sharpest. Second, at 30 inches with a wide open apperture, I get a 6 or 7 inch depth of field. That should normally be sufficient but if I am taking a picture of Brenda, her face might be in focus, but some of her hair might be fuzzy. Not good. Of course it depends on the subject being photographed.

The other end of the DOF spectrum is with the lense stopped all the way down, f22 in this case. At this point the apperture is letting in as little light as possible, so shutter speeds have to slow down, but look what happens to DOF. This pic is in focus basically for the entire photo. Nothing is fuzzy.

The other two pics in this series are at F10 and F5 (left to right below). F10 seems to be a good compromise to get sufficient DOF and still let enough light in to get a fast shutter speed.

Scenario 2 is with the pencil at 12 inches, about 6 inches from the end of my lense. This lense is pretty big and you can see that the lense obscures the flash in the forground of the pic (that dark shadow on the ruler.) Big problem for tight shots with a flash, but there are ways to fix this little issue.

First pic is F2.8 (on right) and look how tight the DOF is. The pencil point is in focus at 12 inches, but the 11 on the ruler is blurred. Similarly, the 13 is in focus, but not the 14. If you had a high resolution pic like I have on my computer here, you would see that the DOF goes from about 11 3/4 inches to 13 inches. So I got the pencil into the sharp area in this pic by only 1/4 inch and total DOF was only 1 1/4 inch overall. Not much tolerance in this set-up.

Now look at F22 (stopped down) Again, everything is in focus, even the cup holder in the forground and the banannas in the background (might be too dark on the web to see, but it is clear on my computer.) Nice. The F10 and F5 settings gave similar results as in the 30 inch scenario.

So my conclusion is that with this new, very nice camera, a wide open apperture (f2.8) gives me the fastest shutter speed possible but gives me a DOF of about 10%-20% of the distance from the camera's focal plane to the subject. At 12 inches, I get a 1.2 inch DOF, at 30 inches I get a 6 inch DOF. For pics beyond 30 inches, DOF becomes less important with this lense. So to get my subjects in focus, I need to use Apperture priority more often and try to shoot most of my subjects in the f10- f5 range. If it is a very brightly lit area, I can go to F22 and get everything in the field of view in focus. As I get better, maybe I can start opening the aperture more and reducing the DOF.

fun stuff



It has been awhile since I posted here, and that was primarily because I had run out of interesting things to do in Bangkok. I don't want to bore anyone, least of all myself by writing "Went to Burger King for lunch today...." so I have just held off on the posts. But Last week I found something new, at least to me and it turned out to be a pretty interesting week. I got certified as an Open Water SCUBA diver.

To make a really long story short, I studied the book one night and took written tests the next day. Aced them all. The following day I had the pool sessions. No problems there either. And the next day I went diving in the Gulf of Thailand near Pattaya, Thailand. That trip was not so problem free.

Much to my surprise I became quite uneasy as I descended for the first time into 10 meters of wild water. Visibility was poor and I could not see the sandy bottom until I was well over half way down. Of course that means that I also could not see the surface once I was down past 10 feet or so. I have never been anxious in the water, but this experience rattled me. My anxiety was exacerbated by some equipment problems too. My rented bouyancy vest was old and not functioning correctly (it actually sprung a leak later in the day and had to be scrapped) and I had on too little weight on my weight belt. These two things and my inexperience meant that I had a very difficult time keeping myself at the proper depth to stay with my group. My anxiety and the exertion used staying at depth lead to heavy, anxious breathing that used up my air tank in about 45 minutes. They should last a lot longer than that. But my first dive was complete and I was on track for certification. The pic to the right is a black sea urchin. It stings.

During my second dive, I still did not have my weight belt configured properly and I was too light to stay on bottom again. Well, it was actually a couple of things. During this dive my bouancy vest gave up the ghost. It sprung a leak and refused to hold air for more than 30 seconds. It was also too big for me (too fat, not too tall) and would cantankerously hold air in folds when I didn't want it to be there. To make matters worse, this was a skills dive in which I had to do things like flood and clear my mask, ascend from the bottom with no air supply and what not. To do all that I had to be able to stay in position so my instructor could see me. But after clearing my mask for the second time, I had to signal my instructor that I had to surface. I was fighting my bouyancy vest so hard I just could not stay down. We surfaced and added a Kilogram to my belt and went down for more tests. I got them all done, but I was not getting any more comfortable in the water. It seemed like nothing was going well, and I was thinking that maybe this wasn't such a good idea. But the second and final dive for the day was over and I headed to the surface after about 1 hour and 10 minutes on the bottom. Better than the 45 minute first dive.

My dive group consisted of Eleven age 30 something Thais who invited me to spend the evening with them. We went to a Thai seafood resturant where they passed plate after plate of "not too spicy" foods over for me to sample. They all laughed heartily as the expression on my face indicated that some of the dishes were maybe a "little too spicey" after all. We had a good time and I ate things that I have not eaten before. I may have some of them again. Some I may not.

In the morning our group went to a Thai breakfast place for another meal like I have not had before. Thai breakfast apparently focuses on soup. Not what I am used to but it was hearty and satisfied my hunger.

After breakfast, and a quick stop at Starbucks we got back to the boat for the second day of diving tests. I had a new bouyancy vest (that worked) and I had finally found the right set-up for my weight belt so the first dive this day was perfect. I was comfortable and performed all the skills easily, just like in the pool. Finally a good dive that boosted my confidence. Back on track. At the end of this dive we found a nearby coral reef and poked around a little. A fishing net was tangled on the reef and my instructor freed it while I kept back a little and rolled it up to carry back to the boat. I hope the reef is happier now. My instructor got stung a little bit, but she obviously felt that her effort was worthwhile.

A rain squally blew in while we ate lunch and it looked like it would not clear very soon so we took the dive boat to the other side of the island and prepared to dive the abandoned pier near an Island resort. Unfortunatly, I am a big guy and we took nine novice divers into this pretty confined space with very poor visibility. There were lots of fish to see, and corals, sea fans and all sorts of things growing on every piling. But I cannot yet put myself in postion and maintain it very long, so as the instructor would find interesting things, by the time all nine of us tried to get a glimpse of them, I found myself more often than not drifting into something that would sting me if I didn't get myself out of there. Another less than perfect dive, but this time it was just because of my insufficient skills and a group that was too large for the dive site.

Well, I am certified for open water diving now, but I have alot of practicing to do before I am competent. I intend to go back for another practice dive next weekend and hopefully I will be ready for a real dive into clear water with lots to see in August. Might even dive at night. We'll see.


Saturday, March 17, 2007

Hua Hin redux

We last visited Hua Hin on November 17th... Or at least that is when I posted to this blog about our trip there. Last time, we stayed at the Anantara Resort. $$$$$$ Big bucks per night and a really nice room, but it was a company expense so no big deal to us. We went back this week, again for a business trip and again on the company dime. But this time we stayed at the Hyatt, Hua Hin and I must say it was better than Anantara... And cheaper.

We had a nice enough room overlooking the "river pool" which was a long slender swimming pool about 5 ft deep and ten feet wide that meandered through a lush tropical garden and finally emptied into the main pool.

The Gulf of Thailand is still less than spectacular. About on par with Galveston with brown "sand" beaches that more resemble dirt than sand. But clear water and a bit of surf now and then.

The Hyatt had a nice lawn that was elevated from the beach and littered with lounge chairs shaded by coconut trees so it made for a pleasant place to sit and watch the day pass by.

There were horses for rent, as well as jet skis and wind-surf boards, and in the distance I could see the wind sailors... the guys that use a big kite as propulsion for their surf boards.

I am still waiting for the "club med bikini team" to show up at one of these places, but so far I have only been able to spot fellow geriatrics undoubtably dreaming of their more youthful exploits in days long passed.

This was a pretty good early weekend for us. The snorkling and scuba waters are still about 3 hours south from Hua Hin so I had to make do with a long "sit" for my activity, but it was a nice sit and it made me re-think my evaluation of Hua Hin from November. The night market was more fun since Brenda went there with me this time, and we found some pretty unusual "light Pots" that we brought back with us. What is a "light pot?" Well, I have no idea if that is what to call it or not, but take a look here and imagine a candle burning inside. We got three of these with different height columns. Maybe they'll look good on our balcony. You can see some of the other "crapage" that we have picked up in the background. Don't ya wish you were here to buy some of this stuff????

Hua Hin is a nice place to run to on a weekend. Only about 3 hours South of Bangkok and nice enough to take the trouble.

Brenda is headed to Malaysia tomorrow (Sunday) to help present some technical and managerial best practices for the Society of Petroleum Geologists. When she gets back we'll have to start thinking about out trip back to the good old US in April.


Sunday, March 11, 2007


Our trip to Krabi defies my ability t describe it. Krabi is in the South of Thailand, about a 1 hour flight from Bangkok and about the same latitude as Phuket, its more famous resort town cousin that was devastated last year by the Tsunami.

We got off the plane in the three gate Krabi International Airport and boarded a van that took us about 45 minutes, to the town of Ao Nang and our “Check In” area for the hotel. This is pretty much where the strangeness began. When you check in to most hotels, you are at the hotel, but not so for the Central Krabi Resort. The check-in area is a fifteen minute drive from the “pier” which is another fifteen minute boat ride from the resort. The Central Krabi is accessible only by boat or by foot. More about overland access later.

The resort is brand new, having opened its doors in November of 2006. It is built in an isolated cove protected by massive limestone cliffs on three sides. It is plush with all the normal luxury resort trappings. Similar to what you would expect in Hawaii or the Bahamas. Rooms start at about $1000 per night. Luckily for us, they END significantly lower in cost than that.

The water is emerald green and pretty clear. We were told that another 1 hour boat ride South into the Andaman Sea results in crystal clear water with visibilities in the 150 foot range, perfect for snorkeling or diving. This trip did not allow us to check that out. Maybe next time.

We had read a little about the resort on the web, and we knew about the overland route to the resort. Good thing, because none of the resort staff knew anything about it. On our first night there, we decided to find the trail which is described as a wooden, lighted trail maintained by the national forest service and passing over the headland onto Ao Nang Beach and on into the beach town of Ao Nang. All of that seems to be true except that the wooden trail comprises a 400 foot climb over a ½ mile path. The trail is a series of double 1x4 planks separated by 3 to 5 inch gaps. The steep climb is pretty unforgiving. A missed step could easily result in a sprain or worse if your foot dropped though the gaps in the planks. The path was solid, but off kilter in places that made you pitch forward or to the side unexpectedly. I told Brenda that it seemed like something that kids would build to gain access to their “fort.” But we survived it, and made it into Ao Nang for a pretty nice evening of people watching and dinner.

Ao Nang is definitely a beach town and anyone who has been to Virginia Beach, Galveston, Pennsacola or any of the US beach towns would feel pretty much at home in Ao Nang. Interestingly, many of the signs and restaurant menus were also printed in German. And I was actually approached by a Thai street vendor speaking German to me. I guess I look like the master race. Anyway, Ao Nang is apparently a destination for Eastern Europeans and we saw (and heard) many German and Scandinavians while we were there. We saw almost no Thais except the ones working as wait staff or in the shops. If you didn’t know you were in Thailand… well, you might not know from the people you saw either.

We retraced our steps after dinner, mostly because we wanted to see the trail back to the hotel after dark. It was well lit, but still precarious. Signs along the way warned that we should not feed the monkeys because it would upset the natural balance of the ecosystem. No problem. The monkeys were elsewhere during our visit.

When we arose in the morning, we had a resort style breakfast, a buffet with everything imaginable that cost about $40 for the two of us. So much for getting value for you money in Thailand. Well, maybe it was worth it. If you wanted honey for you biscuit or pancake, you got it from an actual honeycomb dripping slowly into a collection bowl. No bees, just honey. That’s gotta be worth something. After breakfast we headed off to connect with our Kayak tour that we had booked before leaving Bangkok. And so another adventure began.

While the boat that delivered us to the resort was a modern, twin engine fiberglass “seat boat”, the boat that took us to Ao Nang to find our tour was a traditional Thai long boat powered by a 4 cylinder car engine mounted on a pivot point with a 15 foot propeller shaft sticking out the back. To turn the boat, the boatman pulls or pushes hard on the tiller which turns the whole engine and propeller shaft. These are heavy wooden boats in which you can see the ribs and outer planking. They move surprisingly well though the water, but they are very loud. Sitting on the beach you hear what sounds like a constant hum from school bus sized bees, the sound of the long boats.

Another surprise awaited us when the boat beached at Ao Nang, but not at the “pier.” It pulled up to the beach like the landing at Normandy and another boatman ran out to tip the boat over a bit so we passengers could more easily exit the boat into the calf deep surf. With wet shoes and trousers we walked up the beach where we were told to expect a tuk tuk (three wheeled motorcycle) in which we could continue our journey to meet our excursion guide. Hmmmmm. No tuk tuk. But after a few minutes, a “bus” pulled up behind us beeping it’s horn with the driver finally opening his passenger side door to ask us in Thai where we were going. We told him and despite his slightly confused look we piled into the back of the “bus” where we joined eight adults and three school children who were already huddled in bed of the pick-up truck er.. I mean Bus. I swear it was labeled “official bus.”

As Brenda and I discussed the probability of actually arriving anywhere near where we were supposed to be, we reminded ourselves that vacations, like everything else in Thailand are going to be an adventure. As the saying goes, when ordering a meal in Thailand “order what you want, eat what you get.” Same thing for travel I suppose.

But we did arrive where we expected to, and in relatively short order. As we got off the bus, Brenda kept assuring me that “they have our name” so finding the tour would be easy. Well she was right. They had our name, and after walking around for fifteen minutes asking everyone I could find if they spoke English (Khun Phuute Angrit Dai Mai) one of the boatmen responded to our request for “Thailand Sea Kayak” by pointing back up the beach toward a van marked only in Thai and with two young men standing near it. After we slogged our way back to where we were dropped by the “bus” one of the fellows by the van asked if we were who we are. “I am you guide” he said after we confirmed and we piled into the van to begin the next hour in our trip after which we arrived at the Sea Kayak headquarters and began to prepare for the actual adventure part of our day. Whew!

In this discussion, I have tried to convey the uncertainty with which we were met at virtually every turn of this trip. We were never certain about our accommodations or our ability to arrive at the places we intended. Never-the-less we always arrived exactly where we intended, and pretty much at the time we expected. The Thai style of travel was making a mockery of our Type A personalities and US style logistics. What fun.

But from our arrival at the Sea Kayak dock until the end of our trip some six hours later we had a wonderful time. We kayaked through mangrove forests on a river that only three hours before we began our trip had been completely dry. The water we kayaked in had swollen up from the sea with the tide and took us along the edge of the forest and into the limestone caves that pepper the area. Several caves were barely high enough to get through in the boats, but once through they opened into 300 foot shear cliffs that surrounded us bringing to mind the Lost World movies or Jurassic Park. We almost expected a dinosaur head to peek out from among the heavily jungled wall of limestone at any time.

Among the more unusual sights we saw were tree crabs (I named them”tree crabs” because that’s where they were, in the trees.) These crabs make their living in the mud left behind at low tide, but at high tide they evacuate to the roots and branches of the mangroves. A strange sight seeing a crab climbing a tree.

We also saw a monitor lizard sunning itself on a rock and an eagle fleeing our rattling and banging attempts to kayak quietly through the river. But the best part of the trip for me was seeing the 3000 year old cave paintings in the cave of the Big Headed Ghost. There are over 200 cave paintings in the cave and some are in remarkable condition. And some just make you go Hmmmmmmmm. You can see more at my photo album which I have had to move to Flickr because photobucket has just become unusable.

All in all a great trip. We should probably go back.


Sunday, February 11, 2007

Food Poisoning

Meat StandIt finally happened. I've been laid up since Friday afternoon with a pretty decent case of food poisoning. I guess that is to be expected when there is so much inexpensive and tasty food being prepared and consumed right on the street. I've thought many times that none of these places would be allowed in the US because of health department regulations. It is really amazing to see the cooking pots and even the cups, bowls and plates being scrubbed out right on the sidewalk with the rinse water poured directly into the storm sewar. I guess it's surprising that more people don't get sick.

BUT WAIT! I didn't eat anything off the street Friday. As a matter of fact, I was reasonably busy Friday and I ate very little at all. Hmmmm, let's see if we can reconstruct the day and figure out exactly where the problem lay.

Fruit StandI had my normal "breakfast smoothie" made by Suporn at about 8:00 AM. This is a simple dish made from fresh fruit, usually pinapple or bannana mixed in the blender with ice and milk enough to make it about the same consistency as a milk shake. It's not as fancy as the Smoothie King drinks we have at home, but I have one most every morning and I am pretty sure that it can't result in food poisoning.

After taking care of some normal morning stuff, I headed out to scope out some new places to take Brenda shopping. She has a thing for local items that are unusual for us, so I got her a book for her birthday that has pictures and explainantions of Thai cultural items both decorative/artsy and functional. As the second part of her gift I intended to take her shopping at places that might be likely to have some of these items, but first I needed to find the places. I found them, and while I was out, I had a burger... actually two cheeseburgers, fries and a coke at about 12:00 at the McDonalds at the Amarin Plaza, just down the street from the Erawan Shrine.

Boiled EggsI eat out roughly once a day here. I like Thai food, but I am used to eating it once or twice a month, and having it once a day here is way more than I am ready for. So I usually eat lunch out, and usually at a hamburger or pizza place. If they had Taco Bell, I'd eat there too. So I eat out alot, usually in KFC, Pizza Factory, Burger King or McDonalds. Helps keep my unsophisticated palate satisfied. But by 4:00 PM my palate had gone on strike and I was headed for an evening, night and morning peppered with multiple trips to the bathroom, cold sweats and aching joints. Miserable was what it was.

RonaldNow I don't want to say that my McDonalds sandwich purchased and consumed at the Amarin Plaza Mcdonalds was the cause of my lost weekend, but it is the only thing I consumed except for a fresh fruit smoothie that day, so you be the judge.

So what people told me before I came here is still true. The street food is safe, cheap and good. Too bad they didn't tell me to watch out for Ronald.


Monday, February 05, 2007

More About Driving

Wait... wait....I don’t drive every day here. Maybe if I did I would get used to it sooner. One interesting side affect of driving on the wrong side of the road is that it’s not just the stuff outside of the car that is wrong sided.

You can spot one of us newbies in the parking lot as we habitually head for the “driver’s side” to unlock the door. Once we realize we are on the wrong side of the car, we have to pretend that we are being courteous by opening the door for our wives. In the unfortunate event that we are alone, we have to either put our package on the passenger seat, or if we don’t have a package, we have to pretend to look for something under the seat and then smile as if to say “finally found that darn thing.”

Once out of the parking lot, you’d think that things would go a little smoother. Well, maybe. If you approach intersections slowly, you are not only driving like every other Bangkokian, but you allow yourself extra time to make sure you look right, not left for that approaching traffic. But extra time is not the only thing you need as you transition to left side driving. Everything that is on the left in your car is on the right in mine. And all on the right is… well you can guess.

It doesn’t seem like a big thing and some of it isn’t. The console with the gear selector is on your left here. No big deal. You always have plenty of time to find it and put the car in gear while you recover your dignity after opening the wrong side of the car to get in. But Blinkers are real interesting.

You use your blinkers a lot to alert other cars to your intent and to give motorcyclists who split lanes on both sides of every lane at least a small chance of surviving the day. But if you drive on the right, your blinkers are on the left side of your steering wheel and the the windshield wiper controls are on the right. So while my head is on a swivel and I am trying to find the right road and make sure no one is splitting a lane in the direction I want to turn, I reach to signal my turn and there go the wipers (swoosh.) Just turn them off right? Nope, too much going on. The car is still moving and bikes are still lane splitting, the turn is approaching and now the wipers are “swooshing” on a perfectly clear day and I am sure that everyone in Bangkok has received an instant message on their cell phones to tell them to “Look, another farang tryng to drive.”

Hit the GapToday after I turned on my wipers therby signalling my turn, I entered a parking lot and rolled down my window to get the parking pass I said “sawadee krap” to the attendant as the wipes went "swoosh." He smiled and said “sawadee krap” (swoosh.) As I (swoosh) drove away from the (swoosh) booth I could not for the life of me(swoosh) find the off position (swoosh) for those wipers. I did manage to find the(swoosh)(skreek) position that (swoosh)(skreek) turns on the (swoosh)(skreek) back window wiper (swoosh)(skreek). I finally gave up until (swoosh)(skreek) I got the car parked (swoosh)(skreek). As I looked around I saw five (swoosh)(skree… there it is) people looking at my car and smiling. I felt like such an idiot. My consolation is that the only way they would know is if they had at some point done the same thing themselves. Well, at least that’s what I am telling myself.

The picture here is a typical turn. This one happens to be a U turn but it is the same for any right hand turn here. Wait for a gap and then hit it. The amazing thing is that this happens millions of times every day and you almost never hear a horn in Bangkok. Everyone just waits.


Monday, January 29, 2007


Say Cheese!Our ship has come in, literally. Four months ago when we arrived in Bangkok, one of the first orders of business was to locate a reliable supply of......... well.... Cheese.

Brenda LOVES cheese. She loves Mild Cheddar most, but she also enjoys anything with Velveeta and her favorite snack is Cheezit crackers. She doesn't just eat stuff with cheese on it; she eats the cheese straight up, right out of the package. She stops short of gnawing it off the stick; she always makes dainty little slices but often there are no crackers or vegetables involved at all. Just Cheese.

I think most of the folks that read this BLOG know Brenda, but just in case there is someone thinking that she has to be as big as a house and shaped like a cheese wheel, let me assure you that her contract with Victoria’s Secret as an underwear model would never allow such a thing.

Anyway shortly after we arrived, we found what we thought was a store that carried Kraft American Cheese slices and Cracker Barrel cheddar cheese. We were set. We bought a couple of things and made our way back to our apartment. The next week when we went back..... WHERE IS THE CHEESE? All the store had was Thai cheese and Thai's don't like cheese. If you have ever eaten a meal cooked by someone who doesn't like to eat then you can imagine how bad cheese is when it is made by people who don't like to eat cheese. It is bad. Even their best cheddar has the color of Swiss. It is pale and not at all tasty. I predict that Thais will never like cheese if this is all they ever get.

Daily FoodWe have been checking the cheese store pretty regularly ever since to no affect. We have developed some alternative sources for imported cheese that costs accordingly. So we have been getting by, but tonight our ship came in. Somewhere in Asia a ship literally came in loaded with cheese and some of it showed up at the store down the street. We were there tonight to pick up some Triscuits and on a whim Brenda went by the Daily Food aisle. Yes, I said Daily Food. You would know it as Dairy Food but we are in Asia. You figure it out. Suddenly while I was trailing Brenda at a respectable distance as husbands shopping with wives are known to do I hear an exclamation "CHEESE!" And as I rounded the corner there she was, standing mesmerized by the sight of, not just a little, but a LOT of Kraft and Cracker Barrel packages all eagerly waiting just for us.

We loaded up what you see in the first pic above while carefully checking expiration dates and mentally calculating how many days our supply would last making sure to neither under nor over-buy and made our way to the checkout counter.

Right now you should be wondering something like "Hmmmmmm if cheese is so hard to come by, I bet it's expensive too." Right you are Sherlock. You are looking at $52 worth of “American made gold” and by Brenda’s reckoning you could double the price and it wouldn't matter. All told tonight, two boxes of Triscuits, the Cheese, one jar of Salsa and a medium size bag of M&M's cost 2,843 baht - almost $80 and it all fit in two small grocery bags. Remember, you can eat every meal here cooked to order for about 30 Baht (less than $1) but not if you want farang food. Isn't Asia wonderful.

Squid, NutsOh, one more thing. When I went back to the grocery store with my camera to take the "Daily Food" picture, I also noticed this unusual pairing on one of the aisles. Proof that a sign doesn't have to be in Thai to be surprising here.

Say Cheese!