Saturday, February 4, 2012

Similans Diving

Look, look, look! I got a picture of Honeymoon Bay in the Similan Islands where Suki sorely tempts Michael in UNBROKEN CONNECTION.

At first, I didn't think we'd get close enough to get a shot of it because our boat anchored around the backside of the island and then we were supposed to go on to another island for the second dive. But, to my surprise, the boat moved into a gorgeous spot called, "Hide-Away," off Islands #5 in the Similan chain--and I had this perfect view of Honeymoon Bay. I didn't actually get to put my toes in the sand and take closeups, but at least I got to see it. The bay is much smaller than I'd imagined. In fact, the whole chain is much smaller and closer together than I'd imagined. 

Okay, I'm getting way ahead of my tale. If you'll bear with me, I'll switch to travelogue again and take you along with me for the day through the photos I managed to snap between dives. 

The day started out climbing into the favorite mode of transportation in Khoa Lak--a small pickup truck with benches seats fitted up in back. All the local taxis are like this, too. It gets windy driving along and sometimes the exhaust fumes from the truck and the traffic are nauseating, so I wore my sea bands to keep from getting motion sick. Worked great.

This is the dock in Tap Lamu. It's still as icky as when I visited here before I wrote UNBROKEN CONNECTION. That time we didn't dive because it was off season. The big difference was people. Tons of people everywhere--heading to the boats, waiting for boats, getting in and out of vans and taxis. Mostly Europeans. This area is popular with Germans and has lots of service in German.

Here's the boat we spent the day on. We'd booked on a brand new, big speed boat that was supposed to get us out to the islands in just over and hour. They'd promised us lunch on the beach--Honeymoon Bay for sure. But they had mechanical problems, and we ended up on what divers call a big "cattle boat."

It took two and a half hours to cruise out to the Similans on this big boat. Even though it was a big, slow boat with forty people--many of them snorkelers--on it, it was organized well and the dive staff took pains to give us a good day of divers. The temperature out on the water was just perfect. Not too hot, but warm enough. Nice breeze. Flat seas. And the open air deck had enough shade and wasn't crowded. Turned out to be a great day after all.

First sight of the Similans. This was Island Number 8. There are nine islands. They are smaller and closer together than I thought.

Getting closer! We were eager to arrive and dive.

Look close. Through the window you can see the Thai captain and crew. I learned all the captains are Thai. I had Michael working on his captain's license--which he probably couldn't do here because it would all be in Thai! (Don't tell anyone, okay?)

This  is Island #4 where we dove!

Here I am after our first dive. I wish I had underwater pictures. It was beautiful. We pulled in close to this beach--Princess Bay--to pick up the snorkelers. Isn't the water gorgeous?

This is Hideaway Bay where we had lunch. It was so pretty. The water is so blue. The spots you see are coral formations on the ocean floor. The rocky shore in the back ground is Island #5. 

This tiny pile of boulders is Island #6. We dove around underwater boulders--very cool. 

Our boat's dingy. Can you imagine Michael, Claude, Suki et al zooming around in it?

This is full shot of Island #5. Yup, that's the entire island. There are no hotels or restaurants in the Similans. It's a national park. You can camp on the beach, but there are no facilities. 

I took about 130 pictures--lots of them of the water. It's kind of intoxicating to look at it.

Another shot of Island #4 and Honeymoon Bay. Islands 4, 5, and 6 are right close together.  The park closes down in May when the monsoon season starts and doesn't open again until November. January/February is the high season. Perfect escape for winter-weary Europeans. We dove with an older German gentlemen who spends three months every winter here. He and his wife rent a bungalow at a green resort in Khoa Lak. 
During the monsoon season, huge storms sweep down off the Indian Ocean and batter the Similans. They hit the backside of Island #4. The park is closed, but fishing boats sneak out here and ride out the storms protected in Honeymoon Bay. They fish when the seas are calm enough. It's not unusual for there to be 18-20 foot seas on the passage between Thailand's coast and the islands.

Close-up of the boulders on Island 5. The tropical jungle green is intense--so different from the desert back home.  One interesting facts I learned talking to one of the dive masters on the boat--a guy from South Africa who'd spent years in Thailand, is there are two million more women in Thailand than men. That's why it's so easy for all the Western men who come here to hook up with Thai girlfriends. 

As soon as we were out of the water from our second dive, the boat chugged off  back to Tap Lamu. The sun was setting by the time we arrived. They served us yummy banana pancakes and fruit as we went to get our blood sugar back up post-dive. We had time to chill and relax. 

Coming back into Tap Lamu. 

This is the fishing fleet harbored at Tap Lamu. Our guides told us there is very little controls on fishing in Thailand. Most of Asia is like that. It's a huge industry and very valuable to the local economy. Not good news for divers--or the fish. 

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Saigon-style Wedding!

After another lovely day with Kay's family and a delicious home-cooked Vietnamese luncheon, we got all dressed up and headed over to the New World Hotel for the big event. I'll let the pictures do the talking!

Al and I posing with a poster-size photo of Andy and Kay in traditional Vietnamese dress. 

Al and I in the reception hall. 

Andy and Kay with Kay's family. 

These girls in pink helped greet guests and later danced. Andy and Kay personally greeted all 300 guests as they arrived and posed for pictures with everyone who came.

Bouquets of yellow roses flanked the stage and cheered every table.

Cutting the cake!

Andy and Kay on-stage with the MC. Kay's parents and Allen and I joined them. The two fathers spoke. Then Andy had a few words to say. Then a confetti canon went off!

The pink girls dancing.

This is our table. Nine dishes were served--one at a time on a circular disc that spun like  laisy susan. Yes, I got sooo full!

The menu!

We had a fantastic time. Everyone was so kind and friendly to us. Both Andy and Kay were gracious and smiling through the whole evening. I was so proud of them. We're delighted to have Kay join our family--and feel like we've gained a whole new family in Vietnam. 

Mekong Delta Trip!

This has nothing to do with my books, but it was such an amazing experience I want to share it with all of you. I've adopted you all as family anyway. So you just have to be in on this event.

A week after I got back from VCFA's Winter Residency in Montepelier, VT, Allen and I flew to Saigon for Andy and Kay's Vietnamese wedding reception. Kay's family welcomed us with open arms and made us feel right at home. They fed us with delicious Vietnamese food. I love those flavors. So unique in Asian cuisine. We took a trip to the Mekong Delta on Saturday driving past pristine fields of rice. They look like velvet.

Notice the gravesites in the fields? Ancestors are revered.
When we got to the river, we boarded a boat that took us all along the river to markets, restaurants, coconut candy factories, etc. Here's some highlights.

Here we are with Kay's family and friends on the boat heading down the Mekong River

Coconut candy! It was delicious fresh and warm from the pot. 

Here I am posing in the market. Kay's mom bought me one these bags.

I love rhythm instruments. I was excited to find one of these toe drums. It's really loud!

This family sang for us, one at a time. At the end, they all sang, "If you're happy and you know it!" In English even.

We rode in one of these narrow wood boats down this packed canal back to our larger boat out on the river. Quite a ride.

Lunch! It was the sweetest fish I've ever tasted.

This water buffalo joined us for lunch. That's my handsome boy, Andy, posing with him.
Next post . . . if all goes well with the internet and this one loads . . . pictures from the main event--the big Wedding Reception in Saigon!