A Time For Reflection

There are certain moments during travel when you have time to reflect.  I recently had one of those moments.  A work related continuing education conference took me to Japan which happened to be the fiftieth country that I have visited.  What did this mean?  For one, I was counting my blessings that I was healthy enough to undertake these journeys.  Second, I was thankful that I had the resources to travel and that I was raised by two parents who loved to travel so much.  I felt lucky, inspired, and happy at that very moment as my plane crossed over the Pacific Ocean.

As I listened to Christina Perry’s “Human” during the twelve hour journey to Japan, the reflections on my life continued . Without a hint of doubt, some of my most happy times in my life occur when I am traveling.  Of course, I thought about those times and reminisced fondly of them.  Some of these moments were simplistic – eating In and Out Burger on the first day of our honeymoon as we watched planes approach LAX over Sepulveda Boulevard.  Other moments were too unbelievable to even describe. The three most enjoyable days I have spent in my life were at Pondoro Game Lodge in South Africa.  Never, have I been so captivated and excited for such a period of time.  I knew at that moment, everyone needs some adventure in their life.  Some unpredictability in life is ok.  I also thought about the times when I was able to celebrate a professional milestone with travel and two examples came to mind.  I was able to celebrate the passing of my board exams in Cairns, Australia with my friend Emily.  The other being a Baltic Sea cruise to celebrate the end of my oral and maxillofacial surgery residency with my parents and wife.  The happiness of attaining a goal and the relief that comes with it is one feeling that I most definitely will never forget.

Many times for me, travel has represented an escape from the stresses of life – almost all educational and professional stresses to this point.  When I am traveling, I tend to lose myself in the place.  The stresses are gone and although I know it is only momentary, it has been absolutely necessary for me to continue on this path I have chosen.  Ironically, these very professional stresses that have so tortured me have also allowed me to undertake such a varied and exotic travel lifestyle to six continents and fifty countries.  I guess life is all about trade offs.  I contemplated whether the trade off was worth it and the truth is, I don’t know the answer to that question.  The one thing I do know is that I will continue to travel.  The travel might not always be in the same capacity as it has over the last six years, but it will continue to be a priority.  That very thought makes me happy as I dream about the next adventure.

A Day At Ang Thong National Marine Park

 

 

Ang Thong National Marine Park

Ang Thong National Marine Park

 

One of the added bonuses of staying at the Intercontinental Samui was the close proximity to Ang Thong National Marine Park, which consists of 42 islands.  We decided to take a day trip to this park which was only about a 45 minute speed boat ride from the hotel.  Once again, the excellence of the Intercontinental was on display.  They arranged the whole day tour from start to finish which made for a fun and relaxing day.  The hotel staff on the tour were friendly, well organized, and took a lot of pride in providing one of the more memorable days of our trip.  Ang Thong Park was absolutely spectacular.

 

The islands of Ang Thong National Marine Park

The islands of Ang Thong National Marine Park

Islands consisting of steep limestone cliffs seemed to jut up from the sea everywhere you looked.  These islands combined with the amazing aqua color of the water provided an amazing backdrop.  Our first stop on the tour was Ko Mae Ko, which is one of the main islands in the park.  Here, we took a short, but steep hike to the interior portion of the island where Thali Nae saltwater lake awaited us.

Saltwater Lake

Saltwater Lake

Once again, limestone cliffs surrounded this serene lake.  After visiting the lake, we went snorkeling around one of the many islands in the park.  The marine life around the islands appeared well developed and flourishing.  After a picnic lunch on the beach, we headed over to Ko Wua Talap, one of the main islands in this archipelago.

View for Ko Wua Talap

View from Ko Wua Talap

It was here, we took a strenuous hike up a rocky path to the numerous look outs on the island.  The strenuous hike, combined with the stifling humidity, made for a great work out and the views from the look outs were incredible.

Looking out over the islands of Ko Wua Talap

Looking out over the islands of Ko Wua Talap

After the hike, we cooled off in the bath-like water on the beach of Ko Wua Talap.  From here, we took the short 45 minute boat ride back to our hotel after an amazing day at the park.  If you are staying on Ko Samui, I can highly recommend a day trip to Ang Thong National Marine Park.

Review of the Intercontinental Koh Samui

View from the lobby of the Intercontinental Samui

View from the lobby of the Intercontinental Samui

After ten thousand miles of flying and thirty plus hours of travel, we reached our final destination, the Intercontinental Samui Baan Taling Ngam Resort.  As our van arrived at the resort, the seemingly endless amount of travel to reach Koh Samui suddenly seemed all worth it.  We strolled into the open air lobby of the hotel which is set on top of a cliff overlooking the Gulf of Thailand.

View of hotel from the beach

View of hotel from the beach

We were warmly greeted by the hotel staff and the check in process was seamless.  If the views from the lobby were any indication, we were in for a relaxing, amazing week in an idyllic location.  The first amazing aspect of the Intercontinental Samui, besides the location, was the price.

Another view from the lobby

Another view from the lobby

For a luxury resort, the cost was extremely reasonable compared to other resorts on the island.  Given the location of the resort on the side of mountain, we opted for a room toward the top of the hotel with views overlooking the Gulf of Thailand.  This happened to be the cheapest and best option in our opinion.  The other options included bungalows located on the beach or villas scattered along the mountainside.

One of the infinity pools

One of the infinity pools

As we entered our room, sweeping views of the Gulf of Thailand awaited us.  The room was beautifully furnished with a luxurious bathroom, a very comfortable bed, and a spacious balcony.  An added bonus of the room was the excellent air conditioning.

Room at the Intercontinental Samui

Room at the Intercontinental Samui

The heat and humidity in Thailand was unlike anything we had ever experienced.  Within minutes of being outside, the sauna-like heat would hit us.

Stretch of beach near the resort

Stretch of beach near the resort

Luckily, the hotel provided complimentary bottles of water every day.  Although any vacation is a break from daily routines, we developed our own routines at the hotel.    Our day would usually begin with buffet breakfast which was set at the top of hotel overlooking the islands in the Gulf of Thailand.

Islands in the Gulf of Thailand

Islands in the Gulf of Thailand

The buffet was wonderfully appointed with western and eastern options which included exotic fruits, an omelet station, and just about anything anybody could want for breakfast.  After such a hearty breakfast, I would usually try to work out by either climbing the stairs around the resort or using the workout facility.  It was 225 steps from the beach to our room. However, if you didn’t want to take the steps, there were always plenty of buggies to take you wherever you wanted to go.

View from our balcony

View from our balcony

Factoring in the humidity and heat (temperatures were in the mid 90’s throughout our stay), climbing over twenty flights of stairs a couple of times per morning was a great workout.  The air conditioned workout facility was located right on the beach with panoramic windows that overlooked the water.

One of the draw bridges located in lush vegetation

One of the draw bridges located in lush vegetation

After a morning workout, it was usually time to relax by one of the many pools situated throughout the resort.  My wife and I both preferred the infinity pool located just adjacent to the lobby which had amazing views of the Gulf of Thailand.  A mid-afternoon lunch by the beach was capped off with a leisurely stroll along the empty stretch of sand under the intense Thailand sun.

Beach side restaurant for lunch

Beach side restaurant for lunch

The service was impeccable throughout the resort.  Hotel staff were friendly and conscientious.  The food was amazing including our nightly dish of pad thai.  The only bad part of the vacation was that it went too fast.

Delicious pad thai for dinner

Delicious pad thai for dinner

The days were so enjoyable and the setting so beautiful that we really didn’t want it to end.    On the afternoon of our last day, the impending post-trip melancholy started to set in.

Another infinity pool

Another infinity pool

As we departed from the Intercontinental Samui, we started dreaming of a day when we would return to this wonderful place.

Air Bar at the Intercontinental Samui at sunset - featured in "1000 places to see before you die"

Air Bar at the Intercontinental Samui at sunset – featured in “1000 places to see before you die”

Songkran Festival in Thailand: The World’s Largest Water Fight

Songkran Festival in Thailand: The World's Largest Water Fight

Songkran Festival in Thailand: The World’s Largest Water Fight

Sometimes when you travel you happen to get a little bit lucky.  This past April, we arrived in Thailand on April 13th which happened to coincide with the start of Songkran Festival which is celebrated in Thailand as New Year’s.  We boarded our Bangkok Airways flight from Bangkok to Koh Samui and the pilot wished everybody a happy Songkran day.  This came as a surprise to us as we had no clue it was New Year’s in this part of the world.  The airline also handed out a waterproof pouch for everyone on board the flight that day to use once they arrived in Koh Samui.

Truck full of people with water guns

Truck full of people with water guns

Songkran is often called the world’s largest water fight and this moniker is certainly appropriate.  Once we arrived in Koh Samui, we had about an hour drive from the airport to our hotel on the other side of the island.  Almost as soon as we left the airport, you could see it was not a typical day.  In the course of an hour drive from the airport to our hotel, our van was probably pelted with buckets of water at least hundred times.

People were lined up on the side of the street with buckets of water or water guns, spraying water at anything that passed by, whether it was cars, trucks, or people on motorbikes.  The whole scene was extremely festive.  You could see extreme joy that the locals and expats took in celebrating Songkran.  After an interesting hour long drive, we finally arrived at our hotel where the celebration continued.  Needless to say, after almost twenty plus hours on a plane, it was a welcome sight to experience such a unique holiday.

Roads were completely wet even though it wasn't raining

Roads were completely wet even though it wasn’t raining

Here are some other pictures from Songkran:

 

Anything goes during Songkran

Anything goes during Songkran

People also throw chalk in addition to water

People also throw powder/chalk in addition to water

 

 

Windshield pelted with chalk and water

Windshield pelted with chalk and water

 

Our Journey To Thailand

Thai Islands in the Gulf of Thailand

My wife’s spring break from school this year came in the middle of April, just in time for us to avoid a serious case of cabin fever.  After the hellacious winter that we experienced in Wisconsin, we were determined to go somewhere really warm.  For many years we contemplated making the journey to Thailand but for whatever reason had not.  Given the long flight to Thailand from the United States, I had always wanted to spend two weeks there but I didn’t foresee a time in the near future where this would be possible.  I looked up the projected weather in Thailand in April and it happened to be dry season.  Temperatures were generally in the high eighties or nineties during this part of the year which sounded pretty good to us.  Sunshine, warm weather, beaches, and new destination for us made for an easy decision to go to Thailand.

Long stretch of beach on Koh Samui

Thailand happens to be one of the top tourist destinations in the world with Bangkok being the epicenter of any traveler’s journey.  In my earlier travels, I would have never thought of not visiting Bangkok. With a solid week in Thailand, we wanted to focus on one area of the country with the possibility of returning to other areas in the future.  The idea of spending time in a crowded, hot, humid capital city with horrendous traffic after spending upwards of twenty hours on a plane held no appeal to us.  Chiang Mai, Phuket and Koh Samui all were possibilities to visit but we really wanted to be near the water so Chiang Mai would have to wait.  Ultimately, we decided to visit Koh Samui over Phuket although I have no doubt either place would have been great.   Thus, we transited through Bangkok on our way to Koh Samui without ever going into the city.  This would be considered heresy in the backpacker world but my wife and I are not backpackers and had no qualms about spending our week on the majestic island of Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand.  In hindsight, we did not regret our decision.

Coast Line on Koh Samui