World Travel with a Twist of Zen - Fields of Indulgence  
 
The next leg of our trip found us traveling by bus across Southern Thailand from
the Gulf of Thailand to the Andaman Sea coastline. As we drove, towering palm
tree farms alternated with lush forested areas, each more beautiful than the
next. When we neared the coast, huge freestanding stacks of limestone covered
with bright green trees began appearing. Their stone countenances jutting upward
into the sky looked like they had been carved right out of the ground! A little
more research into these fascinating formations showed they were formed through
years of erosion. The land now making up Krabi province was totally underwater
at one point and while it was, the sea was busy producing the wonderful artwork
that she would later reveal to us land. Because these stacks are made out of
limestone, which is of medium hardness, they are hard enough to remain
freestanding and not collapse while also being soft enough to continue eroding
from rainwater - forming caves, interesting discolorations, and massive
stalactites. When looking at these seemingly permanent mountains that
are also ever-changing, it reminds us of how permanent we see ourselves and our
lives, though in actuality they are constantly shifting.
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Overlooking Krabi province with its many limestone stacks
Having changed locations yet again, we are starting to settle into this
rhythm of movement and stillness. Krabi town was a great quick stopover and
found us climbing 1257 steps straight up one of these limestone stacks to see
Wat Thamsua (the Tiger Temple) and the 360 degree views of the landscape that
the temple afforded. We celebrated Chinese New Year in Krabi’s the night market
with wonderful fresh squid stir-fried with green beans, seafood suki soup,
yakatori balls, and mango sticky rice. In the morning, we got up early for a
traditional Thai breakfast in Soutern Thailand’s largest morning market. The
bustling market (which runs from 4am-8am) offers fresh fruit and veggies, a
range of meats, and a variety of meals for breakfast. We opted for the
traditional “jok” – a rice porridge dish with generous amounts of fresh ginger
and garlic, minced meat, cilantro, green onion, and overeasy egg on top which is
then mixed in with everything.
For pics from this leg of the trip, click here - http://flic.kr/s/aHsjydSga2
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Spicy chilli peppers at the Krabi morning market
We became beach bums again and found an amazing spot – Ton Sai beach next to
Railay off of the Ao Nang coast. The stacks here are just gorgeous and we see
them every time we walk out of our bungalow. We rock climbed another stack for
an amazing 360 view, only to then free climb down several 15 feet drops  to
discover a hidden lagoon in the middle of the stack. The climb and getting down
was quite exhilarating and scary as there were several points when we weren’t
sure where to put the next foot! After two days of intense climbing, we settled
here for a few more days. With yoga on the beach, massage, and hiking in
undisturbed jungle, it was difficult to leave this paradise. However, the stacks
teach us that even as things seem permanent, they are also always changing. To
us, they remind us to enjoy these wonderful moments while not grasping onto them
when our travels take us onward.
For the pics from this amazing location (our favorite beach so far!), click here - http://flic.kr/s/aHsjyk7mUT
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Jungle viewpoint overlooking Railay Beach
We made a quick stop at Ko Phi Phi to see what the fuss was all about and found
it to be beautiful but awfully crowded. Today, we visited Ko Phi Phi Leh (the
hidden island where ‘The Beach’ was filmed) and we found it to be anything but
hidden. Tourists teamed over the tiny Maya Bay leaving it difficult to
appreciate the natural beauty surrounding us. We quickly departed the crazyness
of Phi Phi to find our next and probably final island for now, Ko Lanta.
For pics from Phi Phi, click here - http://flic.kr/s/aHsjykq6H2
 
Ko Phagnan Island. Lying in the Gulf of Thailand, this paradise island offers
something for everyone. For example, on Thursday we woke up and did yoga on the
beach, ate freshly caught and perfectly prepared chili-garlic squid before
cruising into the heart of the island to hike the waterfalls that lie within its
national park. The afternoon found us snorkeling off the beaches and topping it
off with a Thai massage during sunset.  Evening followed with the mixing of
some homemade cocktails consisting of pineapple juice and Thai rum before
heading to the “Pirate Bar” for an all night electronic dance party right on the
beach.
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Neda nabbed this shot after a massage on the beach. It's Haad Mae Haad coast at sunset
Sufficed to say, at a certain point in the day Neda turned to me and said, “I’m
really starting to feel like we’re on vacation now.” Though the days of trekking
around with our packs trying to find a room or planning what we will do next can
involve a bit of stress, Neda and I are savoring our “long-term” vacation. As we
find ourselves getting mellower and moving more with the flow, we ask ourselves:
“how can we incorporate this loose, fluid mind set into our everyday lives when
the structure, hustle, and bustle return?” The question is how to learn lessons
from our leisure so that the line between leisure and life isn’t as sharp as we
sometimes make it out to be.
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Our next stop takes us from the Gulf of Thailand to the Andaman Coast
Our next stop is Krabi province, where we plan to explore the beaches of Rai
Lay, hop over to Ko Phi Phi, and possibly down to some other islands as well.
The area will be getting increasingly Islamic as we head south so it should be
interesting. From a gustatory perspective, the famous Massaman Curry originates
in Southern Thailand so we look forward to sampling it there!
See the full pics here: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjyagmTB
 
Life has been a whirlwind since arriving in Bangkok over a week ago, but Neda and I are having a wonderful time. Bangkok is a bustling city full of sensory stimuli. The streets are lined with food cart stalls selling everything from cut up fresh fruit to a variety of noodle soups, crispy pork, curry, and a bunch of foods we can't even identify. The wats (Thai temples) are extravagant affairs covered in gold, jade, and garlands. Thai's gather at Wats and shrines set up on the street to offer incense, lotus flowers, and food to both the Buddha and other spirits remaining from Thailand's animist past.

The cultural and spiritual ideas that merge here in Thailand are fascinating. While a Buddhist country, Thais are still deeply superstitious and believe in appeasing spirits to prevent bad luck from falling on the themselves and their families. Every home has a tiny model temple in the northeast side of its property called a "spirit house" which is a place where offerings can be made to appease the local spirits of the house. It is not uncommon to see a spirit house with incense offerings, drinks, and food in front (though some locals have told us that after 10 minutes some of that food might be eaten...guess its not like the spirits are actually eating, so why not? For full pics of Bangkok click here: 
http://flic.kr/s/aHsjxTr864
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Posing with the reclining Buddha at Wat Pho - Bangkok
From Bangkok we headed slightly off the beaten path to a town called Mueang Ratchaburi in the Ratchaburi province. With no English speakers at all, we pointed and gestured our way to a local Thai hotel and managed to communicate with a driver to take us out to the ruins at Khao Ngu (snake mountain) where some of the oldest images of the Buddha were carved into the walls in bas-relief, remnants of the Dvaravati civilization of 6th-13th century. We also experienced our first Thai style BBQ where you get an unlimited amount of veggies, fresh seafood, and marinated meats to either cook over charcoal or in the surrounding boiling broth of the contraption they use. Think of it as a combo of Korean BBQ and shabu-shabu, or as I like to put it: an all-you-can eat, do-it-yourself buffet for about $3. Nice. Other highlights included the Angkor styled Wat Mahatat, complete with a two sided Buddha said to protect the city in all directions. Full pics of Ratchaburi click here: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjy7kaNx 
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Feeding the monkeys by Khao Ngu Mountain
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Phra Nakhon Khiri
Next we headed to Phetchaburi, where we hiked up to the summer palace Phra Nakhon Khiri, built by Rama IV in 1860. It is a fascinating mix of Thai and European architecture, including an astronomy observatory (Rama IV was an avid amateur astronomer) and a beautiful Wat (temple). Towering above the town were the prangs (spires) of another Wat Mahatat with many locals giving offerings to the 3 Buddha's in the main hall (Wihan). We also got a taste of our first truly terrible guesthouse, complete with swarming mosquitoes and a room connected to the communal bathroom where the noises of the drunk guy across the hall were the soundtrack for the evening. Just breath, just breath, just breath...ouch did I just get bit again? :) Full pics of Phetchaburi are here: 
http://flic.kr/s/aHsjy7A8QR 

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Our route so far...from A. Bangkok B. Ratchaburi C. Petchaburi D. Baan Krut E. Chumphon to F. Ko Phangan tomorrow!
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Neda slacklining
After just one night in that guesthouse we called it quits in Phetchaburi and headed down the cost on a 4 hour train trip to a little town called Baan Krut. We had connected with a guy named Chris through couchsurfing.org and he was generous enough to host us for 3 days in the wonderful village on the sea. Chris is a peace corp volunteer who speaks fluent Thai and he gave us some great information on Thai culture, language, and food. The first night we went to "kids night" at the Wat where kids performed a variety of dances while the community cooked up tons of delicious food for all to eat. Think handpressed coconut milk ice cream, minced duck with basil and chili peppers, roast pork on jasmine rice with hoi sin sauce...I am diggin' Wat culture for sure :) 

Baan Krut also had a beautiful Wat on the mountainside and nice beaches where we practiced "slacklining" with Chris for the first time. Great fun to practice walking on a tightrope between coconut trees in paradise! We also rented a motorbike (the roads were straight and basically no traffic in case you were worried parents) and headed out the beautiful hidden cove where I recovered from a stomach bug drinking coconut water and enjoying the view. Full pics of Baan Krut here:  http://flic.kr/s/aHsjy7EE3V

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The beautiful hidden cove
Our next stop was going to be Ko Phangan island off the coast with a stopover in Chumphon, but my stomach flu necessitated us staying here an extra night to recover ($10 hotel rooms make that easy :). But as with many unexpected things, when you stay open to the possibilities, Chumphon ended up being lots of fun. We met a couple in our lobby, Brett & Christie, who are also traveling around Southeast Asia for an extended time. They just came from the islands and gave us great tips. Together we strolled through the night market of Chumphon sampling grilled banana kebabs with coconut sauce, the infamous durian fruit, and yes roasted bugs. We limited it just to grasshoppers for our first time, but ya know, they really weren't that bad - and high in protein! Check out Brett and Christie's blog Culture Cats here. And see our full pics of Chumphon here: http://flic.kr/s/aHsjy7HPSn

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Yeah...she ate that. So did I!
So tomorrow morning we're up early and headed to the islands! Sorry for the post being so long, but internet has been intermittent (try saying that 5x straight). We'll post more as we can and love to hear from you all on facebook and on the blog comments!