Penguin Love in Puerto Madryn

I am a sucker for penguins. Truly, is there anyone who doesn’t love a penguin? Their shuffling walk endears them to me. Their ability to stand stark still, as in deep meditation, awes me. And their ability to transform their inland awkward amble to such grace in the water, puts a grin on my face.

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We arrived in Puerto Madryn via our first overnight bus. (I’d heard for months about this first class bus experience…beds and food akin to a ticket in the front of the plane. Lets just say Argentina cross country bus travel has been widely exaggerated.) Hi Patagonia, the hostel we were bunking down in, was a quick five minute taxi ride away.

In guidebooks, Puerto Madryn is described as a non-descript town whose only purpose is to serve as the jumping off point to Peninsula Valdez and all the wildlife that comes with it. We liked it much more than planned. First off, it wasn’t Buenos Aires. Ok, that’s mean. Buenos Aires has so much to offer but two weeks in a large city was too much for us, so a small, approachable town suited us just fine. Plus it had the four S’s: sun, surf, sidewalks (!), and seafood.

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As a family, apartments give us space and flexibility but the beauty of a hostel (besides the clear price differential) is the ability to get advice and book tours easily. That can be invaluable and was true of Hi Patagonia. We booked all of our tours through the hostel and that allowed us time to relax vs researching.

We chose a day tour that included seeing dolphins, penguins & sea lions. First up was a boat trip to play with the commorson dolphins, seemingly the love child of a dolphin and a panda. Not sure that there’s greater joy than dolphins playing alongside one’s boat. Oh yes, penguins. Punta Tumbo was our next stop, penguin central. Here Argentina hosts the largest Magellanic penguin population in South America. Seeing that many penguins, in their natural habitat, was positively overwhelming. I believe I grinned from ear to ear the entire time.

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The following day, our theme was sea lions. The boys went kayaking with the mighty animals while the girls went snorkeling with them. The boys won. Leaving three hours earlier, they caught the sea lions still in a playful mode and came back shining bright from their experience. Julia and I, however, essentially took a boot camp class in the ocean. We were told to swim back and forth kicking like mad to create interest from the sea lions to come play with us. Either my boys already wore them out or they didn’t like what they saw because we had little interaction. Instead our guide, nicknamed Gringo, hollered at us nonstop in a Juan Pablo accent, “Girls, girls, quickly swim to me, kick those legs, girls, girls, now come this way, quickly, girls, girls, hurry.”

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In the end we did not visit what this area is most famous for, Peninsula Valdez. Another full day in a minibus before an overnight bus to Bariloche did not appeal. If it had been whale season, we would have made it happen but alas no whales in February.

As we neared the end of our penguin visit, a sophisticated penguin walked down the boardwalk behind us. We stepped off the boardwalk to give him space to pass and as he got the the end, he took a moment, looked around, and then bent down and with stiff determination…jumped off the boardwalk. And I fell in love.

With the penguin and with Puerto Madryn.

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Straddling the German-Austrian Border

Before landing in Argentina, we spent part of January exploring Austria. With visions of snowshoeing, sledding and cross country skiing, we made our way two hours south of Munich just over the border to Reutte. Alas, with a warm winter, very few snow sports were to be ours. Here’s what we did instead:

Rode Gondolas Up High Peaks & Marveled

Zugspitz is the highest mountain in Germany…9,718 feet above sea level. On clear days the peak is perfectly reflected in the lake that sits at its base, Lake Ebisee.

The cable car from Lake Ebisee to the peak is a wonder. It dangles thousands of feet above jagged rock cliffs while one stands pressed to its door by the 20+ other occupants, praying that the locking mechanism will not chose to malfunction in this moment.

But the payoff….rippling snowcapped peaks as far as the eye could see.

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A short lift ride down to toboggan rentals taught us humility. We spent far too much time walking down the seemingly vertical terrain while skiers passed overhead in chairlifts smiling down at our march of shame.

Trekked Up Local Mountains to Soak in Castle Ruins

Prior to visiting the much-ado-Neuschwanstein Castle, we hiked up to more modest abodes in Reutte. Four separate castle ruins dot the countryside and at the base, a wonderful interactive museum on life in medieval times.

We weighed ourselves down with suits of armor, followed the trail of merchants in the 13th century before hiking, sans the armor, up the path to the ruins of Ehrenberg and Schlosskopf castles. We were the only visitors which allowed us to stand amidst the rubble and shout “Who ruined my castle?!”

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Spent a Day with Mad King Ludwig in his Modest Home

What is a trip to Bavaria without a visit to Neuschwanstein? We joined throngs of tourists in a visit of Ludwig’s first home and father’s castle, Hohenschwangau, followed by a tour of the castle he built over 17 years but only lived in 145 days. Poor Ludwig. A bit eccentric, he was deemed unfit to rule and the next day found drowned in a lake, naked, with his psychologist. Today, he would be a celebrity.

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The castle is worth seeing….the paintings on the walls transport one to a decadent, indulgent time period. The tours go too quick…30 minutes is done in a flash. Best to reserve online in advance. Visit both castles, booking Hohenschwangau first to see hear about Ludwig’s influences as a child, then Neuschwanstein to see where his active imagination led him.

We also spent a week skiing in Zell am See, Austria. Alas, the lack of snow made it an underwhelming alps ski experience but the boys made the best of it…skiing every day until exhaustion. Julia and I skied a little and took in quirky alpine hikes.

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We left Reutte and Zell am See thirsty for what it would be like in summer…rolling green meadows set amidst steep, slate peaks under endless blue sky. I felt a little Julie Andrews coming on…so we headed to Salzburg.

Tres Generaciones

I’m pleased to introduce my father, Papa Bruce, who is our guest blogger this week.  His writing is accompanied with pictures taken by my stepmother and the kids’ mémère, Maggie:

The first half of my life I lived in the Bay Area where a winter vacation meant a ski week at Tahoe. Now, as a Cape Codder, a winter vacation means Florida or the Caribbean. I’m pushing 70, writing from un estancia en Uruguay, mi primo winter vacation: Go big or go home.

La Casa de Los Limoneros, Colonia del Sacramento

La Casa de Los Limoneros, Colonia del Sacramento

Maggie & I are creatures of habit, a summer week in  Vermont, weekends in Maine and frequent trips to the Northwest for my work and visits with three of our four “kids” and all four grandchildren. Joining Rachel, Kyle and the kids for two weeks of their round the world odyssey has pulled us wonderfully out of our comfort zone.

We’ve sandwiched this remote, idyllic estancia–a birders paradise–between apartment stays in the slowly gentrifying Palermo neighborhood of Buenos Aires, a metro area of over thirteen million.

The massive city, a combination of southern Europe and southern Latin America, is a frenetic yet relaxed conglomeration of graffiti-tagged neighborhoods. Cabbies set speed records and are routinely passed by wrong lane mopeds and small motorcycles: Previously I only witnessed this while watching Bourne Identity on my 47″ Sony.

Food tour with Jorge, Palermo Viejo scenes, the photo tog at work in Cementerio de la Recoleta

Food tour with Jorge Jordana, Palermo Viejo scenes, the photo tog at work in Cementerio de la Recoleta

Sean and Julia, twelve in five days, both drink it in and look forward to the familiarity of home. All six of us are iPad connected, Sean’s apparently growing out of his left hand.

Times change: Embarrassing to admit but my previous passport had a picture of three–me, six year old Aaron and four year old Rach, off to Greece for seven weeks to visit Fulbright friends. We were disconnected from family, friends and home the entire time. Could I do that again?

The Embrace of Argentina

Leaving cold Germany for warm Buenos Aires was bittersweet. It meant the last leg of our eight month rtw trip.

The kids happily left the winter coats that no longer reached their wrists in the airport…Julia’s discretely hanging from the hook in a restroom stall and Sean’s wrapped in a blanket and shoved under his seat on the plane. Their dollar-store winter boots sat abandoned in the Munich hotel room we departed from that morning.

And with good reason. Buenos Aires, in the height of its summer, was a sauna.

After a 14-hour flight, we made our way to a lovely Palermo loft apartment that we would be sharing with my father and wicked (ly loved) stepmother who were joining us for two weeks in the Paris of South America.

South America seemed an appropriate place to spend our final three months…it blended the grit, vibrancy and laissez faire attitude of SE Asia with the customs, architecture and conveniences of Europe. Of course, it was a unique experience unto its own but it carried a balance of where we’d been. And we liked that.

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In each new local there’s an arrival dance we do to ensure comfort…how will we brew coffee? Where is the nearest grocery? What is soy milk called in Spanish? What is the tipping policy? Exchange rate? Laundromat? On a vacation, one generally researches prior to stepping off the plane. But on an rtw, the longer we travel, the more relaxed our attitude is to figure out the details upon landing.

I had once been fluent in Spanish, having lived a year of my youth in Mexico, and hoped it would quickly resurface from my subconscious and make the dance less clumsy.

Our favorite images of Buenos Aires thus far:

  • Sean and Julia, too giddy to sleep, at the impending arrival of their grandparents.
  • Our first ride on a Buenos Aires bus…the retro style made me feel like I had finally made it to Cuba.
  • The funky street art of San Telmo and the pulsing creative energy it inspires.

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  • Witnessing the evidence of the 30,000+ young desaparecidos — a reminder of what happens when power = control at any cost.

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  • Our wonderful tour with Jonathan Evans of Local Tours…standing in the Plaza de Mayo where mothers and grandmothers march weekly in white handkerchiefs in remembrance and protest of the lost children and grandchildren.
  • My first taste of a parrilla and empanada in the streets of Buenos Aires.

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  • Our multi-generational bike ride through the ecologia reserve, an enormous expanse of biodiversity set along the might-as-well-be-an-ocean Rio Plata.
  • The daily discoveries of hidden delights in the form of cafes and small retail shops of unique wares down quaint cobblestone alleyways in Palermo Viejo.
  • Our first sips of maté as a family as we passed the single cup of tea around.

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And the promise of sun, good food and laughter with family for many days to come.

Pub Crawl through Bamberg

Bamberg, spared from war, is a gorgeous medieval town in the heart of Franconia. Franconia, a region in northern Bavaria, has close to 300 tiny breweries, and we believe Bamberg must have more, per capita, than any other city in Germany.

Of the nine breweries within town, Kyle partook in five.

Now to properly set the scene, you must understand that Kyle loves beer. I mean really loves beer. And he’s spoiled in Seattle with so many craft beers accessible in local bottle shops. Beer abroad tends to be a bit more one note, i.e. lacking diversity.

In our journeys, he’d experienced the likes of Sapporo, Asahi, Angkor Beer, BeerLao, ChangBeer…all the Budweisers of their respective countries. He stumbled across a few limited craft beers in Japan but nothing monumental. Germany, too, has a limited range of styles, so Bamberg pushed the envelope just a little.

Craft Beer Discoveries in Japan & a BeerLao Afternoon

Craft Beer Discoveries in Japan & a BeerLao Afternoon

He came home from his afternoon brewery tour with those serendipitous stories of local interactions that seem to occur more when the sun goes down and the alcohol intake goes up.

At Mahr’s Bräu, he met a bachelor party, celebrating their friend’s impending nuptials. The groom’s role was to sell shots of schnapps at each celebratory stop and Kyle purchased a few to help out…although he decidedly does not feel about schnapps the way he feels about beer.

The famous Schlenkerla, known for its smoked beer, was packed and Kyle grabbed his beer at the window, stood outside and watched the street life go by…families stood near, kids playing while the parents drank and socialized.

A Few of the Brewery Stops

A Few of the Brewery Stops

At the Fassla brewery, Kyle was invited into a circle of middle aged family men on their annual trip from Würzburg to Bamberg breweries. On their way to catch the train home, they stopped into Fassla for one more drink and chatted Kyle up. Upon learning of our rtw trip, they asked why and when Kyle answered “for my wife,” they all cheered and toasted. Upon leaving they affixed on Kyle a button signifying Franconia, which he came home wearing proudly.

New Friends

New Friends

His favorite beer? The Bochbier at Klosterbraü…a dark holiday brew with a malty toasty flavor. He found the famous Rauchbier (smoked beer) a bit too much although I had a few sips and thought it akin to drinking a beer while eating a bite of smoked salmon at the same time.

The Bamberg tourist information office (TI) offers a brewery map and tour, replete with a cute backpack and beer mug. Kyle bypassed this however it looked like a nice service. The TI also provides an audio walking tour about the history and architecture of the town, which we did do and I highly recommend.

In addition to the breweries full of happy, riotous Germans, here is what we also loved about Bamberg.

Medieval Town Untouched by War

Medieval Town Untouched by War

Buildings of Beauty & Quirk

Buildings of Beauty & Quirk

Devoteness on Every Corner

Devoteness on Every Corner

Meat Meals of Immense Sizes in Cozy Corners

Meat Meals of Immense Sizes in Cozy Corners

Happy birthday, Kyle!  Prost!

RTW Vanity

Almost five months in seems like an ideal time for a frivolous topic…vanity. If you’ve been following our blog & thought I was a down to earth gal unconcerned with appearance, I will now disappoint you.

How does one keep beautified from the road? Not very well. Here’s the straight truth for my gal friends who appreciate a little maintenance.

Rockin' Bugs Away Gear in Tokyo

Rockin’ Bugs Away Gear in Tokyo

Hair

My much beloved flat iron sits back at home. Less than a quarter of the places we stay have a blow dryer. My stylist back home, who kept my locks blonde, does not do rtw housecalls.  In going brunette again, I was confronted with an army of gray hairs. Safe to say, a good hair day is a rare sight.

In Lao, I desperately needed a cut.  There was a rumor in Luang Prabang that all hairdressers cut with razors — that only one stylist has an actual pair of scissors & that’s the one the falangs go to. I had also heard that the stylist was a “lady boy.” I spent my appointment trying to ascern whether my hair dresser was really a man or a woman but more importantly learned that one inch doesn’t translate and I became the owner of a very short & very uneven Prince Valiant bob. Alas, hair grows.

Lao barber shop

Lao barber shop

Massage

Those who travel to SE Asia insist that you must get regular massages. They are ridiculously cheap…$7 or so for an hour!

In Luang Prabang, I asked my Aussie neighbor where to go.   This is almost verbatim what she said, “I go right around the corner. There are three blind men. It’s only $6 & its very basic but they’re quite good. There’s a simple mattress you lie on…I think its actually their bed…& they just go at it.” Now, this is a well put together professional young woman so I knew I wasn’t getting the full picture. But I thought to myself “Can I lie naked on a blind man’s bed?” Decidedly no.

Red Cross massage room...a very good cause

Red Cross massage room…a very good cause

When I did finally get a massage, I learned that one doesn’t strip down as we are accustomed to in the U.S.  Instead one wears somewhat loose pajamas.  And after investigation, the blind masseurs turned out to be a very reputable Red Cross organization.

Footwear

Tevas — did I mention how much I hate my tevas? You can be svelt & tall with long flowing locks & an adorable outdoor outfit from Lulumon but you put on those tevas…and you’re just another granola hippie. Now I can say this because I grew up surrounded by granola hippies…my parents were granola hippies…I KNOW the look & I don’t want to replicate it so why on earth did I buy Tevas?? Yech. Hate them. First thing in the trash when this trip ends. DYING for my FitFlops. Yeah, say what you want, it’s the truth.

Tevas...hate. Keens...love.

Tevas…hate. Keens…love.

Face

I’m a corporate girl. I have a corporate face. MAC helps me put it together each morning. I hadn’t planned on bringing make up on this trip. In the end I did bring down a pared down bag. What’s been interesting along the way is when I’ve felt the need to put it on. At home, it was EVERY day. On the road, I admit I’ve been influenced by where we’ve been. Cambodia? Nope, not a lick. Tokyo? Every day!

It’s been a great lesson for me how, even at 44 years old, I let myself be influenced. Being in a modern city like Tokyo or Munich, where the women around me have coiffured hair, make up & beautiful clothes…I can feel inadequate. The only thing I can do some days — short of a shopping spree, which is NOT what this trip is about — is put on a little blush & mascara & pretend my tevas are stilettos.

Bad hair? Check. No make-up? Check. More relaxed & happy than ever? Check!

Bad hair? Check. No make-up? Check. More relaxed & happy than ever? Check!

Clothes

Oh lord. There is NO variation in my wardrobe. I have to say, I do love my Ex-Officio Bugs Away pants. Good thing, I wear them almost EVERY day.

Smart wool socks. They are the bomb. Nuff said.

Shirts. I alternate two t-shirts from Everlane — they are identical v-neck shirts but one is black & one is navy. They were produced in the US, inexpensive & I love them.  They are not quick drying but I can put on a necklace & sort of fool myself that I’m dressed up.

A cooling towel as a fashion accessory.

A cooling towel as a fashion accessory.

Weight

In the U.S., we are snackers. Oh, it’s between meals? I must eat a snack to tide me over. In Japan & SE Asia, this was decidedly not the case & between the lack of snacking, amount of walking & small meal sizes, I lost weight. Sweet!

Of course, within two weeks of our landing in Germany, this was reversed. I HAVE NEVER SEEN SUCH BIG PORTION SIZES IN MY LIFE.  And yes, thank you, I’m aware I don’t have to eat it just because it’s in front of me.

Light snack in Germany

Light snack in Germany

Exercise

Kyle and I do a 7-minute work out app on the ipad daily. Is it effective? Uh, it’s a 7-minute work out.

So there you go…vanity on the road. It still exists & surges in cosmopolitan cities but there’s little recourse whether in a small Lao village or in downtown Buenos Aires, I can only rock my Ex-Officios…and I’m ok with that.

How much do I really need?

How much do I really need?

Munich’s Hidden History

Our first week in Munich, we walked happily over cobblestone streets, by impressive neoclassic buildings, through those small winding corridors that make you feel that you’re in 18th century Europe. We knew there was history around us but we didn’t know the details.

In every country we’ve visited, there are brutal war stories and stories of national regret. Of course, its well known that Germany is no different.

We spent a day with Taff Simon of Dark History Tours to learn more about Munich and its role in the building of the Third Reich. Imagine our shock when Taff took us a block from our apartment, looked up at a nondescript building and said, “Hitler lived here for nine years in his 30s.”

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It was a tired recipe that led to Hitler’s rise..a poor economy, a government in disarray, an inspiring orator, a scapegoat…and a resulting horror.

If we could see the ghosts of the Third Reich men, they would have been all around us. The Apple Store? Once the meeting room for the German Workers Party where Hitler started sharing his views. The beautiful new town hall? Its square hosted one hate filled speech after another. The beloved Hofbrauhaus where we cozied up to locals and tourists and shared a weissbier? A rallying point for the nazis. In fact, on close inspection, swaztikas can be seen on the ceiling, modified in an attempt to disguise what once was. The ghosts were everywhere.

Then and Now

Then and Now

We spent New Years Day at Dachau, the first nazi concentration camp. Formed in 1933 to house opponents of the nazi party, it became a forced labor camp for political dissidents and citizens persecuted due to their race, ethnicity, religion or sexual preference. The museum is blunt in its retelling, with a graphic film and pictures. Audio of first hand accounts from survivors and witnesses reinforce the absolute horror of what went on here. Approximately 200,000 people were housed at Dachau with a quarter dying here and others being shipped via train to that house of horrors, Auschwitz.

Dauchau Concentration Camp

Dauchau Concentration Camp

Back in Munich, a plaza called Odeonsplatz holds the memory of a 1923 coup attempt by Hitler and the location of subsequent military gatherings once Hitler became the country’s chancellor. Munich citizens were expected to perform the infamous nazi salute when passing by the marker of those who died in the coup. A quiet side street named Viscardigasse bisects the walkway to Odeonsplatz and Münchners showed their silent resistance by detouring down this side street to avoid the salute. Today the street is marked with a path of white cobblestones to honor their bravery.

A Street of Silent Protest

A Street of Silent Protest

My grandfather, Eugene Smith, was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Screaming Eagles and fought against the nazis in the Battle of the Bulge at Bastogne.

He spent nine months in an English hospital recovering from shrapnel wounds (he was one of the lucky ones…over 80,000 Americans died fighting at Bastogne). Eugene earned a Purple Heart, returned to the U.S. and met and married my grandmother, Barbara. He never talked about the war.

Eugene Smith, aka "grandpa"

Eugene Smith, aka “grandpa”

And there’s a sense of this in Munich too…a desire to leave it behind.  Memorials to the victims are hard to find and those that do exist appear to be under debate (an unlit everlasting flame?). How do you acknowledge the ghosts without placing plaques with his name all over the city?

Germany is not alone in its history…brutal human conflict exists today.  What is the best way to remember the horror of which humans are capable but that we just as strongly have the ability to walk a different path or…bravely hurl ourselves out of a plane into enemy territory in the name of humanity?

Methodical & Manic Munich

Munchner are a well ordered people. They stand in the cold, awaiting a traffic light, when no car is in sight. Similar to Japan, bicycles lean against buildings, unlocked…awaiting their rightful owners. There appears to be a proper approach to most social situations and you may be chided if you don’t comply. Julia was scolded — we’re talking a finger waving scolding — for petting a dog without asking first.

But I realize now that they can keep this calm, obedient air all year because they become manic on New Years Eve.

We had read to watch the fireworks from Marienplatz or from the bridges of the parliament building. What I didn’t realize is that there is no official show in this part of town. Instead, hundreds of individuals put on their own show from a large stockpile of TNT hazards.

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Kyle and I ventured to the bridge in front of the Parliament building. We were surrounded by people carrying two primary party supplies: 1) bottles of champagne and 2) fireworks. Dangerous combination.

German Grandpa, who earlier in the day waited patiently at the light while scowling at you for speaking too loudly, was now taking a swig of champagne before launching a rocket dangerously close to your face. Prost!

At one point, a thick fog overtook the street…oh wait, that was smoke. A couple of ambulances and police cars crawled across the bridge from time to time, darting firework volleys.

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I’d heard that Munich streets glitter on New Years Day with the broken glass from smashed champagne bottles. I’m happy to report that this wasn’t my experience…in fact, I saw a few independent gentlemen making the rounds, picking up solid glass bottles, presumably to make a tidy sum from deposits. Ahh, the methodical Munchner is back, and the manic Munchner secreted away for another 364 days.

We loved the people of Munich and feel grateful to have welcomed in the new year with them. There is just so much to appreciate about this city.

The Architecture!

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The Art!

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A River Runs Through It!

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After an exuberant evening, we spent our New Years Day with a sobering visit to the Dachau concentration camp. More on that and the dark history of Munich in the next post.

A Very Munich Christmas

We flew from Bangkok to Munich just in time to stroll through Christmas markets, drink mulled wine, savor brats and marvel at the lights. A box of winter clothes, packed back in August, awaited our arrival and we were gleeful at the sight of old jeans and our woolie hats.

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After months of the sultry heat, vibrant color and the chaos of SE Asia, the calm order of Munich with its soft blue sky and rows of decorative pastel buildings felt meditative. The Christmas markets were just beautiful…gingerbread, ornaments, orange-cinnamon potpourri, mulled wine, spiced nuts…it was a delicious meander. The gothic “new” Town Hall stands proud above the Marienplatz awakening the historian in me.

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Imagine the surprise our first day when we stumbled upon Bavarians in wetsuits surfing the Isar River, steps from our apartment. Or the modern-museum-quality street art. Or the angels looking over me from tall buildings everywhere we went.

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Christmas was low key perfection. We found a tree slightly larger than Charlie Brown’s. Decorated it with ornaments found at the Christmas markets and strings of popcorn and hard sought cranberries. Kyle made the traditional German Christmas Eve dinner of sausages and potatoes. We were joined by a sweet rtw family from Florida who rounded out our meal with a beautiful Christmas salad, and we swapped stories about our adventures.  Of course, we had a German stollen for dessert…which looked dangerously close to a fruitcake but was actually quite delicious.

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Church bells rang throughout the day, reminding us that we hadn’t just downsized to a NYC apartment but were actually in Europe.

It took quite an effort to make our standard Christmas cookies…we painstakingly but eventually found most of our ingredients, not all. A mid-aisle discussion with locals led us to believe that Germans don’t use baking soda.  When getting ready to roll the cookie dough, I realized there was no rolling pin in our apartment. At long last, years of reality TV paid off…I used a cold bottle of white wine instead…thank you, Top Chef!

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On Christmas Day, we quickly worked through the meager presents and moved onto a breakfast of French toast and Starbucks Christmas Blend. We stumbled onto the streets of Munich for a Christmas walk in sunny blue sky weather with many other Munchner.  A walk through the English Gardens brought us to an open Christmas market and we drank mulled wine and munched on spiced nuts.

Julia turned and asked me “Why don’t we live here?”

It’s funny how some of our destinations have required a month of hard effort to enjoy while others slip on like a comfortable skin.

Happy New Year, everyone!  Thank you for following along with us in our adventure!  Wishing you adventure and serendipity in 2014.

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The Beach Crawl

We had one goal in mind. To see Catching Fire in English. Our options were to head from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok or Hua Hin. With a political coup brewing in the former, we chose the latter and went by minibus. A moment of politeness on our part resulted in seats at the back of the bus with Kyle sharing 1/2 of a seat with a pink suitcase. Fun.

We picked a seriously cheap hotel right next to the movie theater. Clearly we were on a mission. And it was perfection. I don’t think I’ve ever been so giddy about seeing a movie but a dose of Hollywood blockbuster is just what we needed.

Hua Hin, however, was not for us (well, Sean feels differently…see his post) – a dusty strip of chaos: knick knack shops, construction and tourists abound. We packed the next day and moved onto Prechuap Khiri Khan, 1-1/2 hours south.

In Love with Karsts

In Love with the Karsts of Prechuap

Prechuap Khiri Khan

Here we hit gold. The quintessential mellow seaside town, replete with seafood, smiles and sun. Thanks to a prior rtw traveling family, we knew to look up O Design Bay Hotel, an inexpensive oasis in the middle of town…spacious, modern co joining rooms with desks for homeschooling and good coffee to boot. Prechuap has a long, clean promenade perfect for a morning run along the shore….you learn to appreciate a good sidewalk in SE Asia!

National Park Hike, Teak Temple & the Lovely Promenade

National Park Hike, Teak Temple & the Lovely Promenade

Plenty of mellow activities for families in Prechuap. Amy of the Worldschool Adventures blog captures them well here: http://worldschooladventures.com/2013/02/09/things-to-do-in-prachuap-khiri-khan/

Ao Manao Beach in Prechuap

Ao Manao Beach in Prechuap

Our last day in Prechuap was the King’s birthday, who is quite revered in Thailand. We watched the parade in his honor and then took our celebration to the beach with inner tubes, endless waves, seafood fried rice and Chang beer.

Long Live the King!

Long Live the King!

Ban Krut

An hour south of Prechuap, we landed on the near deserted gulf beaches of Ban Krut. Most tourists go to the Andaman coast in winter and leave the gulf until summer. Wind, waves and solitude.

The first plunge brought jellyfish stings and thereafter we enjoyed the view from the hammock but not the sea itself.

Ban Krut Beach, Jellyfish Sting Herbal Remedy, Bachavara Bungalow

Ban Krut Beach, Jellyfish Sting Herbal Remedy, Rachavadee Bungalow

The town was quiet…relaxation is the only item on the menu in the low season. We stayed at Rachavadee Beach Resort, simple beach bungalows with outdoor stone and rock bathrooms. A couple of the bungalows have a loft for kids (steep ladder…not safe for small kids). The property itself is beautiful, albeit overpriced, with a gorgeous slice of beach. Kyle said it was the first place in Thailand we’d been to that he’d return. Got to get that man a hammock when we return home.

Kyle's Perch, Ban Krut

Kyle’s Perch, Ban Krut

Ko Lanta

Heading southwest, we made our way to the island of Ko Lanta. When deciding which Thailand beach to visit from afar, the choices seem endless. We picked Ko Lanta because it was described as laid back, party free, family friendly. In reality, its one of the many spots in Thailand that is no longer as precious as it once was…tourist development abound, dead coral washing up on the shore (due to climate change). Had we come straight from a Seattle winter, I’m sure we would have found it paradise. But we were just plain tired…it was the end of our SE Asia leg and we were ready to move on.

Not to say we didn’t have fun! Staying at Castaway on South Long Beach, we explored every nook and cranny of the beach…even stumbling upon the nude beach at the north end (Kyle & I stayed nonchalant thinking the kids hadn’t even noticed and as we walked away, Sean asked “Why were those people naked?”). We swam, snorkeled, read, napped and started again.

Long Beach, Ko Lanta

Long Beach, Ko Lanta

Our best day was our last day in Ko Lanta…we took a long tail boat to Ko Rok and snorkeled in the most gorgeous emerald green sea followed by dips in the clearest Tiffany blue water. We saw live coral and the bright, beautiful fishes that come with it. It was a perfect way to end our time in Thailand.

Ko Rok

Ko Rok

I’m still processing Thailand. Perhaps its because the paths there are so well trodden by tourists…or that the sex industry is so openly on display…or that we personally failed at making local connections. But we didn’t love it in the way I anticipated and I’m still working through why.

I find a look in the rear view mirror helps.  So as we soak in our next destination, I’ll be pondering Thailand.  Munich, here we come!

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