Two small-town kids out to see the world, one stop at a time.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Our Oregon Trail

So this is it….the last blog post for a very, very long time…maybe ever.  We will make attempt to make this short and sweet and fill you in on how we have spent the last month making our way to Oregon: 

  • flew into Portland, via Seoul, Korea
  • spent a few days crashing with Gayle and Bryan and catching up
  • eating our first American meal at FIVE GUYS BURGERS, followed by pizza the next day and fried chicken the day after
  • found a place to live in Corvallis, Oregon
  • took a 3-day Greyhound bus ride from Portland, OR to Knoxville, TN
  • spent time in TN visiting Bridget’s family and friends
  • drove Solara to Nebraska                                                
  • had to make pit stop in Council Bluffs, Iowa to get new compressor for Solara
  • spent time in Nebraska visiting Craig’s family and friends
  • packed up Uhaul trailer and began our “Oregon Trail” with Craig’s parents, Dave and Sue
  • passed the Continental Divide in a snow storm
  • slid into other lane and off icy road shortly after crossing the Divide
  • had to make pit stop in Wyoming to replace flat tire
  • arrived in Corvallis….spent next couple days unpacking and making trips to IKEA, Target, etc.
  • rearranged kitchen at least three times
  • scoured Craiglist and thrift stores for deals on furniture and home décor
  • counted our blessings

We want to take a minute to thank all our family and friends who have stored our stuff, sent care packages, loaned us their car, given us a place to crash, played tour guide, followed the blog, and throughout everything, provided unconditional love and support.   There is no way we could have taken this rare opportunity to experience the world without this kind of support system. 

In retrospect, we have seen beautiful landscapes, met interesting people from all over the world, made lasting friendships, experienced different points of view, tasted foods we can’t even pronounce, encountered unique wildlife, had lots of ups, and had lots of downs. We have learned so much about the various ways of the world, but even more so, we have learned so much about ourselves…what we can handle, what we can do without, and what things are truly important to us, most of these being relationships.   All in all, it was good to come home, even though there wasn’t a physical location to call home yet. 

Since moving to Oregon, we have found jobs, started a mini-garden on our balcony, sampled the local cuisine, visited the coast, and attempted to learn the city roads of Corvallis.  Last weekend we traveled to Key West, Florida, for a dear friend’s wedding.  It was so good to see all my girlfriends from college and Fort Lauderdale, and we had a blast together.  The weather was beautiful, and the ceremony couldn’t have been more perfect.   When we arrived back in Oregon, however, Craig and I had a strange new feeling we agreed we hadn’t felt in a very long time.   We were finally…..home!

Koh Tao


That next morning we boarded the ferry to head north to Koh Tao.  Here is a bit of scenery around the ferry pier:

That afternoon we docked in Koh Tao and headed to our resort.   The price of staying in this beautiful, beachside resort in Thailand was about the same you would pay at a 3-star hotel in States.  We spent the afternoon lounging by the gorgeous pool and then walking down the beach to grab some Thai food: 

The next morning we spent taking in the scenery around the much-more-low-key beach and hanging out in the water:

Despite the heat, that afternoon we decided to take a self-guided kayak tour around the coast.  Not too far from the hotel was a great little bay with excellent snorkeling.  We saw brightly colored fish, coral, sea cucumbers, and even an octopus (unfortunately not captured on camera). 

Since the resort was located on the south side of the island, we knew there had to be even more amazing views of the sunset on the west side, so we headed to the pier where we arrived the previous day.  Sure enough, we were in for a treat:

 Now I have seen some amazing sunrises and sunsets, but this one beat them all by far.  The shades of pink, purple, orange, and yellow were unbelievably breathtaking.  After eating some ridiculously spicy Thai food (note:  don’t ever order something off a menu the Thais label “spicy”), we walked the streets and finally found a place for me to get my Dr. Fish pedicure I had been so curious about.  For those unfamiliar with this phenomenon, it is basically a fish tank in which you submerge your feet and let the little fishies go to work, eating away the dead skin on your feet.  This is particularly interesting if you have extremely ticklish feet, like me.  I’ll be honest…it was pretty dang ticklish, but if you can make it past the first few minutes, then it becomes quite therapeutic, like little jolts of electricity shooting through your feet.  I lasted for about 30 minutes, and my feet were noticeably soft afterwards, but I think those little suckers would have to go at it for about an hour or more to take care of my pedicure-deprived feet.

For our final, full day in Koh Tao, we were feeling adventurous and booked a full-day ocean fishing trip through the resort.  Usually this sort of excursion would cost upwards of $600 for a few people, but once again the currency exchange rate played in our favor, costing us only $40 a person.  The best part was that it was only the three of us along with our guide, the boat captain, and a “first mate,” if you will.  Here is the day in pictures:

All in all, we caught grouper, snapper, and even a couple small king mackerel.  Upon returning to the resort, we were greeted with fresh coconut water:

The best part of the deal was that we were able to keep the fish we caught and took them to the resort kitchen, where they prepared the fish and had it ready in just a couple hours.  So, it went from this:

To this:


In one word:  DELICIOUS.   The snapper was marinated and steamed, some of the grouper was fried whole, and the rest was used in the TomYum soup.  To top it all off, this was the view from our table:

It’s amazing how far your money goes in some countries, such as Thailand.  I’m not sure if we got the royal treatment because of the money we spent or if that’s just how they treat their guests.  In any case, we had a great day, a fabulous meal, and an overall unforgettable experience.  Thank you, Koh Tao!

The next day we were forced to come back down to reality and make the long journey back to Bangkok and then eventually home. We exchanged goodbyes with Bryan at the Samui airport, then spent the next couple days making our way back to the Western hemisphere.

Next Stop: United States of America

Chaweng Beach: Koh Samui, Thailand


The first couple days we spent on the island of Koh Samui, which is located in the Gulf of Thailand. After spending the first night catching up with Bryan, we decided to get up early the next morning and go elephant trekking in the jungle.  Finding an excursion like this was easy; we sat down on the beach and talked to a lady who kindly took our money and said to give the handwritten receipt to the driver who would pick us up at our hotel in the morning.  The booking part went quite smoothly, except for the pesky little Thai girl hanging around who kept insisting we buy her flower necklaces for 20 baht each.  Despite our polite and steady “no thank-yous,” she persevered and resorted to just repeating, “Gimmie 20 baht! Gimmie 20 baht!”    Little did we know this would be the first of many encounters like this.

The next morning we headed out to the jungle in the back of a truck bed that passed for a taxi cab and met our elephant and guide/photographer/elephant tamer:

Not only did he let us take turns riding the elephant’s bare neck (Swiss Family Robinson, anyone?), but he also took about 200 photographs of the experience.  Here are a couple of the better ones:

After returning our camera and insisting we look at the pictures right away, he managed to say in broken English, “Ah…you give me good tip, yes?”   While waiting for the taxi to take us back, we moseyed over to do a little waterfall sightseeing and trinket shopping:

That afternoon was spent getting $10 Thai massages on the beach, throwing around the Frisbee in warm waters, eating grilled corn (below), and warding off the hoards of souvenir peddlers pacing the length of the longest beach on the island, Chaweng.

Chaweng Beach is world famous for its nightlife, so we ventured out that night to see what all the fuss was about.  All the beachside bars and restaurants expand their seating areas well into the sand, and they string up enough lights to light up a small village during Christmas season:

Some of the highlights of the evening were trying hookah for the first time (don’t get the wrong idea, folks…this is flavored tobacco heavily filtered through water):

getting conned into taking pictures with monkeys (we later found out that these animals are most likely stolen from the wild and drugged by their masters):

and having a half hour conversation with a suit maker about the deal of a lifetime (especially for tall folk like Craig and Bryan).  

As much fun as it was, Craig and I had quite a bit of culture shock after spending a week immersed in the much more passive and self-respecting Japanese.   We were exhausted!  We decided to call it quits for the night and rest up for the next day when we would catch a ferry to Koh Tao, a smaller island about 3-4 hours away by boat. 

Next Stop:  Koh Tao 

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Road to Thailand


Getting to Thailand and then down to the gulf islands of Koh Samui and Koh Tao was an adventure in itself.  After being delayed over three hours in Tokyo’s Narita Airport, we flew to Beijing only to be harassed by the very skeptical Chinese Immigration Officer (sorry China, we’ve changed a bit since getting our passports almost 10 years ago).  We finally arrived in Bangkok, Thailand, at 3:00 a.m.  Even though we had booked a place to stay that night, by the time we made it through immigration and customs (okay, customs was a bit of a joke), we grabbed a cab and arrived at our hotel near the airport at 3:45 a.m.  That meant after checking in we had about 30 minutes to shower and get ready to leave again to head downtown to catch our bus.  The cab driver didn’t speak a lick of English, so we resorted to showing him a sub-par map of the location we hoped was where we needed to go (the bus/ferry company’s website never actually said where to meet). 

Because of the red-shirt protestors, cab drivers had to stick to alternate routes and carefully avoid any chance of running into a riot.  Luckily for us, it was only 5:00 a.m. and a bit too early for the protestors.   After finding the bus departure point, we exhaled a huge sigh of relief and waited for the 6:00 a.m. departure.  The bus ride was an 8 hr. ride on a double-decker chartered bus, stopping only once to let some girls on board who passed out water and suspicious-looking snacks procured from the local 7-11.  A few more hours and two really bad movies later, we arrived at the ferry port.  We knew going to Thailand in April would be hot, but I don’t think anyone can truly be prepared for temps over 100F with humidity levels to match.  Just carrying our bags down the long pier to the boat forced our sweat glands to revolt in protest.  The AC inside the bus was much welcomed.  By this time we were pretty tired.  We still had a few hours to go until arriving at Koh Samui.

All the uncertainty and sleep deprivation was worth the sight we saw upon arriving at our beachside hotel’s courtyard:  my brother Bryan sitting on the porch and sipping a Thai beer.  Oh yes, I failed to mentioned that my “little” brother Bryan just went on terminal leave with the Navy and at the last minute hopped a flight out to Thailand to hang out with Craig and me.  None of us had cell phones or even a constant Internet connection to keep tabs on each other.  The last I heard from my brother via Gmail chat, he was boarding a flight in Jacksonville, Florida.  Next time I saw or heard from him was on that porch in Koh Samui, giving him a big hug and reveling in the absurdity of the moment. 

Let the games begin!

A Quick "Arigatu"

All in all, we had one of the most productive visits of our entire traveling period in Japan. If it weren't for my Dad, Gary, there is no way we would have been able to see as much as we did or get around quite so easily.  Pops, we wanted to give you and Sanae a shout-out on this blog to say thanks and let you know how much we appreciate your hospitality.  We hope to see you again soon!


Bridget & Craig
Tip:  Always be sure your tour guides are fed and happy :)

Next Stop:  Thailand

Tokyo: Sights and Shopping


There are a few more experiences worth mentioning that don't quite fall into an obvious category, so the next few pictures are a hodge-podge of some of the best or most unusual sights we saw while in Tokyo.  Some were places we visited with a sightseeing purpose, others we just inadvertently stumbled upon while shopping.  Enjoy!

Seiko Musical Clock in Ginza.

These Maneki Nekos mean "Welcome! Come in to my store!" and supposedly bring good fortune to the store owner.

Walking under the giant lantern, or "chōchin" in Asakusa.

Prayers are written on wooden plates and hung up for all to see at the Meiji-Jingu Shinto Shrine.

The masses of people at the market in Asakusa.

Shinjuku at night...much like our Times Square in NYC.

Bottles of sake for tasting at a Japanese "flea market" of sorts.

Meiji-Jingu Shine

Tokyo International Forum Building (kind of like a convention center).

Rows and rows of Japanese fabric at Venus Fort Shopping Mall.

Central Italian-style fountain at Venus Fort Shopping Center