A Travellerspoint blog

August 2012

Khao Lak, Thailand - Part 1

Beach Life and Asian Elephants

Japan - eh!

If you've been reading this blog, for the last three years, you'll have seen quite a lot of Japan on these pages. So let's take a break, and have a look at something else today! It's time we had a nice holiday.

Yes, to escape the lingering post-winter cold, we decided to jump on a plane and head off somewhere warmer for a week. So we're going to Thailand - yay. Khoa Lak to be specific; which is actually one of the places that was really devastated by the tsunami here in 2004, not that you'd know that to look at it now.

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We arrive, at roughly mid-day, and set out to explore around our hotel almost straight away. The stretch of beach behind the hotel is really nice, sandy and not at all crowded. A few resort hotels share this beach, however it isn't private and it's good to see some locals with their kids playing here as well, also there's what looks like a really nice beach cafe right on the sand as well. The water temperature is great for swimming, and there are rock pools teeming with bright green crabs.

Now, I don't have much experience with Asian holiday resorts, but my first impressions here were far better than those in Bali (and I'd say that impression held for the duration as well).

After a quick nap back at the hotel, we decided to explore in the other direction away from the beach. As it turned out it was market day and we spent a good part of the evening looking around market stalls. Haru tried some Thai style fried shrimp and I had a really nice banana pancake. One thing that made it really nice was that the locals were all polite and freindly, but not pushy or aggressive in trying to sell as often happens in tourist areas. They really let us just look and buy or move on as we wanted, which I really appreciated.

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By the time we got back to the hotel, we were already very pleased with our choice of holiday, and really excited about the rest of our stay. We had three big plans for this holiday, and tomorrow we were kicking things off with some elephant trekking.

Again this was something we tried in Bali, but that was at a big, busy, elephant park whereas this was a smaller and much more personal. We were driven to our starting point were met our guide and elephant; we saw three of four elephants there, but I think that mostly they were owned by there handlers and 'commuted' to this camp for work.

Our route went up through a rubber plantation (a common feature in Thailand) and into the fringes of the jungle to a small waterfall. The rolling gait of the elephant is both relaxing and sickening in almost equal measure; which makes for an enjoyable, but slightly queasy experience. Although this route was in a working plantation we didn't really see anybody else, and the scenery was beautiful. We heard a few strange animals cries coming from the jungle, but the only thing was saw was a huge monitor lizard that slipped off into the trees as we got approached.

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The elephant looked content and well cared for, the handler was always gentle and the elephant got a nice break to wander and graze when we reached the waterfall. Back at the camp another elephant was being fed its favourite treat; some kind of large nut (maybe an unripe coconut) with a thick green husk, which it'd cradle in it's trunk before laying down and crushing underfoot to get at the flesh inside. Impressive and slightly scary (if you imagined it doing the same to your head).

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The highlight of the trip though had to be the chance we had to join our elephant for an afternoon bath. Done with our trek, it was time to ditch the passenger seat and have a nice cooling dip in a nearby pond. So we decided to jump in too, fear of potential parasites and leeches being overcome by the promise of what might be a once in a lifetime chance. Actually, despite being murky, the water felt great and I haven't suffered any ill effects since, and the chance to ride directly on the back of the elephant and to play with it in the water was amazing.

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By the time we got back to the hotel and showered we were getting very hungry, so we decided to check out the beach cafe we'd spotted earlier - good prices, good food and a great sea view; what more could you want? We ended up staying there until the setting sun painted the horizon red, and we went back again several times over the following week. In fact, we spent so much time there, that the pair of the birds, made from woods and coconut husks, that you can see (bottom left photo below) ended up being the memento that we bought for ourselves from this trip; they are now bobbing their heads in the breeze from my air conditioner, and enjoying their first Japanese summer.

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Well that's all for today, next time will be the rest of our trip to Thailand featuring vast mangroves swamps, a fantastic day trip to James Bond Island and scuba diving.

Posted by DKJM74 23:30 Comments (0)

Winter Is Coming!

(as the Starks say)

A bit of a scrapbook entry today covering December 2011 to early March 2012.

During the winter months I tend to stay home, hibernate and play games rather a lot, but we did make a few forays into the great outdoors.

Despite having lived here for three years now there are still a few local spots that I hadn't gotten around to seeing yet. So now that Haru (and her car) were living with me in Imazu we decided to check a couple of places off the list.

Both places I wanted to go were lakeside shrines. The first is right on the city limit of Takashima, and is notable for its red tora gate standing out in the lake that you can see as you drive past.

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The second was much further south along the lake and a little more hidden away. This one seemed worth hunting down as it seems to be a bit iconic for Shiga Ken as photos of it always turn up in guide books and tourist brochures. The main reason for this is that one of the shrine buildings was built on a platform raised over the lake and accessed via a short bridge - might not sound like much, but it is pretty.

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Shortly after that the snow fell and fell hard, the whole world was a white out and I had to wear goggles just to cycle to school (on roads that were just a thick layer of compressed snow).

Actually, despite how that sounds, I quite enjoyed it, and what I said about hibernating through the winter isn't as true as it used to be. I do actually have a winter sport now, as I've taken up snowboarding since I came to Japan. There are three reasonable snow parks in and around Takashima, and, as I bought my own gear this season, I was out on the slopes a lot more than previous years. Haru also convinced me that I was ready for a bigger challenge than Takashima could offer now, so late in the season we took an overnight trip to Gifu Ken to try out one of the bigger snow resorts there.

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As you can see from this map, some of the courses there were really long, it could take 20 minutes to get down one run as opposed to the 2 minutes it takes at Kutsuki snow park. My legs were really aching after a few runs, but the greater scope to run free, try out techniques and play around with what I'd learned so far was great.

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I think I really got a lot out of that trip and improved quite a bit, it's just a shame it was our last run of the season so I couldn't really build on that, still I'm already really excited about next season. The other big advantage was the scenery, the views from the top of the longest run were great - and of course, being Japan, I met a cos-play snowboarder too!

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The last of the snow began receeding not long after that trip though it remained stubbonly cold well into April.

With this in mind I'd arranged the next block trip for the Takashima ALTs somewhere indoors, namely the Lake Biwako Museum.

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As this is a pretty tough place to get to with your own car, so I called on the kind assistance of Andrew and Yoshii to help us get everybody there and Yasushi (who is actually the Head Curator of the museum) gave us a guided tour

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We had a pretty good turn out with about 10 Takashima ALTs coming out, including Miriam even getting rolled around in a wheelchair after breaking her ankle during the winter.

The museum is big and varied and I think everybody got something out of it (Geoff loved the elephant skeletons and Andrew had a close encounter with a Biwako Catfish), but the tour was a little long and attention spans did get strained.

My favorite area, without a doubt, is the aquariums below the main museum, which is why most my pictures are of fish.

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After the visit was over Andrew and myself joined Yoshii for a ride out into some of the local satoyama landscape. We walked for well over an hour through the wintery fields while Yoshii told us some interesting local facts and history. He also shared one of his hobbies with us.

Yoshii likes to make and play his own ocarinas. The ocarina he played was a ceramic one (that kind of looks like an aliens head). Although I have no musical talent I was really impressed with it just as an art object, and when I commented how nice it was he gave it to me as a gift - so now it's on display in my flat (Thank you).

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Despite the cold there was a feeling of potential in the air that day. The hills had thrown off their winter whites and soon enough the muddy browns of the fields would be putting out green shoots and the whole world would wake up again.

Posted by DKJM74 19:22 Comments (0)

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