|We headed back to Bangkok from Laos to regroup and get ready for the holiday season. We spent a few days in the city resting up after our bout with the stomach flu. We had reservations for the week of Christmas to be on an island called Koh Laanta but nothing planned for the week before.
There was a train heading towards Koh Laanta and we decided to hop on it to begin our journey down south. After a six-hour ride, that should have been four, we arrived in Hua Hin. This is the first established beach town south of Bangkok and happens to be where the King of Thailand comes to vacation. The place is clearly catering to families with children and a nice place to spend a few days. Jen and I started to get fidgety after two days and decided to make plans to take the next overnight train farther south. The conductor woke us up to clouds and rain the next morning. We had heard southern areas of the country had been having extreme flooding around Koh Samui where we were in November. After another hour or so the train conductor was walking through the cars telling all passengers that we needed to walk to the front of the train with our luggage. At the front of the train we had to wade through water to get to the road. The last few kilometers of tracks were flooded so the train could not make it to the Trang station. Thai railways arranged taxis to transport us the rest of the way to the station. It's an experience we won't forget anytime soon.
We anticipated hopping on a bus for a few hours to head to Koh Laanta, but ended up splitting hiring a car with two other people. The next few hours we drove through flooding that you only see on the news and hear stories about. Makes one understand and feel in a small way the devastation that happened in New Orleans a few months back and makes your heart go out to all of the victims. People were rowing boats to their houses to salvage personal goods. We came across families that had moved part of their homes onto the highway to avoid the rising waters. They were living on the road under plastic tarps with anything they could salvage from their homes. They showed no signs of leaving anytime soon if they had the choice. This was a real "eye opener".
We finally arrived on Koh Laanta later that day and where met by a person from the hotel for the final leg of our journey. The island is fifty or so miles from the Koh Pi Pi and Phuket, which are areas that were severely damaged by the Tsunami last year. Koh Laanta was affected by the Tsunami, but much less so than other areas. There was a lot of rebuilding happening while we were there. As you can imagine the occupancy on the island was much lower then it was the year before.
We stayed on the west coast towards the middle of the island at a place called Baan Laanta Resort.
The weather was on and off for the first few days we got to the island, but hot either way. We had a chance to become very acquainted with the hotel and beach staff.
We rented a scooter one of the first days and did some exploring... We were discussing doing some snorkeling and decided to ask at the local scuba dive shop if they had any recommendations. It was my sneaky plan to get Jen to scuba! It took about five minutes and we had signed Jen up for a PADI Open Water scuba course. I reserved a spot for me to have two refresher dives. I hadn't been scuba diving in ten years (maybe twelve). I had a blast on my first day back; Jen on the other hand had some reservations after her first two days. She was freaking herself out but decided to stick it out. I reassured and convinced her that going into the ocean was going to be incredible and so worth it. She wasn't totally convinced but definitely is not a quitter and decided to see this course through. On her third day of the course I went into town meet up with Jen and see how her day was. She was glowing as she got off the boat and said; "I am hooked". You can imagine what a relief it was to hear this and not a miserable story of being seasick. The day that she did her first dive into the ocean was cloudy and chilly so I was nervous to see how her day went.
In Europe it is a custom to celebrate Christmas on December 24th. The island is swarming with Swedish people for the holiday season. The hotel organized a huge holiday feast with a dinner buffet, traditional Thai performances, fire dancers and fireworks. We enjoyed dinner then headed to bed as Jen and I were diving the next day. Jen became so hooked on diving that she wanted to get her advanced diving certificate.
We spent Christmas day scuba diving out at Koh Haa. What a difference from years past. Not to say we didn't miss our family and friends, but subzero weather, holiday stress, and long plane flights were not missed. The day was beautiful, sunny, warm and not a cloud in the sky. The water was crystal blue and the visibility under the water was amazing.
Our island time came to a close and we headed north to Chaing Mai for the New Year. It was a quiet time with some of our friends, and very much enjoyed. Over the last few days we were back in Bangkok again coordinating our next leg of the trip before heading to Vietnam.