My mommy's here and I've learned to windsurf

In preparation for my mother's arrival, I decided to book a little house by the beach and stock it with plenty of snacks and fresh fruit.
That night we had a mixture of Indian and Thai food for dinner on our front porch. For dessert we had dragonfruit - which is the coolest looking fruit I have ever seen - hot pink on the outside with bright green detailing and white with black spots on the inside.
As I was walking along Chewang beach before my mother arrived I noticed a sign for windsurfing lessons. I have always wanted to pick up windsurfing, so this looked like a great place to learn. I signed up for 2 1-hour lessons and by the end of the first hour I could pull the sail out of the water while standing on the board and sail straight until I was about to hit something and then fall over.
By the end of my second session, I could curve (to not hit swimmers and boats - which is useful) and turn.I summarized what I learned in my journal so that I could remember next time I rented a board to practice.
Afterward, my mother and I got hour long oil massages on the beach before heading off to dinner.
The next day mom and I took a ferry to Ko Tao, a much smaller and quieter island. We hiked for 40minutes on a steap dirt path to get to Sai Thong Resort - a little collection of bungalows that can only be reached by hiking or by wooden boat. Despite being drenched in sweat when we arrived after carrying my bag and my mom's suitcase to the resort, I immediately felt at home on this island and was so proud of my mom for being in such great shape.
Here is my mother sitting on a granite rock in the resort's secluded cove. The only sounds are the waves lapping against the rocks and the birds chirping in the palm trees.

Valentine's Day and Chinese New Year - On the beach

For Valentine's Day dinner I had mixed vegitables in oyster sauce on rice and a mojito with an Irish traveling companion at Chewang Beach, Ko Samui. Chewang Beach sort of reminded me of a Thai Las Vegas. After dinner we got some pancakes with coconut and chocolate inside them and then fried. We took our dessert and walked on the beach to see what all the resorts were up to.
We found explicit lesbian sex captured in sand sculpture
We found dragon dancing and live traditional Chinese music
And of course lots of creatively engineered valentine's day decorations - each uniquly endearing


Rock climbing at Railay Beach

Here are Railay East (far bay) and Railay West (near shore) taken from one of the nearby cliffs that I scrambled up on. Rockclimbers from all over the world bring their heavy ropes and gear to climb the vertical limstone faces and funky rock formations that rise directly out of crystal clear turquoise water.
Here is the view of the beach as I was arriving by longtail boat - which I hopped onto from the larger ferry bound for another island.
Railay West has trememdous tides that expose the rock face at the right called "One Two Three" wall and is popular with climbers of all experience levels. At low tide they bring tourists in from the boats with a tractor and trailer.
In the middle of the small peninsula is a deep lagoon with sheer walls rising up 50meters on all sides. At low tide, the lagoon is drained leaving a ring of caves that can be explored (and a huge mud-pit!)
My hike to the lagoon turned out to be so vertical that many people turned back once they saw the bouldering required, something not revealed by the little dotted line on my free map.
On my way up I also had a monkey experience I had never had before. There was a group of about 20 monkeys on the small (steep) clay path. To move up the path I had to move very close to them. For a while I took some pictures - the one above came right up to the camera and gave me this dramatic pose. When I had all the monkey pictures I needed I intended to continue on, however one of the larger monkeys I had to pass grabbed me by the wrist. I stopped and he climbed up on to my shoulders and sat behind my head. After getting him off I laughed at literally having a monkey on my back....hehe

Here is the climbing map of 1-2-3 wall, that I climbed a number of routes on. The climbing was tremendously fun with such a varied set of rock formations to explore on one face. Of course, hanging out with all the resting climbers at the base of the wall was lovely too and I am very much looking forward to some more climbing later in my trip. Here are a couple pictures from the climbs...
There were a number of climbers that were a joy to watch. I can't even tell what this guy is resting his feet on.


Muay Thai Boxing

When I first arrived on Ko Lanta I met a a large, muscular guy named Jonny who had been living on the island in a bamboo bungalow since October. He originally came to Thailand for a 3 week vacation and has stayed for 1.5 years. In the US, he worked for a large engineering corporation, now he is a master dive instructor and a Muay Thai boxer.
It turns out that Jonny and I were in the same room in 1999. He graduated from a high school 3 miles away from where I went to school and was also a wrestler. He saw me in 1999 when I won my first wrestling match against a guy on his team. I was relieved to hear that although the guy got a lot of shit, he still continued wrestling :)
Jonny inspired me so much that I decided to stay on Ko Lanta and live in his world for a week. I signed up to get my scuba certification and take private Thai Boxing lessons early in the morning.
Welcome to the Muay Thai boxing gym on Ko Lanta on the west coast of southern Thailand.
Here is Cat with teh braids I put in my hair practicing the kicks I had just learned after the session with the instructor. During the session, you basically push and kick the trainer who is covered in pads - it is very motivating and very tiring.

I don't think this picture does justice to the pain I was feeling in my feet and shins after 2 days of Muay Thai kicking. I had lost skin in some places and my skin ached...not to mention my muscles  -especially my lower obliques.

Here is a guy from Britain who has been training for several years and is having his private session. In the background is his wife who is a yoga instructor. They are training every day during their holiday.

Meet Lindsay and James - they are from Kansas and Colorodo and are spending the year teaching English in Beijing. They are both incredibly atheletic and good people and I got to play with them while I was on Ko Lanta, which worked out wonderfully.

Lindsay, James, Jonny and I went to the Ko Lanta Muay Thai stadium for a set of 8 matches. (Jonny had wom the final match of the night the previous week! - go Jonny!) I was extatic to go to the event and feel like I had a community. My trainer was taking the tickets at the door, his brother was doing some of the announcing, a frech guy I had met on the beach was selling drinks, and I got to wave to a half-dozen other people I had met at the gym during the matches.
The first round is typically more ceremonial, where boxers will dance around each other feeling each other out and pacing themselves for the massively long 5 x 3min sets. The first 4 matches of the night are typically boys between the ages of 12 and 16. There are usually no knock-outs during these matches and I saw varying levels of activity.

However, in the 5th match, the guys did not pace themselves at all. They were doing flying attacks from the first round. My the second round one guy hit the ground completely limp after a solid hit to the head. Unbelievably, he got back up and kicked the other guy's butt for another 2 rounds before hitting the ground in the 5th round (picture below). He walked away safely but even in the 4th round both fighters were having trouble standing upright ...some of the fighters sitting near us said it was the best fight they had ever seen...
The final match was a swedish guy (primarily a boxer) and a Thai guy (primarily a kicker) - here you can see them doing their warm-up ceremony during which the boxers often move to each corner of the ring and do a short prayer and then do whatever other dance they would like in the middle of the ring.
Here's me on the beach after scuba Day 2.

And another amazing sunset


I am a certified scuba diver to 60 ft!

My scuba training took 3 days and was done entirely in the ocean. The first day was in very shalow ocean where I learned a bunch of the skills after doing bookwork, watching videos and taking tests in the morning.
On day 2 we went out to Ko Ha Lagoon which was about a 2 hour boat ride from Ko Lanta. On this day I did 2 dives to 12 meters
I got to meet most of the cast from finding Nemo which was exciting. You may recognize the fish being pointed to in the picture which is a Moorish Idol, not to be confused with the nearly identical Banner Fish that has a much longer white thingy on top.
It is Nemo and the anemone! I admit that it was embarrassing how many times during my dive I had the thought..."this is so much like the movie"...especially when schools of hundreds of fish make turns al in unison like they are actually one creature.
The rocks that we visited near Ko Phi Phi, that were apparently covered with water thousands or milions of years ago, are good looking above water but a mindblowingly stunning underwater. On day 3 I was diving to 18meters (60ft) and was comfortable enough with my boyancy to be doing nearly continuous barrel rolls as I toured around under water.
The closest thing I can compare to looking up along 60 feet of nearly vertical coral reef covered in life toward the light coming from above is a futuristic alien city where millions of aliens are going about their business moving in and out of their colorful and undulating homes and stores.
I saw a lot of strange underwater life but I would like to highlight a couple:
Blue sea star - these were everywhere and has arms that were sometimes over a foot long draped over rocks and coral
Christmas Tree Worm - makes very bright (blue, orange, purple) multi-tiered parasols that stick out of the coral and retract very quickly when you come close
I think I like bright schools of fish the best of all...watching thousands of fish moving all around you as if you aren't even there is incredible...especially while doing barrel rolls...
My days for the past week have gone something like this on scuba diving days...
6am-7:30 meditate and collect shells on beach, watch the sun rise
7:30am -  get picked up by diving company and am on the boat by 8am
8:30am -  Amazing breakfast (omelets, fruit, weat bread, vegitables, jam, yogurt) is shared on the 3 level diving boat
9am - Discuss the days dives with my instructor (I am her only client for these 3 days!) over tea
10am-11:30am - Preparation and first dive
11:30-12:30 - Excellent lunch of vegitables and curries with rice
1-2:30 - Prep and second dive
4pm - Go to favorite beach hang out caled "Thai Cat" and drink/eat a fresh coconut while reading my book (see coconut below)
5pm - Go for swim in the ocean
6pm - Watch the sunset and read book
7pm - Meet friends for dinner and talk


Cat returns to paradise

I boarded a bus in Bangkok at 6pm. Eight hours later, at a rest stop I decided to go to a small island called Ko Lanta (that I had never heard of before) instead of first stopping in the island tourist hub, Phuket, as originally planned. I was pleased about this journey for two reasons:
A. I was was able to manage my thoughts to stay very happy and relaxed throughout the 18 hour bus/minibus/ferry journey, while many people around me were starting to suffer because of negative thoughts they were having about things like our bus breaking down after 10 hours in a not-so-reclining  bus seat.
B. I was able to listen to what I wanted (going directly to the more remote, quiet island) and simply do what I needed to without clinging to the original plan.

Along the way, I exchanged contact information with wonderful people: an israeli girl who just spent a year in India doing yoga, was a practicing Japanese Buddhism and was going to romantically rejoin a french backpacker she met several days ago; a hippie from the mountains North Carolina; a mixed martial artist who has been training in Chiang Mai but is originally from London and sells project management software; and an American couple who were both college athletes (baseball and javelin) and are spending a year after college teaching English in Beijing.

This is the sunset I was greeted by the first evening.

This is a "short cut" I took while walking around the island that 10 minutes later earned me some sliced up toes that I am treating with bacitracin and lots of salt water and sand.
...and here is my bamboo bungalow with my open air bathroom...

...open air bathrooms are the best!
Here is Sasha (London mixed martial artist) and me before we parted ways on different ferries. Tomorrow morning at 7:30 am I am going to walk 2km to the Thai boxing club on the island and try to get a private lesson. Who knows, maybe I will want to train there for a few days?

Phnom Penh - lively but relaxed - I enjoyed my stay

I was ushered into this small temple by an older caretaker (I assume) who proceeded to do the good luck chants (usually done by monks) and shower holy water onto my head and then begin smoking. I couldn't resist this picture!
wooshing mopeds near the Russian market area
Tiny! novice monk
view from my guest house balcony
really nice hotel I visited for the day. You can swim in their pool and lounge about if you order food in their outdoor cafe...tough life

It looks like the elephant is smiling. I smiled a lot too as I traveled around the city. Biking in rush hour was hilarious (very much like a racing video game) and I loved riding side-saddle on the moto-scooters (while practicing being very relaxed like all the Cambodian girls who whirl through traffic without holding on and often texting)