Posts Tagged With: snorkling

Koh Ta Kiev: Our first Cambodian Island

I confess: It took us a long time to make it to the Cambodian islands. It’s not that we didn’t want to go, it was simply that there has been so much to do. We traveled to Laos, Koh Kong, the hills, the rivers, oodles of places, but not a single island. Once we knew we had friends coming, we reserved our first island trip for them.

Our friend had recommended we go to Koh Ta Kiev (pronounced Koh Tah “Q” in Khmer). She loved the bungalows there, and said it was really quiet and underdeveloped. Since our friends were coming from the dusty desert metropolis that is Kuwait, we thought it sounded perfect.

We left Phnom Penh in the early morning, and got to Sihanoukville by around 10:30am.

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The circle outlines the port town of Sihanoukville as well as the sprinkling of islands that one can visit with ease. (The big one, Phu Quoc, is actually Vietnamese. You have to enter Vietnam—with a $65 visa for Americans—and backtrack across the water to get to Phu Quoc. It’s probably easier to fly from Ho Chi Minh City. But I  digress.)
IMG_9699On the beach at Sihanoukville. Otres Beach, to be exact. Abby and Sean enjoyed brunch on the white sand, while we waited for our boat to whisk us away to the island of Koh Tah Kiev (and away from underclad men in Speedos).
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The boat was the size of three canoes and as noisy as three hundred lawn mowers. As the shoreline faded into the distance, we peered into the horizon in search of the island.

IMG_9716We stayed at Ten 103 Treehouse, a series of bungalows spread throughout the jungle. Each bungalow overlooks the ocean, and is open air. I shot this photo right before sunset. Can you spot Sean reading in the hammock?

IMG_9703The view the next morning from inside the bungalow.

Koh Ta Kiev was incredibly quiet and undeveloped. You could walk along the desert beaches, and only stumbled upon a handful of other people—and we were there during the high season! It’s a small island, so you can cross the jungle on small footpaths for a view out the other side.

The swimming was good, too.

IMG_9717…for the most part. You couldn’t really swim directly off the bungalows due to the sea urchins. Abby took this photo, which I unfortunately did not get to witness myself. I still cannot work out how this guy handles those things…

IMG_9719The jungle was thick, and hung over the white sand foot path.

IMG_9820 copy Sean and had a blast exploring the island. We were there for three nights, which was the perfect amount of time to lose yourself in the rhythm of the waves and the glow of the stars.

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But if there’s one thing I’ve learned about Cambodia, it is this: You are never alone. Ever. Even when you think you’re on a desert island, you spot a man carrying bananas. Or monks playing volleyball. Or cows. The first two didn’t surprise us too much, but the cows cruising the coast, that was surprising.

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We had heard that one side of the island had a nice cove and a rocky shoreline. After about an hour of exploration, we stumbled upon it. Like I said, you are never alone, even in paradise. The husband and wife sorted their fish and sipped their tea, taking a break from the day’s work. As much as I like to have nature as my private playground, I love the moments when I remember that I am a visitor in someone else’s seemingly normal life. A life to me that seems so exotic. How exotic must I seem to them?

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On our way back from the cove, we found a swing with a view…

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And at night we feasted by candlelight.

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I did find my own private paradise, if only for an hour. One evening around sunset, I walked to “Naked Beach” by myself. Sean, Abby, and Kyle were reading, and I was feeling antsy. Naked Beach didn’t have a single development on it—maybe that’s why it’s called Naked Beach? Balancing my camera on a rock, I took a timed photo of myself. The water was so warm, and so clear and blue! I had my snorkle gear, so bobbed around in the waves until the sun sunk below the trees…

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Sean took this great panorama of the bungalows. The water had great snorkeling, and the beaches were perfect. We’ve got to go back. IMG_9988 copy

But with so many other Cambodian islands to discover, it may be a while before we can say Sua S’dye to Koh Ta Kiev again.

I’ll leave you with a quotation that has guided me in my travels, and will hopefully continue to lead us to more islands like Koh Ta Kiev…

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.”

– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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In Which We Meet Dubai’s Fiery Neighboor, and Stumble Into Oman Through The Back Door

Here it is, the final blog post before Egypt! Sean and I leave for Cairo on Saturday, December 22. We’ve got four days in Cairo, then a week in Luxor. We are so excited, we can barely wait. I have been writing down every Egyptian delicacy I can find on the internet, Googling “hidden Cairo” for months now, and compiled a bucket list that would make the Pharaoh tired. My parents and sister are meeting us in Cairo on the 23rd, and we are spending the duration of our travels with them. I am so excited to experience Egypt with them; neither them nor us have been there before, so it will be a first-time experience for everyone!

We’re certain we will be safe the entire time, too. We’ve booked tours during our time in Cairo, and have gotten a really good feel for the areas we will be staying in. I will hopefully post updates while we’re there! Stay tuned, and happy holidays : )

My last blog post of this year is, again, about Oman. Kind of. Before you write us off as obsessive, this trip took another format. We heard that you could fly into Dubai and drive to the Oman peninsula, where the Straight of Hormuz is located. The name of the peninsula is “Musandam”, and is known for it’s mountains, azure waves, and dolphins. Since the flight to Dubai is so short and inexpensive, and the road trip was supposed to last only two hours, we thought we’d take a long weekend and give it a shot.

We were so glad we did.
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(Click on the above photo for an awesome panorama.) This is Khor Al Najd, in Musandam. We drove the windy road down to the coast in our little 2WD rental! Twice! We visited once when it was rather cloudy, but came back on a clearer day for this fantastic shot. “Khor” is Arabic for “hidden place”.
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Here I am at sea level in Khor Al Najd. So much marine life!

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There isn’t much to do at the base of Khor Al Najd, except to wonder at the views. We walked around for a bit, took some pictures, and had lunch.

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We had company on our mountain lookout. We were eating lunch when this guy was walking around on the cliffs below us, snapping photos on his iPhone. Just another tourist like us : )

 

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Our first night, we stayed outside the village of Khasab. Unfortunately, it’s possible to take vehicles onto the beaches in Oman, which makes for crowded, loud weekends on the beach. We opted for a more secluded, “look-out” campsite, where no cars were to be found. What paradise. We just made sure that the zipper of the tent was facing inland, so we didn’t step off the cliff!

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The fort in Khasab. Oman has long-standing history of disagreements with the Portuguese (see my earlier post). These forts were built a couple hundred years ago, and renovated recently as a testament to the Omani history.

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Sean and I hanging out inside the fort.

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The bathroom in the fort. So much more exciting than the boring “girl in a dress” icon we’ve got on the bathrooms in America. Sean was obsessed with their gender identification. The woman on the right is wearing an abaya and is completely covered, and the man on the left is wearing a head scarf, a dishdasha, and an Omani dagger. So much more intricate than stick figures!

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We had to get up early to see the fort so that we could be on time to the dock for the 10am dhow cruise. As we had heard, Musandam is a beautiful landscape of “fjords”, which are best seen from the water. Therefore, we decided to book a full-day cruise on a dhow (a traditional Arabic fishing boat). Not only would we sail near the Straight of Hormuz (being only 40 miles from Iran), but would snorkel in the fjords, have a traditional Arabic lunch on board the boat, and be dropped off at a private beach to camp afterward. While we didn’t see this, we had read that the Khasab port is notorious for smuggling goats back and forth from Iran in exchange for American cigarettes (which are banned in Iran)! The above picture was taken as our dhow left the harbor.
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We took precautions and wore lots of sunscreen and covered ourselves as much as we could. Look at how powerful and arid this region is! It’s all striking cliffs, no vegetation, and beautiful, blue water. The dhow was really comfortable; it was set up with cushions for sitting on, and lots of Arabic tea for sipping. (We love Arabic tea; we think it’s comprised of saffron, black tea, sage, and LOTS of sugar.)

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Sean relaxing as we sailed further into the fjords. There were only four other tourists on the boat with us! There was an old Omani man steering the dhow, and our “guide” was from Morocco and wore a NY Yankees baseball hat. I haven’t seen anyone so knowledgeable and passionate about the ocean. He said he is a certified diver, and it sounded like he had dived all over the Mediterranean as well as the Red Sea and Arabian Gulf.
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The boat had a nice canvas shade so we weren’t hit by the sun all of the time. (Look at those mountains!)

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The comfortable dhow : )

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We’re not kidding, we saw over twenty dolphins! As the boat was sailing, dolphins would swim alongside the boat with us. They loved to ride the currents created by the boat.
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It was truly magical. What happy, beautiful creatures.

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As you can see, dhow cruises are fairly popular. We ran into a few other boats during our venture. But ours was the least crowded.

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When we stopped to dive, our guide tossed a piece of bread into the water, and it sparkled with fish. The snorkeling was a lot of fun.

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There were islands in the fjords, and even small villages where people have lived for, probably, over a thousand years. The villages are just small buildings built right on the edge of the water, and they are brought fresh water from the government every month. Most of the homes are fisherman’s homes, who also have a small home on the mainland. The tour boats are forbidden from sailing too close to the villages, though, and rightfully so. It looked so quiet and peaceful from afar.

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After the dhow cruise was over, it was 4pm, and time for us to be dropped off at the beach. Since there’s only one road that winds through Musandam, it’s tough to find a completely quiet place to yourself that has road access. However, you can go to the port in the morning and pay anybody with a boat to drop you off at a secluded beach for the night. We talked to the people we booked our dhow cruise with, and they knew a great beach we could stay at. Since they were a reputable company, we knew we’d actually be picked up in the morning! The above photo (click on it for a great panorama) is the beach we camped at. What a gorgeous cove. The name of it was called “Seebel Kareeb”.

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Sean snapped a picture of me playing on the rocks at our hidden cove beach.

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Once we pitched our tent, we played in the sand, swam, and ate hummus until the sun set.

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The sun created a rosy glow on the mountain that was just beautiful.

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The guy who dropped us off was nice enough to give us lighter fluid and some old, dried up logs, so we made a campfire. (Those of you in the States may think that’s no big deal, but how many trees have you seen in the pictures so far in this blog?) As we sat by the campfire, we were treated to a beautiful meteor shower!

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When we woke up in the morning, we had to refrain from swimming. The tide must have been really rough the night before, or there was a mass birthing of jellyfish, because we found fifteen or so “piles” of baby jellyfish floating in the water. When you get stung by them, it doesn’t necesariyl “hurt”, but it’s a strange, uncomfortable, tingling, prickling feeling. Kind of like when you touch a cactus. No thanks!

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This was before we saw the jellyfish babies… we played in the water until we felt the stinging….

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We still managed to make a beautiful shell-garden before the boat picked us up in the morning.

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The next day, we decided to drive the “Acacia Forest” at the end of the road. Literally. On the map, there was a road that lead straight into the mountain, and ended where it said, “Acacia Forest”. We decided to check it out seeing as a forest in the desert sounded intriguing to us. What we found there was a herd…. no, a hoard… no, an INVASION of goats.

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The reason the forest exists here is because this area is the main water-drainage route for any rain that falls in the moutains. What I find fascinating is that no one has built homes under the shade of the trees! It was very park-like and quiet.

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We didn’t see another person the whole time, but we saw a lot of goats. Sean calls this picture, “Goat Ad Infinitum”. Can you spot the goat seemingly suspended in mid-air? How many goats can YOU count?

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They were climbing the trees!

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As I have said before, Sean likes to watch me squirm around goats. I don’t really like goats. Sean loves goats. This guy followed us around the forest for fifteen minutes. He was sad to see us go. Sean called him ‘Goaty’. Arabs own a lot of goats, as they are a kind of status symbol. Your wealth used to be based on your heard, and even though it doesn’t apply anymore, they still have herds of goats. They slaughter goats for weddings and religious ceremonies. Goat milk and goat cheese is popular. They’re everywhere!

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On our way out of Musandam, we stopped for a final picture.

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The road out of Musandam. Quite undrivable during big waves!

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One of the villages on the way to Khasab. I have never see such rich greens next to such blue blues 🙂

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As we left Musandam, we made our way back to Dubai. We loved to drive past the rolling sand dunes. We certainly don’t have these in Kuwait, contrary to what you may think. Kuwait doesn’t have any dunes – it’s much more flat, without any shifting sands or change in elevation. We were fascinated.

DubaiSkylineAs we got closer to Dubai, the Burj Khalifa sprouted out of the skyline. (That’s the tallest building in the world, ladies and gentlemen!) It was really neat to drive a rental car around Dubai; we got to see the skyline from so many interesting perspectives. We could see the Burj Khalifa on the horizon for an entire HOUR before we reached the parking lot for the mall, underneath the tower. (We timed it.) What a huge building!


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Ahhhh, Arabia. The land of contrasts. A picture says a thousand words…

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We took this picture for all of you who think we are suffering over here in the Middle East. We have TOO many options to choose from… Starbucks? Caribou Coffee? Take your pick! 

BurjAtNight1We finished off our trip with an ice cream while watching the fountain and light show at the Dubai Mall. The building on the far right is the Burj Khalifa. There is absolutely no feasible way you can fit it in one photograph unless you lay down on the ground and point your camera up to the sky. Our flight left at 11pm, so we had ample time to relax and indulge in all the things we had done without while camping in Musandam. Our trip was a perfect combination of opulent and serene!

We leave for Cairo tomorrow, so I will update you as soon as we can! Merry Christmas, or as they say in Arabic…  well, I don’t know how to say it. All of our Muslim families at school wished us Merry Christmas in English : )  I will just wish you blessings in your holiday season, Mubarak!

Categories: Dubai, Oman | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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