En Route to Phuket, February 16-18

After a busy month at home, we're back on the road, headed for Southeast Asia. This part of the trip promises some of the most exotic and exciting destinations, activities, and travel modes of our year off. It also includes the longest as yet completely unplanned segment. Here's the overall schedule:
  1. A week in the popular tourist destination of Phuket ("poo-KET"), Thailand. Tim and Emily will take a four-day scuba course, while Alex and Jennifer -- already scuba certified -- will gather massive provisions and generally get us ready for the long sailboat cruise. (As can be seen from photo 1, we did bring a few critical food items form home.)

  2. Two months sailing the Andaman Ocean on Cyrene, a 36-foot "performance cruising" catamaran. We'll visit a number of Thai islands, but the big excitement is two international destinations: India's Andaman Islands, and Myanmar's Mergui Archipelago.

    We've had many sailing vacations in the past, once even renting the very boat we're taking this time. We consider ourselves competent sailors and comfortable living on a boat, but this time there will be significant differences: Our previous charters were typically about 10 days, and our longest stretches between anchorages were day-sails. The crossing between Thailand and the Andaman Islands is about 60 hours, winds permitting. (Major storms at this time of year are exceedingly rare, the last one being 75 years ago. It's too-little wind we need to worry about, but even that scenario is unlikely -- it's a reliable place to sail.) In a first-ever breach of our family's "no traveling companions" policy, for the long crossings we're bringing along a third adult -- seasoned-traveler friend and Stanford colleague Jean-Claude Latombe -- to share the night watches.

    Except for the two major crossings, we'll always be near islands or coast. One misconception is that sailing trips are about sailing. We don't actually spend all that much time on the boat -- we're either enjoying the water and reefs, or exploring remote beaches and islands. A sailboat is nothing more than an ocean-going motorhome, or maybe it's the other way around.

  3. After the sailing we'll head to Bangkok to get ourselves organized for the remainder of our time in Southeast Asia. We'll find a hotel where we can leave our sailing and diving gear (photo 2), the piano keyboard (visible in photo 3), and myriad other comfort items (some in photo 4) that we'll have room for on the boat but not when we're traveling backpacker-style. (After much debate and to his great disappointment, Tim's french horn stayed home.) You can see from photo 3 that we didn't skimp whatsoever on books this time, although we'll jettison (not literally!) many of them after they're read.

  4. Our tentative plan for the last 4-5 weeks is to visit Vietnam, Cambodia, and Laos, but we're open to other options. We tried a little travel-by-whim when we were in Europe, and it pretty much worked, although perhaps by the time late April rolls around we'll have a better idea where we want to go. Our only constraint is returning to Bangkok for our flight home on June 1.
This is our fourth time to Thailand (third for the kids), now tied with Australia as our most-visited, and indeed favorite, travel destination. In the past we've loved the food, people, scenery, wildlife, and incredibly low prices. It will be interesting to see some other Southeast Asian countries this time, a little more off the beaten track. (As an aside, the "fourth time" realization triggered a tally of other repeat vacation destinations: three times to Baja, Belize, Hawaii, and New Zealand; twice to Alaska, Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, and Switzerland.)

Our month at home was considerably more hectic than the previous visit in October. In addition to preparing for the most complex part of our travels, we headed out of town for two of the four weekends we were home: We couldn't miss ski season in the Sierras, and Jennifer traveled to Champaign, Illinois to celebrate a close friend's landmark birthday. The rest of the time the kids went to school while Alex and Jennifer worked. School was even smoother this time than in October: Emily's visit coincided with two interesting 5th grade projects, not to mention her last elementary school Valentine's Day (quite a candy-filled occasion these days, for better or worse). Tim was discouraged initially when he was dumped into the yearbook elective that nobody else wanted, but he ended up liking it well enough, and that class even threw a little send-off party on his last day. We enjoyed being home for the California primary, although our family allegiances were split (or, more accurately, waffling). Emily declared her preference by seeing Hillary Clinton at a rally in San Jose. We rounded off our home stay with music lessons, soccer (Emily), and ice hockey (Tim), once again keeping us in touch with suburban lifestyle.

California winter temperatures are admittedly mild compared to other parts of the U.S, but we still felt chilly coming from summertime in South America. Southeast Asia promises to be truly tropical. If all goes well, the next travelog will be dispatched from a poolside lounge chair in Phuket.

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