|It's been some time since we've had the family
all together for one of our major trips. Not that we
haven't been traveling, but the "family all together"
part has gotten more challenging in recent years. Even
this trip is a bit different, as it's the family +1.
Tim's girlfriend Clara signed up to come along; we'll
see what she thinks of an Aiken/Widom adventure.
The primary destination is Myanmar (Burma), a country that's been hot on the tourist trail since it opened up over the last decade or so, but also much in the news lately for some horrendous social injustices. As the Rohingya crisis unfolded, we debated whether to continue with our plans. But, as with some of our other destinations over the years, we decided that the direct benefit to the country's people of our tourist dollars and vote of confidence may outweigh whatever portion of that support ends up with the government.
Emily finished school about 10 days before the rest of us, so she winged off from Boston to Thailand with a stopover in Zurich to see friends from her recent semester abroad there. She spent her week in Thailand at a small guesthouse on the beach owned by the family of a professor Jennifer got to know when she spent a week teaching in Bangkok last year. The guesthouse's location in southern Prachuap province was remote paradise (photo 1), with fishermen and monks, only a few local tourists, and reliable internet for the data analytics work Emily does remotely for InSTEDD, a technology-for-social-good organization. After the rest of us return home, Emily will spend two weeks in Cambodia working with an InSTEDD project.
As Emily wrapped up her time at the beach, the rest of us spent two days in Bangkok (photos 2-4). It was the 5th or 6th time in Bangkok for most of us and still one of our favorite big cities anywhere. For Clara it was a great introduction to Southeast Asia.
We then flew south to Surat Thani, where we had a remarkably well-timed rendez-vous with Emily, and continued to Khao Sok National Park for another favorite: Art's Riverview Lodge. Back in 1992, Alex and Jennifer stayed at their signature rustic treehouses in the jungle (photo 5). The entire family returned in 2005 to find the treehouses a bit upgraded. (We all remember Emily trying her first cocktail at Art's at age 8, the "jungle juice special" in photo 6.) Now in 2017 the treehouses haven't changed since 2005 (photo 7), and neither have the jungle juice specials, but the area has gotten much busier. Our stay at Art's was short but we managed to squeeze in some hiking, a canoe trip (photo 8), and motorbike rentals to explore the area (photo 9). We then traveled on to the coastal town of Khao Lak, launching point for the first leg of our Myanmar adventure -- five days of scuba diving in the Myeik (Mergui) Archipelago aboard the Dolphin Queen.
It's not our first visit to the Mergui Archipelago either. In one of the bigger adventures of our 2007-08 travel year, we sailed into Myanmar from Thailand and spent two weeks exploring the islands and doing a bit of diving (travelogues here and here). At the time, we found the area stunningly beautiful, remote, and exotic, and we're looking forward to revisiting without the complexities of bringing our own boat. After the diving we'll fly north to Yangon (Rangoon) and explore several different regions of Myanmar for the balance of our trip.