Snapshot Sunday: Searching for Thailand’s Best Beaches

[ptcPhoto filename=”NewNgai.jpg” title=”Koh Ngai” caption=”Looking out on karst formations in the Andaman Sea – Koh Ngai, Trang – Thailand” position=”center”]

Just south of Koh Lanta is Koh Ngai, a tiny island with clean beaches and stunning views of karst outcroppings that dot the Andaman Sea. The beach itself has pristine, powdery white sand and thousands of crabs scuttling about. Unfortunately, all the jellyfish washed up on shore have made us a little hesitant to venture into the water.

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Snapshot Sunday: The View from Our Balcony

[ptcPhoto filename=”LantaView.jpg” title=”Lanta” caption=”Rain on the horizon – Koh Lanta, Krabi – Thailand” position=”center”]

The Tourism Authority of Thailand uses an alternative name for low season: Green season. The frequent rain means it is indeed green on the Koh Lanta this time of year, as you can see by our jungle of a front yard. Thankfully the showers only last for an hour or two most days, and it’s quiet – a great place to work on projects and go swimming off of empty beaches.

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Nine Things You Might Not Know about Kangaroos

Kangaroos just capture the imagination, don’t they? Even after weeks of driving through Australia we never tired of seeing them bouncing along, being all fascinating and kangarooey.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangBungarra.jpg” title=”Bungarra” caption=”Our first kangaroo sighting – do you see them?” position=”center”]

I may have become a little obsessed with kangaroos while we were in Australia, to the point where the first thing I did when our friend Caroline visited was have her watch a National Geographic documentary on them. If you’re already a kangaroo enthusiast (or if you’re from Australia), these facts might not come as a surprise, but the rest of us could stand to know more about these marvelous marsupials.

1. They’re Australia’s Grazing Animal

Similar to how we have deer or elk roaming about, Australia’s grazing animal is the kangaroo. Rain runoff makes foliage grow on the side of the road, which attracts the animals – especially during spells of dry weather. Therefore they often wander onto roadways where thousands are hit by passing motorists each year.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangarooSign.jpg” title=”Crossing” caption=”There are around 100 kangaroos per square kilometer in open woodland areas of Australia.” position=”center”]

It didn’t take long after we left Sydney to find kangaroos right off the highway, but unfortunately we found several dead roos before seeing a live one. In order to avoid hitting one on your Australian road trip, try not to drive during “kangaroo hours” – the peak time for crashes is between 5 and 10 pm.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Wallaby2.jpg” title=”Wallaby” caption=”A wallaby on the side of the road.” position=”center”]

2. Female Kangaroos have Three Vaginas

Well, actually, all female marsupials do. The three-vagina system employs only one common connection to the outside which is used to mate, give birth, and evacuate. When a Jill mates with a Jack the sperm travels up one of the two “side vaginas” (via a two-pronged penis, btw), and Joey is borne out of the center.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangaJoey.jpg” title=”Blue skies” caption=”A joey will stay with its mother for up to a year after leaving the pouch.” position=”center”]

3. Joeys are Born the Size of a Lima Bean

Why have kangaroos evolved this way, you might ask? Essentially, this unique reproductive setup allows female kangaroos to be perpetually pregnant in an environment that can be hostile and unpredictable. A joey weighs about 2 grams at birth and has to climb, hairless and blind, up through the mother’s fur and into the pouch. Once this happens another embryo (that’s been held in limbo in a uterus) can start developing.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangaMomJoey.jpg” title=”Joey” caption=”A joey will develop in the pouch for around eight months before living outside.” position=”center”]

A Jill can therefore have three joeys at once – one in suspended animation, one developing in the pouch, and one that has left the pouch but is still under her care. Another fun fact: Female kangaroos produce two types of milk – one for the older joey, and one for the lima bean sibling.

4. Wallabies are Kangaroos, but Not the Other Way Around

There are over sixty species of kangaroo, all belonging to the macropod (“great-footed”) family. All of them are endemic to Australia and Papua New Guinea. Most of these photos show Eastern Grey Kangaroos, which are found in southern and eastern Australia.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangaFunny.jpg” title=”Wallaroo” caption=”Kangaroos can be bred with wallabies to make ‘wallaroos,’ but they are typically born infertile.” position=”center”]

[ptcPhoto filename=”WallabyStare.jpg” title=”Stare” caption=”Wallabies are generally much smaller, and they’re built to have agility in forested areas.” position=”center”]

5. There Used to Be Giant Kangaroos

The Procoptodon were giant kangaroos that grew up to seven feet tall and weighed five hundred pounds. There is evidence they lived as recently as 18,000 years ago.

[ptcPhoto filename=”Wallaby1.jpg” title=”Giant?” caption=”The giant roos may have gone extinct due to climate change.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”KangaSam.jpg” title=”Petting” caption=”Petting normal-sized kangaroos on Phillip Island” position=”center”]

6. Australians Eat Kangaroos

Kangaroo meat was always a protein source for indigenous Australians, and today around 15% of Aussies eat it regularly. The meat section of any Australian supermarket will have a good selection of kangaroo products on offer – burger patties, steaks, kebabs, and so on. We didn’t eat kangaroo while we were there, but have read it’s a tender low-fat alternative to beef. Interestingly, the Australian government only approved kangaroo meat for widespread human consumption in 1993.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangJerky.jpg” title=”Jerky” caption=”70% of kangaroo meat is exported to European countries.” position=”center”]
[ptcPhoto filename=”KangarooPet.jpg” title=”Kosher” caption=”Kangaroo meat is halal, but not kosher.” position=”center”]

7. The Faster They Go, the More Efficient They Are

While hopping along at the same speed as an elite human marathon runner, a Red Kangaroo uses half the amount of energy. Each of its hops can span 18 feet. This is because elastic tendons in their massive feet and legs work as bands that both spring them forward and store energy for the next bound. They can reach speeds of 40 miles an hour.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangHop.jpg” title=”Hop” caption=”Kangaroos can’t hop slowly. At speeds under 4 mph, they use all four limbs to get around.” position=”center”]

8. Kangaroos Kick When They Feel Threatened

In a boxing match between two males, it is normally the losing one who kicks first. It’s used as a defense mechanism so that the dominant male can’t land as many punches. So if you’re kicked by a kangaroo on vacation, it’s probably because you got too close and intimidated him.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangaCloseup.jpg” title=”Kick” caption=”If you’re being attacked by a kangaroo, the best thing to do is act submissive (curl up in a ball) and wait for help.” position=”center”]

9. Kangaroos Never Stop Growing

Although the rate of growth slows considerably after a kangaroo reaches maturity, it will continue growing for its entire life. So if you meet an old guy like this (I call him Beefcakes), chances are he’s pretty old.

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangBeefcakes.jpg” title=”Beefcakes” caption=”Look at those pecs!” position=”center”]

[ptcPhoto filename=”KangarooLook.jpg” title=”End” caption=”So maybe those extinct giant kangaroos weren’t giants after all, but were actually centenarians?” position=”center”]

Snapshot Sunday: Beach Walks with Lanta Dogs

[ptcPhoto filename=”LantaDogs.jpg” title=”Woof” caption=”Volunteering with dogs from Lanta Animal Welfare – Koh Lanta, Krabi – Thailand” position=”center”]

Home to over 60 cats and some 30 dogs, Lanta Animal Welfare in Koh Lanta is the only animal care facility in the region. Over the past decade they have treated and sterilized over 8,000 cats and dogs and have placed animals in forever homes around the globe. We had only planned to volunteer here every few days, but have found ourselves going back daily to walk the dogs and cuddle the kitties.

Stay tuned for a full article on LAW and the great work they do!

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Fiji Costs: $133 a Day

This will be a short one! We embraced “island time” for a couple weeks there in Fiji and spent many a day laying out on the beach or by the pool, slathering on sunblock, and sipping Fiji Beer. It was a very budget approach to an island group that offers a wide array of tempting (but expensive) water sports. Fiji might not be the most affordable island getaway, but for a few dollars more you’ll be greeted with warm island songs before sliding into a swinging hammock and enjoying legendary hospitality on one of country’s 333 isle gems.

Just want the numbers? Skip to the bottom.

Predictably, lodging costs will make up the lion’s share of a visit there. We stayed in “affordable” places ($50-$70 USD per night) and just the sleeping part added up to 44% of our daily costs. There are certainly cheaper places on the main island, but why would you travel that far and not go a little further for cleaner, quieter beaches? (Read about our accommodation choices here).

[ptcPhoto filename=”FijiBamboo.jpg” title=”Beach” caption=”The beaches on the mainland don’t have the white sand you see in the brochures.” position=”center”]

Hopping from island to island is relatively easy (hotels can arrange transportation for you), but remember to factor transfer costs in to your budget (we paid around $40 each to reach the Mamanuca Island group). If you’re arranging your own transfers, make sure the boat operator is licensed – saving a few dollars is definitely not worth the risk involved in going out with an unprofessional or inexperienced skipper.

Food might be limited to the menu (and costs) of whichever resort you choose, so it’s worth checking the hotel’s restaurant reviews and proximity to other options when booking. We loaded up on supplies and had some picnics to save money. If you enjoy beach cocktails, don’t forget to stop by the duty free shop before exiting the secure area in the airport – alcohol prices are much better there.

[ptcPhoto filename=”FijiEspresso.jpg” title=”Coffee” caption=”Entertainment: Learning how to make cappuccino in our room at the Hilton.” position=”center”]

One other random thing: Most places will charge an additional 2% fee if you use a credit card, so if you’re comfortable carrying a lot of banknotes (or making frequent trips to the ATM), it’s better to pay in cash.

The daily average cost for our visit was $133 (or $66.50 per person per day).

Here’s a breakdown of all our costs during our stay. This table does not reflect costs to enter the country (we used miles to fly in from New Zealand).

Type of Expense Total Cost
(for 11 days)
Daily Average Notes
Lodging $637.26 $57.93 Our lodging choices ranged in price from $52 USD at the Hilton Fiji (we used points and only paid for an upgrade) to $70 USD for dorm beds at a backpackers resort on Mana Island.
Food $386.76 $35.16 We made our own meals as often as possible (it’s easier if you find a place with a kitchen).
Transportation (within country) $151.20 $13.75 Boats to the Mamanuca Islands average around $40 USD per person.
Entertainment $75.60 $6.87 Our only entertainment cost was the Cast Away tour.
Alcohol $172.17 $15.65 Large bottles of beer cost about $3 USD at the store (more, of course, at the resorts).
Incidentals $39.85 $3.62 Includes the costs for items like sunblock, internet, clothes and donations.
Grand Total* $1,462.84 $132.99 *Total reflects expenses for two people in USD. It does not reflect costs to enter the country (i.e., visas or airfare).

[ptcPhoto filename=”FijiPie.jpg” title=”Pie chart” caption=”” position=”center”]

Some Examples:

Average cost of brunch for two – $15 FJD ($8)
A bottle of sparkling wine to go with your brunch – $26 FJD ($14)
A 4GB data-only SIM card for your phone – $70 FJD ($38)