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Ko Samet

It’s that time of year when people tend to go all reflective and pensive and (maybe) make a resolution or two. With this year being the tenth anniversary of the Boxing Day Tsunami, my pensivity has turned to Ko Samet, an island in the Gulf of Thailand where my sister and I spent New Year’s Eve 2000.

Ko Samet

Ko Samet was not directly affected by the tsunami, but the time we spent there made it just a tiny bit possible for me to imagine what it must have been like to witness such a horrific event.

Ao Phai Bungalow

As far as Thai islands go, Ko Samet is a quiet one, and my sister and I rented a bungalow on the beach at its quieter end. As far as New Year’s Eves go, it was probably one of the most relaxing ones I’ve ever had.

View From Bungalow

We had a spectacular view of the beach from our verandah ― a beach with the whitest sand and bluest water I have ever seen ― and we spent most of our days lying on that beach.

Beach  Vendor

I also spent a lot of time reading or writing on our verandah.

Woman With Umbrella

Every time I looked up, there was something to see. Which, naturally, made me start playing with my camera.

Ko Samet Taxi

What we didn’t know until we arrived on Ko Samet is that the island is equally, if not more so, as popular with Thai holiday-goers as it is with foreign tourists. That made for a much more authentic Thai island holiday than I could ever have hoped for.

I have no idea how much Ko Samet has changed in the decade and a half since we were there, but I hope not too much.

Because it was perfect.

Through My Lens: Florida Beach

Bahia Honda State Park Beach

Speaking of migrating birds, most of the Canadian snow birds have flown south and are nicely settled in their warm(er) locales. I won’t be enjoying a tropical break this winter, but I can still dream about lying on a beach.

Like this one.

I took this photo last winter on the Atlantic side of the Florida Keys.

South Beach

South Beach Window

Living in a beach town, as I do, I’m always keen to check out other beach towns. Some remind me of Vancouver (sort of ― that would be Cape Town), some don’t make me think of Vancouver at all (that would be Barcelona), and some make me think I could still be in Vancouver (almost ― Waikiki, I’m talking ’bout you).

South Beach is in a category all its own. Separated from the city of Miami by Biscayne Bay, it’s located on a series of barrier islands that front the Atlantic Ocean. The beach itself is massive ― unfortunately for me, the one day I had to spend in South Beach was stormy and windy, scuttling my plans to spend my last afternoon in Florida lying on the beach.

Stormy South Beach

No matter. I had a second reason for visiting South Beach: its architecture. South Beach was developed quickly during the 1920s and ’30s and many of its buildings were built in a similar style. As a result, South Beach has one of the finest collections of Art Deco and Streamline Moderne buildings, with more than 900 of them considered to be of historical significance. The Miami Art Deco District was added to the list of U.S. historic districts in 1979, but many credit the 1980s TV show Miami Vice with providing the incentive to clean up what had become a run-down and crime-ridden neighbourhood.

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you might have figured this out about me: give me a subject to photograph and I’m content, no matter the weather. And so, as it turned out, I had a great time exploring South Beach in the wind and the rain. Here are a handful of the more than 100 photos I took that day.

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Sun, Sand, and Surf on the Gulf Coast

I fully expected to spend a lot of time at the beach on my recent trip to Florida’s Gulf Coast; I had no idea I’d be swimming in the Gulf of Mexico within three hours of landing at Tampa International Airport. But that is exactly what happened. (Nothing ― and I mean nothing ― cures jet lag like a swim in the ocean.)

Unfortunately, the temperatures cooled off and the wind picked up after that first day (polar vortex, anyone?), so my friend and I stuck to beach walking for the rest of my visit. Beach walking is good fun and great exercise; the shore birds we played with made it even more fun, and if you keep your eyes to the ground, you never know what treasures you’ll find.

Playing with the shore birds

Playing with the shore birds

What’s amazing about Florida’s Gulf Coast is that you can visit a different beach every day of your holiday and still not hit all of them. After we had been to a few, my friend and I decided to rate the beaches we had walked. Her mother suggested (rather wisely, I thought) that beaches shouldn’t be rated, but simply enjoyed. We considered that ― and then went ahead and rated them anyways.

And so, here are my top three of Florida’s Gulf Coast beaches.

# 1: Stump Pass Beach: This beach gets my top rating simply because it is so beautiful and so unique. Scattered along the waterline are the dead stumps of Australian Pine ― an invasive species that the park rangers decided had to be killed off. The stumps have been carved by the surf into artistic lengths of driftwood, which offer terrific opportunities for photographers (see below).

Stump Pass Beach is south of Englewood on Manasota Key. Because it is a state park, it has an entry fee. The parking lot is minuscule, so get here early or come in the late afternoon.

# 2: Siesta Beach: In 2011, this beach was designated No. 1 Beach in America, and it’s not hard to guess why. Its sand is made of quartz so it’s icing-sugar fine and doesn’t get hot. I’ve never felt anything like it ― my toes were screaming in delight.

Look how far the feet of this Royal Tern sink into the soft sand at Siesta Beach

Look how far the feet of this Royal Tern sink into the soft sand at Siesta Beach

Siesta Beach is south of Sarasota on Siesta Key. Because it has all the facilities you could possibly need, it’s the beach I would choose if I were going to spend the entire day at the beach or if I had a pack of kids in tow. It’s also massive ― incredibly wide and long ― so I would think there’s room for everyone, even on the hottest of days. (Let me know if I’m wrong about that!)

# 3: Caspersen Beach: This is the beach where I was swimming within hours of my arrival in Florida, so I’ve rated it third because it was my best swim (well, technically, my only swim) on the Gulf Coast. Caspersen is located in Venice and has something for everyone: swimming, beach walking, trail walking, bird watching, shell hunting, shark-tooth hunting (yes, you read that right) …

Hunting for sharks' teeth on Caspersen Beach

Hunting for sharks’ teeth on Caspersen Beach

Fossilized sharks’ teeth millions of years old are so common along this part of the Gulf Coast that Venice is known as the Shark Tooth Capital of the World. And it was at Caspersen where I saw the serious shark-tooth hunters ― the ones with their wire-mesh shovels who carefully sift and sort through shovelfuls of sand, looking for all the world like panhandlers mining for gold in the Klondike. I myself have a shark’s tooth ― my friend’s mother picked it up within minutes of our arrival at Caspersen and handed it to me as a souvenir of my visit.

So, there it is: my top three beaches. My goal for my next visit to the Gulf Coast? To come up with a top ten list.

Through My Lens: Hawaii

For my 50th post: a photo from the 50th state. I took this shot of Waikiki Beach in December 2008. That’s Diamond Head in the background.

I felt right at home in Waikiki. Hawaii has a large Asian population ― as does Vancouver. And the labyrinth of hotel-filled streets that make up Waikiki is just like Vancouver’s West End ― but with better weather.