Friday, March 16, 2012

Beautiful Thailand

We just got home last night from 11 days in Thailand. Why is it I plan such busy trips? Honestly, we saw almost every part of Thailand - because the airfare on Air Asia is soooo cheap domestically. Anyways, we had a great trip. We visited Bangkok, Phuket, Chiang Mai, and Chang Dao.

We almost missed our trip - I missed the small print that says to please bring the credit card you book your tickets with to the airport. And, as I don't like to carry around extra credit cards, I naturally left that card at home. Thankfully, the cc company answered their phone finally, and the payment got verified. We tried out Qatar Airlines this time - not sure it will be my first choice again.

We had prearranged to have a friend of a friend of a friend pick us up at the airport and take us to their Bed & Breakfast outside of Bangkok. On the way we stopped for an authentic Thai dinner, then crashed for the night in their authentic Bangkok neighborhood home.
The next morning we set out with Nut to see Bangkok. To visit a wat (temple) you must have your legs covered, so we wore long skirts and jeans even though it was quite warm and humid. We visited the Grand Palace (more like a temple), then rode a tuk-tuk to Wat Pho (huge reclining gold Buddha). We had a delicious lunch in a nice Thai restaurant - complete with white table cloths and singing women. Thais can count to 6 and did so every time we passed by, then commented "Big family! Happy family!" After lunch we went to the Jim Thompson factory outlet (I bought cotton material) and MBK - a market-style shopping mall (indoors and air conditioned!) Rat (the lady of the house) arranged massages for us (Chris,Macey, Katelin, and me), and Rat watched the little ones while we got our 1 hour massages for $10 each including tip! We went to China Town and ate street food for dinner - noodles, durian (famous stinky fruit - okay but has the texture of snot), and mangos with sticky rice.

Reclining Buddha

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Money is put in to bring good luck (given to the temple). Not optional, according to the tour guide, so we did it so not to offend anyone. The kids thought it was fun, but wondered about taking the money with them instead!

Adding gold leaves to the statue brings good luck
Riding in a tuk-tuk, so named because of the sound the motor makes

The 2nd day Nut took us to bright and early about 1 hour out of Bangkok to the train market - local foods set up around the train track. When the whistle blows, they have 1 minute to move all their food away from the track. After the train goes by, they move it back. No one spoke a word of English. I now know why Asians take so many pictures when visiting the USA - our foods must be just as weird to them as their foods are to us! Next  - the floating markets. We rode our own long boat, complete with coconut drinks, down the long canals built hundreds of years ago by the Chinese. Instead of roads, they built canals, and homes, schools, and markets sprang up along the water. When you see something you like, you ask the driver to stop so you can bargain with the shop owner - some are floating and some are on the water's edge. We ate a noodle lunch on the boat for about $1 each. On the way back into Bangkok we stopped at the Benjarong factory where they hand paint china. It used to be only for the Royal family, but now they can also sell it. We watched them painting the china and bought some pieces for ourselves. Next - teak handicraft factory where we saw massive carvings and beautiful teak furniture. Then, the Teak Palace where the royal family lived in the early 1900s. Apparently, each Rama (king) got a new palace. Rama 9 is ruling now, and Nut could tell us which Rama did what! One Chinese tour guide at the Palace was having a hard time keeping the interest of his audience - they were staring at us instead. He finally asked us in English if we were from France! I told him Dubai and it didn't faze him one bit! I heard "Dubai" in his speech for the next few minutes. Lastly, we ran through a National Handicraft Museum where everything was made of gold (dragons, ships, beds), Benjarong china, and pictures made with silk embroidery. We almost did run - we were tired of museums and we were trying to keep ahead of the Chinese tourists. Nut got us to the airport just in time for our flight to Phuket where a van was waiting to take us to our villa on Kalim beach. The cook had prepared a delicious Thai dinner and watermelon juice for us, and we fell into bed.

In our boat at the Floating Markets

The next morning Nang, the cook and housekeeper, made French toast and fruit for breakfast. We had a day for relaxing! We swam in the pool and collected shells on our own beach. We ate something wonderful for lunch. The kids played on the rocks as the tide went out. Nang made watermelon and banana shakes (the boys aren't fond of watermelon!). It was really hot in the afternoon, so the kids had to sit and watch TV - they thought they were in heaven. In the evening, we went into town in a tuk tuk, stopped at a tailors to be measured for dresses, a skirt, and a suit, ate ice cream at Swenson's in Jungeceylon (a shopping mall of sorts), then returned home for a wonderful meal prepared for us, complete with sticky rice and mangos.

The fourth morning we got up and went to the marina for a boat trip to Phi Phi (p p) island, monkey island, snorkeling, swimming, etc. It was fun, but the beaches were so crowded with tourists that the fish were scarce. When we got back to the marina, the others that rode in our van weren't back yet, and we had to wait almost 1 hour for them. Of course, no one spoke English to explain this to us, but as they refused to take us home until these people showed up, we figured out what was going on. It was very disconcerting to be "left" and not know what was going on. But we made it home, swam in the pool, ate some dinner, went into town for a fitting at the tailor's, went to the fruit market, and finally went to bed.

The fifth morning we got up early to bet the heat and went to Hanuman's zip line. It was a 3 hour blast! Nang went with us to watch Jolee and Julia. We went 3 km through the jungle on 28 platforms, the longest line was 400 meters. Definitely a new and very fun experience. Thais eat a lot (small meals), so the zip line place had a home cooked thai meal for us with fresh fruit. They also gave us T-shirts. That afternoon we relaxed in our villa, swam, the kids played on the rocks. After dinner we went into town for some more ice cream and tailor fittings.

Chris and the kids having the dead skin on their feet eaten by tiny fish (note that Jennifer is not present - well, someone had to stay out to take a picture!)

Matthew (right) couldn't keep his feet still!

The last day in Phuket we went to a beach north of our villa and played in the Andaman sea and sand and drank smoothies. Chris and the 4 oldest kids had their feet cleaned by dead skin-eating fish! In the afternoon, the van took us to the airport to fly to Chiang Mai. There, Ya (a friend of Rat's sister) picked us up with her driver, took us to dinner, then to the Doi Kham Resort for the night. It was sorta like a tree house but not actually in a tree. There were 3 huge bedrooms, but we only needed 2 of them - one with a king bed and one with two queens. The grounds were beautiful with wooden walk ways, grass areas and flowers, tall trees and 7 houses of different sizes. We were a little unsure of it when we booked online, but it turned out a lot better than we expected.
Elephants getting their morning bath

Elephant painting the picture we ended up buying
Matthew, Chris and Jolee riding an elephant
Timothy and Katelin
Macey and Jennifer (holding tight to Julia!)
Our first morning in Chiang Mai started too early for the breakfast at the resort (7am) so we had a banana and a coffee at the Maesa Elephant camp. We watched the elephant show, feed the elephants, and bought a picture one of the elephants painted in the show. Then we rode elephants around the camp site and jungle for about an hour. The movements on top of the elephant proved to be too much for Julia, and up came her bananas! Next, we stopped at some little monkey school show - I think they stole the baby monkeys from the forest - not too impressed. Next, the Tiger Kingdom - not sure where they got the tigers, but it seems like they were tied to some conservatory, or so they said. Katelin and Macey went in to see the baby tiger cubs while Chris and Timothy went to see some larger tigers. The others and I feed the fish in the pond. The next stop was a butterfly garden and orchid farm - they grow without dirt, hanging suspended on a bar getting their water out of the humid air. Next, we took a Mae Ping river cruise in a long boat to a "farmer's" house where they had little bits of different crops and livestock that they raise in Thailand. We had a delicious lunch - noodles in a red curry and coconut milk soup and either chicken or pork, with little dishes of vegetables and sauces you could add if you wanted. We also tried lemon grass, ginger, tamarind, and one other juice. And, of course, there was the fruit plate! After the cruise back, we went to the Chiang Mai zoo. We only had a little over one hour before they closed, so we started at the pandas - parents and a cub. The zoo was huge and spread out - you have to take a trolley between the exhibits. We didn't realize this, so our driver drove us up and down the hills between the exhibits so we could see as much as possible. The pygmy monkeys were the smallest monkeys I have ever seen. Katelin saw her favorite - white tigers. Next was a arts and crafts market that takes place in a different location every night. I was impressed with the quality of the crafts, and Macey got a drum to add to her collection. We also ate ice cream (75 cents for 2 scoops) and dinner from street vendors. There were lots of things to try, but we skipped the fried insects!
Timothy hugging a tiger!

Katelin and Macey playing with the cubs
Orchid farm
Panda family at Chiang Mai Zoo
Lady selling wonderful satays at the Night Street Market - about 6 for $1US
Ginger for sale, in case you need protection from bad spirits (at the cave)

Alex arrived after breakfast the next morning to take us to the Tree House Resort in Chang Dao. A village family has a tree house they rent out along with excursions. Alex with OrientXplorer arranges it for people like us who don't speak Thai. First stop on the way was a cave and its obligatory temple. The cave was dark, so a lady with a gas lantern led the way and told us all about the hermit that discovered the cave and what all the rocks represented (such as the dead mother elephants whose front two legs were eaten by something). Alex translated all this for us. We drove a little further north to our tree house, and the family had lunch ready for us. The host family (Lung Suk and his family) doesn't speak English, so Alex was our go-between. The tree house was a little more rustic than I expected. We had 3 of the 4 rooms over-looking the jungle and gurgling creek - complete with mattresses on the floor and mosquito netting. There were indoor toilets and cold showers. After lunch we took a trek through the jungle on the sides of the mountain to a beautiful waterfall, stopping at the local village school to pass out lollipops and art supplies. The kids board at the school because their villages are too far away to go home every day. Jolee loved giving the kids candy! At the waterfall, Chris and the kids swam in the freezing water. Julia fell asleep in my backpack baby carrier and Jolee fell asleep on Chris's shoulders. Chris slid and scraped his leg up when Jolee shifted on his shoulders. Other than that, we made it back in one piece with sore muscles! It was dinner time by the time we got back to the tree house. After dinner, Chris and I had an herbal sauna treatment - we sat in a homemade sauna and rubbed coffee grounds on our skin! Once was enough! It was difficult to sleep that night because we are not used to the noise - the river, the insects, the birds, the village chief giving the news over a loud speaker. It got chilly at night, but warmed up by mid-morning, but not so much to make the hiking too hot. Wonderful weather, really.
One of our bedrooms at the tree house

The doorway is to the room above

Giving lollipops to the village school children

The 2nd day at the tree house started with pancakes and a hike to another waterfall, with a lunch of chicken basil and rice wrapped in banana leaves (naturally waterproof!) on the rocks. After relaxing in the tree house in the afternoon, we trekked down to the local tea plantation. They grow green and black tea (depending on when it is harvested) to sell at the market. They also ferment it and chew it like tobacco or gum. Didn't taste like anything I'd make a habit of! Back at the tree house we had a cooking lesson as the cook prepared our supper. After supper, we all had massages out on the porch. The wife, daughter, daughter-in-law, cousin, and 2 ladies from the village all wanted to massage Jolee! Apparently the government offers classes in massage therapy, so everyone knows how to massage. One of the ancient temples even had directions with pictures of how to massage different areas of the body - an old practice in Thailand.
Matthew enjoying the hike - with a stick in both hands!

A rather cold shower

A beautiful vista - the trees with wide leaves are wild banana trees
Timothy the Daredevil

Who will fall in this time?

Macey and our host Lung Suk

Yummy lunch on the rocks above the water fall
Julia's ride - even sound alseep!

Village tea plantation
Our last morning at the tree house we left after breakfast.  First, we visited a silk factory to learn about silk making. We bought some scarves, ties, headbands, and such at very good prices. Next, we went to the umbrella factory where all the umbrellas are made by hand, from the wooden shaft to the painted top. Last stop before the airport was the hot springs and mineral bath. We ate lunch first, then swam in the bath with some local school kids. The hot springs were so hot we boiled eggs in a basket! Alex dropped us off at the airport to fly back to Bangkok. Nut picked us up and took us to dinner at an Esan Thai restaurant (food from the north east part of Thailand including sukyoki). On the way, we had to stop on the highway for a while so the royal family could pass by on the road ahead of us. We stopped on the way to the B&B for sticky rice with custard and mangos, banana something, and some other Thai desserts - last chance!
Katelin - really!

Princess Jolee
Macey at the Umbrella factory, with Julia
Hot Mineral Springs
Mineral Bath
Early the next morning Rat made us sticky rice and mangos for breakfast before we left for the airport! We are going to miss those yummy mangos! 6.5 hours to Doha, 2 hour layover, 1 hour to Dubai, 20 minutes in a taxi and we are home! What a trip! Now I can rest! We have the weekend still before the week starts.

And how did I remember all of this? I didn't, but Macey is a prolific writer, so I am refreshing my memory with her journal that she wrote in faithfully every day! And how do I have time to blog it? Well, when we were gone, the utility company dug a ditch down our road in front of our garage where our cars are parked - so we are stuck at home! They were supposed to come this morning with a ramp to get the cars out, but it's Friday - enough said, maybe tomorrow, probably not.


  1. What a great post! It sounds like a fun vacation and such wonderful experiences for all of you!
    (This is Lisa Mahoney, from AHEE, just in case it's been that long since I commented on one of your posts!) :)

  2. Way to go, Macey, keeping track in your journal! And good for you, Mom, putting it all into blog form so we can enjoy our trip! What wonderful experiences your family is having. The Jim Thompson/Silk Road story has long intrigued me and your account reminds me that I want to read more about it. You sure packed a lot into your days in Thailand. Thanks for sharing!