Cambodia and Laos border crossing and 4000 Islands adventure

The route we decided on had us heading north to Laos from Phenom Penh. We had received some sound advice to stop in Kratie to break up the long bus ride to the border, so that is what we did. We didn’t arrive in Kratie until after dark, so we essentially used it as a hub city and didn’t do much exploring. From what we did see, it seemed like a pretty sleepy town that didn’t have too much going on. You could take a river tour on the Mekong and look for Irrawaddy dolphins, but you can also do that in Laos, which is where we were headed.

After reading about the border crossing and talking to a couple of tourist offices and hotels, we decided to book the combined, mini van, bus, bus, and boat ticket to 4000 islands in Laos. The border between Cambodia and Laos is apparently very sleepy and not many buses or taxis are waiting on either side. So, if you don’t do a combined bus ticket, then you might not have a ride. This is one of those moments where Dave and I know we don’t want to do the tourist bus border crossing-any organized border crossing can be riddled with scams-but don’t really have any other options, so we go for it.

Well, the mini van, which took two hours, was late to arrive at the bus drop off. This was because they were waiting to fill the van, and by fill, they mean add an extra person to every row. This means 4 people sit where 3 people should actually be sitting…aka luxury travel. This delay made the bus driver annoyed with all of us because he had to wait. Thankfully this ride to the border was short and there was plenty of space for everyone.

On the way to the border the bus worker was asking everyone if he could have their passports and the money needed to get a visa for Laos. He explained that if he got all of the visas and stamps, versus each of us individually, it would go much faster. Right away buzzers went off in our heads that this was definitely a scam. At about the same time, another traveler from China also had the same feelings. The bus worker was telling us that it would cost a US citizen $45 for a visa. We are usually pretty good about knowing what it would cost, but our book only had a range of what it could be based on your nationality. We also knew there would be some miscellaneous fees they would charge for stamping just to get more money out of us. So all in all, we didn’t really know if it was $45 or less.

We, of course, asked many questions to see if this was a scam and if the guy doing it got any money out of it. He repeatedly told us it wasn’t a scam and this is how much it will cost and assured us that we could ask anyone at the border and if it was different he would give us back the money. We asked many times if we could just do it by ourselves. He implied that if we did it ourselves that it would take too long and the bus wouldn’t wait for us on the other side. When we enter a new country we have no idea what they would or wouldn’t do in regards to leaving behind tourists. So Dave, Jen, our Chinese friend, and I all agreed to give him money and if the price was different we’d get any extra money back.

Once we reached the border, the bus worker headed off with all of our passports and visas. Both Dave and our new Chinese friend wanted to follow him and ask the workers how much it was, but the bus worker was adamant that if they did that, it would cost more and go slower.  They were only allowed to ask the fellow tourists on the bus, which were obviously getting charged the same as us. Dave and our Chinese friend were just as adamant about finding out the true cost and not getting scammed out of money. They had followed him and asked him at every check point how much everything was and eventually broke him down to the point where he said “alright, I get $1 from the cut” but when they did the math he was actually get $5 from every person. That is a lot of money for someone living in Laos and for people traveling on a budget. They had pestered and harassed him enough so he finally gave them their money back, but Dave was concerned he was going to tell the bus driver to leave with out us. Turns out, he wasn’t even coming with us on the bus to 4000 islands and his threat of the bus leaving was completely made up. Thanks to the insistent Dave and our Chinese friend, the four of us didn’t lose $4 and we made it to Don Khone no problem.

One of the many knock off Oreos we tried. Still Stereos are not as good as Oreos.

One of the many knock off Oreos we tried. Still Stereos are not as good as Oreos.

Dave and our Chinese friend fighting to keep our money.

Dave and our Chinese friend fighting to keep our money.

Final boat ride to Don Khone.

Final boat ride to Don Khone.

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One of the main reason for coming to Don Khone was for the Irrawaddy river dolphins. The book recommended we see them either early in the morning or late afternoon. We had decided to check them out early in the morning. The boat launch was a good 4 km (2.5 miles) away from our hotel. This was too far to walk, so we decided to rent bicycles the night before and ride them early the next morning.

We went for an evening stroll to test out the bikes and remind our bodies of our cycling skills. Our little stroll provided both beautiful scenery of the Island and an awesome sunset.

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Our first of Beer Lao.

Our first of Beer Lao.

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The next morning we headed out early so we could see the dolphins when they are most active. About 3/4 of the way there we hear a loud bang noise. Both Dave and I turned around and see Jen slowing down with a popped tired. We knew we were closer to our destination than where we came from, so we tried different tactics to get the three of us to the boat landing. Jen took Dave’s bike and Dave and I tried to ride on the bike together and hold the one with the flat tire at the same time. We’ve seen many, many people ride two people to a bicycle and hold crazy things, so it would be easy. Yeah right! We had a really hard time trying to balance just the two of us on the bike and then we had a bicycle that didn’t roll very easily on the side. We tried for about 5 minutes and gave up. Dave just started running with the bike next to him. Thankfully we were only a 2 min. jog away. We found a boat captain and headed on the river and would deal with the tire after.

Amazingly enough, we got to see some dolphins. There was one or two that were active that morning. It was very hard to catch them on camera, but we got one good shot and one ok shot. They are very quick and camera shy.

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The best shot we have of the dolphins. They have short noses, not long like the common dolphins we're used to seeing.

The best shot we have of the dolphins. They have short noses, not long like the common dolphins we’re used to seeing.

Just barely got a snap shot of one here.

Just barely got a snap shot of one here.

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After the dolphin viewing we found a person that was willing to look at and repair Jen’s flat tire while we ate breakfast. He got a new inner tube put in pretty quickly and then started to pump up the tire.. In the process of pumping up the tire, we hear another loud bang and a very surprised bike repairman. After further inspection, he found a huge slice in the tire, which had caused the two popped tires. After some quick engineering skills with the old inner tube he gave us back a bike that could hold air. We checked on the fix the whole way back to our hotel. At one point the fix had come off but the tire stayed inflated. So we had to do a quick repair to the temporary fix of the tire. Thankfully the bike made it to both the waterfall we wanted to see that was on the way back and to the hotel without a third flat tire. Phew.

Laos has really good coffee (or so Dave says) and they serve it with condensed sweetened milk at the bottom.

Laos has really good coffee (or so Dave says) and they serve it with condensed sweetened milk at the bottom.

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Doh.

Doh.

Temporary fix by our friendly bike repairman.

Temporary fix by our friendly bike repairman.

Fixing the temporary fix.

Fixing the temporary fix.

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This was suppose to be the beach where we could swim...just not in the dry season.

This was suppose to be the beach where we could swim…just not in the dry season.

Jen tried to negotiate with the bicycle owner since she paid the repairman herself. Of course he didn’t want to pay because he said it was her fault the tire had a slice in it. There was a very heated argument for well over 15 minutes that included the gentleman, his wife (who didn’t speak English), and Jen. They reluctantly agreed to splitting the repair cost with both parties feeling screwed. Over all it was a fun day filled with adventure. It would be less memorable if things had gone smoothly.

One last fun thing to mention was Jen convinced the sweet older lady we rented rooms from to give us a cooking class. The lady didn’t speak much english, but thankfully she spoke French and there were some French people who translated for us.

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And lastly, they had A LOT of bugs come out at night. We walked through clouds of bugs at times. Strange.

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Categories: Nature, Outdoors, South East Asia, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Phnom Penh, Cambodia

We only spent a few short days sightseeing in the bustling city of Phnom Penh—the capital of Cambodia. Since leaving Thailand and entering Cambodia the pace of travel picked up quite a bit compared to all the traveling that preceded. Our return flight to the U.S. (already booked) and the consequent end of the trip was only about one month and a week away by the time we left Phnom Penh. Due to the short time left and the amount of ground left to cover, a faster pace was required, as well as being a little more selective about where to visit and for how long. Aside from the little sightseeing we did, we also said farewell to one more of our fellow travelers (Paul), while another (Jen) decided to continue traveling with Sarah and I through the rest of Southeast Asia.

Phnom Penh has a long and rich history as one of Southeast Asia’s cultural and political centers. Though, much of what travelers experience during their time there, as we did, is the relatively recent and dark history revolving around the horrible atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge. The Khmer Rouge was the ruling political party of Cambodia from 1975 to 1979 led by then leader Pol Pot. The leaders of the party were responsible for the mass murder and forced labor of millions of Cambodians. For more on the Khmer Rouge check out this Wikipedia page.

Most people typically visit two Khmer Rouge sites, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and The Killing Fields. Our friend George (Nepal trekking partner) visited the sites before us and suggested we visit both in one day in order to avoid prolonging the depressing experience. We chose to visit only one, the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, an old high school that the Khmer Rouge converted into a prison to house and torture alleged political enemies. The buildings were full of classrooms converted to small prison cells and some larger rooms used for torturing. There were exhibits describing some of the atrocities committed and photos of the victims. It was a somber and eye opening experience. We watched a short film at the beginning describing the history of the Khmer Rouge and the prison.

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Instead of visiting The Killing Fields we chose to spend a couple hours walking around the Royal Palace. The palace sits about 100 meters from the edge of the mighty Mekong river and is surrounded by beautiful gardens. Of the palaces we’ve seen throughout our trip it’s in better condition than most. While we were there they were in the process of rehabilitating one of the buildings. The guidebook emphasized something called the Silver Padoda. We searched the entire palace complex looking for the pagoda and couldn’t find it. I mean how hard could it be to spot a silver pagoda, right? Well, it turns out that the name “Silver Pagoda” comes from the fact that a small portion of the floor inside of the pagoda is covered in silver tiles. So the pagoda itself isn’t made of silver. Too bad.

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Though Phnom Penh was a whirlwind experience it was still a memorable one. The history of the Khmer Rouge sticks with me the most. If we visited Phnom Penh again I’m not sure we’d spend anymore time than we did. Two full days seems like plenty.

Categories: South East Asia, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

Floating Village Homestay in Kampong Luang

After a couple of long, interesting days, hilariously described by our guest blogger Paul, we finally arrived at the floating village and our home away from home.

The floating village is located on the Tonle Sap. The Tonle Sap is the largest fresh water lake in south east Asia with a few unique characteristics to it. The first being that it changes the direction it flows twice a year with the rainy and dry seasons. During the dry season, the lake is more like the typical lakes we have back home and runs into the Mekong River. But, during the rainy season, there is so much water that it backs up, floods, and forms one very large lake. The difference in water level from dry to rainy can be as drastic as 3 ft during the dry and 30 ft during the rainy, with an increase of over 4 times the surface area of water.

Because of this huge change in water volume and surface area for the lake, the village that we decided to stay in, Kampong Luang, actually moves locations throughout the year. As it gets drier, it moves farther out into the lake and as the lake rises it moves back closer to land.

When we were there, it was the very start of the rainy season so the lake was pretty low and the village was farther out then it is during the full rainy season. But, that being said we got there no problem.

When we arrived, we took a boat out to a floating house and were welcomed by a young mother and her adorable baby. Her and her husband (the boat driver) have been doing homestays for only a couple of months now. It was a two bedroom house, with a small hallway and back area for cooking. There was another area they had for the TV (yes, TV on a floating house), and a folding table set for eating and lounging. Since there was four of us and only one extra bedroom we were a little unsure of where we would all sleep. Turns out that the TV and eating area also can be a location where people can sleep.

Heading to the homestay.

Heading to the homestay.

Our new home for the night.

Our new home for the night.

Dave lounging in one of the many hammocks.

Dave lounging in one of the many hammocks.

Jen in the TV and eating room.

Jen in the TV and eating room.

Out host and her daughter.

Out host and her daughter.

The hall that leads to the bedrooms, kitchen, and bathroom.

The hall that leads to the bedrooms, kitchen, and bathroom.

Bedroom Jen and Paul stayed in.

Bedroom Jen and Paul stayed in.

Part of the kicthen

Part of the kicthen

Bedroom where our hosts stayed.

Bedroom where our hosts stayed.

The rest of the kitchen.

The rest of the kitchen.

Our neighbors had a monkey chained to their floating house. Not sure why...

Our neighbors had a monkey chained to their floating house. Not sure why…

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View from the hammock

View from the hammock

View from the homestay house.

View from the homestay house.

Since our day was so long and we didn’t have any place to eat lunch, we asked our host if she could make us lunch, it was 2:30 pm. She was very accommodating and had a fish delivered by boat and started cooking for us. This gave us ample time to hang out with her sweet baby girl. An hour or so later, the food was done and it was delicious. I’m not a fan of fish, but I tried it and it was ok, but everything else was perfect.

She's a cutie!

She’s a cutie!

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Our yummy lunch.

Our yummy lunch.

After the meal, the husband came back and took us out on a tour of the village. Kampong Luang is the largest floating village in Cambodia and also has all of the necessary shops so that you don’t need to leave the village to get what you need. This includes a church, school, mechanic, convenient stores, a temples, ice making factories, and so on. It was a nice break from sitting in the house. We didn’t realize this until we were there, there is no leaving the house once you’re on it since all around you is water.

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Cleaning the parts right into the water. Standard procedure.

Cleaning the parts right into the water. Standard procedure.

Crushing ice.

Crushing ice.

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These kids were using the plastic jug to slide on the boat.

These kids were using the plastic jug to slide on the boat.

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Gas.

Gas.

School and church.

School and church.

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Mobile shopping.

Mobile shopping.

Temple.

Temple.

Once back at the house we were able to watch the beautiful sunset over the village houses.  When the sun goes down, the generators come on and power all of the houses and TVs. It was somewhat peaceful before this. We still had the loud motors from the boats, but no TV. Our host family turned on the TV once the power came on and left it running even when they were not watching it. It was loud and not very peaceful, oh well. Full experience right?

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They fed us once more around 7 pm and then started to close up the house and set up for bed. Jen and Paul were in the spare bedroom under a bug net with a rather thin foam mattress. Dave and I opted for hammocks rather than the bamboo mat, which offers no cushion what-so-ever. Thankfully all of us were exhausted from the long journey so falling asleep at 7:30-8ish was no problem for us.

The next morning we were woken up at 5:30 am from the house doors opening, loud motors driving by, and all the other noises the village produced. We opted not to have breakfast and to be taken back to the shore at around 7 am. From there we headed back to the main town to catch a bus to Phnom Penh.

It was a fun experience for us all. It was a pretty short amount of time to visit the floating village. Anymore and you would have just been stuck on the boat longer. I’m glad we did it.

Categories: Cities, Outdoors, South East Asia, Traveling | Tags: , , , , | 4 Comments

Perspiration Road–Pursat, Cambodia

Below is the posting from our final guest blogger Paul.

The four of us hopped on a bus from Siem Reap to Pursat and welcomed the air-con but not so much the 3 hour Cambodian music video. Epic it was. And when it was finally over, they played it again. I found it to be an exercise in patience, much like the entire 3 weeks I spent in the heat and humidity of Southeast Asia. Upon our arrival in Pursat the tuk-tuk drivers spotted us from outside and started waving their arms whilst running alongside the moving bus. It would have been unsettling if they hadn’t, as this is standard procedure. Lets face it, as non-Asians, we stick way out in a crowd. Our plan was to spend the night in Pursat, ride the bamboo train in the morning, and head to a floating village about 70 km away where we would partake in a home-stay.

So the one tuk tuk driver that spoke English approached us and stuck to us like a stray cat you just fed a can of quality tuna. It was off-putting, which was unfortunate, because he knew what we wanted to do, made a plan for us that sounded reasonable, but was too expensive. So we all ignored him as best we could and found a guesthouse across the street to drop our bags, wash up, and explore the town in search of eats. We eventually stumbled upon a real, rural Cambodian street market complete with wriggling fish, baskets of live bugs, pig heads, and water buffalo roaming the streets. It tickled and slapped all of the senses.

Naturally the air was already thick with moisture to which every scent seemed to hang on, from scooter exhaust, sea creatures, fried stick-meat and durian,to sweaty bodies, rotting garbage and a lingering putrescence reminiscent of stinky feet and dirty biscuit* (*word substitution by blog administrators). Or vice versa.  Ironically enough we were all quite hungry, but understandably skeptical. Enter Willia. Yes, Willia. A 25 year old Brooklyn girl who was born in Haiti and working with the Peace Corp in Pursat to bring health awareness to the people. She even spoke Cambodian and hooked us up with a noodle stand and ordered for us. A stroke of good fortune. She offered to show us around a little so we took her up on her offer and started walking towards a giant barge that was cemented into place in the river and turned into a park. Neat.

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Group with our new friend Willia.

Group with our new friend Willia.

We were walking on the sidewalk and Willia was walking her bike next to us on the street when suddenly two guys on a scooter clipped her handle bar, lost control of the scooter and did a face plant at 20 mph. We all just stood there slightly in shock, and puzzled. Naturally they had no helmets on, so when the driver finally peeled his face off the street and stood up, he looked just like he did a face plant in the street at 20 mph on a moped. It was ugly. Willia tried talking to him and slowly came to the realization that they were very drunk. That explained it. They picked up the bike, and the passenger, who was not hurt, drove the two of them away, and we walked to the park. Those are not the droids you are looking for. At the barge park I picked up on Willia’s dazed vibe and suggested we all call it a day and head back to our spaces. We had a big day ahead of us and a strange day behind us.

Floating barge.

Barge Park

Jen was able to grab a photo of the drunken scooter drivers as they drove off.

Jen was able to grab a photo of the drunken scooter drivers as they drove off. You can see blood on at the bottom of the passengers pant leg.

The next morning Sarah and Dave got up a bit earlier than Jen and I, shrugged off the stray cat/tuk tuk driver (yes, he was persistent) and sat down for their fried rice breakfast. Jen and I followed suit but my breakfast never came. Lost in translation I suppose, or severe lack thereof. But at least we had a view of some nature, in the form of dogs having sex next to our table. And yes, it was. Doggy style. From there we managed to get a tuk tuk to take the four of us to the bamboo train.

It sounds leagues more interesting than it is. Not even bamboo, but I guess no one would be intrigued if it were called a pallet train now would we. None the less (a phrase I don’t really understand) we got on the slatted wood platform with our bags and headed down the tracks toward what we thought would get us to some transportation to Krakor, the town nearest the floating village of Kampong Luang. The “train” was powered by what closely resembled a lawn mower engine with a fan belt running off a pulley from the crankshaft to a pulley on the axle of the drive wheels. The engine was loose and held in place both by the operator sitting on it and a stick. To get it to move he just took the slack out of the belt by tilting the engine. And there was a stick for braking as well, which we had to do in order to remove the train from the tracks everytime we met a train traveling in the opposite direction. The other trains were loaded with construction grade wood 5 feet high and then 8 to 10 people and their cargo on top. After 3 or 4 of these episodes we got dumped off deep in the heart of a rural farming community.

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It was like planet of the Asians and Dave was Charlton Heston. We didn’t actually get wrangled up and forced into slavery, but it felt like we had gotten out of a spaceship on a strange planet that we would later find out was Earth after the apocalypse. We shortly drew a crowd as we walked down the dirt road with our gear, and umbrellas, sweating like things that sweat very heavily. The whole time clueless as to where we were, and in which direction to walk to get us closer to the floating village. Dave was stopping every person that went by who was operating anything with wheels and an engine in hopes to make a connection and score us a lift. After about an hour my hopes of staying hydrated long enough to get out of the situation started to wane. I must admit, I began to get seriously concerned for our welfare and suggested we go back to where we got dropped off and wait for another train to take us back to Pursat and jump on a bus.

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By that time Dave was able to communicate our need for a ride to a woman who wanted $100 to get us to the floating village. Although we weren’t sure if she knew where we wanted to go. It was vague at best so we all agreed to turn around and head back. When we did, she offered again for $50 but it was still vague and too much money so we kept going. A minute or so after we left, a woman offered to take Jen and her giant bag to the bamboo train stop on her scooter. So off went Jen and her bag. I turned to Dave and said “you know now that we’re split up we will find a ride”. It’s Murphy’s law and its real because 3 minutes down the road a guy comes walking up to us and says, in very clear English, “hi, can I help you guys?” I turned to Dave and said “see”.

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Categories: South East Asia, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ruins of Angkor

After our week of fun with the family in Phuket, Thailand half of them headed home, but Jen and Paul were able to stick around and join us for the next leg of the journey into Cambodia. The four of us booked it out of Thailand and into Cambodia so that Paul would have enough time to see as much as he could before heading home one week later. It took us only one full day to make our way from Phuket to Siem Reap, Cambodia–the gateway to the ruins of Angkor.

By this point in our trip Sarah and I were seasoned land-border-crossers, but it was a first for Jen and Paul. There’s really not much to it. You get an exit stamp from the country you’re leaving, walk through some sort of buffer zone to a building to pay for and receive your visa, and the finally walk a bit further to get an entry stamp for the country you’re entering. Most of the time this process is pretty straight forward, but occasionally you encounter someone trying to run a scam. In this case the only scam we encountered, but avoided, was a fake visa issuing building that charges double the going rate for a visa. In the case of Cambodia a visa costs about $23, which is what we paid.

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The contrast between Thailand and Cambodia was immediately obvious at the border. As soon as we entered Cambodia the feel of everything changed. Cambodia was less organized, a bit more hectic and there was far more trash lying around. Sarah and I had seen places like this and worse but it was interesting to see it settle in for Jen and Paul. Thailand is a pretty clean and well organized country by most standards, so leaving it and entering Cambodia created a whole new vibe for the trip.

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From the border we took a two hour taxi ride to Siem Reap. We researched the trip ahead of time and knew approximately what the two hour journey should cost. With a little negotiating we easily reached that price ($12 per person). Our taxi was a fly Toyota Camry from the early 90’s. Cambodia is full of Toyota Camrys. It seems like it’s the only car on the road at times. Maybe they get some sort of bulk discount.😉

The taxi driver dropped us on the side of the road in an unknown location where a few tuk tuks (I think they call them Motos in Cambodia) were waiting to receive us. We’d read that the tuk tuk drivers will take you to your hotel for free if you agree to use them as your mode of transport around the Angkor ruins. The ruins area is a massive complex and so this is the most popular and easiest way to see them. Before knowing what the going rate for this “tour” around the ruins was we didn’t want to agree to use these particular tuk tuk drivers. So we instead negotiated on a set price to take us to the hotel of our choice. With the four of us and our luggage we had to hire two tuk tuks.

Instead of taking us to the hotel we requested, and that they originally agreed to take us to, they took us to a different hotel where they presumably hoped to receive a commission for bringing us to. We don’t like to support this kind of tactic and so refused to even look at the rooms and insisted they take us to the hotel we requested. Either because of language barrier issues or shear stubbornness, they wouldn’t take us to the hotel. So we grabbed our bags and walked away without paying them the fare. We quickly found another tuk tuk driver who was willing to take us to the correct hotel and at a reasonable price. Being the nice, honest fella he was, we decided to hire him to be our driver for the next two days to make our way around the Angkor ruins complex.

Map

The Angkor complex contains many temple ruins, with the most well known being Angkor Wat. We spent two full days touring the temples via tuk tuk and walking. Both days had beautiful skies, though the heat was a little oppressive at times. The first day of the tour consisted of seeing the temples along the large loop road (green road shown above). The second day we arose early to see the sunrise at Angkor Wat (the largest religious temple in the world) and then continued along the small loop road (red road shown above) to see a few more ruins sites. The complex dates back 1200 years and more temples are still being discovered.

For more info on the Angkor ruins check out Wikipedia or the UNESCO site. It’s an amazing place and I feel fortunate to have seen and walked in such a fascinating historical site. The pictures below don’t do it justice but I hope you enjoy them. Click on any of the images to view all of them in a slideshow format.

Categories: Ruins, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | 4 Comments

Our Phuket Villa, Andaman Sea Boat Trip and so much more!

Hello Everyone. This is Sarah’s cousin Jen from the West Coast (San Francisco). Sarah and Dave asked if wanted to be a guest blogger, so here goes, hope I don’t make a mess out of their masterpiece.

After our wonderful stay in Chiang Mai, the eight of us flew to Phuket on the Andaman Sea where our four-bedroom Villa, with distant views of the ocean and big buddha, sat high on a hill.  It seemed like everyone was super excited to spend a week all together in a big, clean house with AC, kitchen, large living room, infinity pool and with “almost” all of the other comforts of home. What’s with the beds in South East Asia?!?! Soooooooooooooooo hard.

Villa Infinity Pool

Villa Infinity Pool

When I told some friends and family that I would be going to Phuket, many asked, if that was where the Tsunami occurred. And the answer is yes, we went to the very same area, Kata Beach, which was hit very bad. That very large and terribly destructive Tsunami hit Phuket and Sri Lanka on December 26, 2004 killing over 200,000 people. There is a good movie out now on DVD called, The Impossible, which highlights one Australian family’s experience on Phuket at the time the Tsunami struck.

Upon our Phuket arrival, the first thing we did was to go shopping since we had a full kitchen at the Villa. Our driver took us to a very expensive supermarket so we just bought the basics-whiskey, wine, beer, cheese and crackers, stuff for a BBQ and a couple of breakfasts. Shopping International supermarkets is both funny and frustrating. For example, I went to scout out eggs and thought I was loosing my mind trying to find them in the cold cases when they eventually turned up on the warm, dry shelves. Duh! After shopping, we piled into the van and arrived at the Villa.

After getting acquainted with the Villa, we made ourselves at home and enjoyed the beautiful infinity pool. Thailand was extremely hot, sweat poured out of most, so the daily retreat back to the Villa to swim was a joy for all. We decided to check out Kata Beach, so we made the trek down the very large hill and headed to the beach. That evening we had burgers and Mac-n-Cheese and enjoyed hanging out together at the Villa.

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Kata Beach

Kata Beach

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During our long walk to the beach, we had scoped out a few eateries and found a place called, The Red Chair, which quickly became our go-to-place for cheap, delicious Thai food. We couldn’t get enough of the Red Chair. Some of us even splurged and ordered at least two dishes at a time! It was that good. My mouth is watering just thinking of their Panang Curry. Other favorites included their Pad Thai, Fried Spring Rolls, Green Curry and Cashew Chicken.

The Red Chair Eatery

The Red Chair Eatery

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The next morning, we hired the Villa Chef to cook us breakfast, it wasn’t anything super fancy, but turned out to be a nice treat. After breakfast, we hiked down the big hill to the beach. The Andaman Sea is beautiful, but the water was super warm and didn’t provide the relief we’d all hoped for to escape the relentless Thailand heat. I rented a boogie board and most of us tested it out and had a great time boogie boarding and playing in the huge waves. Others hung out on the sand in lounge chairs and enjoyed festive coconut cocktails and such. Super fun day!

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That evening, we hung out at the Villa and ate, swam, danced and played cards. It was so nice to have a consistent place to stay where we could just hang out and do whatever anyone felt like doing.

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The next day we hung out at the Villa enjoying the pool. That evening, we went to the local night market in Phuket Town. The market was split into two areas, food and souvenir shopping. The food stalls were very interesting and offered many different selections. Those that wanted to souvenir shop found some really fun things to buy. We all got a kick out of Karen and Phil’s squawking rooster. And Abby and Jon found some great beach towels.

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After another fun night playing card games and drinking whiskey shots, we decided to plan for a boat trip through the Andaman Islands the next day. We woke up early and headed to the boat ramp for our day out at sea. Unfortunately, everyone else had the same idea. The boat trip turned out to be one of those factory-type-of-tours where they herd everyone around from island to island. But we made the best of it and still enjoyed seeing the beautiful islands and being entertained by Ms. Jennifer (not me), our Lady-Boy Sea host. Paul and myself had a VERY close call and actually showed up late to one of the island boat ramps to find everyone had already boarded the boat and shipped out! Luckily we had already made friends with Ms. Lady-Boy, so she graciously made the captain go back for us! Our punishment from Ms. Jennifer, a bum paddling for me and a big, wet kiss on the lips for Paul! She-He (I dunno) tricked Paul and got him good, the entire boat cracked up. Totally worth it. Ha!

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After the boat trip, I’m pretty sure we headed to the Red Chair or swam in the Villa infinity pool or vice-versa. Our days consisted of sleeping in, swimming, eating, drinking-rinse and repeat! And most of us got foot massages while Jonathan and Paul had full body massages. Paul even dared the fish spa, where tons of small little fish nibble on your feet to remove dead skin. Ewwwwww!

Phuket Massages

Phuket Massages

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And naturally, during our stay at the Villa, someone got sick. And that person was yours truly. Ugg, I’m not sure what the heck it was, but it hit me hard. I mean hard. The worst of it lasted a full 24 hours-severe stomach pains, diarrhea, hot then cold, cold then hot and brutal body pains. Luckily, I snapped out of it fully in a matter of two days. I am fortunate it happened at the Villa and that Paul was near to tend to my yuckiness! We missed out on the party night in Patong to see the famous “Ping-Pong” show, but the others went and had a good time.

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Our last night was spent eating at our beloved Red Chair eatery, swimming in the lovely infinity pool and sharing libations. I think it is safe to say, everyone enjoyed their time at the Villa and would do it all over again in a heart beat. Cheers!

The Red Chair

The Red Chair

Categories: Outdoors, South East Asia | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Chiang Mai: Cooking, Eating, Temples and Temples and Temples

Chiang Mai was not only filled with elephant adventure, although, I think that was by far the most exciting thing we did, we did some other fun things as well.

The second night we were in Chiang Mai we decided to do a Thai cooking class. The whole family decided to do it and we were very excited. The place we decided on (and I think all the other places available) have you choose which dishes you want to cook. This means you personally cook all your meals for the whole night. Cool. This was different from our last cooking class, which we all cooked together and ate the same things.

The school we decided to go to.

The school we decided to go to.

All of the ingredients we would need for the night.

All of the ingredients we would need for the night.

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The ingredients for my chicken and coconut soup and my cashew nut stir fry.

The ingredients for my chicken and coconut soup and my cashew nut stir fry.

Now cook.

Now cook.

Frying up some veggies for spring rolls.

Frying up some veggies for spring rolls.

Making curry paste.

Making curry paste.

Making papaya salad

Making papaya salad

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This is how you break up oyster mushrooms.

This is how you break up oyster mushrooms.

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My egg roll shell spit open. I had to get a new one and repeat the process.

My egg roll shell spit open. I had to get a new one and repeat the process.

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Eating our food.

Eating our food.

Are they sitting like this because they are stuffed? or because they don't know how to sit on the floor?

Are they sitting like this because they are stuffed? or because they don’t know how to sit on the floor?

Our chef/instructor was a young Thai women who had just had a baby so was balancing teaching us and distracting us with her adorable child. All in all, she did a very good job with instructing all of us on our different dishes and helping us cook yummy Thai food. I personally made spring rolls, chicken cashew nut stir fry, chicken and coconut soup, and massaman curry. Others made pad thai, mango and sticky rice, green curry, red curry and papaya salad. The best news was that we got a recipe book for all of the recipes whether you made them or not.

cashew nut and chicken coconut soup

cashew nut and chicken coconut soup

Spring roll

Spring roll

Massaman curry

Massaman curry

Every other moment in Chiang Mai was either seeing temples or cooling off in the pool. Almost two full days was filled with temples. With all of this, some people were templed out/exhausted from all the travel and decided on a more relaxing day of spa treatments and shopping. There are many temples in and around Chiang Mai and I’ve included pictures from three of the main ones that we visited.

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Fish Spa

Fish Spa

Foot massage.

Foot massage.

Chiang Mai is a very relaxed chill place and we were all a little sad to leave so soon. There are many other temples, shops, and eateries we could have seen if we stayed longer. But, we had flights to the south of Thailand and to beautiful beaches. Maybe we’ll return again to northern Thailand since we didn’t get to see all the joys it has to offer.

Categories: Cities, South East Asia, Traveling | Tags: , , | Leave a comment

Learning to be a Mahout!

Our very first guest blogger. I’ll let you figure out who it is through the post! Enjoy.

 

OK I can’t preface all of what led up to the elephants but if you’re reading this you know all about Sarah and Dave and their amazing travels around the globe. We all thought they had been having too much fun on their own so we decided to crash their world trip.
After a very early morning pick up from our respective guest houses, an impromptu stop at 7-11 for some supplies, and a scenic hour long van ride, we arrive at Baan Chang Elephant Park.
The first thing we did when we got there was change into our elephant uniforms. Wait, what? Uniforms?  Why can’t we just wear our regular clothes? Oh, what’s that, because elephant skin is like 200 grit sandpaper over concrete? OK yes thank you, large please. 
The group in uniform.

The group in uniform.

So we all get changed and excitedly bound over to become best friends with 25 rescued elephants… Hold on, pause, Aof has some important info and safety details first. That seems logical.  Our kick ass guide, Aof, gives us a brief run down on the ins and outs of interacting with elephants. Most of them are super friendly and love attention, but a few of them are uncomfortable with strangers, or nervous.. around… I can see them from here! What did Aof say? 
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Finally we get to go see them. They are huge and gentle and majestic. This is what I was most looking forward to doing for the entire trip. It’s all we’ve been able to think about for days and here I am, and I. Am. Terrified. WTF!? These things are enormous! OMG we are supposed to go up to them and feed them? For real?…Like, for real?  If one of them accidentally swings that 9 foot trunk at me, I’m done, lights out. Aaahh! That one almost touched me! Why didn’t I listen more closely to Aof?
Apparently the rest of my group didn’t seem to be plagued with the same unexpected anxieties. 5 minutes in and everyone else was feeding them banana bunches and bundles of sugar cane, posing for pictures, and getting kisses from a baby elephant. I was still strategically wandering around (just out of reach of any wayward swinging trunks) pretending to be satisfied just taking pictures. This went on for about 40 minutes until Jonathan realized I had yet to even touch one. He helped and a few minutes later I was giving one some bananas and sugar cane. I don’t know why I was so nervous!
Jonathan getting an elephant kiss.

Jonathan getting an elephant kiss.

Dave feeding the elephant sugar cane and bananas.

Dave feeding the elephant sugar cane and bananas.

After Elephant kisses.

After Elephant kisses.

During elephant kisses.

During elephant kisses.

Fast forward to Phase 2
After everyone had a chance to get acquainted and comfortable (sort of) we got our first try at practicing getting on and off of them and learning and giving the commands that we’d need for our trek through the jungle. Luckily my anxiety sort of evaporated at this point, because getting on them and sitting on them wasn’t quite as easy as I thought it would be. Even though they lay down on the ground, an elephant is still a huge huge animal. You climbed up via her leg sticking out conveniently and hoist yourself up and over her back in a rather wide straddle. Some members of our group had a bit more difficulty with this than others.
Jonathan mounting the elephant.

Jonathan mounting the elephant.

I did it!

I did it!

Sarah demonstrating how to step on the elephant to hop on.

Sarah demonstrating how to step on the elephant to hop on.

Little extra help for Mom (and Dad)

Little extra help for Mom (and Dad)

We all took turns first just getting up and down, and then riding in a small loop with a guide. It was thrilling! Their skin really is super rough and some of the spiky hairs on the top of their heads could stab you through the hand. Seriously, this was maybe 2 hours into what would be a 6 or 8 hour experience and I had already drained my camera battery (but no worries, everyone else had one too).
Elephant commands 101:
 “Nonlong” (must be pronounced with authority) – means lay down please if you don’t mind so I can climb up or down off of you.
 “Kway”  with a gesture with your (opposite!) foot behind their giant ear means turn this way please.
 “Poi” means forward
 “Hou” means stop. This is an important one because they will plow right through the jungle if you don’t encourage them to stop.
 “Didi” with a solid pat on the trunk means ‘Good elephant’ or ‘thank you for giving me a ride’ or whatever other positive message you’d like to communicate to your pachyderm.
Dad practicing his elephant mahout skills.

Dad practicing his elephant mahout skills.

Mom saying thanks with some bananas.

Mom saying thanks with some bananas.

Phase 3 The Trek
Unbeknownst to all of us, while we were interacting with and learning about the elephants, the Mahouts (elephant trainers) were determining which elephant we’d each fit best with for the trek based on our interactions. Considering I spent the first 45 minutes trying not to get near one I figured Jonathan and I would be paired with a gentle small one. Nope.
Despite my mouse like bravery, my husband took to the elephants to a duck like water. He’d either squashed down any minor initial anxieties he had right away or more likely; didn’t have them in the first place. He was literally an elephant expert after 5 minutes, and was helping other people feel more comfortable. As a result of this, we were paired with the bull leader of the herd. This wasn’t actually scary like it sounds. Our elephant; Golden Diamond, was steady and reliable, unlike the one Sarah and Dave got. They seemed to have been paired with the wild card, (perhaps the Mahouts could sense their adventurous spirits). At no point during our trek, was their elephant following the others. It was sideways on the path, or halfway up a tree grabbing some vines, or (literally) trumpeting loudly in protest of Dave’s attempts to correct him.
Sitting on the head riding.

Sitting on the head riding.

Jonathan and I on our leading elephant.

Jonathan and I on our leading elephant.

Mom and Dad with their hungry elephant. They also had the biggest elephant in the park. They got the Cadillac

Mom and Dad with their hungry elephant. They also had the biggest elephant in the park. They got the Cadillac

Sarah, Dave, and us on the elephants.

Sarah, Dave, and us on the elephants.

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Our trek took us through into the dry jungle up a path so steep that I would have had trouble navigating it on foot. The elephants trudged up like it was a breeze; they didn’t even miss a beat, holding onto them, however, was a different story.
As the driver, you sit on the back of the elephant’s neck, and have to work to keep from pitching forward, as the passenger you sit on their shoulder blades and have to get into the rhythm on their gentle but massive weight shifts with every step.
Here are some fun videos:
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 The trek ended at a little pond where we got off the elephants and the mahouts guided them into to water so they could get a drink. After they drank their fill, we all got into the water and went over to our elephant to give him or her bath! It was awesome! They love the water so much, they just lay down and you splash and scrub them with these rough bristle brushes. The water is so relaxing they just poop and pee freely and you’re standing waist deep in the same water and you’re so happy that you don’t even care! In my opinion this was the best part of the day. (Also they had showers there so that was good too.)
Best of the day!

Best of the day!

Sarah scrubbing the elephant.

Sarah scrubbing the elephant.

Big mama wants to be scrubbed down.

Big mama wants to be scrubbed down.

Dave on the elephant.

Dave on the elephant.

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All in all, everyone had a great time!
The group.

The group.

Categories: Nature, South East Asia, Traveling | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bangkok…Stop and Reflect

As Sarah mentioned in the previous post, we restarted our travel with the added company of family, Sarah’s family to be exact. Some of the family had international travel under their belt but it had been many years since their last trip and they’d never been to any countries like Thailand. So, to say the least, this was going to be a whole new experience for all of them. By the time of this particular leg of the trip, Sarah and I had been traveling for about seven months total, with five of those months in south and southeast Asia. So we were familiar with the style of travel that the family was about to be thrown into. We planned to do our best to give them a taste of our style of travel, i.e. budget travel. I think the two of us were just as excited about observing our new travel companions experience Thailand for the first time as we were to be out traveling again.

The entire trip entailed two weeks of travel in three specific areas in Thailand, i.e. Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Phuket, the middle, north, and south, respectively. Because of the two week time constraint (us Americans get a fraction of the vacation time that other Western countries get) we had a relatively tight schedule and could only spend a few days in two of the locations. The first few days of that two week trip were spent in Bangkok.

Thailand is almost exactly on the other side of the planet from where we live in Massachusetts. This required everyone to do their best to adjust to the new time zone as quickly as possible, which is eleven hours ahead of the Eastern Standard Time zone we were coming from. By the time the flights arrived in Bangkok around 2 PM, we were all feeling like it was 3 AM. From then on it took us all nearly the the entire three days we were in Bangkok to adjust not only to the time difference, but also to the completely new environment, the heat and humidity, and the fast pace we’d set for ourselves.

The first day in Bangkok was spent getting to our hotel and familiarizing ourselves with the surrounding area. Sarah and I had stayed in this area before and because of its easy access to the excellent public train system, inexpensive hotels, and abundance of food and shopping markets, opted to stay there again with the family.

Making our way to the hotel. The group's first taste/smell of Bangkok.

Phil and Karen making their way to the hotel. The group’s first taste/smell of Bangkok.

Bangkok welcoming Abby and Sarah by embracing them into her bosom.

Bangkok welcoming Abby and Sarah by embracing them into her bosom.

Karen, Sarah, and Jen waiting for their first meal in Thailand. Not actually Sarah's first meal there.

Karen, Sarah, and Jen waiting for their first meal in Thailand. Not actually Sarah’s first meal there.

Phil and Jonathan waiting for their first meal in Thailand.

Phil and Jonathan waiting for their first meal in Thailand.

The lively little street outside of the White Lodge Hotel.

The lively little street outside of the White Lodge Hotel.

Phil and Karen riding the BTS train system in Bangkok.

Phil and Karen riding the BTS train system in Bangkok.

The two of us did our best to prepare everyone ahead of time in an attempt to properly set their expectations. This is a challenging thing to do for two reasons. The first reason is that it’s hard to know just how adaptable each person is when thrown into a new situation and just what kind of information might help them best prepare. The second reason is that no matter how well you think you’ve described what to expect, you can never paint a complete picture. Lack of a complete picture is probably a good thing though, because part of the joy of travel is being thrown into completely foreign situations that surprise you and take you out of your element, and often times, your comfort zone. It’s safe to say that Bangkok, and Thailand in general, did those things for most, or all, of our new travel companions.

This adjustment phase created an array of emotions and some interesting interactions within the group. Not only did each individual need to make their own adjustments, the group as a whole went through a melding period, where we as a group of travelers had to find our collective groove. Anyone who has traveled with other people, especially a larger group, will understand the challenges that come with traveling as a group. Making decisions take longer. Some people are reluctant to speak up in fear of upsetting the group. Each person has a different pace and different interests. And sometimes people are just having a bad day. I’m happy to say that everyone, though at their own pace, successfully found their groove and settled in nicely.

The next two days were jam packed with as much activity as was possible. The second day started with breakfast at a chicken noodle soup food cart right outside of our hotel. Everyone in the group loved both the soup and their first authentic food cart experience in Thailand.

Phil ordering morning coffee at a coffee/tea cart. These guys put about three different forms of sugar into coffees and teas.

Phil ordering morning coffee at a coffee/tea cart. These guys put about three different forms of sugar into coffees and teas.

Happy customers.

Happy customers.

Yummy chicken noodle soup.

Yummy chicken noodle soup.

First food cart meal.

First food cart meal.

Where the magic happens. And for only 30 Baht ($1).

Where the magic happens. And for only 30 Baht ($1).

Next we headed off to China Town to explore the markets and more food carts. We opted to take a Tuk Tuk so that everyone could experience a ride on one of these whacky three wheeled “taxis”. I think some in the group feared for their lives a bit. Driving in the U.S. is a pretty straight forward experience, though, still considered a relatively dangerous activity. Driving in a country like Thailand takes it up a notch for sure, especially when you’re the passenger in a Tuk Tuk. They’re open air and there doesn’t seem to be any safety precautions taken in regard to a passenger’s well being. We crammed four people into one Tuk Tuk and three into another. It was a little tight and we were definitely busting at the seams, so to speak, but it worked and we made it safely to our destination. As part of our trip through China Town we tried to find India Town, but only scratched the surface of that area because we had to rush off to make our way to the floating market that was quite a ways outside of the city.

Tuk Tuk!

Tuk Tuk!

It was a tight fit but we made it happen.

It was a tight fit but we made it happen. Sarah’s hiding in there somewhere.

Exploring China Town while sampling the local fare.

Exploring China Town whilst sampling the local fare.

One of the many packed alley ways in China Town.

One of the many packed alley ways in China Town.

More delicious local fare.

More delicious local fare.

Browsing in China Town.

Jen, Sarah and Jonathan browsing in China Town.

Shop where Abby purchased some beautiful textiles.

Shop where Abby purchased some beautiful textiles.

Getting to the floating market was another interesting transportation experience. After making our way to the minibus depot, we purchased our tickets and found out that the next available minibus for a group our size didn’t leave for about another hour and a half. This meant that once we got to the floating market we’d be strapped for time, but opted to do it anyway. It was a now or never situation. Sarah and I have taken many forms of public transportation around the world and in many cases it’s a first come first serve setup. Meaning, you have to be aggressive about getting a seat or you may not get one at all. I saw people hovering near the parked minibuses and assumed that this was going to be the case. So we gathered the troops and staked our claim in the parking lot waiting for our minibus to arrive. It turned out that despite all outward appearances, there was order and we would indeed be guaranteed a spot on the minibus that we purchased tickets for. Why did we ever doubt Thailand? Thailand, you’re so good at whatever you do.

Holding our ground while waiting for the minibus. It was even hotter inside of the station, with the added benefit of car fumes.

Holding our ground while waiting for the minibus. It was even hotter inside of the station, with the added benefit of car fumes.

As we had expected, we arrived at the floating market with just enough time to walk around and maybe take a boat tour. Rushed as we were, we quickly agreed to take an hour long boat tour. Rushed as we were, we overlooked the details of the boat tour and ended up riding the boat on a long loop around an island at night on the hunt for fire flies. Fire flies are not why we came to the market. We thought the boat tour would drive us through the floating market. Not the case. So we encouraged the driver to make the hour long tour more like a half hour tour. So he sped along, stopping a few times to check out fire flies, and that was plenty by the way (side note: it’s hard to take pictures of fire flies at night, on a moving boat without using your camera’s flash. If you use a flash you don’t see fire flies and if you don’t use a flash the picture is blurry …what to do?). After our compressed boat tour we quickly made our way through the land portion of the floating market. Our return minibus was leaving soon so we ordered food to go and headed to the minibus stop.

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Jen, Phil, Karen, Sarah, Dave and the boat driver.

The floating market was cool but not what any of us had pictured in our heads. The romantic image of local Thais floating around in wooden boats selling produce to market goers is a thing of the past, at least at the market we experienced. The market was more geared towards tourism and grabbing a bite to eat. Regardless of that it was still a fun and memorable experience.

What we imagined the floating market would be. This is an old post card that Jen took a photo of. The Thailand of old.

What we imagined the floating market would be. This is an old post card that Jen took a photo of. The Thailand of old.

Cheers to an awesome day!

Cheers to an awesome day!

Day three, our final day, started off a little slower but ended up just as busy and exhausting as the day before. In planning for the few days we were to spend in Bangkok, Sarah and I decided that the group might like to check out the Grand Palace. During our first and second visit to Bangkok—Sarah and I had been there twice before—we held off on visiting the palace, knowing that we’d see it during the family trip. So when we found out that the palace might be closed, we were very disappointed. It turned out, unbeknownst to us, that there was a special coronation anniversary celebration going on during the three day period that we were there. Someone at our hotel informed me of this one morning and a couple other sources seemed to confirm this. But no one was really sure which days the palace was open or closed during the celebration. From experience, we’ve found it’s best to take a poll from several local people before making a decision. Some people just don’t know, but won’t tell you that they don’t know. And others find clever ways to mislead tourists so that you might instead partake in one of their organized tours of some other interesting site. After asking around we decided to risk it and take the bus journey to the palace. I’m happy to report that the palace was indeed open and was one of the most amazing palaces I’ve every seen.

Walking around the palace walls trying to find the entrance. It was a toasty day, so the extra walking was not appreciated.

Walking around the palace walls trying to find the entrance. It was a toasty day, so the extra walking was not appreciated.

Waiting for Jonathan to rent pants. Evidently his shorts didn't meet the dress code.

Waiting for Jonathan to rent pants. Evidently his shorts didn’t meet the dress code.

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Phil's shirt acted as a thermometer. Based on the location of the sweat line it must have been around 9 million degrees with 1000% humidity. So not too bad really.

Phil’s shirt acted as a thermometer. Based on the location of the sweat line it must have been around 9 million degrees with 1000% humidity. So not too bad really.

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That day was maybe one of the hottest and most humid days we’d experienced thus far in Bangkok. So after returning to the hotel some of us opted for a nap to rest up for whatever our last night in Bangkok might bring. After waking from our nap we gathered outside of our hotel and relaxed while some of the group enjoyed frosty beverages (as frosty as you can get in muggy Bangkok) and chilled wine. At some point during this relaxation session we were joined by a friendly German couple also on their last night in town, in fact it was their last night in Thailand before heading back to Germany. The couple had been to Bangkok several times before and suggested that we experience Khao San Road before we leave. Khao San Rd. is in fact a road, but also an area popular with backpackers, especially those looking to party. After a bit more consumption of frosty beverages and one member of the group “falling asleep” early due to too much consumption of frosty beverages, we decided to roll with it and make our way to Khao San Rd. Paul, our German friend, would be our guide for the night.

Spending our last night there was an awesome experience and great way to cap off our time in Bangkok. Ma and Pa Caulfield (Sarah’s parents) joined in on the festivities and truly got the full experience. These Caulfields know how to have a good time. I’ll let the photos below tell the story from that night.

Prepping for our trip to Khao San Rd.

Prepping for our trip to Khao San Rd.

Khao San crew, from left to right: Karen, Dave, Sarah, Phil, Jen, Paul and Jonathan.

Khao San crew, from left to right: Karen, Dave, Sarah, Phil, Jen, Paul and Jonathan.

Jonathan challenging and paying for his mom to eat a scorpion.

Jonathan challenging and paying for his mom to eat a scorpion.

Karen accepting the challenge to eat a scorpion. Well done.

Karen accepting the challenge to eat a scorpion. Well done.

9 Baht icecream anyone?

9 Baht icecream anyone?

Will work for beer.

Will work for beer.

Sampling the street food.

Sampling the street food.

This is when they realized that the meat on a stick was really just fat on a stick.

This is when they realized that the meat on a stick was really just fat on a stick.

Hipster Thai baby shirt I should have bought.

Sweet tats cute little Thai baby.

I guess at this point in the post I should explain the title of this post, “Stop and Reflect”. I don’t fully recall how it came about or who exactly said it, but it became the motto of the trip. I mentioned some of the challenges of travel, specifically some we experienced in Bangkok. At times those experiences created a bit of stress and anxiety for the group. And in those times someone in the group would inevitably say, “Stop and Reflect”, to help remind us just how amazing it was that we were in a place like Thailand, with great people, having the time of our lives. So with Bangkok in the bag and our new trip motto to help us along, we made our way north to the quieter city of Chiang Mai.

Categories: Traveling | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Stop over in Zurich and Frankfurt, yes please!

First off, hi again. I’d like to apologize for our HUGE delay in posting anything. As most of you know we went home for April for my sisters wedding. She was a beautiful bride and we all had a great time. Here are some highlights from the wedding.

Chris starting the train.

Chris starting the train.

Dave in his custom made suit from India!

Dave in his custom made suit from India!

The family.

The family.

The lovely couple.

The lovely couple.

On our way home and back to southeast Asia we got to stop in Europe! Both of us knew we could never afford to go to Europe as part of this trip, but lucky us we got a glimpse of it in the few short hours that we had between flights.

Our stop over on the way home in April was in Zurich, Switzerland. Which is rated the most expensive city in the world! They were right with that title. I think we spent $100 in the 7 hours we had between our flights. Eek. That’s why we can only stay the day and not a couple of months.

But, on a refreshing note, we blended in. It was a stark difference from what we had just come from, India and Nepal. In those two countries we stood out like a sore thumb and therefore hassled by rickshaw drivers and touts. There was absolutely zero of that in Zurich. Instead, there was a very punctual, although expensive, train that took you from the airport to downtown in 10 minutes, no rickshaw driver necessary. AHHHH. It was nice to be in a familiar setting again.

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Unfortunately, Zurich was also going through their early spring and had a very chilly, overcast day. We were suppose to be able to see the Alps, but the clouds were hiding them all day-a huge bummer as we are mountain people-so we decided to do a brief walking tour and then head indoors to the heat and the museum.

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While we were there, we did get to try some local cuisine; a Swiss chocolate Easter bunny-since it was a couple days after Easter-and a street stall weiner. Both very tasty.

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At the end of the day, we were very excited that we were almost home. After 5 months being away from home, 2 and half of those months in India, we were sure glad to be home. There is no place like home.

The month that we spent back in the U.S. was just enough time for us to reset and be excited to travel again. But what made it even more exciting was that a majority of my family was coming with us. My mom, dad, brother, sister-in-law, and my cousin and her boyfriend were all spending their vacation with us in Thailand. We got to share with them the lovely country of Thailand, one of our favorites, and experience the joy of traveling to a new and very different place through their eyes.

On our way over, we had a layover in Frankfurt, Germany. We lucked out with the weather this time, Frankfurt was having a beautiful spring day.

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We got to do a walking tour, enjoy some local beers, get a coffee or ice cream and enjoy it outdoors, and of course enjoy some curry bratwurst recommended to us by a local. None of us spoke German, so it was a little interesting trying to order. Thankfully the local who recommended us the curry bratwurst, was nice enough to order them for us too. One interesting thing about this food stall was that they had a slicer for the bratwurst, you plop the bratwurst in and out comes perfectly sized slices. It’s amazing what companies come up with when labor costs so much. For most of the other countries we’ve visited, they’d have a one person just slicing the bratwurst by hand. Very cool to see the differences between developing and developed countries.

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Beer from giant mugs

Beer from giant mugs

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This was a very large wall with all of the people killed during the holocaust.

This was a very large wall with all of the people killed during the holocaust.

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Second honeymoon

Second honeymoon

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Still not fully sure how this works. We think the guy on top is sitting on plywood. Still impressive.

Still not fully sure how this works. We think the guy on top is sitting on plywood. Still impressive.

Our time spent in Germany was a lot more enjoyable than our time spent in Zurich. I think it had a lot to do with the freezing weather in Zurich and the added company we had in Germany. Overall both were fun and someday we’ll be able to afford to see more in Europe.

As a last note, since we have some new travel buddies, we will likely have some guest bloggers. Stay tuned!

Categories: Architecture, Cities, Europe, Traveling | Tags: , , , , | 2 Comments

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