A Travellerspoint blog

December 2011

Dashing through Cambodia on our way to a Bangkok Christmas

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We crossed the border into Cambodia and were welcomed by several seedy gambling joints. Apparently it’s legal to gamble in Cambodia :) We eventually ended up in the capital, Phnom Penh (pronounced “nom pen”). It’s a pretty big and busy place with an assorted reputation. We found it to be a classic Southeast Asian capital, a mix of the first and third worlds. We made the obligatory stop at the Royal Palace which includes several temples housing jade and crystal figures of Buddha as well as exhibits depicting the pomp and circumstance surrounding the royal family.
IMG_0483.jpg Inside the royal palace
IMG_0497.jpg The grounds of the royal palace
IMG_0476.jpgUnder that Western Union was Cantina, an authentic Mexican joint where we ate- it was good!
The other main attractions in the capital revolve around the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge period in Cambodian history, 1975 to 1979. The goal of the revolutionary movement was to transform Cambodia into a peasant dominated farming cooperative. Almost overnight, Pol Pot, the radical leader of the Khmer Rouge, forced the population of Phnom Penh and other urban areas into the country side. In the process, he also tried to weed out intellectuals, so anyone who spoke a foreign language, wore glasses, had a professional education, or even had soft hands was executed. In the end, millions died from starvation, disease, and exhaustion. Thousands of others were tortured and executed, including whole families – men, women, and children – Pol Pot did not believe in allowing heirs to survive who could seek revenge.

We visited the Tuol Sleng Museum which was a school converted into a prison by the Khmer Rouge. Thousands of Cambodians were housed and tortured on the grounds, and upwards 100 Cambodians a day were executed at the prison. The prison guards kept excellent records and, as a result, today there are hundreds of photos of the victims scattered around the museum giving it an eerie presence, both pictures before and after death. We also went to Choeung Ek, better known as The Killing Field. There are supposedly over 300 similar fields scattered around Cambodia, but this is the most famous. Most of the 17,000 people who were kept in the Tuol Sleng Prison were executed here and thrown into mass graves, women and children included. It’s a sad and haunting place, especially when you see the memorial with over 8,000 skulls excavated from the mass graves.
IMG_0433.jpg Inside what was the prison (known as S-21)
IMG_0435.jpg Some photos of the prisoners
IMG_0450.jpg The monument at the Killing Field housing bones and skulls
IMG_0460.jpg Mass graves at the fields

For anyone interested in learning more about this period in Cambodian history there is a good movie from 1984 called "The Killing Fields". The movie tells the real life story of an American journalist in Cambodia during the Khmer Rouge’s reign. Our hostel in Phnom Penh showed the movie every night. Perhaps what is most amazing is that this dark period in human history did not happen that long ago – there are literally hundreds of thousands of Cambodians who lived through that time still alive today.

After two days in Phnom Penh, we headed east to the small, river front colonial town of Battambang. I couldn’t tell you much about it because I got food poisoning and just laid around the hostel most of the day. Jeff, however, hired a tuk-tuk driver to give him a quick tour. He took a ride on their famous bamboo train along an old French railroad line. Resourceful locals combined two train car axles, a small motor, and a bamboo platform in order to move people and goods. When two bamboo trains meet, the train with the least amount of passengers and stuff is quickly disassembled and then reassembled in order to allow the other train to pass. His tour also took him to the Killing Cave, a cave with a “skylight” that the Khmer Rouge would push people into in order to kill them and do away with their bodies. Finally, his last stop was a hilltop Khmer temple supposedly older than Angkor Wat.
IMG_0503.jpg Town of Battambang
IMG_0518.jpg Jeff (and a monk) on the bamboo trainIMG_0528.jpg Locals harvesting rice
IMG_0541.jpg The temples that supposedly inspired Angkor wat
IMG_0552.jpg Speaks for itself
IMG_0566.jpg Inside the Killing Cave
IMG_0567.jpg A monument at the cave displaying bones and skulls found there

We definitely blew through Cambodia pretty quickly, but we have plans to return in six weeks and were on a mission: Bangkok by Christmas! My big plan from the start of our trip was to stay in a swanky hotel for Christmas since we were not going to be home to celebrate with our families. Plus, it was an opportunity to get a break from all of the hostels, but I have to admit, we haven’t been dipping too low in the accommodation department as guesthouses here are pretty cheap. But splurge we did! We stayed at the Banyan Tree Hotel and bought a package that got us upgraded to the “Club Level” - it was exciting! Our gorgeous room included a bathtub, so I spent quite a bit of time soaking. As Club Level guests, we also had access to “free” food and drinks most of the day at the “Club Lounge”. We indulged in a 90 minute massage and got to skype with our families on Christmas which was fun. We also headed out to the mall for some holiday spirit, took in the new Mission Impossible movie, and enjoyed a white chocolate cranberry mocha from Starbucks :) Our Christmas dinner was at the Banyan Tree’s signature restaurant which serves traditional Thai, so not quite the holiday fare we were craving, but good nonetheless. I also ordered a surprise cake for Jeff’s birthday - it was supposed to be a yellow cake with chocolate icing (his favorite), but it ended up being a chocolate cake with yellow icing – something got lost in translation :) We ended our Christmas Day with a trip up to the Banyan Tree’s roof top bar on the 52nd floor for some drinks. Although it was not like being home for the holidays, it was a nice way to celebrate Christmas and Jeff’s birthday and I certainly enjoyed the luxury for a few days!
IMG_0596.jpg I have arrived!
IMG_0599.jpg Our bathroom and my tub!!IMG_0605.jpg The mall all decked out for the holiday and New Years
IMG_0621.jpg Our Christmas and Jeff's Birthday dinnerIMG_0629.jpg Post dinner drinks on the roof

We are now heading south down the Thai peninsula for some beach time through New Years - we’ll write more soon!

Posted by geldere 05:24 Archived in Cambodia Comments (0)

From Hanoi to Saigon

11 Days in Vietnam

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We definitely started off on the wrong foot in Vietnam. It’s a long story, but the short of it is that our bus driver from Laos to Vinh, Vietnam did not want to take us to the bus station and was forcing us to get off the bus on some random street at night while at the same time demanding that we pay extra money for our tickets – all of this being conveyed via gestures and very broken English. We refused to pay any more money, but did finally agree to get off the bus at a major intersection. Unfortunately, in the drama of the whole situation, we either lost or had our camera stolen - we aren’t sure. It was a bad night indeed. Fortunately, we had backed up the pictures on the camera two days before, so we did not lose many photos, and there was a nice hotel nearby that we checked into for some mental health R&R.

The next morning, we made it to the bus station in Vinh and picked up a bus heading eight hours north to Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. Once we were situated in our hostel, we walked around town, got sushi for dinner, and took in a water puppet show. Unlike normal puppets which are controlled by string, water puppets are controlled by sticks under water. The art form supposedly started in the flooded rice paddies of Vietnam. It is entertaining to watch for a few minutes, but we were glad that the show only lasted an hour.
hanoi___4_.jpg The water puppet show

Traffic is crazy in Hanoi and, as a result, crossing the street can be an intimidating experience. By far the most common way for locals to get around is on a motorbike or moped. The narrow streets are jam packed with them. In Egypt, it was a “commit and run” type of street crossing. Here, in Hanoi, it’s a “walk slowly across the street to let the motor bikes avoid you” type of cross. It’s so counterintuitive - you have to put aside your overwhelming desire to dart across the road and walk slowly. It’s a crazy experience, but one that we have thus far survived.
IMG_0024.jpg Crazy traffic in Hanoi
IMG_0178.jpg Woman carrying quite a bundle in Hanoi

For our second day in Hanoi we set out to see some of the sights, including Ho Chi Min’s Mausoleum and the Hoa Lo Prison. Ho Chi Min’s body is on display in the Mausoleum and is jam-packed with visitors. As for the prison, it was nicknamed the “Hanoi Hilton” by POWs kept there during the Vietnam War, including Senator John McCain. It was interesting to see, but the placards describing the museum are very propagandist in tone. We stopped to eat lunch at a café called Koto, which stands for “Know One, Teach One”. It’s a non-profit organization that trains street kids for jobs in the service industry, including teaching them English. It is a very neat concept for a restaurant and seems to be doing great work - for more information you can check out KOTO. In the evening, we took a taxi to a nearby movie theater - I made Jeff go to see “Breaking Dawn” with me - he was really excited about it :)

One of the most famous things to see in Vietnam is Halong Bay. It’s an extremely picturesque part of the country where thousands of small mountain-like islands rise out of the ocean. For a change of pace, we signed up for an all inclusive, overnight boat tour out of Hanoi. During the trip, we spent time gawking at the scenery, visiting one of the many caves in the area, and kayaking around some of the islands for a closer look. All meals were served aboard our boat and the boat even doubled as our hotel for the night. It was really nice to lounge on deck with our fellow travelers while the boat zigzagged its way through the bay.
IMG_0053.jpg A view of Halong Bay
IMG_0056.jpg Just outside one of the caves
IMG_0088.jpg Kayaking along Halong Bay
IMG_0099.jpg Sunset

Once back in Hanoi, we boarded an overnight bus to Hue. It turned out to be a difficult journey as our bus broke down and we were delayed for over seven hours. Fortunately, we were on a sleeper bus - literally a bus with narrow beds for seats – so were able to sleep for a good part of the ride. Despite the rain caused by a tropical storm off shore, we visited Hue’s citadel, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The fortified citadel was the center of government and home of the royal family in Vietnam from around 1800 to 1950. Unfortunately, because of wars and weather, the citadel has become fairly run down. Hue was also an important battle ground during the Vietnam War, the Battle of Hue, especially the area around the citadel, which I didn’t find out until after we visited the town. My dad was a Marine in the Vietnam War, and he was able to recall his time there and the layout of the town. It was surreal to be in a town where my own father had been in active combat.
hue__1_.jpg Riding mopeds rain or shine in Hue
hue__2_.jpg A view of the Citdadel in Hue
hue__3_.jpg Jeff on the steps inside the Citadel- pouring rain
hue__4_.jpg Inside the Citadel

After Hue, we wandered around Hoi An for a day. It’s a coastal town in the middle of the country that is pretty quaint and charming. It’s just down the road from China Beach, the beach where American soldiers enjoyed their R&R during the Vietnam War (you might remember the TV show “China Beach” from the 1980s). Hoi An is also considered one of the best places to buy tailor made clothing for cheap in Southeast Asia, so we checked out a few of the stores. Unfortunately, most of the clothing is formal and I have no place to wear a gown for the time being :)
hoi_an__1_.jpg The Japanese Bridge in Hoi An
hoi_an__2_.jpgThe Riverfront in Hoi An
hoi_an__3_.jpgIn front of the flower stand at the market
hoi_an__4_.jpgInside one of the temples during prayer

We then continued down the coast to Nha Trang, Vietnam’s most famous beach town. It was definitely one of the nicest and most modern towns in Vietnam that we visited. It has a really great stretch of beach, although the weather was still not cooperating, so we headed to Vinpearl instead. Vinpearl is a small amusement park on an island that also has a great aquarium. You get there by taking a two-mile long gondola ride over the water - due to the tropical storm, the wind was howling and I was clinging to the sides of the gondola like a psycho. Thankfully, we made it there and back, and in between had a good time enjoying the park and hanging out with the locals.
nha_trang__1_.jpg The 2 mile long gondola
nha_trang__2_.jpgAt the aquarium at Vinpearl
nha_trang__3_.jpgInside the tunnel at the aquarium
nha_trang__4_.jpgWe find that we are rather tall in comparison to the locals- here the door knob is like Alice in Wonderland for us :)

After another long bus journey, we arrived at our final stop, Saigon. Saigon was renamed Ho Chi Minh City in honor of the man who lead the communist uprising in Vietnam (including North Vietnam during the Vietnam War), although many people still refer to the city as Saigon. Since we finally had nice weather, we took the opportunity to do a walking tour around town. We stopped at the former headquarters of South Vietnam, the Reunification Palace, which has been frozen in time since 1975 when the North Vietnamese took control of the palace. We also visited the War Remnants Museum, a museum about the Vietnam War (or the War of American Aggression as they like to call it here). It had some quality exhibits, including a floor displaying photos from war journalists and a room devoted to the lasting effects of Agent Orange and other defoliants. But, the museum as a whole was rather one sided and propagandist in tone - there was no mention of the fact that the war was north (communist) vs. south (capitalist), it was just spun as America vs. Vietnam. For dinner in Saigon, we found a “Subway” restaurant. I am not ashamed to admit that on two occasions in 36-hours, we enjoyed the break from Vietnamese fare.
saigon__2_.jpg The sleeper bus on the way to Saigonsaigon__1_.jpg Try and cross that! Crazy!
saigon__3_.jpg French colonial inspired architecture
saigon__4_.jpg Cyclo ride back from the museum

From here we head to Cambodia for four days and then on to Bangkok for Christmas. We hope you all have a wonderful holiday!!!

Posted by geldere 07:23 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

Zipping and Tubing through Laos

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After some great experiences in Thailand, we headed east to Laos. Prior to visiting Laos, I knew almost nothing about the country. And apparently pronounced "Laoww" by the locals and not like "louse". From our guide book, we learned that Laos is a communist nation and one of the 20 poorest countries on Earth.

After crossing into Huay Xai, Laos, we stayed the night in the border town and signed up for the Gibbon Experience. The Gibbon Experience is a zip line course through the nearby Bokeo Nature Preserve and includes one or two nights of sleeping in tree houses inside the preserve. The next morning, after a safety briefing on how not to die and meeting the seven other travelers in our group, we drove out to the preserve and hiked up the mountain for about an hour (I’m always reminded of how out of shape I am) to our first zip line. I generally don’t enjoy heights, so I was definitely nervous about flying over the jungle on a cable that I was attached to by a carbineer, two-foot section of rope and harness. Despite my fear, I am glad to report that we survived and it was one of the most amazing experiences of our trip! Some of the zip-lines were upwards of a ¼ mile long and 500 feet high! Each of the dozen plus zips was an adrenaline rush and the experience of soaring over and through the jungle canopy was pure magic. We even had to zip into our Swiss Family Robinson like tree house for the night which was 200 feet in the air! It was by far the most unique place I have ever slept and included a rainwater shower with the most amazing view. Our guides zipped in with dinner made at a nearby camp - sticky rice and veggies- classic Laos fare. We ate with our fellow travelers while watching the sun set over the jungle and swapping travel stories. We hit a slight snag in the evening when I discovered a rat in our tent/mosquito net - it is the jungle I suppose. The boys all banded together and were able to scare it out, but in the end I felt worse for the rat - it looked absolutely terrified. When we woke up the next morning, we were greeted by fog and rain showers, which made the zipping even crazier. The rain is like Crisco on the wire, so you go faster and have to brake earlier. The long and short of it was that we had just as much fun zipping out of the preserve as we did getting in the day before. We didn’t see any of the Gibbons (a type of monkey) which the preserve is known for, but the amount of fun we had zipping more than made up for it! I feel like video really gives a better idea of what it was like so below you can click on the links to see some zipping fun!
To check out some videos of us zipping through the Bokeo Jungle click here and here
IMG_1751.jpg Zipping through the jungle
IMG_1773.jpg Our treehouse hotel
IMG_1779.jpg The stunning view from our treehouse
IMG_1870.jpg Jeff trying out the zipline
6IMG_1894.jpg Our zipping crew and our guides

We parted ways with our zipping friends and headed off to Luang Prabang in north-central Laos. We heard that the roads in Laos were windy and bumpy (to put it mildly), and, as a result, were not surprised to see barf bags in the bus seat pockets (not sure if there is a nicer way to say that). Yes, the roads live up to their reputation and at least one local had to make use of his bag on our overnight bus to Luang Prabang. It’s always an experience! After a short “jumbo” ride from the bus station (a motorcycle, pickup truck hybrid), we arrived at our hostel, Merry Villas 1, which was one of the nicest and cleanest places I’ve ever stayed for $20. They even provided robes, wireless internet, bottled water, tea, coffee and bananas- I mean, come on!
Luang Prabang is a charming, former French colonial town that attracts all of the tourists in northern Laos (you would be surprised how many there are). We enjoyed strolling around town, visiting several Buddhist temples, a boat trip upriver, and eating at very “Americanized” cafes. We found one, Jo Ma Café that served a “Thanksgiving Sandwich” and played Christmas music. I’ve had very few moments on the trip where I felt homesick, but that combination was a perfect storm - the holidays are definitely my favorite time of year after all! We were also in town for the kick-off of the second annual Luang Prabang Film Festival. All of the films at the festival are about Southeast Asia. The film we watched was a documentary called “On Safer Ground” and it is about the first Laos youth soccer team that gets to go to Sweden for the Gothia Cup, the largest youth soccer tournament in the world. It was a very inspirational story and, at the end of the movie, as a surprise, the whole team came out on stage. In addition to the soccer story line, the movie also highlights the issue of UXO (unexploded ordnance) in Laos. During what's referred to as the "Secret War", between 1964 and 1973, in order to combat communism, the US apparently dropped two million tons of bombs over Laos, but 30% of the bombs failed to detonate on impact. There are now thousands of bombs buried in the ground and, unfortunately, they sometimes go off when disturbed, even 30+ years later. Thousands of people have been killed by UXOs since the end of the war, mostly farmers and children. Many others have been blinded or lost limbs. It’s something I’d never heard of before- I just had no idea. For more information you can check out COPE, an organization that provides rehabiliation and prostheses to victims and UXO LAO which aims to clear affected areas of UXO.
IMG_1929.jpg The Mekong River in Louang Prabang
IMG_1940.jpg From the hilltop Temple
IMG_1954.jpg Jeff in front of one of the town Temples
IMG_1958.jpg The French colonial feel- with a throwback to the 50's
IMG_2001.jpg After the viewing of the film- the soccer team featured in the documentary
IMG_2058.jpg A view of the rural village around Louang Prabang
IMG_2084.jpg On our slowboat ride up the Mekong
IMG_2105.jpg A stop off in a small town after our slowboat ride
IMG_2107.jpg Getting ready to hit the road

We then made our way south to a town called Vang Vieng. Its huge draw is tubing down the Mekong River, which sounds fun but unremarkable, yet it now has a cult following. Over the years, the river bank has been taken over by bars and the atmosphere is less nature and more “spring break”. The basic concept is that you rent a tube, then a tuk tuk drops you off several miles upstream, and finally you float back to town past a dozen plus bars over the course of several hours. Many of the bars along the river have a gimmick (e.g., swing, water slide, zipline, free shot) to get you in and they throw you a rope to pull you over with the hope that you buy a few drinks and attract others to partake in the fun. While getting our tubes, we met up with a large group of fellow travelers and they invited us to join them for the day. While we generally don’t consider ourselves to be crazy spring breakers, this is just one of those situations where you have to give in. So, at 11 am on a Tuesday, we were drinking beer and mojitos with hundreds of other Westerners in the middle of Laos. Jeff was his adventurous self and tried out all the slides and rope swings along the way, while I opted for just the biggest slide. After several hours, we eventually floated back to town with our new friends. By then, the sun was going down and the temperature cooling off, so we were all excited to get out of the water and take hot showers. We polished off the day at one of the many restaurants in town that play episodes of Friends or Family Guy back to back from morning till night. It was a crazy day - one of those things you couldn’t make up if you tried.
IMG_2120.jpg On our ride up to Vang Vieng
IMG_2162.jpg The riverside bars
IMG_2174.jpg Tubing down the Mekong
IMG_2192.jpg Kids on their way to school in VV

With “I Love Lao” still spray painted on my arm, we headed to central Laos and the Kong Lo Cave. We stopped overnight in the capital, Vientiane, for a break from the windy roads and for another “Thanksgiving Sandwich” at a Jo Ma Café (just as delicious as the first). The next morning we headed on to a small town several hours further south called Ban Khoun Kham. The town itself is fairly unremarkable, but it gets some tourists because of its proximity to the Kong Lo Cave. From the town, we rode in a “sawngthaew” (a pick-up truck with two benches in a covered bed) for about an hour to the river and hired the two cutest old men for guides. The river runs through the cave for about five miles and, with the exception of a short, lit walking trail to check out some of the awesome stalagmites and stalactites up-close, the only light inside the cave is from our guides’ headlamps. It is a surreal and spooky ride down the river in the dark!
ent.jpgA photo of the cave entrace
ent2.jpg Inside the mouth of the cave
int.jpg Inside the cave where they've lit some of the stalagcites/stalagmites

Laos was full of surprises and fun experiences, thanks in no small part to the incredibly cheap prices. Moreover, the people are laid back and there’s very little hassling. After ten busy, fun-filled days, we are heading to Vietnam. We’ll write more soon!

Posted by geldere 18:12 Archived in Laos Comments (0)

Sàwàtdii Khâ (Hello) from Thailand!

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We arrived early in the morning after a ten hour flight and headed straight to our hostel to nurse our jet lag after a sleepless flight. We decided to stay in the Siam Square district which is more centrally located and right off the subway system- plus it was close to all the malls! We spent the first few days hanging around the hostel so that I could get my continuing medical education done by the December deadline. In the evenings, we wondered around the malls and enjoyed lots of Asian cuisine. We’ve gone from kebaps and bread to noodles and rice- I am digging the change :) I was expecting total madness in Bangkok but it was actually really relaxed. It might have had something to do with our location but it was the first time on our trip where no one gave us a second glance. We were the most uninteresting things people had seen in a long time and no one stared- it was such a change from being a spectacle most places we go - very refreshing! My initial impression of Bangkok was that it is an extremely fashionable and modern place. The locals are unbelievably trendy and it’s like a fashion show walking around the malls. Plus, they have almost every American food chain here - we’ve been to Dairy Queen, Aunt Annies, Pizza Hut, and even Krispy Kreme where we got a hot and fresh donut right off the conveyor belt. It was an exciting moment :)
IMG_1266.jpg The mall in Siam Square
IMG_1271.jpg Jeff ordering fruit from a street cart

After breathing a collective sigh of relief when I finished my CME hours, we headed out for some sightseeing. Thailand is 97% Buddhist, so instead of mosques and minarets dotting the skyline, we are seeing temples and chidas. First stop, the Grand Palace, the former royal residence which is now only used for special ceremonies. On the same grounds is Wat Phra Kaew (“wat” in another word for temple), the home of the Emerald Buddha, the most important Buddha image in Thailand. It’s very interesting changing cultures and learning how the do’s and don’ts differ. For example, when you enter a temple you must remove your shoes (no change from mosques), but in temples you must never point your feet in the direction of Buddha. We then stopped by Wat Pho which houses the reclining Buddha and is the oldest temple in Bangkok. The ornate detailing on the inside and outside of temples is generally made with colored glass. For lunch, we caught a river ferry to Chinatown, one of the largest Chinatown’s in the world outside of China. One thing amazing about Thailand is that the food here is so cheap. Street food usually costs less than a dollar and a restaurant meal less than three bucks!
IMG_1279.jpg Gateway to the Grand Palace
IMG_1308.jpg Inside the Grand Palace
IMG_1335.jpg The famous and enormous reclining Buddha
1IMG_1374.jpgIn downtown Chinatown

After a few days enjoying the big city, we headed north to the mountains and more rural Thailand. We caught a morning train to Chiang Mai and were very impressed that they not only served drinks, but two solid meals airline style. The train also provided us an opportunity to see some of the flooding that has been making headlines lately. In downtown Bangkok, there is very little evidence of the flooding, only the occasional pile of sandbags and high-water near the river itself, but once we started north, the flooding became evident and many homes and fields were partially under water.
IMG_1387.jpg Multi-tasking at its best- a guy getting his hair cut at the train station
Chiang Mai is a small city in northern Thailand. Since our train arrived late (2:00 am), we slept in a bit and then headed out to see some of the old city. We stopped by multiple wats and even chatted with a Buddhist monk. We had the opportunity to talk with him for half an hour about Buddhism, what it is like to be a monk, and some of the 227 Buddhist tenants that he must follow (like doing away with money, giving away all of your possessions, sleeping on the floor, and never touching women). It was a cool experience and a chance to learn about the Buddhist faith, something I knew very little about. We ended the day with Thai massages, which are not for the faint of heart. The masseuse literally walks on top of you at times, cracks joints, and folds you in half. It is not the most relaxing type of massage, but we left feeling especially limber. Plus, massages here are so cheap. A one-hour Thai massage at a decent place costs just $8. I may have to get another massage tomorrow :)
IMG_1457.jpgVisiting one of the Wats in town- this was during their prayer time
IMG_1468.jpgPost chat with the monks
IMG_1476.jpgGetting ready for our Thai massage

For our second day in Chiang Mai, we wanted to get out of town and spend some time enjoying nature, so we signed up for a tour of the surrounding area. Our guide, Vick, first walked us around a rural, hill-tribe village where we saw baby piglets (makes me think twice about bacon). Then we took a hike through the jungle to a beautiful waterfall and swimming hole. Although the water was cold, we took a dip and were even able to walk up behind the waterfall. After a delicious lunch of yellow curry, we changed into our “Mahout” outfits (they looked like prison uniforms) for a lesson in elephant handling. We first spent time bribing our elephants into liking us by giving them dozens of bananas and then practiced climbing onto their backs. It was a pretty intimidating experience at first because they are so enormous. Jeff’s elephant was 18-months pregnant and had a mind of her own (who wouldn’t be after being pregnant for that long) and mine was a sweet, 55-year old grandmother. After learning a few basic commands, we rode them down to the river and gave them baths. They’re pretty cute when they roll around in the water like kids. Thankfully, we had a true elephant trainer with us at all times because we had very little actual control and were mostly just along for the ride. Spending time up close with animals that huge was a really amazing experience and one that will be hard to forget. Finally, we ended our day with a rafting trip. Thankfully, it was a mild, river rafting experience because our raft was made of bamboo and held together by strips of tire. How our poler did not fall in the river is beyond me. After a long day out and about, we headed back to Chiang Mai and ate our way through the food stands in the Night Market before crashing for the night.
If you want to check out us giving our elephants a bath click HERE
2IMG_1483.jpgA Rice Paddy outside of the village
IMG_1553.jpgThe waterfall outside of the village
IMG_1551.jpgTrying out the water- it hits hard!
9IMG_1563.jpgThe baby found out we had bananas :)
IMG_1568.jpg Fast friends
IMG_1616.jpgJeff testing out his Manout skills
IMG_1643.jpgTaking a stroll in the river
IMG_1647.jpgWhile bathing the elephants- it was fun!
IMG_1648.jpgJeff and his elephant hanging in the river
IMG_1662.jpgOn our bamboo raft- you basically sat in water
IMG_1688.jpgAt the night market- hungry??

For our last day in Chiang Mai we decided to take a Thai cooking class. With Nancy, our instructor, as our guide, we first headed out to a local market to see and learn about the different ingredients in Thai cooking. Then we headed back to the school where we all chose seven dishes to cook and eat (the best part of course). It was a fun experience thanks in no small part to Nancy who had a great sense of humor and had us all laughing throughout the day. Among other things, we made Pad Thai, spring rolls, and even curry paste that we ground up with a mortar and pestle. We left the school absolutely stuffed and with just enough knowledge to try Thai cooking at home. Any takers? :)
If you want to check out Jeff attempting Thai food click on Jeff at our Thai Cooking Class (in his defense there was supposed to be a fire!)
IMG_1699.jpgChecking out the goods at the market
IMG_1708.jpgAt our cooking school with Nancy showing us the way

We are heading east to Laos tomorrow and we will write more from there!

Posted by geldere 19:47 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

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