Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Beachy Life

Happy Christmas!! 

Being away from family and in such a different climate, Christmas doesn't feel so much like Christmas. But we're getting along just swell nonetheless. They don't really celebrate Christmas here (it's predominantly Buddhist) so their really arent many Christmas decorations, and the ones you do see are usually quite tacky. It's been comical to say the least. 

For the first time of our trip, we have limited Internet/wi-fi access so I'll try to keep this on the shorter side.

Going back a few days to catch up...

I don't think we researched the island of Phuket enough before we got there. We'd heard that there are just tons of tourists but we didn't know much beyond that. We decided to stay in Patong on Phuket because there were tons of cheap places and it just seemed like the place to go. Turns out it has pretty much no character or authenticity to it. All it is is swarms of tourists flocking to the small-ish beach during the day and partying it up at night along with a million locals hassling you to buy things left and right. 

You literally can't walk more than 5 steps before getting questioned by a tailor to make you an "Armani" suit, a taxi driver, t-shirt seller, restaurateur, DVD pirater, you name it. They all want your business now.

Not really our scene... 

We got out of there as soon as we could and opted for Kamala Beach which was about 15 minutes North and it was a Goldilocks place for us... . It was just right! The beach was much more manageable, there weren't swarms of tourists (though there were a number of them) and there seemed to be more "real life" there. We stayed for a few days and enjoyed not doing too much. We have definitely reached the mellow part of our vacation. We've been doing a bunch of nothing - just relaxing.

After Kamala, we took a ferry to the Phi Phi Islands (Phi Phi Don specifically) - thanks to Danielle's recommendation! It has been total heaven. Kamala beach was nice but the sand and water weren't quite dream-esque (I'm certainly not complaining though!), but PP has been all that and more. Beautiful views, white sandy beaches, crisp clear water. 

Yesterday we went on a SCUBA/snorkel trip - SCUBA for David, snorkeling for me :) 

We saw a bunch of colorful fish and David also saw a sea turtle and a couple eels on his dives. 

We've come to realize we were quite spoiled with our snorkeling experience in Belize (for our honeymoon) when we saw what seemed like everything in the ocean. 

We'll be spending a few more days here on Phi Phi before making our trek up to Beijing for a few days. Sadly, the end of our vacation is in sight but there are many more moments to sit and do nothing before it ends! 

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Elephants, Tigers, and Boxing... Oh My!

Our last full day in Chiang Mai was one for the books. 

We rented a taxi man for the day - Mr. Pon. Excellent driver/tour guide. It was only 1000 baht (about 35 bucks, gas included) for a comfy, air-conditioned car with a local who knows what he's doing and didn't pressure us into a bunch of stuff we didn't want to do. 

We started the day with a quick stop at an orchid farm. One of my favorite flowers!! 

It was so pretty in there. It was strange to see how they grow them; it looks like they're just growing mid-air.

Next, we went to an elephant camp. The elephants we really wanted to see didn't work with how our journey was planned so we went to Maesa Elephant Camp. Overall it was a lot of fun. They are such bizarre looking creatures!


It started with an "elephant show" that showcased some of their talent. It's fascinating to see what they can do - they are seriously intelligent. But it felt a little long and it stopped being impressive and was a little awkward. Sometimes it seemed like too much for the elephants to have to do some silly things. We would have preferred seeing elephants in a different setting. They have a couple "sanctuaries" around Chiang Mai where it's less showy and more focused on preserving elephants and letting people see them in a "day in the life" type setting. We also rode an elephant in the forest which was pretty nice. All in all, it was a good experience. 

After that, we went to... drumroll please... 

Which is now tied with the cooking class for our best Thailand moment. It was soooo fun and a little terrifying. 

Tiger Kingdom raises tigers in captivity and trains them to be familiar and tame around people. They're nocturnal by nature so having them "visit" with people during the day means they are super mellow (and sometimes just downright tired). You can visit any number of tigers at varying ages (for a price, of course): smallest, small, medium, and large. We started by hanging with the smallest group of tigers. 

So cute!! I know they're cats (and they sure act like it), but they have such a dog nature to them, too. There were 4 tigers in a large pen (all 4 months old) and they let maybe two groups of two-three people in at a time (with a designated guide with you). We got to snuggle, pose, and play with them. Then we moved on to a teeny sleeping guy who was just 2 months old. He didn't do much but boy was he cute.

Then came the terrifying part. 

I knew I'd probably pee my pants (or worse!) with the big cats so we went with a medium one - which was still frighteningly large. They weren't a popular choice so there was no waiting - which meant there wasn't much time to "build up" to it in my mind. We went into a cage that was completely enclosed (even the top) and walked with our guide right up to the sleeping beasts. The first guy was super tired and didn't mind so we did ok with him. 

Then we went to a second who was a bit more awake (read: terrifying). 

"Uhhhh, does he really want to be pet right now??" 

As I was snuggling with him (ladies first applies to deadly things, too) he became quite alert and David and I were a little hesitant... So David didn't snuggle with him quite as much when we swapped places. 

Doesn't he look scary??

We calmly took our racing hearts out of there and called it good. I have almost no doubt in my mind that nothing would have happened but in the moment it is so dang serious feeling. Off-da.

We did some mellow things after that to balance it out. We hit up Umbrella Village where ladies make paper umbrellas all by hand - including making the paper.

It was quite the process to see from start to finish. And then Thai Silk Village where we got to see the (slightly gross) process of making silk. Mothy things --> worms --> cocoons --> silk!

Very fascinating. And of course we bought some silk so I can hopefully make something cute with it! 

After that, we called it a day with mr taxi man. But the evening was just getting started. Next up...

Muay Thai Kickboxing!!

We went and saw 5 kickboxing matches. The first round was between two kids - 15 and 16 year olds! They weren't too interesting to watch. The rest of them were though. There were even two lady fights; they meant business. We saw three knock-outs! Ow. David and I had some friendly wagers going for each match and I totally won! But it was all luck. We had no idea what we were doing. We basically made our decision based on shallow snap judgements of the fighters. Ha!

That took us to 11:30pm... Waaaay past our bedtime. Past our vacation bedtime even. 

We're now in Phuket and sadly we are not fans... I'll write more later, but we're hoping we'll like a different part of the island more before we head off to the Phi Phi Islands early next week. 

Ta ta for now!

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Adventures in Chiang Mai

We moved on from Bangkok to Chiang Mai and I just love this place! 

It feels like there is so much to do up here. And slowly but surely we're seeing the sights and going on adventures... Slowly because we are on vacation after all. 

We had originally hoped to get to Chiang Mai by an overnight train since it seems like it would be quite an experience all on its own, but they were sold out the day we wanted to leave so plan B kicked in: an inexpensive flight that was just over an hour long, MUCH faster than the train but not quite as cheap. On our one hour flight they gave us a full meal!! 

I was seriously floored. I only get a couple cookies on a 4 hour flight to Minnesota! Thailand knows what's up.

Our hotel, Eurana Boutique Hotel (which is just so-so... albeit cheap!) is located in Old City which is a 1 km square area surrounded by a moat. 

Pretty neat. There are tons of shops and food stalls around which has kept us busy and well fed.

Our first day here we rented some bicycles to get around and see the city, both inside and outside the moat. 

And then we hit up the night bazaar - it's basically an arts and crafts fair on steroids. It's pretty hit or miss; there were quite a few trinkety things but we did find (and buy) a fun painting from a local artist.

Our second day was filled with a cooking class, something I was looking forward to doing loooong before we started our whole trip. We went with Smart Cooks and LOVED it. They picked us up from our hotel and we started with a market tour where we learned about the different kinds or rice in Thailand and the various veggies and herbs (which had actually perplexed me before) that we would be cooking with. 

Then we headed off to their farm for the actual class portion - there were just 7 total in our class. Getting to their farm involved a short train ride and then a ten minute bike ride - it all felt so quaint.

This is precisely the moment David and I realized we left the class mangoes on the train... Doh!

We got to pick 7 items/courses to make and it all turned out so yummy. It was a very filling day though! 

No surprise, David chose to make pad Thai. 

Thankfully he loved this variation so we/he will definitely be trying to recreate it at home (thanks to them providing a recipe book!). We also got to make curry from scratch.

That mortar and pestle were heavy duty, it was seriously a workout to make the curry paste. It all led to my first ever phanang curry - it was so good!

How legit does this look?

Today was a bit more chill. We rented some scooters and explored more of the city. It almost went off without a hitch. The scooters were a bit strange to get used to (I've never been on one before). About 15-20 minutes in, I kinda sorta made a boo-boo that ended up costing us some baht. BUT, no one suffered even a scratch and all locals involved were so dang nice about it and it was so cheap to fix! Aside from that, the scooters were so much fun to ride! I usually led the two of us so i could go a nice slow Amy-pace. Every now and then I had to remind myself this is real life... not a video game. Of course we forgot to get a pic of one of us on the bike but we DID get a pic of the damage. Ha! (See the front fender??)

We rode up a small mountain to check out another temple (Wat Prathat Doi Suthep) which was pretty neat. There were sooo many stairs to get to the temple!

Another foot massage down and I think we're about ready for bed! Vacation wears a girl out. 

Friday, December 14, 2012

The End of Bangkok

We've moved on from the city of Bangkok, but our last days there were quite full. While exploring, we made our way to the Grand Palace. There's a very strict dress code for the palace...

We didnt know we'd get to the palace that day so we hadn't dressed the part. Not that we would have wanted to, it's super hot here (high 80's and 90's) and yet plenty of locals walk around in long sleeves and pants! Anywho, the Grand Palace thinks ahead. They have it set up so you can "rent" appropriate attire for free. Here's the swag I had to wear

And David just had to put on a pair of comfy pants.

I guess the king of Thailand only uses the buildings at the Grand Palace for some special ceremonies every now and then. It's strange to think all of this is largely unused now...

It's all so ornate!

Getting around in the city has been super easy. We've managed to walk a lot of places and there is so much public transportation. Taxi's are pretty unexciting, but Thailand also has Tuk Tuks. It's a cross between a taxi and a go-cart. It's really like a motorized tricycle with room for 3-4 passengers.

This really isn't an accurate depiction of one though because the driver is usually out on the street hassling people to take a ride.

They cruise around the streets at alarming speeds and dodge in and out of traffic. 

Bangkok traffic is something else. Seriously, road lanes are merely a suggestion - even on the freeway! Half the time your driver will be cruising in between two lanes. And motorcycles just go where ever they please and where ever they fit. 

We took a day trip to see the sights of Ayutthaya. It's a city about an hour-ish outside of Bangkok with loads of temples and religious significance (if you're Buddhist, which about 95% of Thailand is). At one point it was the capital of Thailand but now it is mostly old temples and ruins of old temples. 

We hit up 5 sites and sadly they all started to blend together quite a bit but it was still a ton of fun. 

The stairs to the temples were all kinds of wonky.

They were a little daunting to climb at times.

There was such a diverse group of people on our tour. Germany, Korea, France, China, and Japan were all represented, and the crazy common denominator? They all spoke English very very well. Makes me feel pretty lazy and unworldly because I don't recall much of MY foreign language - Spanish. 

We also took a little trip to Chinatown where David had the best pad Thai of our trip so far (he has currently had 6 variations!).

And lastly, we have fully taken advantage of the inexpensive spa services here. We've each had two foot massages and one traditional Thai massage. Each was only $4 for 30 minutes!! We definitely plan on more massages. David tried a "Fish Spa" (I opted out due to me being a scaredy cat)

So weird. He says it's kinda ticklish and it feels like when your foot is asleep, tingling back to life.

Yesterday we made our way to Chiang Mai (up in Northern Thailand) but I will write about those adventures on my next post... this baby is gettin' long! 

..and it feels like nap time.