Thailand (Hua Hin): Paradise Found! – by Barb

After spending 11 days in and around Chiang Mai, I thought it might be nice for the boys (as well as Clay and I) to see a beach – since Thailand is so well-known for its beaches. Originally we had thought we would just stay in the northern part of Thailand but at this point I was ready for a change of scenery and when it’s so hot, beaches seem inviting! After some research on airbnb I found what looked like a “too good to be true” deal. There was a resort south of Hua Hin (about 4 hours south of Bangkok) that would rent us a villa (2 bedrooms, full kitchen, BBQ, jacuzzi, swimming pool) for $59 a night. I booked it but didn’t say much about it to Clay or the boys, since I thought it was another one of those situations where we would show up only to be  disappointed. (Some of the places look pretty inviting on airbnb and when you get there you see the “reality”!)
We had planned to head to Bangkok from Chiang Mai anyway, since we were flying out to Jakarta, IndonesDSCF9717ia from there. When I had created our itinerary I had left about 10 days “open” after our time in Chiang Mai, to see what we felt like doing. I wasn’t sure if we’d want to spend more time there or if we’d feel like heading elsewhere. October is apparently not the best time of year to visit beaches in the southern part of Thailand because of the rain and storms but apparently the Hua Hin area is least affected by these due to it being sheltered in the Gulf.
We boarded a train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok. It was a 13 hour trip to Bangkok and we would be taking thDSCF9722e sleeper car. When we first set out from Chiang Mai only two other “bunks” on our sleeper car were full but we seemed to stop at every town and village along the way and gradually they filled up. A woman came along not long after we boarded, asking if we’d like to order dinner, which we did. You could choose whether you wanted to get the food at 6, 7, or 8 pm.  The cushions on our bunks looked quite worn and grotty but Clay quickly changed them for cleaner versions from the unused bunk next door! The boys and I went to brush our teeth in the sink at about 8:30 and a man came along and “made up” the bunks while we were gone. They give you a clean sheet, a blanket and a pillow. The air-conditioning was on, full tilt, so the blanket was a necessity! DSCF9715   DSCF9726
The boys settled in on the top bunks, but about an hour later, Connor came to snuggle in with me because he claimed he was “too cold up there!” This made sleeping a little bit more of a challenge but we managed OK.
When we arrived in Bangkok we got off the train and grabbed some croissants and juice for breakfast. Then we boarded our train to Hua Hin. We lucked out and got a seat with an electrical outlet beside us so we all watched a movie on the computer on the way! Our taxi driver met us as soon as we disembarked and we were soon on our way to see what this villa looked like.
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What a pleasant surprise! It was amazing! With a swimming pool running down the middle of the row of villas, like a main street, a two story tall water slide, a swim up bar, and lovely little bridges crossing the water, who could complain?!! Connor was in heaven! (He’s part dolphin!)
Then there was our villa: spotlessly clean, a full kitchen with pots, pans, and utensils, 2 bedrooms and a bathroom with a SEPARATE SHOWER! (a rare find in Thailand). We also DSCF9735had a rooftop terrace with a BBQ, hot tub, and outdoor shower. This was heaven! What a change from the places we usually stayed in. Sometimes it’s nice just to take a break from “travel” for a few days and relax!
We rented bikes one day to check out the beach that was only 5 minutes south of us. It was beautiful as well. You had to be careful of the jelly fish in the water but the beach was deserted and was perfect for shell hunting and crab watching!
I don’t think we’ll be able to top this place!

Thailand (Chiang Mai): Our Two Month Anniversary & A Visit to the Dentist – by Barb

After three days, two nights in the jungle we returned to Awana Guest House in Chiang Mai for the second time. They greeted us like family! By this point we have been traveling for two months and I think we’re starting to settle into more of a routine. I am big on routine because without it I feel that we too easily stray from our goals. I will write more that later!

Following a quick bite to eat, it was off to the dentist. When you are traveling for a year it is different from just going somewhere for a short vacation.We must take into account all of the not-so-exciting things which need to be done as well: haircuts, dentist visits, laundry, school work, grocery shopping, etc. Of course, some of these are a bit more of an adventure when you’re trying to accomplish them in an unfamiliar place! IMG_0192

I had read that the quality of dentists was excellent in Thailand (Chiang Mai) and that they are very reasonably priced, so we thought it was best to get a cleaning done while we were here.

The boys were a bit apprehensive, but then again they are when we’re going to the dentist at home as well! Caleb’s biggest fear was that the dentist would find a cavity and suddenly pull out a big needle to work on it! I assured him that we were only getting a cleaning this visit (and prayed that the dentist didn’t find anything major!).

Caleb went in first (I thought this was best since he gets the most nervous!) and sat in the chair. I went in with him to help keep him calm and to check and see what the dentist was doing. The room was spotlessly clean and was quite similar to what we would experience at home. The dentist did the cleaning himself, while his assistant just handed him tools as he needed them.

Fortunately none of us seemed to have any cavities and within a couple of hours we were on our way again. One dentist visit accomplished!

Thailand (Pai): Really? Another Bus Ride?! – By Barb

After our stay at Chai Lai Orchid, we returned to the same guest house in Chiang Mai (Awana House). It felt great to return to a place that was familiar. It was like coming home!
The following day we caught a mini bus to Pai – a town 3 1/2 hours outside of Chiang Mai. We had heard great things about Pai, which is why we decided to brave the 754 hair pin turns up the mountain to visit it. Caleb was not at all keen on the journey – having been the one to get sick the most on our previous bus adventures. Sure enough, he was sick twice going up the mountains and reminded me that, “This had better be a pretty amazing place!”
map to paiYes, someone has actually counted the number of hairpin turns between Chiang Mai and Pai!
We were staying just a little way out of town and we were all surprised when we started walking there just how hot it was in Pai. I had thought, given that we had climbed up the mountains for 3 1/2 hours, that it would be slightly cooler than Chiang Mai, but no! In fact, we all thought it was even warmer! Needless to say walking a couple of km to our guest house in the melting sun was not  much fun!
Once we settled in to our guest house we rented scooters and headed back to town for some dipai streetnner. The was the first time I had ridden a scooter and I was not very good at it! I guess I expected it to ride like a bicycle but a 250 lb scooter feels very different from a bike! It didn’t help that it started to pour rain as we were driving. Connor sat behind me and was incredibly supportive. He kept saying, “Mommy, I think you’ve got it! You’re really good whenever there is a straight stretch!” We headed down the main stretch in town where the night market had started, so it began to get rather busy. People were wandering the streets, it was dark, and wet. I was not feeling very confident on my scooter and then someone stepped out in front of us! I managed to avoid them but headed for another couple at the side of the road. We hit her arm and she dropped her cell phone. Connor and I stopped and I did my best to apologize but they didn’t speak English. They did not look at all happy – which was understandable, considering they were just walking along minding their own business, when they got struck in the arm by our scooter. After attempting to apologize, I didn’t know what else to do, so we continued on, VERY SLOWLY!
The following day we took the scooters out again, but I was so worried that I might run into someone that after 10 minutes I asked Clay to return them. Not only was I not very good at driving the scooter, but we wanted to visit the hot springs and the Pai Canyon, both of which were about 8 km, in different directions from the town. And, you had to drive around the same windy road that we had travelled on to get to Pai, which meant you were constantly being passed by buses and other traffic. I thought this was an accident just waiting to happen.
Off we headed to the hot springs, with our driver! I’m so glad we didn’t try to drive ourselves. The hot springs were located in a national park and fortunately when we arrived there was only one other couple there. The water was pleasantly warm and we spent an hour enjoying the surroundings.
After the hot springs we headed in the opposite direction to the Pai Canyon. This unique geographical area has been eroded away over many years and is now full of narrow ledges snaking out into the densely forested valley.  There is nothing in the way of safety bars but you are free to venture as far afield into the canyon as you dare! But with a 30 metre plus drop on either side we had to be careful where we stepped.
The following day, it was back on the bus to Chiang Mai. All in all, Pai was very beautiful but we weren’t sure that our 2 night visit was worth the 7 hour nausea-inducing bus ride!

Thailand (Mae Wang): Two Nights in the Jungle! – by Barb

After 5 days in the city of Chiang Mai, it was time for us to head outside the city to an area called Mae Wang, where we would be staying at CDSCF9607hai Lai Orchid – a guest house in the jungle close to an elephant camp.  The Chai Lai Orchid works to promote sustainable tourism, kindness to elephants, and helps at-risk womDSCF9991en take the first step to get out of poverty and see a future of hope. The eco-lodge is located adjacent to an elephant camp which still uses chairs on the backs of the elephants to provide rides for tourists. This camp, like so many in Thailand, is reluctant to change its business model because they fear tourists will go elsewhere to find cheap chair rides and elephant shows. Chai Lai Orchid is hoping to raise enough money to run the elephant camp, showing others that tourists are happy to spend time watching and bathing the elephants, and thereby set an example for the  humane and ethical treatment of both elephants and mahouts. DSCF0030
In addition to helping the elephants, Chai Lai employs young mothers and at-risk girls who have been denied education through circumstance. Chai Lai Orchid teaches the women about working in a hotel so when they graduate, they can find stable employment in Thailand’s growing hospitality industry. They also attend English and computer classes, seminars on women’s health, nutrition, trafficking and their rights.
This was one of my favourite places to stay so far on our journey. It was nice to be in the jungle. The boys loved the river, which was a great way to cool off in the tropical heat. We were also able to hire a bamboo raft and go rafting down the river rapids. We enjoyed watching the elephants  walk past us. To top it off  a new baby elephant had just been born the week before! It was also great to know that our money was going to support a good cause.
The boys on the river, just outside our room.
Proud Momma with her new calf.
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Visiting with the elephants.
The bridge across to our “Jungle Lodge”. We only brought our backpacks here. Good thing! Wouldn’t want to have to roll a big bag across this bridge! (Although people drove across on their motorcycles!)
Barb working at the lodge restaurant.
The river we rafted on, and swam in. (Fortunately it wasn’t until our last day that we noticed the very large water snakes on the river bank!!)
Good bye, Chai Lai Orchid! We loved staying here!

Thailand (Chiang Mai): Biking Southern Chiang Mai

To get a better sense of Chiang Mai, we decided to take a bicycle tour south of the city. We DSCF9556rented bikes and cycled (with a guide) around the southern part of Chiang Mai. We took side streets, so the biking was great – not much traffic to worry about and the scenery was beautiful in spots. We traveled through many small villages and it really felt like we were miles from the city.

We stopped to visit a 100-year-old temple that had been moved by the villagers due to flooding.



We also visited a rehabilitation facility that used to be the location of a Leper colony. A few of the original patients with leprosy still called the place home and they created crafts to sell at the local store. Some of their cards and artwork is shipped around the world. We purchased a collection of their Christmas cards.


We learned about cremation at the village crematorium.


Near the end of our ride we saw the ruins of some of the ancient temples from the original Lanna Kingdom. 




It was a great way to learn more about Chiang Mai and its people.

Thailand (Chiang Mai): Chatting with Monks – by All of Us!

One day we went to a temple in Chiang Mai where you could chat with the monks about their lives and Thai culture in general. DSCF9919



We sat at a picnic table with a young novice monk named Boi who was 19 years old and was about to decide whether to continue as a full monk or not.






We asked Boi about Buddha and his daily routine. He told us how he had to wake up every day at 5:00 a.m. to collect alms and pray and study. He also explained how monks cannot eat past noon and they can only eat the food that is collected as alms (offerings by the common people in return for a spiritual blessing).



Boi came from a vDSCF9925ery poor village and being a novice monk provided him the opportunity to study English and teaching. He wore a bright orange robe (apparently the colour orange repels mosquitos) and his hair was shaved very closely so it was both easy to care for and to signify that monks were not be concerned about personal appearance.






We thanked Boi for speaking with us and educating us about his culture. He in turn thanked us for the chance to practice his English. He shook our hands, with the exception of Barb, as monks are not allowed to touch women.    DSCF9968

Thailand (Chiang Mai): A Thai Massage! – by All of Us!

You can’t visit Thailand without having a massage! There are massage parlours every 20 meters, on every street imaginable – kind of like Tim Horton’s back home. Connor was particularly excited because he lThailand_Koh_Mak_Ao_Khao_Beach_sign_massage_3339_1oves massage. They begin by scrubbing your feet in lime water. Then you are led to a pallet where they twist and bend your body in unnatural positions. Barb, Caleb, and Connor had Back, Neck, and Head massages and Clay had the traditional Thai massage. The experience was not what Caleb was expecting. He thought it would be gentle and soothing but he felt like a piece of pretzel dough being pounded. Connor, on the other hand, actually fell asleep at points because he found it so relaxing. They also had an à la carte menu of services so you could choose what kind of massage you wanted.


Another neat experience that the boys tried was the Fish Spa. You put your feet in a tank full of little fish and they come up and suck the dead skin off of your feet. It was a good thing no one else was there when we went because the boys couldn’t stop giggling! They thought it felt so funny to have the feet nibbling at your toes!


Thailand (Chiang Mai): Tales from Thailand – by Barb

We arrived in Chiang Mai on a Saturday, which is the day of the Saturday Night Market. We enjoyed wandering through the market and sampling various treats: mango with coconut sticky rice, chicken satay, fruit shakes, waffles. Eating at the night market is fun and very cheap! IMG_0214
On Sunday there was another night market even closer to our Guest House so we got to sample even more yummy food, and re-sample the things we had enjoyed most from the day before!
Caleb was really interested in the artisans at the market and wanted to purchase something that would: a) support a local artist, and b) be a nice souvenir to take home. He ended up deciding on an abstract painting of elephants. 
We also visited the Museum of Arts and Culture, which taught us about the history of Chiang Mai. It was very well done AND had air conditioning, so we were able to spend a few hours there. There was a video that gave you a brief overview of Chiang Mai’s history and on the second floor there were full scale dioramas of villages set up.