Sunday, 19 March 2017

THAILAND

















สะ-หฺวัด-ดี-คฺรับ
 Pronounced: Sa-wat-dee Ka !   (That is how you say “hello” in Thai ! )

Where does one begin when writing about Thailand ?!  When I think of the month we spent there, visiting Bangkok, then North to Chiang Mai followed by the Samui Islands in the South...my mind goes off in all sorts of directions with all sorts of images flashing into mind. 

So this blog is written as little flashes of memories of Thailand...
                                             

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The most prominent and memorable time HAS to be our time with the elephants...I mean that was just.....just....well.. unforgettable  !!!  



We spent an entire day at Ran-tong Save and Rescue Centre outside of Chiang Mai. At this rehabilitation centre we just got to ‘be” with the elephants. First we met two adorable (but unbelievably strong) babies- Even the four months old could knock Mark off his feet ! Then we met the mothers and other elephants which have been brought to the centre to heal.






 The centre, which is one of many similar centers in the area, is preparing the elephants to be released back in “the wild” ( a national park which is being prepared). The Government of Thailand has finally made it illegal for elephants to be used for work. For centuries these majestic animals had been used, sometimes  in cruel ways, often abused and kept chained on very short tethers. 




What a difference to see them in large open spaces ! At night they are free to roam, up the mountain side,they always come back on their own, for the food of course but also for the great care they receive here.We got to hand feed them bananas and sugar cane, and we prepared their healthy meals (Balls of cereal, mixed with herbs, calcium and vitamins).






 We then visited a separate compound for healthy males and females; It is  a very large green space and we were happy to see that they are well looked after by the caregivers there too. Because these elephants are healthy and strong, we were invited to ride on them, directly on their backs (not on the usual heavy and cumbersome platforms you often see) and took a stroll in the forrest. Meg and I were on Ammy, Matthew and Mark on another, called Lopo. 



As the designated “Driver”; I had to sit right on Ammy’s neck, with my knees resting against the top of her big ears with my feet behind me.....Meg was on her enormous back. For the first 10 minutes I was pretty much terrified !  I couldn’t believe how HIGH we were....and I was not feeling very balanced....the mighty elephant effortlessly walked up steep hills, as if we weren’t even there...and at every step I thought I was going to slide off....it was really fun though...and knowing that the elephant was not suffering, in fact she looked as if she was rather enjoying herself, made it all the more special !




Riding Loppo






Matthew, MC, Ammy and Meg



















At the end of our 30 min walk, Ammy walked right into a large swimming hole, walking deeper and deeper until the water reached our legs, and we were told by the elephant care taker to slide off her back....we then proceeded to play in the water with the enormous female and give her a bath!! This was a thrill beyond words!! 

Here we were, belly deep in muddy water, and the elephant clearly, comfortable in the water, had rolled on to her side, at one point completely submerging herself! I could feel her tree trunk sized feet against my body...then rolling herself back up she stayed hunched down in the water so that her head was level with ours....we were looking into each others eyes, as we were brushing her and pouring buckets of water over her....at one point when I was in front of her like this, she aimed her trunk right at me, and I thought she was going to spray me....I said: " Easy there big fella" and pushed her trunk away and she looked at me, and I swear I saw her wink at me with a cheeky look in her eye....it was all very playful and lovely. 






Here are three shots of the moment I described above when Ammy was  threatening to spray me , she looked right into my eyes and was being so cheeky !

MC doing her best impersonation of George Costanza   "Easy Big fella..!"


On more than one occasion we did get sprayed by the elephants and we squealed in delight!  Everyone had a marvelous time. Matthew had a permanent smile on his face, and Mark and Meg were clearly enchanted by these magnificent animals as well. By the end of the afternoon, we were all soaked to the bone, muddy and feeling happier than we have in a long time  ! Completely fulfilled,  our cup runneth over ! It was THE most magical experience we had ever had ! 
Ammy, Matthew, MC, Meghan, Mark and Lopo-spraying the camera-(with the elephant care takers on either side).


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Next, I remember the breathtakingly ornate temples we visited in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. I never knew how detailed and painstakingly elaborate these buildings were. Throughout our many visits we really got to appreciate how intricate Thai Architecture can be. I had never seen anything like this! We visited Wat Pho, Wat Traimit, Wat Phrang, Wat Benjamabopit and many others

Wat Banjamabopit







Most striking of all was  Wat Phra Keow in Bangkok, alongside the Grand Palace. What a visually stunning place !  You can stand facing any direction and point your camera at any and all angles and you will capture beautiful shots !  































































































Now, we were never alone in these places....everywhere we went we were amongst enormous crowds, all being led, in a very orderly way, to the entrances of each temple. Dutifully removing our shoes and standing in line to walk by every form of Buddha you can dream of : the Reclined Buddha, the Standing Buddha, the Golden Buddha (pure gold and massive!), the famous Emerald Buddha, (actually made of jasper), the oldest Buddha etc..etc......At one point, it got to be too much for Mark and Matthew as they felt they’d seen enough to last them a lifetime and so, Meg and I continued on our pilgrimage alone, while the boys visited book shops and coffee shops for ice cream !  

Meg and the Reclining Buddha













Meg dropping coins (donations)in vases for prayers and good luck 















The Emerald Buddha


The Golden Buddha































 In October  2016, the people of Thailand lost their beloved King (he was 88 years old). Along with Queen Elizabeth, King Bhumibol Adulyadej had been the longest reigning monarch in the world. It is quite touching to see how beloved he was. Everywhere you go in Thailand there are memorials and placards with his pictures. When you fly, the airlines always take a moment to remember him in  special in-flight announcements. When we were at the palace in Bangkok, we saw bus loads of people, all dressed in black, coming to pay their respects to him (his body still lays at the palace, and will continue to lay there until they have the proper memorial building built for him, in about a year). King  Bhumibol Adulyadej ‘s son, at 64 years of age, is now the new King of Thailand. 


Mourners come by the bus load at the palace






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Next, my mouth starts to water at the thought of all the delicious food we found on the streets (and how inexpensive a delicious meal can be). Our whole family could sit down at the little tables set up on the side of the roads and eat for less than $10 (total!), and this is including beers and delicious fresh fruit smoothies ! We had plenty of opportunity to sample all sorts of things, our favourite being the pork skewers, coconut soups, various noodles and fried vegetables and rice. I’ll be honest with you, its going to be difficult to have to pay more than $1 for a smoothy when we get back to Canada after all this ! 
Roasted Chestnuts


Fresh Pommegrenade







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One of the other things that stick out when we think of Thailand, is the shopping opportunities. I always enjoy a walk through markets and having visited markets in Italy, Greece, the Caribbean, Indonesia and Peru  I thought I’d had a pretty good idea of all that markets could offer....well....turns out I had NEVER seen anything like the markets in Thailand !  Wow !  The weekend market Chatuchak is so big that you could never see it all in one day, never mind a week !  t is divided into dozens of sections and  if you ever venture into this place, I would highly recommend that you have a look at a map of it before-hand and plan a route through it ! 

Meg and I got almost hopelessly lost at one point, (but still we had fun while we did) ! There is so much to see and buy....We heard it say that “if it exists, you can find it at Chatuchak !”  I saw things there I didn’t even know existed !  A chair made from a crocodile anyone ? 





We also enjoyed the night markets, both in Bangkok and Chiang Mai. Sometimes called walking streets, they are a lively, crowded places where many treasures can be found amongst the brightly lit make-shift tables , and at very affordable prices. After a few visits, we wondered why we ever bothered to buy the kids clothes in Australia !  It would have been much cheaper to get them here ! So we got some more ! When you see us next, you might notice that our wardrobe now has a definite “East Asian flair” to it !  You can blame Thailand  and its walking streets for that ! 




This young man was demonstrating for us how to make coconut sugar. In many ways it  is like making maple syrup ! 
It also needs to be said that the gentleness of the people of Thailand, how they always greet and thank us with a “wai” (palms of the hands together and a small nod) is another thing that we will always remember.  


In Thailand, even Ronald partakes in the  "Wai" greeting


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Other memories of Thailand will be: the undecipherable thai language, (in one month we only managed to learn to say “hello” and “Thank you”) . It was easy to get lost in Bangkok as the street signs are often only written in Thai and the maps aren’t much better. We appreciated using taxis (mostly the fun 3-wheeled kind - called Tuk-tuks)   to get us to our destination easily.





Oh, and the amount of electrical wires hanging over head, on every street corner,  all looking like rat nests really have to be seen to be believed  !  




……….and after Indonesia, we found the traffic to be positively civil and organized in comparison. We enjoyed seeing the canals and boat taxis, especially picturesque at dusk. 




FLOATING MARKETS : 
We had took a day to go and see the floating markets, which are not easy to get to, but worth the trip out, as these are pretty unique, tourist trap for sure, but still, unique ! 























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SILK DEMO
In Bangkok, we visited Jim Thompson’s house (american Entrepreneur, who started a profitable silk company in Thailand and then mysteriously disappeared in the 1960s). There we saw some neat demonstrations on how silk is spun out of the silk worms cocoons. 
Silk Cocoons

Pulling the silk out of the boiled cocoons.


We also got to see a demonstration of Thai dancing. Not surprisingly, we found it to be similar to Indonesian dances, (of Bali and Java) but with much faster movements. 

Thai dancing demo
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KING COBRAS
In Chiang Mai, we took an afternoon to go and see a live cobra show. This is the only one of its kind ...where you can see the hair raising demonstration with very impressive King cobra, so  petrifying when they raise they heads and puff out their hood !  

That's a real live king Cobra right behind Meg !!!

As well as other demonstrations using Thai Cobras and other snakes. Throughout the entire time we sat there, in an small open arena, with nothing between us and the very rapidly moving snakes....I couldn’t help but notice that the snake “charmer” was missing a part of his finger....we learned later that yes, they had to amputate after he had been bitten. The fact that this man still works with snakes after this, shows a real dedication to his job ! !

Can you spot the partly missing finger  ?


Matthew petting a (much less lethal) boa constrictor.
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MONKS 
Being primarily Buddhist,  Thailand is a place where we were able to witness this religion in everyday life. Especially in Chiang Mai where It is completely normal to see monks in their orange robes walking across the streets, on the buses, sitting in the parks having a snack, everywhere !  We learned that for most families in Thailand, it is considered normal for a son to join the monks for a minimum period of two weeks. This becomes  a source of real pride for the family of these young men, some of whom  might decide to devote their entire lives as monks while others  will decide to go back to their regular life after the minimum period of time. 
Monks in Chiang Mai

















Monks chanting in temple in Chiang Mai

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Cabaret !
We also thought that with Bangkok, notorious  night life reputation we should bring the kids to a cabaret show, where they got to see some very talented acts, all by male dancers and singers...except that they definitely didn’t look male, not one bit !




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Chiang Mai, the old city:





Chiang Mai was a real joy to discover. It is a much easier city to navigate around compared to Bangkok. The old city is completely surrounded by a moat and crumbling ancient wall which was built to protect it from enemies coming from Myanmar  (Burma) centuries ago. We enjoyed walking around the old city everyday for a week, stopping here and there, to visit a temple, sit in a serene park, and even enjoying a Thai massage once. This was a nice treat, for Meg and I, (The boys declined to try)..although I think, we both thought that the technique where they use their whole body weight at times, was a little bit intense, we did come out with muscles throbbing !

The moat and ancient wall of the Old City, Chiang Mai





The extremely fun "Art in Paradise" museum in Chiang Mai

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Massages and Fish Spas ?

Another new thing we tried was the FISH SPA !  If you’ve been to South East Asia recently you will know what I mean by this, but if you haven't then let me enlighten you; A Fish Spa, is a large water tank filled with small fish who ‘delight in eating dead human skin’...UGH, that sounds horrible, let me rephrase that; ‘They enjoy nibbling on the dead skin off of your feet’ , there, that is better ...or is it ?

Now I am  always game to try new things, and we had seen signs for these all over Bali, and in Chiang Mai, so on a day where we had nothing better to do, Meg and I stopped and paid for a 30 minute “treatment”. Meg put her feet in first and she started to laugh a little, as the fish (clearly starving from lack of clientele recently!) rushed to her feet.





Next, it was my turn to put my feet in....I hesitated a little, but not wanting to exasperate the spa lady any longer, I took the plonge....and what I felt was....
......the most  loathsome, horrendous, insufferable godawful sensation I have ever felt !!!  These slippery little fish just charged at my feet, they were all over the top, bottom, sides and even in BETWEEN my toes.....I let out a sickening giggle, unable to control myself....I just giggle/screamed like that for what felt like long minutes, trying to get used to the feeling, trying to control my jerky reflexes..

SO ticklish, SO uncomfortable....I was not able to stand it.....I kept pulling my feet out, to get them off of me....mean while Meghan had settled down quite nicely with the fish all around her... But still, she was only able to last 15 minutes, with me continually pulling my feet out every 20 seconds or so. We thanked the lady and left, wondering if our feet really were made smoother as we were promised they would be.....yet happy to have had the experience. We raved about it to Mark so much that he finally tried it when we were in Cambodia....he loved it of course.  We thought it best not to let Matthew try, he didn’t seem impressed by the whole thing !

Mark's Fish Spa in Siem Reap



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Koh Tao




















After our week in amazing Cambodia (which will have its own blog post- as there is too much to say about this beautiful country!), we returned to Thailand to spend our last week relaxing in the beautiful Samui Islands. By this time, Matthew had let us know, in no uncertain terms, that he was DONE with temples and crowded touristy sites....The quiet ocean side was what he ( and all of us) craved.



If you have been following us on our blog for a while, you will know that we have been to some pretty beautiful spots on earth, we have seen our fair share of beautiful beaches and done some pretty incredible snorkeling and diving too. 

This is how Ko Tao (the northern most island of the Semui Islands) stacked up:

It is a very beautiful place, mostly because of the impressive rock formations. They reminded us of ‘The Baths” in Virgin Gorda (BVIs), the water was clear and warm which was ideal for Matthew the fish. For these reasons we put Koh Tao down  as one of the top ten most beautiful swimming places we had been.. (Never comparing it to French Polynesia though, sorry that just can’t be beat)






The snorkeling was pretty average, some big fish, and the coral nothing to write home about. (Remember that we have been spoiled-for life-in that department). Meghan took the opportunity to do her Advanced Diving certificate with PADI while we were here, and it was well worth it, she did 7 dives in all, including some pretty awesome adventure dives. There are plenty of great dive shops with good instructors, and the best price you will find anywhere, we think. If she ever wants to do her Dive Master Course, this would be a top choice for place to do it ! 

 Other than the picturesque rock formation I mentioned above, the beaches are pretty regular, as far as beaches go. There are lots of tourists, but the one great thing about them is that you will not get hassled by anyone trying to sell you anything while you relax by the water. There are plenty of little bars and restaurants right by the water if you want to have a drink at sunset, so it is just perfect that way ! 


Koh Tao was a life saver for us, as we were getting pretty burned out from all the intense traveling we had done up until then. This was a holiday for us, (even if we did lots of school in between diving), and it was the most relaxing time we’d had since our time on Amelie, months ago !  We really needed it !


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We are now in Ko Samui, getting ready for a couple of last days in Bangkok before taking our flight to Japan, our next and final destination before returning to the land of Canucks !

I will try to write about our time in Cambodia next, and keep you posted about Japan as well. So stay tuned !

Much love from,

4Ms overland in South East Asia
XXXX

1 comment:

  1. The photo of Matthew with the elephant, of Meg with the Nat Geo cover, of MC's face in the fish foot spa vs Mark's serenity in same ... ahhh, loved it all!!!!!

    Please, when you come home, continue blogging, continue writing, continue showing us the world through your eyes. You are so absolutely superb at it!

    Other than the elephants,the ancient wall was perhaps the photo that stirred me the most. I love touching things that someone else touched as well hundreds or thousands of years before me.

    Mark's FB post the other day about Matthew and leaving behind the seaside once you return to Canada ... so BEAUTIFULLY written, Mark. Broke my heart but beautifully writ.

    Love you all,
    From us over here and up North where -10 is t-shirt weather and from down South where Papa D and Gramma Donna sat on their back deck in the +7 or so sunshine the other day. It MAY take you a while to reaclimatize ��

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