Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai should have been a lot of fun, but really we just weren’t feeling all that great.  Wilder and I took a couple of days to recover from our gastro-intestinal distress and then Peyton ended up with a touch of it too.  Our accommodation was pretty but rather rustic, with a toilet you couldn’t flush paper down and lots of mosquitos.  I am covered in bites.

As we were marshaling ourselves to get out the first morning to see the city, Wilder commented that the Davidson-Turners were going to be in Laos soon.  This is another RTW family with teenagers that we have been corresponding back and forth with hoping to meet up.   When I asked him where they were then he replied, “I don’t know, something like MangChai.”  A light bulb went off.  Chiang Mai?  “Wilder we are in Chiang Mai.”  Turns out Wilder thought we were still in Laos.  A quick facebook conversation confirmed that they were indeed in the same city and we made plans to meet for dinner.  This turned out to be the highlight of our time in northern Thailand.  The family: dad Sean, mom Carol, daughter KJ (16) and son Cal (15) were great fun to talk to and hang out with.  They are from Florida, also on a 9-month trip, and are all around super cool people.  So we got to spend an evening comparing notes with one of the few families that can really relate to what this experience has been like.  Priceless!

The next day we set out for Tiger Kingdom.  This is a tiger-breeding program that allows you to go into the cage with the tigers and pet them.  Sounds dangerous right?  That was my concern.  It turns out the oldest tiger you can pet is under 18 months old, but it still looks plenty big when you are holding onto his tail.  I liked the babies; this one was about 6 months old.

Next we went to the Maesa Elephant Camp.  Here we saw a show where the Elephants did everything from play soccer to paint pictures.  Then we got to ride them.  Asian elephants look different than African ones – besides just the ears.  The kids liked the African ones better but I preferred the Asian ones – they were less pretty but seemed to have more personality.  We all liked them in the wild though rather than in captivity. 

Both the tigers and elephants were really huge and magnificent animals.  We felt very privileged to have the opportunity to interact with them and see them so close up.

Our plan was to take an overnight train back to Bangkok to catch our flight to Sydney.  This would have been the cheapest and easiest option.  Unfortunately by the time Mark and I made it to the station to buy the tickets the sleepers were sold out.  So we ended up on the 12-hour day train, which after it hit someone (yes I said it hit someone) turned out to be a nearly 15 hour trip.  The man was still alive when they took him away in an ambulance, and we pray he will make it.

Next we will have to get a hotel for one night in Bangkok, hang out all day and then board an overnight plane.  After that when we are due to arrive at 7am Sydney time our apartment won’t be ready yet so we will have to hang out till mid afternoon.  That is about 3 full back-to-back days of travel, not something we are looking forward to.  Still we are ready to see Asia in our rear view mirror and are really excited about our upcoming week in Sydney.

Monday, February 27, 2012


Laos is much quieter than it’s neighboring countries in South East Asia.  Here you see more cows on the roads than motorbikes.  That suited us fine as we thought we were possibly going deaf from the constant sound of horns and motors the past few weeks.

We started out in Vientienne, the capitol.  We were really only there for one day and the kids elected to stay in and do schoolwork, so Mark and I went out to explore on our own.  Our destination of choice was the Buddha Garden, but on the way we saw the local market, got lost, finally found the bus station and got on the right bus, only to have it break down and leave us stranded on the side of the road.  After that we found a tuk tuk that would only take us half way and then finally another bus.  The Buddha Park was nice when we finally got there.
Our broken down bus

A boy on the bus that liked me

Leaving Vientienne we took a 4-hour bus to Vang Vieng.  This small village in the middle of Laos is a place of stunning natural beauty, and we booked a cabin a bit out of town and right on the river with amazing views.  

It was luckily quiet as the main part of town is filled with large numbers of drunk 20-somethings.  Somehow this tiny village has become famous to backpackers for floating down the river in inner tubes.   So of course we had to spend our one-day there doing the same.   We are used to tubing the Salt River in my hometown of Phoenix, but this was quite a bit different.  As you float there are bars on the banks that throw out plastic bottles attached to ropes to reel you in for a stop.  For the price of a drink, or in one case an ice cream, you are allowed to use whatever toy they have, ie zipline, trapeze, slide etc.  I was a bit nervous as young tourists die here every year and water levels were very low, but thankfully we came away uninjured.  Mark and the kids loved it.      The bars were blasting Western music and people were partying hard.  I felt a bit old for the whole thing until I saw a couple in their 70’s having a great time.  My favorite part was when the local kids would hop on your tube for a free ride. 

Wilder making friends

Can you see Peyton in this pic?

That's Mark having just jumped off rickety tower on left sending Peyton flying into the air

Peyton making friends

Next we needed to travel overland to Luang Prubang.  The 7 to 8 hour drive is famous both for its scenery and the unpleasantness of the journey.  The road is horrible and the curves unending, but the kids and I wore our motion sick patches and opted for the minibus, which is more crowded but takes 7 hours instead of 8.  I’m happy to report no one got sick.  A heavy haze prevented us  though from seeing much of the famous views.

Luang Prubang is a beautiful city.  We had a nice family suite at a very pleasant little hotel in the old town.  During our short time there we saw a couple of temples and visited the Ethnic Cultural Museum to learn about the different Laotian ethnic groups and their traditions.

Banana Leaf Omelette

While we thought we had had enough of Asian markets (the cleanliness level often being bleak and dead things everywhere) we really liked the night market in Luang Prubang.  This one featured locally made crafts and textiles.  We know we have been traveling too long as we are finding ourselves breaking lots of our own rules - including not buying things.  Wilder and Peyton got matching slippers and I bought a duvet with matching pillow cases - super cheap but now we have to carry them!

Luang Prubang is also famous for a daily early morning ceremony during which the monks (over 200 of them) walk down the streets with their bowls collecting edible offerings from the townspeople.  This is called giving alms, and the people do it to "make merit."  It is quiet and beautiful at first light and a very cool thing to watch.

Next our original plan was to take the 2 day slow boat up the Mekong and over to the border with Thailand.  We decided instead to take a budget flight directly to Chaing Mai so that we could spend a few days there before catching an overnight train back to Bangkok.  This turned out to be a brilliant idea as Wilder and I both ended up getting sick on our last night in Laos.  Feeling poorly on a 1 hour prop plane ride is miserable (Wilder got to use the air sick bag while we were landing) but a 2 day slow boat would have been a whole lot worse.  Oh well, I guess it wouldn't be much of an around the world trip if no one ever had stomach trouble.  Up until now we have been unbelievably healthy.