FC: Chiang Mai & Ko Phi Phi
1: Chiang Mai Thought of as the cultural capital of Thailand, Chiang Mai is sought as a gateway to a variety of fun activities. At the base of the Himalayas, you can visit elephants, hill tribes, and go trekking. Although only a fraction of the size of Bangkok, it has nearly as many wats. Stroll down the streets to find centuries-old, retro, and modern charms in colorful stores, restaurants, boutique hotels, and art.
2: We got to practice speaking Thai with our new friends, Sakon and Bonlapon, who were fascinated by our travel guides. As the train ride came to an end, they said, "You - ride - home - with - us." We were lucky to bypass all the hawkers and jumped into her brother's open-air taxi. After sharing the ride with a few other locals, we were safely delivered to our hotel. Thank you, Jesus.
3: We awoke to the sun rising over a bamboo forest. The 12-hour train ride took us past many farms and small towns. I dove into a book, and Steven reached a new goal playing Scramble on the I-pod.
6: Again, Steven found a charming, relaxing, friendly place for us to call home. Each day we shared a Thai omelette with chili sauce, fried rice, and french toast with honey and bananas for breakfast. Yum!
7: 3 Sis Boutique Hotel
8: We were thrilled to spend a day at the sanctuary and rescue center to participate in the happy stories of each majestic creature.
9: We were touched by the genuine love, care, and respect each mahout gave to his elephant.
10: We were fortunate to meet the park's heroic founder, Lek. Her name may mean "small," but she is leading a huge movement to train elephants with humane methods. Money raised by the park will go to purchasing protected lands, enabling the elephants to roam free. | Fill an Ele' Belly
11: Feeding 32 elephants that each eat over 500 lbs. of food a day is a fun but laborious process. Volunteers assist the mahouts by cutting up squash and melons, throughout the day.
12: We got up close and personal with two elephant bathing sessions. You could almost see them smile, having as much fun as we were!
13: Bath Time!
15: The park is also home to dozens of cats and dogs
16: Elephant tooth | Got an itch to scratch? | Mud bath
17: Buffet lunch made on-site in the vegetarian cooking school | Dine with the dogs | Six different noodle dishes!
20: Wat Dogs | Healing Sucker Fish | Fried "Shrimp Bomb"
21: Money to Burn | KO'd !!!
24: Watch out - these women will just grab your wrist and slip on a bracelet | Don't ask what a Christmas tree is doing in the food court in March | Homemade checkers with bottle caps for game pieces
26: Follow the Crowds | In Thailand, you have many food options, but we found success in watching where the locals seemed to go. One place that was especially lively featured all-you-can-eat Korean BBQ for 100 baht (about $3.00) Nice!
27: After seeing school kids dash across the street, we took their lead and found an awesome Indian roti crepe, crispy with banana inside and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk.
29: Rediscovering Thai Food Although we had traditional Thai food at most meals, there were new ways of experiencing the classic dishes and flavors. Our first northern Thai meal was at Huan Phen, as cutely decorated as it was delicious. The papaya shrimp salad was clean and briny, fresh veggies were dipped in a roasted green chili paste, and the fried pork spareribs tasted especially - well, porky. We stumbled upon a hot pot restaurant that served two memorable condiments: red chili with sesame, and cilantro, lime, and fish sauce, which Steven affectionately named "Dirty Sauce."
32: Night Riders | We decided our chances of dying in a tuk-tuk would be reduced in this less-crowded city. Off the main street, it would cost 50 baht to ride back, or less than two dollars. We bonded with the drivers over the song Hotel California. | After our first tuk-tuk ride, we were dropped off at the ruins of Wat Pra Sing
34: Orchid and Butterfly Farm
36: Hill Tribe Village In an idyllic setting, the village was established to give tourists opportunities to meet representatives from remote hills tribes without actually trekking to them, and in return, the tribes get to educate and sell their goods. Here, it was perfectly acceptable for a toddler to peel an apple with a machete (unsupervised). I loved the beauty in the peoples' faces, pride in their culture, and entrepreneur-like determinism!
39: Over 100 years ago, the Hill Tribe peoples migrated south from China into what are now Burma, Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand. The six major tribes are the Karen, the Hmong, the Yao (Mien), the Akha, the Lisu, and the Lahu. The main profession of all these tribes is farming, and all of them tend to migrate whenever they feel that the soil at their present location is becoming depleted.
40: Long Neck Tribe Women and young girls of the Padaung, or Kayan, tribes wear brass rings around their necks, below knees, and above elbows. We were told the rings are a sign of beauty that identifies them as belonging to their tribe, in order to prevent "other tribes from taking their women." Although we were conflicted about supporting this practice and tourist spectacle, the women were kind and proud. They demonstrated their skills in weaving, singing, playing the guitar, and posing for pictures.
43: Karen Village A visit to an actual hill tribe village let us see how they truly lived and used the land, in addition to commerce.
44: After visiting the nature park, we felt pretty guilty that our next tour included an elephant ride, but admittedly, we had lots of fun. We were the only people in our group who didn't deem it necessary to purchase bananas to feed the elephant. Sadly, our hungry girl repeatedly reached up her trunk, but with fruitless results (pun). So left to her own devices, she kept stopping at various trees to pull down branches and snack. We could feel her powerful crunching vibrate through her entire body.
45: Elephant Trek
46: Riding bareback around the elephant's neck brought me closer to her perspective. My thighs were only slightly chaffed from what can only be compared to hairs of a bristle brush.
48: Hike to a Waterfall
49: Let's just say that in Thailand, there are different standards when it comes to maintaining roads on a hike.
50: The River The Contraption The Arrival
51: Spider trap | Mimosa, a touch-sensitive plant | Our cheerleaders | Lunch | Our fellow adventurers
53: Rafting Down the Taeng River One of the highlights of our trip was the raft ride down the Taeng River. This was one of few times we felt we were actually interacting with the locals. As we floated down, they'd look and smile right at us, talk to us, even splash us. Although foreigners in their territory, they seemed pleased we were sharing in their love of the river. | It's astounding to think that for these kids, splashing alongside elephants is just an everyday occurrence.
54: Thai Cooking School | One of the must-do activities in Thailand is to go to cooking school for a day. Our instructor, Bunpot, is the owner and founder of Siam Rice, so he was especially passionate. We started by heading to the market to learn to shop for the ingredients we would need for the day's meals. Steven and I made six dishes, but we also got to learn and sample more dishes from our other classmates, for a total of 15 dishes! What a feast!
55: Holy basil Tom Yum Goong kit with tumeric, galangal, & kaffir lime leaf Bunpot releasing the aromas from each herb Lemon grass and small green eggplant
56: Palm sugar and Curry paste | One of the most popular snacks in the market was the Thai version of chicharrones, crispy fried pork skins. There were snacks of fried nuts and fish seasoned with Thai chilies, curries, and other spices. What lovely souvenirs, had we not left them behind!
58: The Pro showing us how finely the lime leaves could be chopped. | Thai say you can judge a wife on how well she pounds her curry paste.
59: Oil + Water = Fire = SCARY! | That would be the look of fear on my face. | Another instructor told his students to "Smile, have fun, and mooove the body!"
60: Tom Yum Goong | Pad Woon Sen | Pad Thai | Who's hungry?
61: Cashew Chicken | Panang Curry | Green Eggplant Curry
62: We made curry!
63: How did we do? | The Dream Team
64: By the time we arrived at Warorot Market, the food sales were closing for the day, while the flower market was just getting started. Steven was looking forwards to sampling fried bugs, but these looked like they were sitting out for a while.
65: Another Chinatown
66: Flower Market There are over 1,300 varieties of wild orchid in Thailand. As they have been threatened by deforestation, millions are being cultivated for overseas exports.
68: Wat Phra Sing We were impressed by this monk's stillness and likeness to the neighboring statues. Nearby, monks practiced drumming, adding to the feeling of being transported to another world.
71: Crazy Wat: Watbupparam Just outside the centuries-old city walls, lots of seemingly random statues decorate the lawn of this crazy wat. Yes, that is Donald Duck next to Buddha. Makes perfect sense.
72: Big Buddha: Mornthean Temple In Chiang Mai, it is easy to stumble upon spectacular wats, mingling among common sights such as nonstop traffic and unwieldy wires.
73: Nagas are protective serpents that act as guardians against bad spirits. They often flank the walls of temples or the staircases up to them. In Buddhist mythologies, a naga had been subdued by the Buddha and became his guardian. Nagas are also believed to control rainfall and are worshiped as during Songkran, a major holiday, where people in the streets are drenched with buckets of water. | The various postures of the Buddha are associated with various events of his life. The most common pose found in Thai temples is with the legs crossed, the left hand in the lap, and the right hand pointing to the ground with the palm facing inward. This posture is known as Calling The Earth to Witness, as it relates to the moment of enlightenment for the Buddha. | In the story, the Buddha meditated all night to overcome the fears and temptations sent by the demon Mara to defeat him. Instead, the Buddha called the Earth Goddess to witness that the Buddha achieved enlightenment in order to share with the rest of the world. Witnessing that, the Earth Goddess wrung her hair, releasing flood waters that swept away the Demon Mara and all the temptresses he had released.
75: Wat Lok Molee We accidentally stumbled upon this wat as we were wandering around at night, and we knew we needed to return the next day. This was the most whimsical wat we had seen. With clay zodiac animals, a life-sized elephant statue, and silver-leafed trees, it seemed to be made for children. While there, we got to met the artist in residence. With his broken English, he was kind to show us the grounds, significant art works, his own pieces, and those his students had made. We also saw children in religious training and preparing for monkhood.
76: Ordination into Monkhood | In much of Southeast Asia, it is expected that boys will become novice monks for at least three months of their lives. In doing so, the boys can get an education, build character, and gain merit for themselves and their families. We were able to witness the head and eyebrow-shaving ritual, representing denial of sexuality and vanity.
77: The ordination marks the transition from boy to manhood. The young monk will dedicate his life to following the Buddha's teachings.
79: Ko Phi Phi
80: Ko Phi Phi is two islands separated by a narrow isthmus. It has become famous for being the site of the Leo DiCaprio film, The Beach, with gorgeous turquoise waters and rugged karst topography. To get to Paradise, we had to fly from Chiang Mai to the southern beach town, Phuket. We spent one night dodging the huge, walnut-sized beetles before taking a taxi to a ferry which would bring us to the islands. From there, we had to take a longboat around the island to our resort, Phi Phi Relax. By the time we arrived, we were tired and soaked with rain. However, our water-front view, steps away from the water, quickly restored us.
82: Day Trip At our resort , we were able to charter a longboat to tour the islands. At Viking Cave, we saw where swiftlets' nests are harvested to make bird's-nest soup. | We were taken to a hiking area for a view of Maya Bay, as well as places to swim and snorkel.
83: All of the meals were made at the resort's restaurant. We enjoyed everything we ordered, including our baracuda dinner and welcome cocktails. My favorite dish was the "No Name Chicken," which was fried in a batter with lemon grass, kaffir lime leaf, and diced veggies. | Our resort also included a one-hour Thai massage for each of the days of our stay. I got a kick out of hearing Steven groan when they stretched him into various shapes.
84: Monkey Beach | There were monkeys. On the beach. Need I say more?
85: "Oh yeah!"
86: Super Snorkeling Just off the beach of our resort was the best snorkeling on the islands. The waters were clear, calm, and abundant with life. We saw clams, urchins, corral, octopus, and of course a variety of fish.
87: Our last day in Thailand was a harrying one. Not only did we need to push our luck in securing the various modes of transportation, it was storming. To catch our flight to Hong Kong, we would have to trust in many hands to battle the weather. | In Thailand, when you are told to wear a life jacket, they must mean business. We were told we were taking an alternate route off the island because, "When boat tip over, customers no happy." As we rocked and rolled, the water comng in at steep angles, our fellow passengers were crying, getting sick, and falling out of their chairs. I think they thought they were going to die! | Last Day (Ever?)
89: And that's...