Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Our Day with Elephants

Hi everyone! LuAnn here!
     A few weeks ago when we were bicycling around the ancient capital of Ayutthaya, I glimpsed my first elephant here in Thailand . I was briefly thrilled as I saw these giant beasts walking along the street just feet away from me and my bike. Elephants!! then everything registered almost at once- they were carrying actual platforms on their backs with often several smiling tourists. I could almost see the corners of those uncomfortable looking platforms cutting into their flesh. And they had heavy chains around their necks. Then I noticed the hooks their mahouts were carrying. And  the decidedly cruel looking faces of the mahouts. I never posted any of the photos I snapped before all this registered, and I never will. I do not ever want to promote this practice in any way. I am angry it is still allowed in Thailand, and I'm even angrier at the tourists who keep these people in business.

     So this is what The Elephant Nature Park is all about- rescuing abused elephants from the tourist and logging industries in Thailand. They have 40 elephants in their park, and still others at separate locations. We knew we wanted an "elephant experience" in Thailand, so there was no question this was where we would have it. We signed up for the "Sunshine for Elephants" program- a day with a small herd of 4 elephants trekking, feeding, bathing, and the chance to observe them in their natural jungle environment.

     Our day started at 6 AM pick up, and then meeting our herd at their home base. They were all females. Mae Daeng, meaning red mother, was gentle and shy. Wasanaa, meaning fortune, was big and bossy. Here's Andy feeding those two:
Mae Daemon and Mojana were bff's who never parted. Hello, girls!
     After a feeding them 4 huge bushels of cut up melons, it was time to take them for a walk. We followed them and our guides up the steep mountain. It soon became apparent that elephants go where they want, and soon there was much discussion among the guides as all the elephants were out of sight entirely. We were soon back on the trail of one of the elephants, but the other 3 were not seen again till lunch. I might add, this was no leisurely stroll. We were trekking through some thick jungle on the side of a mountain, and I had 30 years on the 4 other people in our group. Luckily, I was able to hold my own. Every group needs a rear guard. On the upside we saw this:
    We ate our bagged lunch of stir fried rice in a banana leaf, and fruit at a makeshift picnic table. Within minutes all 4 elephants found us, I'm sure knowing from routine that it was time for our lunch. Of course, they made out well, getting most of our fruit and banana leaves. How can you say no when an elephant has laid her trunk on the table next to you and is looking at you from under long elephant eyelashes?!
     After lunch, the ladies like a mud bath, so we made our way over to a stream and watched them bathe. In the mud. Oh my.
     They were not movin'. OK, our day almost over, we said good-bye to our herd of 4, and headed over to the main park. We then got to get in the water and give a bath to one of several elephants there, but she wasn't much interested and walked away as soon as her snack was finished.
     The Elephant Nature Park is in our estimation a most worthwhile organization. If you are planning a trip to Thailand, or just love elephants, consider them. It costs a quarter of a million dollars a year to feed these 40 elephants. Their work depends on us. 

Here again is the link to Elephant Nature Park
Here's a link to the larger organization Save Elephant
Please consider patronizing them and or donating?
We want our grandchildren to see elephants too!

     As always please follow along here and on our other social media on the right there because...uh, reasons? Because someday we'll monteize all your eyeballs? Leverage your uh...assets? 

Anyhow it's cause we want you to see where we are so when you are there too we can meet up!
Failing all that search #wetrotabout for pix and such! See ya!

Friday, February 20, 2015

Takin' care o' bidness, Sunshine for Elephants and Pai

         Since we got back to Chiang Mai from Mae Wang (and stop that snickering) we've been sort of laying low & taking care of business. Went to the Chiang Mai National Museum, did some laundry and started getting our tax stuff together (ugh). NJ in all it's wisdom won't mail out it's unemployment 1099, you can only get it online, BUT they won't let you log in outside the US. Because, you know, no one ever leaves the US. Idiots.

     Got to Skype with pals and talk to the fam on the phone. Did you know you need 0011 before the number when calling the US from Thailand? I didn't. Everywhere else I've been in the world it's just 001. So that led to some frustration until I got smart enough to look it up. They have this thing called the internet now! D'oh!

     This week's forthcoming excitement arrives in the form of a visit to the Elephant Nature Park where we will trek 3 hours through the jungle with the herd, wash & feed them as part of Sunshine For Elephants.

                    Here are some recent elephant related pix from in and around Chiang Mai:

     Also, went to the amazing 3D museum, but that was last week so you'll have to check out the instagram accounts on the right there for all those pics BUT here's a bonus video:
Next, a video of me wiping out at the very end of an otherwise amazingly dry and successful navigation of the Wang river in Mae Wang on a bamboo raft:
And finally one of the waterfall visit after:

OK gang, hope you all enjoyed that. Please comment & follow along with the social media accounts of your choice with the links on the right there. Lots of love! Stay Warm! We're off to Pai next week!
-Andy & LuAnn

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Thank you Universe!

     I've been waking up in the morning with the feeling that my life has become very surreal indeed. Yesterday was Valentine's Day, my 7th with my wife, the love of my life. I am amazingly happy.
     We slept beneath a mosquito net for the first time and were pleasantly surprised to find out that mosquito nets work great! We are in the countryside in Thailand surrounded by cows and chickens and birds and lizards and funny Thai dogs and frogs on a farm where they make rice whiskey which is predictably delicious & strong. It's cool enough for a comforter at night but quite hot during the day, yet there is a fine, cool breeze fairly steadily. It is great. Here is our fab nest:
     Speaking of first times, we went rafting on a bamboo raft on the Mae Wang river which was fun as hell and afterwards we went downriver to the waterfall for a swim in the cool water. There I met a girl with a T-shirt that said "When was the last time you did something for the first time?" Today! Lately it seems like it's everyday and that is beyond fantastic. That's me in the yellow:
     It's all very hard to believe. I spent my life in the Northeastern United States and while it has many things to recommend it the weather has never been one, never more so than now. I've always wanted to leave and not return but there was always school or work or some reason not to. Needless to say I'm very grateful indeed and trying to savor the moment. Nothing is constant in life but change so it's important to stop and notice when things are great and right now, just for today, they are truly wonderful. Thank you universe! I look around and I see swaying palm trees, stands of bamboo and rice fields with great purple mountains in the distance. Wow!

Friday, February 13, 2015

Three Lessons I've Learned in Three Months of Travel.

Just a short post. It came to mind as we were piled like sardines in a songtaew (sort of a cross between a tuk-tuk and a normal bus) on our way to our next destination that we have been traveling now just a bit over three months.

Here are the top three things that I have learned in that time.

1. 7-11's are everywhere. And they have everything you need.
2. Music is a universal language. Everywhere Andy has gotten out his guitar and started strumming, friends were made. People have smiled and sang along....from "Sweet Home Alabama" in Hahei, New Zealand to "Wind Cries Mary" outside a massage parlor in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
3. The world is drowning in its own garbage. And that makes me angry and horribly sad. Of course, third world countries are having a difficult time dealing with it. And, no, it's not all their own garbage. Guests in their countries are largely contributing to it. Case in point, our guesthouse in Chiang Mai had a pretty nice view from the balcony. If you could overlook all the cigarette butts and plastic cups previous "guests" had carelessly tossed onto the roof  directly below. Shameful. The world really is going to end up as portrayed in "Wall-E", no more room for people, just rubbish.

So, we have arrived at our next destination. We staying with a Thai family in the countryside an hour outside Chiang Mai.  It's lovely. Our hostess, Fonn, has informed me we will go to the market at 5:15 for the fresh ingredients for our dinner, and we will begin cooking at 6:00.

I'm sure a whole post on this will soon come! Since I don't want to post a picture of garbage here's one of the homestay:


Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Day 86, planes, trains and automobiles. Also tuk-tuks.

So much to tell since my last post! I'm slacking! 
     Tuesday Feb 3rd @ 1AM we got to Bangkok, got through customs & immigration, got a cab to the hotel & crashed. Got a cab, no problems, decent hotel. Fab. I only figured out later the 300 Baht was WAY too much for the short cab ride. Oops.

     Tuesday at noon we got up, fixed a booking SNAFU and got to the Berkeley hotel (SWANKY!) in a hairy cab ride where the guy hit a moped and everyone waved & smiled and drove away. Tuesday at Berkeley Hotel was spent at the pool with beer and snacks, then a scavenger hunt to find Eathai, a crazy giant place where they had every kind of thai food from every region of Thailand. It was delish and cheap too! 

     I woke up Wednesday AM about 3:30 AM and spent the rest of the night trying to get back to sleep. Finally got out the door for coffee at Tom Tom coffee, then on a whim caught the ferry/water taxi to Phan Fa (which translates as "dancing through the sky") because the cop standing there was nice and spoke enough english to explain how it worked. Wait, did I say cop? I meant guy dressed like cop actually sending us into the well-known-to-everyone-but-us "tuk-tuk scam". The ride was fun though:

     Went 4 stops on the water taxi and fell in with a tuk-tuk pimp who hooked us up with Wat, who drove us all over creation seeing several Buddhas & temples (including a bunch of shopping we didn’t want to do) for the bargain price of 40 baht. I bought LuAnn a nice pair of Valentine’s Day earrings but it was fine. Then things got weird.

     At the hilariously named TIT (Tourist Information of Thailand? Seriously? That didn't set off alarm bells? Arg.) we booked buses and hotel for the coming week for about $50/day to Ayutthaya, Sukothai and Chiang Mai. Anyway, then off to a thai restaurant where we had a few beers and a lovely pair of Pad Thais, and finally to The Golden Mount (Wat Saket) where I rang every bell; all 800 of 'em! Seriously!

     Alas, we never got to the Grand Palace and reclining Buddha (which was our intended destination). Took the boat back, got off at the wrong stop and had to walk back, but it was no problem. Only after getting back did I begin to think we might have been ripped off. After some panicked calls it turned out we were in fact booked so it wasn't a total loss; overpaid some, but not totally hosed.

     Thursday we licked our wounds by the pool and did some planning for Angor Wat at Siem Reap, Cambodia, like getting our E-Visas since we failed to get the Visa extension here. Entirely my fault. I got cocky and failed to scout the ground adequately and take care of business. Anyway we booked the rest of Chiang Mai, and are mostly set for a week in Cambodia, then planning to head to the Southern beaches of Thailand before Japan in April.

     Friday we met up with Aldeline and Melanie of and had a lovely time, then dropped off some laundry and had a great late lunch at a local place across the street that was on tripadvisor, but without an English name. :-)

    After that we chilled at the pool some more (sound like a theme?) then got a cab to Vertigo and the Moon Bar for an amazing dinner in the open air on the roof of The Banyan Tree Hotel. Aptly named, you could look down 50 stories. Terrifying but awesome in the old school sense of the word.
     Saturday we got up early-ish, picked up the laundry and got coffee, then took a scammy cab to the Grand Palace. Guy wanted 700 Baht. I got him down to 500. Complete robbery. After spending the day templing we walked back to the river and got the water taxi back and the guy ignored me so pointedly (by not taking my money) that the round trip turned out to be 250 baht each way so $12? Not bad by NYC standards. The Grand Palace and The Reclining Buddha temple (Wat Pho) were fabulous though, so that made up for it.

     So we got the train to Ayutthaya and it was great. 40 baht and an hour later we were at our destination. The hostel was OK and they had the biggest dog I've seen in Thailand. So handsome but at 10 years old he was blind yet so cute & friendly! His name was, predictably, Baht-Baht! Sorry, no pic.

     So we bicycled around the the Ayutthaya historical park and saw the iconic Buddha head in a tree: 
     Got back and had a fun time jamming with some guys from Quebec. One guy, Nick, was traveling with Patch Adams (the real guy from the movie) volunteering at children's hospitals. He turned out to be an amazing singer. The hammocks were so-so.
     The bed was also just OK but we got up early and got the bus to Sukothai, the other ancient capitol and again hung out with al the other people who got scammed by the tuk-tuk drivers. In all it's been pretty great so we are not too pissed. We spent today at the Sukothai Historical park, which was amazing. 
     This evening we spent booking the rest of the trip through Japan here at Sila resort, which is also pretty darn nice:

Tomorrow it's off to Chiang Mai!

As always, more pix in instagram HERE and HERE

If you like us on facebook you'll see the updates to the blog as we post the there, plus we love you long time! :-)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

New Zealand to Bangkok

    We bid New Zealand farewell a few days ago from the lovely harbor town of Akaroa, and we are now in Bangkok. Culture shock? You betcha. From a very sparsely populated country where we often had entire beaches to ourselves to the craziness of Bangkok. But to its credit, it was a thrill getting 2 coffees for the equivalent of $2 at the airport hotel, instead of the $12 it was in NZ.
    We only just today made arrangements for where we will go after we check out of our hotel in Bangkok on Sunday. We are taking a few days to travel up to Chiang Mai, visiting the ancient capitals of Ayuthaya and Suhothoni on the way.  Our plan has always been to keep things loose and be spontaneous, but I did not foresee the challenge of staying in the moment of the place you visiting, and not planning too far ahead. Who wants to spend all their time in one country planning for the next? It was hard to think about Thailand too much when you are exploring the beautiful country that was New Zealand. Therefore, we let some details slip, but, hey, we are still rookies at this round the world travel stuff, so we'll give ourselves a break. But at the same time, we hope to find that balance of staying flexible, but keeping everything in line. 

     So suddenly here we are. Bangkok is huge, crazy, confusing, crowded, sweaty, dirty, and somehow amazing. One minute I'm hating it and the next I'm thinking..well, maybe its not so bad. The temples and buddhas..well, they need to be seen to be believed. Its lot of ups and downs.

                                              The aptly named vertigo restaurant and Moon Bar:
                                     This was a moving vehicle with 2 people on a motorcycle inside:
                                             Hard to look fierce with a pigeon on your shoulder:
     And, let me tell you sleeping in a normal comfy bed after 21 days in a camper van is heaven! Plus we are in a really nice hotel here in Bangkok for way less than a Days Inn at home. I'm ready to explore the north of Thailand. More to come!  LuAnn

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Leaving NZ, Thailand bound

     Just a short post from the airport lounge in Christchurch NZ waiting for our Emirates flight to Thailand. It gets there at 1AM and we sure hope the hotel will let us check in at that time. We can't seem to get through on the phone.

     The last few days in Akaroa were amazingly great. We popped by the local yacht club, made some friends and got an invite to sail in the race and play for the reception! Good times!

     Returned the rental today with no problems and got safely to the airport. We love LuckyRentals!

     Bit of a surprise when we got here, turns out Thailand ALSO needs proof of onward travel arrangements. Oops. Can't get on the plane without it. Panic as we try to book a flight that we can cancel because ALSO you can only stay 30 days. The 30 day extension only applies when you get it at the embassy there with your onward ticket in hand. Dammit.

     And oh, hey, look, our credit card is declined because the postal service decided to inform our credit card of a forward request and changed our address without permission or instructions from us! Stellar! Good thing LuAnn was on the phone, I would have ripped the agent's head off. How dare they make a change like that without even consulting me? Way to go Chase!

     Anyway, we got that all sorted out but yeesh! If it weren;t for the last minute nothign would ever get done LOL

     I'm just a bit grumpy because I really like it here in NZ and would prefer to stay longer but here we go to Thailand. Boarding now! Love you guys!