A Travellerspoint blog

Chiang Mai continued

Zip-lining, elephant retreat, wats, and more.

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We have really enjoyed our six nights in Chiang Mai doing a huge variety of activities. The city has certainly been discovered by tourists from all over the world. Even though the population is close to our home town's, it feels more chaotic and centered around the tourist trade. We cannot leave our hotel without being offered rides here and there from tuk-tuk and songthaew drivers. Sadly, the level of pollution is getting to us. The smells of car and motorcycle exhaust mixed with the city's sewer smells can be nauseating at times. Luckily, the great food, friendly people, and special activities have made the week memorable.

Zip-lining in the rainforest!

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We were picked up from our hotel fairly early and driven about 90 minutes away to the rainforest. The company, Flight of the Gibbon, was rated highly for safety and offered 18 zip-lines as well as some cool sky bridges throughout the jungle. The kids were especially excited for this adventure!

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We even got to see a family of gibbons in the wild!

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After the zip-lining, we enjoyed a great lunch and got to see a lovely waterfall.

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When we returned in the afternoon, we went for a swim while DH went out for a foot massage. We walked to a Mexican place for dinner. This town has everything! I decided to check out the only jazz club in town - North Gate Jazz. The scene was incredibly busy on their open-jam night. I signed up to play the sad Casio keyboard without a pedal. The jam started at 8:30 and they still hadn't started calling musicians from the list at 9:45 so I took off. It was nice to see such a vibrant jazz scene in Chiang Mai.

Elephant Sanctuary

We had another early morning and another ninety minute van drive into the middle of nowhere. This nowhere involved loads of elephants! Elephant Nature Park was unlike anything we've ever seen. It's a sanctuary for rescued and retired elephants. The elephants had disabilities and injuries from working in the logging industry, circuses, giving rides, or begging for money in cities. Some of the elephants had stepped on land-mines, had gone blind, or had simply been turned in by responsible citizens. We were able to feed, pet, wash, and hang out with the elephants.

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One elephant was just two months old.

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The sanctuary was also home to 400 rescued dogs and numerous cats. They roamed around freely. Some of the dogs even chased elephants and water buffalo!

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We couldn't stop taking pictures! It was an unforgettable experience.

We returned to Chiang Mai and enjoyed a great Northern Thai restaurant called Dash. The owners spent a number of years living in Washington State and were very friendly. They even had a local IPA! The kids have had a record number of smoothies in the last few days.

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On our last full day in Chiang Mai, I went for another polluted and sweaty run and then we had a great breakfast at DeLish Kafe. Yummy bagels! We made our way to the bus station to figure out how to buy tickets for our next destination, Sukhothai. After the bus station, we found ourselves in a new section of town near a mall. This mall had a great market with yummy food. So many dried fruits, fruits, the best filled waffle things, sticky rice, weird black jellies, etc...

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We visited more historic wats in the old center. It was fascinating to see many monks chanting prayers. The embalmed monks were interesting to say the least.

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We picked up laundry once again. How great it is to drop off a huge bag of laundry and return the next day to pick it up all clean and folded for around $6. We walked by the laundry place and saw our clothes hanging out to dry.

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We really enjoyed northern Thailand but are eager to start our journey south.

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Posted by familyineurope 07:21 Comments (1)

Chiang Mai - Loving this city!

The zoo, Sunday walking street market, and Thai cooking class.

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First off, thanks for the comments on the blog! I write this blog late at night after everyone else is asleep. We are having a great time in Thailand and I do believe we're having more fun than I imagined. Yay!

We left our mountain retreat in Chiang Dao after another relaxing morning. The 1.5 hour drive south was easy.

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We checked into Awanahouse. It's a bit of a change from the other places we have stayed so far. This is a modest guesthouse with a large bed and bunk beds all in the same room. The shower isn't a separate unit - it's just sprays all over the bathroom. But it has AC, a small pool, and is only about $45 a night. It's in a great central location so we're doing just fine. Luckily, there are some great cheap food options right across the small street. The "no durian" sign on the door is amusing. Durian is a fruit sold everywhere and it has a pungent smell. We haven't tried it yet.

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On our first afternoon, the kids went for a swim and then we found some great Northeastern Thai food. The kids were thrilled with $1 smoothies. We walked around the old town a bit and did a little shopping. The shopping is great and so affordable! We settled on a pizza place for dinner run by an Italian guy. The city feels very international with tourists and expats from everywhere. Everyone seems very relaxed and friendly. I had a great evening walk and even got a little lost. Yikes!

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The next morning, I went for my first run of the trip. The old city is encircled by a square-shaped moat. Each side of the moat is about 1 kilometer long. That was enough of a run for me! Next, we had one of our favorite breakfasts. The tripadvisor app has been very useful for finding great restaurants, Again, the prices make it fun to splurge on a yummy breakfast.

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We decided to take a songtaew to the Chiang Mai Zoo.

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The zoo has two panda bears so we knew it was a must-see attraction for DD#2. She is crazy about pandas! There are about 35 pandas in various zoos around the world making them quite rare. This was as up-close as you can probably get to a panda munching on bamboo. Both pandas had just been fed when we arrived. There was only a low barrier between us and the pandas.

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And just when you thought the panda fun was over, there are souvenirs made from panda dung. Who can resist that?

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This zoo was different in several ways. First off, most locals drive from animal to animal. You could drive through the zoo! We chose to walk. There was an old monorail line through the zoo that would have been great had it been operating. Also, the number of animals that you could feed was astounding. Feeding the hippos was my personal highlight. We were almost uncomfortably close to their gigantic mouths!

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After the zoo outing, we had another Thai snack. This one involved our first culinary miss of the trip. None of us were fond of fermented pork roasted in banana leaves. Oh well. We took a swimming break and then went out to explore the Sunday Walking Street Market. This was probably my favorite market experience ever! I spent hours looking at Thai made crafts, jewelry, souvenirs, clothes, food, you name it! The market was so large that I never made it to the end. The hordes of people were exhausting but it was worth it. At 6:00, the Thai National Anthem came over the loudspeakers. Everyone became still and quiet to show their respect. I found some great deals at this market.

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DD#2 was thrilled with her $5 Thai dress.

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The next day was one that I had been anticipating for months - a full-day Thai cooking class! We were all excited to have our own wok station to make some traditional Thai dishes. The instructor was so knowledgeable and passed along her cooking wisdom with humor and confidence. A Lot of Thai was a great experience that I would recommend to anyone. I can hardly wait to try some of our favorite dishes at home. I even bought red and green curry paste at the market. Here is before and after Pad Thai:

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We all learned so much today. We stopped half-way through the day to shop at a nearby food market. I'm eager to find some of these ingredients at home. The kids even had smoothies in a bag!

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I have been so impressed with our kids when it comes to eating. They are open-minded and try just about anything. Don't get me wrong, there have been plenty of arguments and bickering. But the food thing has been easy.

After the cooking class, we were stuffed and happy to relax at the hotel. I went across the street to a massage shop and had an hour-long foot massage for about $6 + tip. Incredible! Massage shops are everywhere. The kids went for a swim and we called it a night. Tomorrow is our big day zip-lining through the jungle!

Posted by familyineurope 16:42 Comments (2)

Chiang Dao – the opposite of Bangkok!

Cave, monastery, waterfalls, hot springs, and some incredible scenery and food.

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We left Bangkok for what seems like another world! We flew Thai Airways to Chiang Mai. What a great airline. The kids were happy to have familiar Subway sandwiches in the airport.

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The flight was fast and uneventful. There was an oddly delicious spinach and cheese wrap served on the short flight. Once we arrived in Chiang Mai, we had a van ready to take us another 90 minutes north to the tiny village of Chiang Dao. The lush green landscape is phenomenal! The mountains surrounding the area are beautiful.

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We arrived at our cute little bungalow called Chiang Dao Nest. The bungalow really isn’t so little. There are two bedrooms, two bathrooms, three AC units, and large common area with satellite TV and a fridge. We’re not really roughing it here.

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We had a yummy Thai dinner at the Nest after our long but relaxing journey. We especially liked watching the many geckos on the walls and ceilings of the open-air restaurant. One large lizard seems to like hanging out on the porch ceiling of our bungalow. The cicadas are piercingly loud at times! There are dogs and cats roaming everywhere. Most seemed friendly although we tried to keep our distance just in case.

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On our first full day, we rented bicycles at the nearby bar. They didn’t have a child-size bike available for DD#2 so she had to ride on dad’s handlebars for a while. The very kind owner of the bar texted DH and said she bought a new child-sized bike. A brand new one! Everyone has been quite accommodating. We had a huge breakfast at one of the nest’s restaurants. One serves western food and the other serves Thai food. We were treated royally and were ready for our day!

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We biked and then hiked up 510 steps to the most picturesque monastery/wat. Gorgeous! The many inspirational signs along the way helped power us to the top in the heat.

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We decided to bike back to cool off and regroup. Our place is pretty cozy for hanging out. After a long break, we biked down to the famous Chiang Dao Cave. Caves hold religious meaning for Buddhists so the area surrounding the caves had many monuments.

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We bought our tickets to the cave and hired a guide to bring a lantern and take us through the dark sections. There were Buddhas, elephants, and other symbols throughout the cave. Unfortunately, there were also massive spiders, weird cricket things, and hundreds of bats. DD#1 and I were both pretty freaked out. We ended the guided part of our tour early and got out of there!

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We continued riding bikes for a while until the bikes started falling apart. First DD#1’s pedal fell apart, and then mine. No wonder the bikes were around $3 a day to rent! We returned to the Cave Bar to have one of the bikes fixed. The owner made us a drink and hauled the bike off in her pick-up truck to have her brother fix it. She left us in the bar all alone. The kids liked hammering real nails into a block of wood.

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We had a fabulous dinner at the western restaurant. I had salmon and DH had steak. The girls ate their meals and wrote in the journals in a nearby shelter with a hammock. It was a very relaxing meal. DD#1 lost a tooth after dinner! We think it's her 3rd lost tooth in a different country.

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The next day, we started with the same fancy breakfast. So good! Then we biked down what was known as the “Beautiful Road”. We saw rice paddies and other crops. It was a very pretty ride.

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The highlight of the day was taking a songthaew (pickup truck with seating in the back) to a waterfall and hot springs national park about 20 miles away. We hired the songthaew for the day and the driver patiently waited for us at each of our stops. It rained off and on for the day but it didn’t stop us.

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The hot springs were certainly hot! We relaxed in them for quite a while.

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We have stopped at little open-air stores to pick up various beverages and snacks. Here's an example of one of these rural "stores" that are so common here.

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We arrived back a few hours later and had some more time to chill out in our bungalow before dinner. The pace of this place is very conducive to relaxing! It’s such a relief after the pace of Bangkok. Tomorrow we will head back to Chiang Mai where we will stay for six nights. Let the adventure continue!

Posted by familyineurope 17:35 Comments (4)

Last Days in Bangkok

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After four days, Bangkok was actually beginning to feel slightly more manageable. We are falling into some travel routines and feeling really comfortable with our hotel. We've taken more taxis in the last few days than we have in all our lives. Most taxi rides are around $3.

We started our Monday at Kidzania. We walked through three mega malls to finally find the place up on the top corner of Siam Paragon. Mall culture is really a thing here. DH had some time to himself in the malls and took a few pictures.

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Meanwhile, the kids and I had quite a day at Kidzania. Kidzania is an entire city set up and run by kids. They receive their own currency to spend at various stores and can earn money doing jobs around the town. The kids earned money as newscasters, fashion models, parcel delivery people, soccer players, and more jobs that I'm forgetting. They could spend their money getting nails done, bottling Coke, learning how to make sushi, rock climbing, etc... They loved it! We were there for hours and hours. Kidzania has several locations in various countries, but none in the US. I was impressed with the concept and found the employees friendly and helpful. It was well worth the somewhat steep admission fee.

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After our relaxing day indoors, I was able to ditch my family to meet up again with my friend Pen. What a great evening we had! We caught up for hours at a swanky place called Long Table where we had the most amazing view over Bangkok. We watched a menacing storm come in and compared our memories about college and all that has happened since. I feel so lucky that we were able to reconnect after so many years! DH and the kids had a relaxing night at the hotel and enjoyed that great street food that we discovered the day before.

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On our last full day in Bangkok, we set out to the Queen Saovabha Snake Farm. It's the second snake farm of its kind (after one in Brazil) and is quite a full-scale operation run by the Red Cross. They do some serious research here and have created a great experience. None of us are big fans of snakes but couldn't pass up the opportunity to actually see a venon milking demonstration. No kidding! We saw an enormous number of snakes from all over. It doesn't make me particularly eager about hiking in Thailand.

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I'm still in awe at the traffic in Bangkok! Check out how the motorcycles weave their way in and out of the cars to get to the front of every red light.

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I have a lot to learn about Buddhism. These mini altars are absolutely everywhere in Bangkok. There are two just outside our hotel. People hang flowers, leave food or small valuables, or burn incense to build merit or good will.

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After the snake farm, we headed to the Jim Thompson house to see some traditional Thai architecture and learn a bit about the silk trade. The 40 minute tour was interesting and the jungle-like gardens were lovely. I think I got more out of this attraction than the rest of my family. (Big yawn award from the kids.)

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On the way back to the hotel, we found yet another mall area with a local chain restaurant called MK. It was actually quite good and affordable. (Around $12 for what we thought was a pretty nice lunch.)

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After our usual afternoon break for swimming and regrouping, we took two boats to a trendy riverside market area called Asiatique. Naturally, it was way bigger than we expected. There were countless restaurant and shopping choices. I could have spent all day there! DD#2 and I rode the huge ferris wheel (much like Seattle's Great Wheel) at sunset. We found a random Thai place for dinner, did a little shopping, and took a taxi ride home.

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Random: Poor DD#1 has awful swelling from mosquito bites. The rest of us haven't even noticed mosquitos in Bangkok! We have had to buy two pair of lightweight pants for the poor kid and visit a local pharmacy for some itch relief. She's a trooper!

In the morning, we will pack, and head to the airport to take a short flight up north to Chiang Mai. From there, we will head another 90 minutes north to Chiang Dao. It should be a completely different experience from Bangkok. I can hardly wait!

Posted by familyineurope 19:23 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Just another day in Bangkok. Amazing!

Grand Palace, Wat Pho, monitor lizards (Yikes) & a German Brewery

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What a day! We got an early start ready to take on two of Bangkok's most popular attractions: The Grand Palace and Wat Pho. After breakfast, we took the hotel's tuk-tuk to a pier along the Chao Phraya River. We took a boat up the river to reach the Grand Palace. There was a lot of action along the river - tourist boats, tugboats hauling huge amounts of cargo, commuters, etc...

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Once we arrived at the Grand Palace, we were swept away by hordes of tour groups. It was hard to stick together! We battled our way to the ticket area and despite dressing in what we thought was appropriate, DD#1 and I were pulled aside and asked to borrow a t-shirt. We had scarves covering our shoulders and apparently that was not modest enough. (Yes, we are wearing the exact same thing that we wore two days ago!) We borrowed some ugly shirts and continued to fight through the crowds in the intense heat. Luckily, once we got into the palace complex, things opened up and we could finally appreciate why this place is so popular!

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The detail on every single surface was breathtaking. It was hard to take in so much at once!

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The girls loved walking around taking selfies. It took their mind off the heat and crowds a bit.

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One thing I keep noticing about Bangkok are all the extremes. Whether it's the heat, the rain, the crowds, the number of street vendors, the size of the markets and malls, the traffic - it's all extreme! Despite all the chaos, none of the Thai people seem worried a bit. They go about their business with a smile and seem unfazed by what seems extreme to me. I'm also trying to figure out the extremes in terms of prices. I paid just over $2 for lunch on the street today and it was amazingly delicious! We went to a fancier place for dinner and paid closer to $60. The same holds true for shopping and hotel accommodations. You can pay bargain basement prices or pay through the roof for luxury. These are simply observations I've made after my three days here.

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Back to our day. After the Grand Palace, we walked to a park on the way to Wat Pho. DD#2 was excited to play on some play structure that looked enticing. We found the entrance to the park and walked near a pond with a disused fountain. We saw not one but three monitor lizards swimming and lounging near the fountain. Eeek! These lizards are about as long as an adult human and are known for being quite fast. DD#1 was scared out of her mind so we took a couple quick pictures and ditched the park!

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We found our way into the impressive and less-crowded Wat Pho. This wat is most known for its enormous reclining gold Buddha. The detail and architecture all around the wat complex was beautiful. Not as glitzy as the Grand Palace but more accessible and peaceful. Both spots were a photographer's dream.

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By this point, we were thirsty and had consumed eight bottles of water. We found an air-conditioned coffee shop and bought cold drinks. We took the boat back the pier and made our way to our hotel all by 2pm. I bought delicious food on the street right around the corner from the hotel for $2. Some of the best Pad Thai ever!

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The kids and I swam for a long time and we managed to relax all afternoon. We decided to take a taxi to a German Brewery just south of the city that we had heard about from our friends. The place was huge! There was a cover band performing everything from Barry Manilow, Maroon 5, to Sinatra. They were pretty entertaining! We had a nice leisurely meal with a bizarre mix of German and Thai food. The kids were happy to get a balloon. Just when you think they're getting too old for something, they surprise you. At eleven, DD#1 isn't ready to say no to a balloon. Good for her!

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Posted by familyineurope 09:51 Comments (1)

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