Astounding Atmospheres from Bangkok to Taipei, Vancouver, and finally Nanaimo!

May 2019

Having endured traveling through Thailand, Vietnam and Cambodia during the hottest months of the year (April and May) we were excited to return to cooler temperatures and substantially less humidity during late spring back in Canada. However, there are definite advantages with travelling throughout these countries during the ‘off season’ particularly if you prefer more space and less crowds!

En route to Bangkok 6 weeks ago we stopped and changed planes at Hong Kong.

Due to the political unrest there presently we were thankful our return passage was through Taipei.

Our travel route was from Bangkok, Thailand to Taipei, Taiwan. Taipei to Vancouver, Canada. Then Vancouver to Nanaimo across on Vancouver Island. For curious prospective travelers, we booked direct flights and the entire travel time worked out as follows: 3 hours wait at Suvarnabhumi International (Bangkok) + 4 hours flight to Taipei + 3 hours wait at Taiwan Taoyuan International Airport + 10 1/2 hours flight to Vancouver + 2 1/2 hours wait and transfer to Harbour Air Float planes + 1/2 hour to Vancouver Island + 1/2 hour taxi to our home = 24 hours in transit.

Since we gained a day crossing the International Date Line photos taken on my Iphone record confusing times, and our entire trip across half the globe apparently did not exist!

This blog post is dedicated to illustrating some unique characteristics of different airports during our homeward travels; fascinating sights, lights, and colors above the cloud layer in our atmosphere; and aerial representations of cities in different areas of our beautiful world.

Suvarnabhumi International Airport (Bangkok). We have truly fallen in love with this friendly, lush, fascinating country and look forward to returning to renew friendships, explore new areas, taste more cuisine, and try new experiences. )

Taipei, Taiwan was just under 4 hours flight time from Bangkok. These photos show the airport area.

The janitors had their own cleaning storage area off the washrooms which was so tidy and cute I couldn’t resist taking a photo.

Inside the airport the 2019 Chinese year of the Earth Pig was highlighted as was a dedication to Mother’s Day.

The Chinese year starts on Feb. 5th, 2019 (Chinese New Year) and lasts until Jan. 24th 2020. Apparently most true Earth Pigs alive today are born between February 8, 1959, and January 27, 1960 so they have completed a 12 year cycle and a 60 year cycle.

Ironically, I just discovered I am one of those rare Earth Pigs! So upon further research I discovered a vast range of characteristics describing an Earth Pig from “Good-tempered, kind-hearted, positive, loyal” to “extremely kind and thoughtful nature and is sensible and realistic” to “likes sleeping and eating and becomes fat!”.  Hopefully I won’t become too fat! 🙂 I could not resist this photo opportunity in Taipei with my Earth Pig.

Departing Taipei on Air Canada, thanks to Aeroplan points, we upgraded to Premium Economy for the 10 1/2 hour flight to Vancouver.

Some of the differences we experienced from Economy were: priority check in and seating, two seats on each side instead of squishy three, more leg room and width, more attentive service, hot cloths as soon as we departed, better meals and drinks, less people using the toilets. It was so much nicer than regular Economy!

Aerial views of Taipei, Taiwan May 2019.

Stunning sunrise and light shows entertained us above the cloud level as we flew over the Pacific Ocean.

There is something so peaceful and tranquil as you move in seamless uninterrupted space above the clouds.

Excitement throbbed as the clouds uncovered snow capped mountains and we recognized the familiar geography of home. Following the mountains, the longest river in B.C. the mighty Fraser exposed its powerful force. Coastal Western Canada truly is magnificent!

 

As we neared Vancouver and the Richmond Delta the city appeared so tidy, so organized, so green! Vancouver is known as a bustling west coast seaport in British Columbia. It is among Canada’s densest, most ethnically diverse cities and has become a popular filming location. Metro Vancouver’s 2019 population is estimated at about 2.5 million.

Metro Vancouver is the 3rd most populated city in Canada after Toronto and Montreal. After travelling through Hanoi (over 8 Million) and Bangkok (over 10 million), Vancouver seems pretty tiny in comparison.

But, although we are back in Canada, our journey does not end here.

Upon collecting our cases, we were off to locate the shuttle to take us to Richmond’s Harbour Air float plane base.

Although we could not sit together; the 20 minute flight was lovely, and ear plugs are usually supplied!

Close up views of logging operations, freighters, mountain tops, lighthouses, and tiny communities are possible. Once I even viewed 2 Humpback whales during one of these flights!

Back to beautiful Vancouver Island! We touched down on the ocean in the downtown area. Nanaimo, the Harbour City, has a population over 114,000. Nanaimo is the most populated municipality on Vancouver Island, outside of Saanich and Victoria. The small city has multiple claims to fame including the annual International Bathtub Races (since 1967).  I have attached a link to provide more information about Nanaimo.

https://www.tourismnanaimo.com/

We arrived home to be greeted by a burst of luscious lilac! 

It’s always wonderful to sleep in your own bed and unpack… My next adventure is only 10 days away…

Bangkok–Markets, Movie stars, Massages, Malls, and Mother’s Day!

May 2019

On Day 17 of our Intrepid “Best of Vietnam and Cambodia” tour we departed from Siem Reap, Cambodia; a mere 10 hours later, arriving at Bangkok, Thailand. Our group of 12 (plus our guide Sareth) traveled in 2 separate vans and experienced 2 border crossings together prior to arriving at the Nouvo City Hotel in downtown Bangkok.

There were limited photo opportunities during this day of travelling and border crossings, so this blog post includes highlights from 3 days exploring Bangkok prior to returning home to Canada.

At 6:30 a.m. we departed from the Dinata Boutique Hotel in Siem Reap heading toward our first border crossing. Our group exited Cambodia at Poipet and entered Thailand at Aranyaprathet.

We were extremely grateful to have Sareth guiding us through the lines and expectations for border crossings. There were issues to overcome…lines that suddenly closed…stamps or documents that ‘somehow’ disappeared. Sareth translated and chatted with customs officials and extra personnel until everyone was eventually cleared. Photography was not permitted in the two border crossing locations.

Due to massive population’ traffic, we were late arriving in Bangkok. Thailand’s capital, has an estimated population of over 10.6 million people. The city is known for ornate shrines and vibrant street life. My husband and I were happy to be returning to the familiarity of this more peaceful country.

After dropping off our belongings at the Nouvo City Hotel we headed out for ‘real’ Thai food at a nearby location where our group filled the seating capacity of the establishment nestled on the edge of the soi (street). The Thai meal was authentic and a wonderful final dinner experience for our group.

Some of our group planned to spend a few extra days in Bangkok, while others were departing in the morning. My personal and very special reason for returning to Bangkok again prior to flying home, was that my son resides here and has worked As a senior engineer at Western Digital in the Bangkok area for over 5 years!

Our first full day back in Bangkok happened to correlate with Canadian Mother’s Day! (In Thailand Mother’s Day occurs on August 12th in 2019). During the last 2 trips to Thailand, we focused on exploring and learning about Thai culture, Buddhism, local cuisine, and different areas of the country.

During these final few days we would be experiencing Bangkok from a tourist perspective. Our agenda for Mother’s Day in Bangkok was shopping at JJ’s (Chatuchak) Market, taxi to Esplanade Mall, Massages, lunch at Sizzlers, an afternoon Movie (Pokemon Detective) with Thai subtitles, Swenson ice cream treats, and late return via taxi to the Nouvo City Hotel.

As it was Sunday my son, Alexander, was able to join us and make my Mother’s Day complete!

Meeting Alexander at Chatuchak (JJ’s) market ended up being a huge challenge as communication with taxi drivers, hectic roads, misunderstandings, and masses of exits and people resulted in extensive texting before we finally met up. This is the largest market in Thailand with more than 15,000 stalls and 11,505 vendors, divided into 27 sections.

Although still extremely hot and crowded, the temperatures and humidity were not as intense as our previous visit in early April–which happens to be the hottest month of the year in Bangkok. As we wandered through one of the main walkways we were suddenly immersed in cameras and filming paraphernalia.

Tourists and local merchants were scanning curiously to determine the person/people at the center of this attention. They were filming a lady in a white dress with long brown braids who was walking through JJ’s fanning herself with a red heart shaped fan and carrying a large straw hat. Who was this mystery woman?

Obtaining our souvenirs, we were off to sort out our next mode of transportation. Taxi or MRT? Luckily, Alexander speaks and understands Thai so we got a better price for the taxi.

Esplanade mall was our next destination as it was in close proximity to my son’s apartment, had reasonable prices, and he frequented the movie theaters there. We usually experience Thai massages from local shops along the sois or beach locations. However, we decided to pay a bit more than usual (350–400 Baht equals $15–$17 CAN) and try a “mall” location massage. The essential oils scents and little treats afterwards were a lovely touch. I prefer the head/neck/shoulder massage while the 2 men tend to prefer the foot massages. Traditional Thai massage can be pretty brutal for novices who are not expecting to have forceful body manipulation. At these prices, why not partake as often as possible!

Lunch at Sizzlers was Alexander’s choice. It’s a chain of restaurants specializing in salad bars, burgers and steaks. After 5 years residing in Thailand, he craves non traditional Thai food at times. He consumes these Canadian type foods with such ecstasy and enjoyment.

Next, a movie experience Thai style. Having substantially different movie preferences, our compromise was to watch “Pokemon Detective”. After purchasing tickets from a kiosk (like in Canada), Mark purchased his popcorn and we entered the movie theater.

Luckily, we were able to select movies in English (with Thai subtitles). The seats were super comfortable. Prior to the movie commencing, a song was played. Immediately people stopped talking and everybody stood up. The song and video depicting the King’s life was a dedication to the current King of Thailand and respect was an expectation. When the video dedication ended, everyone sat down and the movie started.

What follows a Pokemon movie experience better than a visit to Swenson’s ice-cream parlor? These cold treats are pretty expensive for a Thai wage, but the dessert specialty location was packed. Alexander had recommendations about his favorite menu items. The desserts were delectable.

A tropical down pour hit as we departed from the mall and again as we made our way back to the hotel. Income for taxi drivers must increase dramatically during the long rainy season here because as soon as the downpour commenced taxi drivers raised their prices and most only accepted lengthy fairs.

Our hotel Nouvo City Hotel was located in a historic area of Bangkok adjacent to the famous Banglamphu canal. Today we planned to explore this area starting by investigating around our hotel. The views from the rooftop swimming pool area illustrate the vastness and intensity of residences in the Bangkok metropolis.

We enjoyed the pool located on our 3rd floor level. However it was really annoying when a couple decided to take racy photos in the pool using a drone. Try to relax under the fountains while a drone zooms inches from your head! In my opinion there should be a privacy bylaw against drones in pool areas!

Air pollution levels vary and can be moderate to dangerous in Bangkok, but on this day the skyscrapers of the downtown area were visible. Our hotel room had a lovely view of the canal (Klong) complete with a window that didn’t open due to unpredictable air quality and variances in water pollution/smell levels. It was exciting to view long tailed boats transporting passengers or freight along the waterway.

I discovered an interesting article explaining the history behind the Banglampu canal from welcomeguide2thailand.com  The canal dates back to 1782, when Bangkok was designated as the capital, and is over 3.4 kilometers long created by over 10,000 laborers. Bang Lamphu canal is 1.1 km long and is a section of the canal line that offers transportation access around the city. Bangkok waterways are symbols of a city that was known as the “Venice of the East” for much of the 19th Century.  

On previous trips to Bangkok we took guided tours on the canals and also experienced the klong water transport system with the locals. This is an experience you don’t want to miss unless you have physical limitations–be prepared to jump in and out of the longboats quickly.

Sometimes the longboats did not even come to a complete stop at the docks, so be ready to move quickly; know your exit stop prior to boarding; have correct currency ready; and watch out for the fee collectors who hang off the sides and maneuver around the vessels as they speed down the canals. P.S. Most of the fee collectors did not speak English.

Off to north Bangkok destination Union Street Mall to meet up with Alexander and his lovely girlfriend Benz for dinner at popular MK restaurant. This mall has 8 floors housing over 1,240 booths and shops and adjacent to MRT Phahon Yothin station.

Our next adventure was to explore the largest Chinatown in the world at Yaowarat Road, Bangkok. The 1.5 km road was originally built in 1891.

Street food, markets, and famous temples are the main draws for this populous and popular area of Bangkok. According to the Chinese zodiac, it is the year of the pig and souvenirs were readily available. The clothing shops displayed brightly coloured ornate traditional clothing for very reasonable prices.

Market places displayed a multitude of choices of nearly any type of food or herb imaginable. Seafood options were plentiful and extensive. It is a fascinating area to explore. Unfortunately, it was Mark’s turn to suffer travel aggravation and our visit here ended up being cut short.

Heading back to the hotel we passed the majestic complex of the Grand Palace for the Kings of Thailand. Bangkok’s famous palace complex was built in 1782 and features buildings including Wat Phra Kaeo (Temple of the Emerald Buddha), which contains a beautiful Emerald Buddha dating back to the 14th century. The yellow cloth banners symbolize the King. Purple banners symbolize the presence of the princess.

After 1925 the Royal family no longer resided here. The Grand Palace is now mainly used as a tourist attraction except for occasional ceremonial events. The fee to enter the Grand Palace is 500 Baht $21.50 CAN/person.

Back to our soi 2 Samsen Road, Banglamphu where interesting buildings influenced by French, as well as tailors flashing Armani titles and suits made to fit in 24 hours, intrigue.

Consuming more charcoal pills to settle irritated intestines, we headed out closer to home base. One last massage prior to departing from Bangkok tomorrow…

Checking Trip Advisor (our “go to” app for recommendations) we located a nearby massage shop receiving great ratings. Upon arrival the outside looked less than appealing, but we thought we would be open minded. We entered the massage location, but nobody was in the reception area? Suddenly 2 people quickly descended the stairs to greet us. As they led us upstairs to our locations a young couple quickly exited the disheveled bed I was directed towards. My husband and I quickly created an excuse and departed the establishment. This was our first experience with terribly inaccurate ratings.

However, further down the same block we discovered Samsen massage which was a clean, well run massage location making our final 300 Baht massage experience in Bangkok a satisfying success.

This video represents our adventures: exploring our Hotel, meals with Alexander, Chinatown, Grand Palace, our Soi, and final rainy moments.

It was time for final good-byes to wonderful friends Andy and Jen from Australia, and one last meal with my son, Alexander.

It is never easy for a mother to say good-bye to her child no matter his/her age when half a world separates them! So…until we meet again my son. Love you forever and always.

This has been a phenomenal 6 weeks in Asia. Thank you Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia for sharing your people, culture, history, geography, and unique perspectives with us. I feel richer and more informed from this experience.

Tomorrow we depart to return to Canada. What’s next for this curious adventurous soul and her equally globally curious husband?

 

 

 

 

 

Sunrise at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep at the top of the Suthep Mountain —Chiang Mai

April 23rd 2019

On our final day in Chiang Mai, Thailand we decided to watch the sunrise come up over stunning Wat Phra That Doi Suthep (temple) at the top of Suthep Mountain.

We booked our private taxi using Grab taxi to arrive at our accommodation at 5:10 a.m. so we could observe the sunrise at 6:04 a.m. According to the Grab Taxi app the trip should take about 45 mins. at this time in the morning to cover the 15 + km trip up Doi Suthep-Pui National park. (Doi means mountain in northern Thai).  Our previous experiences with Grab Food and Grab taxi had been very positive and the credit card prepaying ensured that ‘surprises’ in fees didn’t occur. Plus…You can monitor the location of your driver on the map feature.

The cost for the private taxi to pick us up at our accommodation, drive us up the mountain before sunrise, wait in the parking lot for about 2 1/2 hours, then drive us back to our lodging was $24.43 Canadian dollars.

Yes. You could travel cheaper in the red truck songthaews. or “rot daang” (red trucks) for 200 Baht each person.  But….not if you intended on seeing the sunrise!

It was dark when we departed from our location and drove up the mountain, yet in spite of this there were dozens of ambitious athletes up early riding their bicycles up this steep and narrow road!

We were the first tourists to arrive at the enormous parking lot and determined to achieve our goal of seeing the sunrise from the top of the Wat, we nearly ran up the 306 step staircase.

The Wat officially opened for public viewing at 6:00 a.m. and we were first in line! The cost to enter the temple is free for Thai locals and 30 Baht each for foreigners.

As the sun rose the gold Buddha statues, Chedi, and Stupas were intensely regal and reflective. Monks were meditating. The peaceful location and brilliant rich color surrounding us was so worth the early start!

Please click the link below to see a slide show/video of our experience in this most sacred temple.

Slide show/video of sunrise at Wat Phra That Doi Suthep!

In addition to the intricate and opulent beauty of the gold Buddhas and temple grounds, there is extensive history at this sacred temple. Observe the white elephant photos. They are key in this historical story.

The monastery was established in 1383 by King Keu Naone to enshrine a piece of bone from the shoulder of a historical Buddha.  This bone shard was brought to Lanna by a monk from Sukhothai. The shard broke into 2 pieces at the base of the mountain.

One piece is enshrined at the Wat Suan Dok temple (beside our accomodation). The Wat grounds where we eat our daily vegetarian breakfast at Pun Pun. The second piece of bone was mounted on a sacred white elephant that wandered through the jungle until it died. This is now the location of the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

There is a white elephant statue located beside the temple at the top of the mountain. The golden five-tiered umbrella marks the city’s independence from Burma and its union with Thailand.  Another interesting piece of information I discovered was that the 306 step staircase flanked by naga (serpents) had another purpose …apparently “the climb is intended to help devotees accrue Buddhist merit”. I wonder if running up the stairs accrues additional merit?

At the base of the extensive staircase there was a cute little girl (and mother and grandma?) dressed in northern village tribe traditional clothing. There were also stalls and a small marketplace where tourists tend to shop. Our Grab taxi was waiting and we had packing to do as tomorrow we depart to Hanoi, Vietnam!

But first….one last healthy meal at Pun Pun and photos with our daily waitress. Then one last amazing Thai massage. Mark enjoyed the hour long foot massage and reflexology (usually 250-300 baht) and I enjoyed the hour long neck/shoulder/back massage (usually 300 baht or 350 with oil).

Goodbye Thailand! Our 3 weeks here have been wonderful (minus loosing my hearing aid at the Ancient City out of Bangkok!) we’ll return for 4 more days after travelling through Vietnam and Cambodia for 18 days with Intrepid Tours. Hanoi… Here we come!

Chiang Mai–Night Market, Pruning Huge Trees Thai Style–Barefoot, Chainsaws, No Harness! Then…Nimman Area Shopping.

April 22nd 2019

Last evening there was a huge storm in Chiang Mai–lightning, thunder, and tons of rain! However, it was our only chance to explore the famous Sunday Night Market. So…Off we went!

When we arrived in the old city at the Sunday Night market, there were minimal tourists and many of the shop stalls were covered in plastic sheets. Although the streets were wet and there were pools of water in areas, the rains soon subsided and the plastic tarps were lifted. We didn’t purchase much…but I did have a lovely nutella/peanut butter crepe!

This morning we woke up to the sound of chainsaws. We shook our heads as this was common on Vancouver Island, but new to us in Thailand! Upon opening our 5th floor curtains, we discovered a man standing barefoot in the massive tree above the pool area immediately in front of us.

He was level to us so he must have been equivalent to about 5 stories up in the air~! The man was manipulating a chainsaw cutting off huge branches and had absolutely no harness, hard hat, safety shoes, or safety equipment of any kind!

We were stunned in disbelief and horror! What would my logging friends back home have to say about this lack of safety? They did use ropes to attach the branches as they descended to the ground…but the man up the tree climbed barefoot to the edges of branches! He had incredible balance and clearly no fear of the distance below him and the cars driving past.

We headed to the Wat for a peaceful reprieve and our morning breakfast at Pun Pun. In this collage of photos I have included a photo from our Airbnb condo of the previous Thai King presenting the owner’s grandfather with his university diploma.

Apparently, this is a tradition here. How incredible that must be for each university graduate!

Since we are departing from Thailand in 2 days, we decided to explore a new area of Chiang Mai and took a taxi to the Nimman Area which is known to be quite modern and ‘upscale’. This type of shopping isn’t really our focus, but we thought we would check it out!

The weather returned to sunny and 40 degrees (before humidity), so air conditioned malls sounded appealing. We noticed there were more young people in this area, fancier vehicles, (check out all the mirrors on the truck!), and lots of clothing and coffee shops. Also… check out the Botox and skin whitening ads above Clover pharmaceutical.

There were also many ‘cute’ type statues.

We started at Maya Lifestyle Mall, then One Nimman Mall. In these malls we saw lots of clothing and brands similar to those found in North America… Lee and Levi jeans.

Groceries stores had a range of unique products… I.e. Shark fin soup mix!

MAYA Lifestyle Mall at Chang Phueak was massive and very upscale! There was a giant pig with sunglasses statue greeting shoppers at the front entrance. PS… the fish were slip on sandals!!.

In addition to a wide array of stores selling expensive clothing, perfumes, sports gear, jewelry, artifacts, children’s items, etc., there is an extensive food court floor, and 5+ star bathrooms!

I was very enticed by the detailed , colourful painted elephant sculptures. The money was a fund raiser to protect elephants in places like the Elephant Nature Park.

But the prices were steep and we still had 3 weeks left in this trip!

Food downstairs was diverse and plentiful on the food court level. I even noticed the first Easter chocolates I had seen in Thailand in one specialty chocolate store. We passed on the crocodile, but did try an interesting round frozen dessert.

Although there were 6 floors in this huge shopping center, we had enough “shopping” experiences. We stopped to enjoy the music and stalls outside, then headed back to our accommodation. Tomorrow we are getting up early to experience the sunrise up at the famous Buddhist temple Wat Doi Suthep.

Chiang Mai–Fish Spa, Exploring Old City, Last Day Traveling with Alexander.

April 21st 2019

It’s been so wonderful having my son travelling with us for the past 2 1/2 weeks, but all great things must come to an end…and today was his final day. Tomorrow Alexander returns to his job as Senior Design/Robotic Engineer for Western Digital in Bangkok. So…Today’s activities were his choice!

Yesterday evening after we returned from the incredible Elephant Nature Park experience, we headed into the Old City for dinner and to see the activity at night. There is definitely a different ‘feel’ and atmosphere during the evenings in the city center.

We took a tuk tuk home although they are rather tight for more than 2 passengers. Several electric tuk tuks have been sighted lately. This is a very positive environmental change, and hopefully this trend will continue which should assist in reducing the extreme air pollution ratings presently found in Chiang Mai.

Dealing with 40 + temperatures and over 85 % humidity each day has been really challenging for us. We are drinking huge quantities of water and trying to stay near air conditioning during the early afternoon extreme heats!

We started with breakfast at our favorite location. Pun Pun vegetarian restaurant within the grounds of the neighboring Wat Suan Dok. It takes us about 2 minutes to walk to this peaceful restaurant and the food is always fresh and lovely.

After breakfast we ventured back past the surrounding moats and walls into the old city to locate a Fish Spa. There are several to choose from. We checked Trip Adviser ratings and went to one that seemed to meet our needs. We had all had a Fish Spa experience last trip 4 years ago, but this one turned out to be quite different for me!

Instead of one large circular pond with tiny fish living within the pond set on eating the dead skin off your feet and legs, this location had 2 long rectangular tanks with much larger fish inside!

Mark and Alexander immediately headed for the tank with the larger fish. I personally was not thrilled with little barracuda looking fish feasting off my skin!~ 

I decided to try the other tank opposite my men. The fish were smaller and I thought probably not as aggressive.

Hesitantly I placed my feet in the tank. Thankfully none seemed interested in my feet although they were swarming around the guys–especially Alexander! I announced… “Well….Guess my feet are clean and the fish aren’t interested, so I’m exiting this experience.” When suddenly one nibbled on me! I screamed and pulled my feet out of the water! This was one experience I definitely was going to pass on today!

So…While the guys had fish nibbling off their dead skin, I sat in the hot sun and took photos of them. They were very enraptured by the experience and stated afterwards their feet and calves felt baby soft. Mine….Not so much!

After living in Thailand for nearly 5 1/2 years sometimes Alexander craves alternate types of food. So our next stop was pizza Thai style!

The pizza crust was super skinny and the toppings were minimal … but I loved the photographs on the wall! Wow! Elvis looks so young!

Then it was time to leave the old city section as Alexander had to fly back to Bangkok. 😢.

But Mark and I had another 3 1/2 weeks of adventures left. In 2 days we fly to Hanoi, Vietnam!

Chiang Mai–Our amazing experience at Elephant Nature Park! Pampering the Pachyderms!

April 20th 2019

Out of the 6 weeks we spent in Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia during April and May 2019 our day at Chiang Mai Elephant Nature Park, “Pampering the Pachyderms”, was definitely one of our most enriching and touching experiences.17417880-00fc-4657-b59b-fa993c249923-collage

During our previous trip to Thailand and Chiang Mai 4 years ago, we discovered the amazing opportunity to make positive change in elephant protection and education by getting involved in care and support of elephants living freely and lovingly away from the abuse found in the elephant logging trade and elephant tourism trade. However, to get the opportunity to “Pamper the Pachyderms” you must book well ahead and be prepared to pay a relatively large amount of cash.img_20190528_222148-animation

There are only 8 vacancies each day to participate in this particular program and spots open up 90 days before the event. So exactly 90 days (Thai time) before the selected day this trip, we went online from our home in Canada and booked our 3 spots.

Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary and rescue center for elephants in Mae Taeng District, Chiang Mai Province, Northern Thailand, approximately 60 kilometres from Chiang Mai City, co-founded by Sangduen “Lek” Chailert.1c728643-408d-464b-9c8e-acf1040cdda6-collage

An elephant camp neighboring the Elephant Nature Park has four female elephants which have been rescued from their tourist trekking seats and their mahouts hooks and given a free and loving lifestyle. We were so grateful to be able to learn about these magnificent gentle giants.

Initially, I must confess I was a bit nervous placing the small bananas, watermelon chunks, and balls of food on the crook at the end of their trunks when they presented them to us. The elephants were massive (although smaller than African elephants) and their trunks maneuver  in a snaky type motion. But they were patient with us and as we quickly discovered….had a sense of humor!img_20190528_222747-animation

Only small groups of people each day get to spend hours observing their freedom as they walk, scratch, swim, eat, dust bathe, and interact with people… all at their own pace. The cost of 6,000 Baht (about $255.00 CAN) each for the day’s experience was so worth it!img_20190528_223249-animation

We discovered that the elephants had great intuition, and personality. The younger female (65 years old) Saad was extremely fond of Alexander and tended to follow him and interact with him more than most of the rest of us. She also seemed to have a sense of humor and was playful. She liked to wrap her trunk around his waist and sneak bananas out of our food bags! She must have sensed his gentle, loving heart!

Please click the following link to watch a slide show video of some of the highlights from our day “Pampering the Pachyderms”.

Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand. Our day Pampering the Pachyderms!

After being picked up from our respective hotels, the guides explained the history of the nature park and the tragic, unsettling histories of most of the elephants that have been rescued from both elephant logging and the elephant tourist trades.

Our group consisted of 8 foreigners from Canada, Australia, England, and Europe. By the end of the adventure, we all felt pretty connected to each other, our guides, and the 2 female elephants (Happy and Saad).

We learned that the life span of a female elephant is about 80 years and our 2 elephants were 65 and 70 years of age!

We learned that elephants develop anxiety when chained or put in noisy locations and can develop behaviors like rocking back and forth.

We saw some horrendous injuries to elephants at the main Elephant Nature Park when we arrived there in the afternoon. These animals are so intelligent and have unique, curious personalities.

I am so thankful there is a movement towards freeing these magnificent animals and recognizing they should be treasured– not abused.

Did you know when a new baby elephant is born, the herd surrounds the baby and trumpets? We also observed the elephant family surround a baby when it takes a nap.

I guess they also understand the saying “it takes a community to raise a child”. Pampering the Pachyderms is an experience we will always cherish.

 

Chiang Mai —Vegetarian Breakie, Exploring Wats (Buddhist Temples).

April 19th 2019

Benz is working full time and completing her second Masters degree in Engineering, so she’s incredibly busy! Sadly, today was the final day she could travel with us. So… Today was her choice of activities in Chiang Mai.

Morning sunrise and breakie at Pun Pun

We had vegetarian breakfast at Pun Pun on Wat grounds then we travelled by red Songthaews inside the walls of old Chiang Mai city to Wat Phra Singh.

14th Century Wat Phra Singh

Benz had passed this temple multiple times but never explored past the lion looking statues (unicorns?) at the entrance.

Peaceful reflection at the temple

This is the oldest surviving original building using a northern Thai style wooden structure.

Monks eating time at Wat Phra Singh

Toilets are usually a challenge to locate when walking around Thailand; especially at temples and when exploring ancient sites. But the washrooms at this temple were extremely noteworthy!

Wat Phra Singh Washrooms

They were very clean, expected you to remove your shoes and wear their plastic shoes, and even had instructions explaining how to use a toilet!

How to use a toilet in Thailand

After visiting this famous 14th Century temple we located an interesting place to eat lunch in the old city.

Lunch break in the Ancient city

Chiang Mai, has a metropolitan area population of nearly 1 million people and claims to have over 300 Buddhist temples! It was founded in 1296 and the capital of the Lanna Kingdom until 1558. The Old City area still has sections with moats and walls. Two famous temples are 14th Century Wat Phra Singh and 15th Century Wat Chedi Luang.

After lunch we decided to exit the old city and return to the area near our accommodation to explore another famous Temple (Wat Suan Dok).

Wat Suan Dock

Wat Suan Dok is also known as Wat Buppharam. It is a Royal Temple of the Third class. It’s name translates to “flower garden temple”.

This is well suited to the newcomer as the temple is ornately decorated with colorful designs and including multiple flowers on the pillars inside.

Beautiful , colorful Wat Suan Dok

In addition to its importance historically the grounds are always filled with monks, bus tours of dedicated Buddhist visitors, multiple dogs, birds and animals, in a peaceful, harmonious setting.

There is a visiting entrance fee of 20 Baht for non Thai visitors. There are lots of different types of fundraising you can contribute too—from orphanages, to sick, elderly, etc. We were able to sign our names on some new curtains that were being hung in the Wat soon.

Inside Wat Suan Dok

There are also amazing programs we have experienced at this teaching temple. There is a Monk Chat time available as well as meditation training and retreats.

Wat Suan Dok, Chiang Mai

I participated in the Monk Chat last visit and learned lots about the life and experiences of monks during my previous visit to Chiang Mai. Next time we want to try the meditation retreat.

It was a wonderful last day with Benz. Tomorrow Mark, Alexander and I spend the day pampering Pachyderms!!!

Stunning Chiang Rai, Thailand! White and Blue Temples and BAANDAM Museum!

April 18th 2019

What an incredible day in Chiang Rai 196 km toward north eastern Thailand. We took a tour (over 10 hours in length) from Chiang Mai to Chiang Rai, in 40 degree weather, to view some of the most ornate and creative Asian sculptures and Wats (Buddhist temples) I have seen in my global travels so far!

There is much to present in this blog post…

The 4 of us were picked up early 7:30 am from our location beside Wat Suan Dok in a small bus with 8 fellow visitors from Korea, Australia, Switzerland, and Canada. The cost was 900 Thai Baht each for the 12 hour adventure! We were off for a full day of new experiences and site seeing.

Our first stop after about 3 hours of driving, was at the hot springs at Mae Khachan. There were the usual markets and food vendors, and places to soak your feet in the natural hot springs or cook eggs in the hot springs water.

The toilets were 5 or 10 Baht to use, but were clean and even had flush capability and toilet paper! There were some very unusual items for sale in one gift shop including elephant tusks! The air quality was listed as dangerous– due to Thai pollution and extensive burning both garbage and in the jungle areas. Many people wear face masks –including Benz.

Back on the bus to our next location….Wat Rong Khun (the White Temple) is located about 20 km south of Chiang Rai.  Wat Rong Khun is an ornate, intricate white temple adorned with gold and silver. Multiple additional ornate buildings are located throughout the property. The toilet facility is gold and is adorned with beautiful gold statutes in the front garden area. An eating area displays murals dedicated to the life of the previous King of Thailand. There is a fund raising area where you can throw coins into a gold well or pay to hang a silver ornament (with personal message) on the silver ‘trees’. We left a message there.

The sculptures, statues and paintings were  created by the contemporary artist Chalermchai Kositpipat. He opened the breath taking compound in 1997 and it is a major tourist attraction for the Chiang Rai area. The cost for foreigners to enter the White Temple is 50 Baht each. Spend the money! It’s stunning! Please click the link below to watch a slide show of the “White Temple” .

Slide show of the White Temple in Chiang Rai

After lunch in a local Thai restaurant (no air conditioning) eating outside by the road–but decent food, we headed to the bizarre Black House (Baan Dam).

I learned that in Thai, ‘baan’ means home or house and ‘dam’ means black. The Black House is actually a collection of about 40 buildings scattered around a large property. The buildings, art, and sculptures were created by Thailand artist Thawan Duchanee.

Thawan’s collection includes ancient Lanna-style wooden houses but in black, scattered throughout his park like grounds.

Many exhibits and displays include animal parts such as crocodile skins, buffalo and cow skulls and horns, elephant bones and tusks, and whale skeletons.

He also uses phallic symbols throughout his grounds–particularly near his many bathrooms/toilets.

Thawan has an interesting educational background.

He was born in 1939 in the province of Chiang Rai. Graduated with a B.A. from the Faculty of Painting and Sculpture, Silpakorn University and a MA in Mural Painting, Monument and Urban Planning. Then obtained a PhD. in Metaphysics and Aesthetics from Royal Academy of Visual Arts in Amsterdam, Netherlands.  He died in 2014.

Back on the bus heading to Wat Rong Seua Ten (The Blue Temple).

This is another uniquely individual temple in Chiang Rai  as it focuses on a blue theme embellished with gold.

Seua Ten in Thai translates to dancing tiger. We were informed that in the past, tigers roamed around the village and used to jump across the river.

Thankfully this isn’t a concern anymore! The Wat was beautiful as was the delicious blue coconut drink concoction many of us purchased at the nearby market.

It was time to return to Chiang Mai… Then we learned that although we did not wish to visit the Northern Thai hill tribe villages to see the Long Neck Karen people, others on our bus tour did.

We thought it was invasive and unethical to ‘gawk’ at another culture, but now we were heading there! The Kayan Long Neck tribes live in Northern Thailand as refugees. I had seen photos and read about their struggles in National Geographic years ago. The Long Neck Karen tribe is best known for the brass rings worn around the women’s necks giving them the appearance of a long neck.

Our guide informed us that the brass rings were originally put around the women’s necks as protection against Tiger attacks and to identify the women as part of this tribe so they married within the tribe (only 400 members of this tribe). We also learned that in reality the women’s necks do not get longer, their shoulders press lower due to the weight of the rings. I can only imagine the internal damage the neck rings cause!

We were also informed you could ask questions and the sale of their handmade crafts helped them to be self sufficient. As our tour bus pulled into the parking lot we had a moral dilemma to consider. We ended up deciding 1/2 of our group would stay in the 40 degree parking lot and wait until the bus continued home, the other 2 of us would go into the village and buy some crafts to support the Karen tribe’s economy.

We could see the straw roofs and small shacks of the village and the long thatched roofs of the market places as we walked down the hill. We paid the extra 30 Baht each to enter the market understanding that this money also went to support the refugees. I felt uncomfortable walking through the long marketplace. The scarves and homemade crafts were bright and beautifully made. In each stall a woman (and once a man) sat weaving.

The women seemed very serious–perhaps smiling was difficult with all the neck bands on! A few stalls had models of the neck rings for you to touch and lift. They were heavy! Some women spoke a tiny amount of basic English. Holding a conversation was not possible. I saw several elderly women working and a few young children playing.

Most of the women looked remarkably similar and possibly in their 20’s? I complimented many women on their beautiful talents and purchased scarves from 2 different artisans. After buying merchandise the women indicated for me to take their picture. I’m not sure if this is a usual procedure?

I left my visit with many questions wanting to learn more about the Karen Long Neck refugees of Northern Thailand.  This is a very informative source I discovered and you will notice the same women in the photos I took during my emotional visit.

Article about the North Thailand Long Neck Karen

Homeward Bound! This 12 hour tour was exhausting; but so packed with adventure, culture, and further questions to explore. Back to Chiang Mai. We have a day ‘Pampering Pachyderms’ to look forward to at Elephant Nature Park coming up!

Goodbye Bangkok. Hello Chiang Mai 😉

April 17th 2019

After a lively adventurous week in Bangkok during Songkran, we departed from Apartelle Hotel in the Chatuchak area and headed north for a week in Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai.

Lovely modern Apartelle Hotel

Today is our travel day… Tomorrow we explore the famous temples (Wats) aroundChiang Rai. Prior to our departure from Bangkok, I wanted to comment on the humongous bill boards—Particularly near the International airport. Many of the boards display advertisements, but some illustrate famous people or contain important messages. Here are a few of my favorites. (Plus one from the airport waiting area).

Previous Thai King and Billboards

Scenes from the airport at Bangkok as we waited to fly Thai Air to Chiang Mai.

Bangkok International Airport

Our digs in Chiang Mai. We stayed at this Airbnb which is close to the airport and beside Wat Suan Dok during our last trip to Chiang Mai and have returned for a second stay!

Our new base for the next hot week!

We love residing beside this Historical Wat. Wat Suan Dok was built in the 14th Century, hosts an amazing vegetarian cafe called Pun Pun, hosts meditation classes and monk chat times, is a teaching center for monks, is a beehive of activity, is stunningly beautiful, is so peaceful, and we often wake to the sound of monks chanting.

Heading out to explore our neighbourhood and the Sois (alleys) near our location.

The sois around Wat Suan Dok

Tomorrow is a huge day as we are booked on a full day “Explore Chiang Rai” tour.

Thailand—AYUTTHAYA Wats, Elephants, Floating Markets!

April 16th 2019

There is so much to see and experience in Thailand. Today was another day filled with adventure—tasting new Thai food, checking out a “floating” market, observing elephants used in the tourist trade, and exploring the area north of Bangkok where my son has been working for the past 5 1/2 years! We drove the 80+ km north from Bangkok to Ayutthaya in about an hour and 10 minutes.

En route to Ayutthaya—past the university

Although Benz and Alexander have both worked in Ayutthaya, this was our first visit to the former, historic capital city of Thailand.

PhakWan restaurant

First we stopped for lunch at a favorite location for many Thai locals called PhakHwan restaurant. Alexander and Benz were excited to order various Thai dishes for us to try— and were careful not to exceed our spice tolerance 😉🥵.

PhakHwan restaurant for lunch!

Next we headed toward the Wat Phra Si Sanphet to explore the historic area of Thailand’s original capital city. As we approached this area I witnessed my first tourist trade elephants lumbering along the sidewalks and roads complete with painted flowers and decorations, blankets, drivers, bench chairs, umbrellas and tourists.

Ayutthaya tourist elephant rides

I was quite shocked to see that this still occurred, yet curious to view the elephants. They were walking right near vehicles and often in really noisy locations. The elephants wore designs created with gold and colorful paint. The “chairs” and umbrellas were strapped around them with ropes and harnesses.

This elephant came walking toward us!

When we were walking along the sidewalk an elephant carrying 3 people, plus all the decorative gear, started walking towards me. Initially I was fascinated by the beautiful animal. But as it got close I felt wary, as I could feel it’s agitation! It actually stopped to eat some grass and rock for awhile—much to its drivers dismay.

Dedication to the beauty of the elephants

I found myself feeling emotionally concerned and uncomfortable. I know there is growing objection to the tourist elephant ride trade.

Elephants everywhere around this area

I would predict this means of transportation will decrease (possibly end) within the next decade or so…. We walked past the parade of elephants and explored the historic city of Ayutthaya then Wat Phra Si Sanphet.

As usual it was hot and humid! Hats, sunscreen, rash shirts and hand fans were in order! The ruins were fascinating.

Peaceful historic area

The dogs dug holes in the grass and dirt to keep cool. Gardeners swept the historic pavers with their traditional grass brooms.

Enjoying the tranquility

Birds sang and tourists explored. The contrast between the ruins of the ancient Wat and the new structure was interesting.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

We took a peek inside the new Wat too. The Yellow flags, decorations, and Portraits are to acknowledge and show respect to the King of Thailand.

Wat Phra Si Sanphet

Next we headed off to a floating market in Ayutthaya only to discover more tourist elephants adjacent to the market. This time we saw where they were held. One Elephant Which was dressed up ready for the “performance “ shared her stall with her baby.

Floating Market at Ayutthaya

Although the baby didn’t have to carry anybody, it was regularly touched and patted by tourists. I understand that this industry supports many Thai people, but I prefer to see these majestic, intelligent mammals living in freedom.

Onward to the markets. This was my first floating market experience! Benz, as a Thai citizen, entered free… we each were charged 60-70 Baht. It included a canal ride and some entertainment (which we just missed!). The canal ride in the long tail boat was enjoyable and provided a good sense of the market layout. At one spot people were feeding massive catfish.

Ayutthaya Fliating markets —boat ride

Although the boats were not lined up like Canadian fishing boats several a breast, they were parked along the dock and each boat was filled with their unique wares.

Examples of products at the market

We explored trying rice wine, eating sugar cane and coconut products, viewing the famous snake head fish and getting another perspective of this amazing culture from Benz and local merchants.

Homeward bound… A visit to Western Digital where Alexander is a design engineer. The place is enormous with more than 30,000 employees and a massive parking lots for all its buses. En route I loved observing the street lights and road side stalls which are always interesting to view.

Who has time to sleep in the car? We heading to Chiang Mai next!