Friday, May 29, 2009

Phuket = Whelming

We've been judging our Thai experiences based on a self-created underwhelmed-to-overwhelmed scale. In general, Phuket was 'whelming'. The food was underwhelming (expensive and not so good relative to other cities) but the resort and Kata Beach were more than whelming (but not to the point of overwhelming).

Combine low season with the economic recession and recent political instability, and basically we've had the entire country to ourselves at an inexpensive rate. The resort was half off and housed 0-4 additional guests at any given time. This was good for financial reasons, but it WAS a tad awkward when the workers sat on chairs near us and simply stared at us until we may or may not have needed anything. Sweet... but awkward.

Anyhoo, this resort was FANCY. Like... two bars in the POOL fancy.

We took full advantage of the poolside- purely for relaxation purposes.

And we obviously also took advantage of the pool... well as Kata Beach which was mere minutes away on foot.

Kata Beach is the only Thai beach with surfing/boogy boarding waves... so we got down with our bad selves.

I gashed my knee within 20 minutes, fled to shore to receive Carlynne's sympathy (she didn't actually surf because of her recent knee surgery), then boogied out again.

Dan & Lowell were just plain hardcore. They got the crap beaten out of them by the waves AND the sun, but they soaked up every second of it.

The food consumed doesn't generally deserve photos, but I do sort of regret not snapping pictures of the Thai man who was belting his heart out karaoke-style at a fine dining restaurant. He sang English songs, but only used sound and syllable approximations rather than the actual words. It sounded a little something like this: "We no need no enumashun." (Can you guess what those words were meant to be? ("We don't need no education"). Bless his heart for trying, and I was glad for him that the drunk woman was totally grooving to his slightly pitiful tunes. (PS- We also clapped and tried to be supportive).

From Phuket we headed to Phi Phi Islands (pronounced "Pee Pee") where the food was far superior to Phuket (I would say nearly overwhelming) but our chosen lodging was back to it's non-air-conditioned, we-are-one-with-the-earth whelming sort.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Chiang Mai Jungle Trek

May 18th held much excitement for us temporary Thai folk. We participated in a jungle trek south of Chiang Mai which included elephant riding, visiting tribal villages, swimming in waterfalls, bamboo rafting, and eating authentic Thai food.

Our guides were a couple of goofs- one that laughed constantly (for no apparent reason) and the other that took pleasure out of playing pranks on us foreigners.

We started out the day riding elephants.

There were several banana stands along the way so we could purchase bananas to feed our perpetually hungry elephants.

The eager-to-eat elephants constantly swung their trunks up to request more bananas. 20 Baht (i.e., 60 cents) bought us a bunch of bananas which did not last long (despite our attempts to ration).

We rode our elephants through villages and rivers. Carlynne and Dan's elephant recently became a mother, and the adorable baby elephant strolled along with us.

By pet standards, the baby elephant was still huge, but by elephant standards, it was so mini and CUTE!

Because of the ever straying/spraying elephant trunks, we completed our journey covered in elephant snot. Yum.

Next up was the walk. We walked through fields and villages.

(Water buffalo!!)

(If you rubbed a leaf from this particular plant, it closed as demonstrated above.)

We were introduced to village people, and given a tour of a typical home.

(The mosquito net is covering the bed where the family sleeps.)

Next we walked to the waterfall where we swam (and did tricks).

The murky mystery water was refreshing and relaxing... although also somewhat disgusting. Later that evening, Dan and I were both sick for 48 hours, and we're still speculating whether unintentional ingestion of this nasty water was to blame.

After the waterfall swim, it was time to head to yet another local village to have a delicious Thai lunch!

(We were joined on our trek by 5 British folks)

After devouring the food (which also may or may not have contributed to Dan and my later illnesses), we hopped aboard our bamboo rafts! We were instructed to leave our cameras behind as they would no doubt get wet. The motto for this raft ride down the river was "no wet; no fun" (spoken in broken English like a true Thai guy). After our ride, I snuck away to snap a picture of the rafts, as well as some folks riding them. There were 4 people (including one guide) per raft.

I felt incredibly safe on the huge hunks of bamboo!

While I was out sneaking pictures of the rafts, Lowell had a little friend pay him a visit.

Lowell had no idea what was on him, but the rest of our crew enjoyed snapping photos while Lowell calmly endured the presence of the heinous spider. When I returned, they were eager to show me the spider lounging on Lowell's shoulder before flicking it away. Better that it happened to Lowell than me... I would NOT have been so calm. (I HATE spiders).

We hung out at the village briefly before gathering our things and heading back into Chiang Mai. One of my best/most prominent memories of Thailand occurred at this time. Our group (4 Canadians, 5 Brits, and our Thai guide) stood in a circle and laughed hysterically for seemingly no reason. Mr Dodee, our guide, had the most ridiculous/dorky laugh, and the more he laughed, the more we laughed (and he laughed for no reason at all). The more we would laugh, the more he would laugh, and everything escalated to an unreasonable amount of ridiculous laughter... about nothing. We were laughing about laughing... and it was FUNNY!

Not long after arriving at our guesthouse, Daniel and I succumbed to our illnesses, and we spent the next 2 days being coddled and taken care of by our spouses before our health returned and we flew to our next destination: Phuket!

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lions and Tigers and Elephants (and Monkeys)... OH MY!

In my opinion, Chiang Mai is to Thailand as Queenstown is to New Zealand (i.e., the adventure capital). We had a cab with a driver for the entire day for $18 CAD. He took us to Tiger Kingdom, the Elephant Camp, and the monkey place. Oh how we loved interacting with the animals!




This little guy enjoyed the taste of Daniel's shorts...



The following picture is what the two tigers looked like about 1 minute before we sat with them...


Soon after entering the camp, there were bananas and bamboo for sale to feed the hungry elephants. This was an experience that we weren't about to miss out on!

Lowell was so casual and calm when the elephant wrapped his trunk around him, but the other two had slightly more dramatic experiences...

Let me show you how it's done guys...


We watched the trainers bathe the elephants in the river...

We initially wondered what the ladies downstream were doing with giant baskets, but we soon realized that they were the pooper scoopers. The elephants released elephant-sized feces, and the women casually scooped them right up.

After the little bathing ceremony, we saw the elephants strut their stuff with the trainers. Elephants are SMART! They transformed themselves into little ladders...

They placed hats on heads...

They played soccer (and impressively well might I add!)...

They carried their own painting supplies and then painted little masterpieces that later sold for 2,000 Baht (i.e., $60 CAD) each...

They gave Thai massages (well, more just like enormous elephant foot massages)...

And they were very polite. In Thailand, people raise their hands to their faces (like the man below) and say "Korp kun ka" which means "thank you". The elephant followed suit very well!


The little monkey show was actually quite depressing. The monkeys looked bored to tears, and the trainers could've cared less about their jobs. I wanted to scream, "C'MON! You're working with MONKEYS- CRACK A SMILE OR TWO!!!"

We were pretty sure that some of the monkeys were mentally insane. One of them was eating it's own leg. If that's not a sign of mental illness, I don't know what is. Even looking at these pictures makes me a little queasy, but I'll show you their little stunts anyway.

Weight lifting...

(Could he BE more bored and depressed?!)

Riding a bike...

The ability to untie several knots tied around my arms...

Playing basketball...

Doing a flip into a pond to fetch a coin...

Stealing a beer from an audience member and chugging it (really...)

And posing with goofs like Lowell...

Even though the monkey experience was sadly disappointing in general, we still got some fun shots.

(Daniel was not overly impressed with the situation!)

That was the end of our animal kingdom day, but as to not leave you with the depressing monkeys, I'll end with a picture of an adorable baby tiger.

Awwwww.... that's a little better than mentally insane monkeys...