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Archive for June, 2009

The Cure

pink ladyIMG_1260

Thanks to everyone who left kind words to help lift us out of our funk.  We’re back in Thailand, have been fully reenergized by a couple of days in Bangkok and some quality beach time, complete with foufy drinks garnished with tropical flowers.  We’re officially back on our game.

I realize that the idea of getting burnt out on something as amazing as this adventure probably sounds preposterous–I was pretty baffled by it myself.  In the days after we left Laos, I did a lot of pondering (possibly to an obsessive level) about what went wrong.  In the time leading up to our visit, we met traveler after traveler gushing about their time in Laos.  Everyone we met who had actually been there (we met plenty of people who had done Southeast Asia and skipped Laos) was nothing but enthusiastic.  We had high hopes, as the two countries we’ve loved most so far on the trip, Columbia and Bolivia, had been described by other travelers with the same level of zeal.

We started out in a small town called Luang Nam Tha, in the north of the country.  We went there with the intention of doing some trekking, as the area is reputed to be home to some of the most socially and ecologically responsible hill-tribe trekking options.  (Hiking to remote villages inhabited by the native hill tribes is a popular pastime in the northern part of Southeast Asia.  There is a bit of a debate over the ethical concerns of such treks.)  We visited with several tour operators, but just did not get a good vibe about the programs–in theory, it sounded interesting, but I couldn’t help but think that it would either be (1) nothing more than a show put on for tourists, with no actual cultural authenticity, or (2) culturally authentic, but with our presence changing and hence damaging that culture.  We ultimately decided to scrap the trekking plan, meaning that our first stop in Laos was a bit of a bust.  The trip down to Luang Prabang was definitely an adventure though.

The entire old town of Luang Prabang is a World Heritage Site, preserved for its mixture of French Colonial architecture and beautiful Buddhist temples.  We enjoyed our time in Luang Prabang as it was the home of the Big Brother Mouse program that we loved so much.  The town was beautifully situated on the Mekong river and had some gorgeous waterfalls nearby.  It was definitely the highlight of our time in Laos.

Roadside Buddhas

Roadside Buddhas

School aged monks studying outside on the front steps of a Wat

School aged monks studying outside on the front steps of a Wat

Misty morning over the Mekong

Misty morning over the Mekong

Monks strolling the streets of Luang Prabang

Monks strolling the streets of Luang Prabang

The primary form of public transport in Laos--a lot of times there was a hammock tied up in the back with the driver sound asleep.

The primary form of public transport in Laos--a lot of times there was a hammock tied up in the back with the driver sound asleep.

The morning market filled a maze of alleyways in Luang Prabang with what seemed like every type of food available in Laos.

The morning market filled a maze of alleyways in Luang Prabang with what seemed like every type of food available in Laos.

That lizard at the bottom was alive and angry.  On the white cloth?  Dried whole fish.

That lizard at the bottom was alive and angry. On the white cloth? Dried whole fish.

Those buckets were filled with thrashing fish and the chickens--well, the chickens were still bleeding.

Those buckets were filled with thrashing fish and the chickens--well, the chickens were still bleeding.

Rice for sale

Rice for sale

Ladies selling produce.  The smoke in the background is from the many barbecues set up to cook up breakfast for hungry shoppers.

Ladies selling produce. The smoke in the background is from the many barbecues set up to cook up breakfast for hungry shoppers.

Kuang Si waterfall

Kuang Si waterfall

Swimming hole at Kuang Si

Swimming hole at Kuang Si

waterfall

The monks in the background were taking turns wading out onto the falls and having their pictures taken.  The little girl on the rope swing was not impressed.  :-)

The monks in the background were taking turns wading out onto the falls and having their pictures taken. The little girl on the rope swing was not impressed. 🙂

waterfall small

After our time in Luang Prabang, we made a pit stop at Vang Vieng, one of the most peculiar places I have ever visited.  It is a small town situated amongst some of the most beautiful scenery I’ve ever seen–limestone cliffs flanking a beautiful river.  Yet the main thing that Vang Vieng is known for is tubing, happy shakes and space pizzas.  Backpackers flock to this small town to veg out in cafes while watching Friends reruns that play on endless repeat all over town, suck down mushroom-laced shakes and drunkenly float down the river in giant inner tubes.  I love a good float trip as much as the next person–I am from Missouri, after all–but this place was just odd.  I may have proclaimed it to be wretched while we were there, but I’ll just leave it at odd.

By the time we made our way to Vientiane, the capital, the blahs had really taken hold.  The town was sleepy and pleasant, but I just couldn’t get past what seemed to me as a lack of passion.  I just didn’t feel the energy that makes me grow to love a place.  For some reason, the slow pace and reserved people that are so charming to some others felt so flat to me, so lacking passion and cultural zest.  We finally decided that we had tried to like it long enough–we didn’t want to waste any more time exploring a place that we didn’t love.

We’re now back in a place that we love–Thailand.  We  were going to try to work in a trip to Cambodia while our visas for Vietnam and India processed, but the visa process left us passport-less.  Domestic travel was our only option, so we bit the bullet and headed to the Thai island of Koh Samui.  We’re having a great time here and could not be more excited about our upcoming trip to Vietnam.

~Meg

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A little over 8 months.  251 days.  Sleeping in different beds and rooms every few nights.  Traveling on public transportation or walking everywhere we go.  Dealing with language and cultural barriers at each turn.  Eating strange food.  Not being able to drink water out  of a tap.  No family.  No friends.  No Imo’s.  No Cardinal baseball.  No Phish tour.

All of this, along with missing our family get-togethers on Father’s Day, missing our niece Julia’s 1st birthday (and most of the first year of her life), remembering my grandpa one year after he passed, and dealing with the first sickness of the trip (which is pretty lucky for both of us), has added up to create a weird few days for us.  We heard about travel burnout before we left, but I honestly dismissed it as ridiculous.  How can one possibly get burned out by not working for a whole year, seeing one awe-inspiring site and landscape after another, and experiencing new and exciting cultures on a regular basis?  It’s difficult to explain, but believe me, it does happen.

Now I’m certainly not looking for any sympathy here.  Quite the contrary.  I really just want to share that it’s not all rosy and wonderful all the time.  Yes, this is the trip of a lifetime, and I do realize how lucky we are to experience all this, but it’s not just a year long vacation of sitting on beaches and relaxing.  This long term travel  business can be hard work sometimes.   It hasn’t happened often, but sometimes we just hit a wall.  The last few days we seemed to have slammed head first into that wall.  Maybe it was talking to our families while they were celebrating Father’s Day, maybe it was not really digging Laos like we thought we would, maybe it was just the fact that we crave some familiarity in a place where there is nothing familiar.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but we are missing home more than any other time on the trip.

So what to do?  How does a long term traveler get out of this funk?  I can see my father-in-law reading this right now and screaming “Just come home!!!!” at his computer screen.  And while that does sound really appealing right about now, I‘ve always been taught not to be a quitter.  So we’ve decided to change plans a bit.

One thing we were really looking forward to on this portion of the trip was the freedom to do what we want when we wanted.  Unlike any other time in the trip, we have nothing at all booked.  No flights, no apartments, no treks, nothing.  Sure, we had a rough plan of what we wanted to do, but we didn’t HAVE to be anywhere.  And while we were both really excited about this, I think we got a little lazy and complacent.  After my mom and sister left us in  Chiang Mai, we’ve spent the better part of the last month not really doing much.  And while we both enjoy not doing much and being lazy, I think the lack of activity had a really  negative effect  on us.  It’s another thing that contributed to our feeling of burnout.

So we’re changing the plans starting tomorrow.  We were originally planning on spending the next couple weeks in southern Laos.  For one reason or another (and I’m not blaming Laos), we are just not feeling it here.  We heard so many great things about this country, and while it hasn’t been bad, there’s just something missing.  We really can’t put our fingers on it, but after much discussion and changing of plans on a minute by minute basis, we have decided to scrap the rest of our time in Laos and head back to Bangkok.  We leave tomorrow afternoon and take a bus/overnight train combo back to Bangkok from Vientiane.

We also booked a flight from Bangkok to Hanoi, Vietnam on July 7.  So we have a little less than two weeks to play with.  First things first, we have to arrange our Vietnamese and Indian visas while in Bangkok (if you’re reading this  because you’re planning a similar trip that includes India, look into visa requirements; they’re a pain, and it will be helpful to know this beforehand instead of scrambling).  We had originally planned on going to Cambodia after Vietnam, but it’s looking  like we might head into Cambodia and see Angkor Wat, one of the few “must-see’s” we had when planning the trip, before we go to Vietnam.  We may still go into Cambodia and see more after Vietnam, but that remains to be seen.  Also, Indonesia, which was never even talked about when planning, is looking more and more likely before we head to India.

While it was difficult to scrap the rest of Laos, I think we both feel good about our plans over the next few weeks and are starting to get excited again.  While the freedom to decide on the fly is good, there’s something to be said about having a bit of a plan sometimes.  That freedom gave way to indecision and became the topic of one frustrating conversation after another.

So tomorrow we head back to Thailand.  Within a week it looks like we are going to see one of the world’s most amazing sights in Angkor Wat.  After that, it’s off to Vietnam.  Before we know it, the plans for the end of the trip are going to have to be solidified, which is both frightening and exciting.  The end of the trip has been looked at in a negative manner (especially by me) for most of the trip.  Talk of extending it has been a topic of discussion all along.  Now it’s different.  Even before this “travel burnout” set in, I’ve turned the corner in a way.  While I know when this is all over I will go through periods of longing to be in exotic places doing exciting things, I’ve also realized how much I truly love home.  I have always known this, obviously, but I think I have really come to appreciate our home, family, and friends instead of taking it all for granted.  While four months seems like a long time, we’ll be home before you know it, and for the first time since we left, I am really excited at that prospect.

Until next time…

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Tales of Pai

Huts on the Pai River

“I went to Pai for three days and stayed for two weeks.”

“Yeah, you’ll get stuck in Pai, but it’s a good stuck”

“There’s heaps to do, but it’s also a perfect place to do nothing.”

We had been considering a visit to Pai after reading about it (described by various guidebooks as a small town set on a river in the foothills of the Himalayas that has developed as a haven for Thai artists) but hearing other travelers rave about it cemented our plans. After a week in Chiang Mai, we were off to Pai.

We organized our trip up to Pai and were surprised to hear that the relatively short (distance-wise) trip to Pai was scheduled to take between four and five hours. The next alarming bit of news came when we were advised to make the trip on an empty stomach. We set out from Chiang Mai–about two hours after we were scheduled to leave, typically Thai-style!–and quickly discovered what all the fuss was about. The only way I can describe this road is that while I was in the backseat holding on for dear life, I felt like I was actually riding on a slithering snake. Not that the road was snake-like, but that I was actually riding on the back of a snake that was racing away from something, and perhaps its life was even on the line. Upon arriving in Pai, we were greeted with stalls selling tees proclaiming “I survived 762 turns to get to Pai!” Nice.

We quickly lined up a little bungalow right on the river. The view was fantastic:

The view from our bungalow

The view from our bungalow

The room itself was a bit of an adventure. The water was intermittent–one day I was in the middle of a shower and the water suddenly went down to a trickle. I sent Adam to the reception desk to let them know and see what the problem was and the response was, “No, there is no water. The power’s out.” Just very matter-of-fact, as if it happened all the time. Too funny. Also, the room did have screens in the windows (better than mosquito nets!), and even better than that, it came with the added feature of just enough lizards to eat any mosquitoes that did manage to make it into the room. Bonus! Honestly though, it was pure luxury for the whopping $9 per night that we paid. Can’t beat it.

While we were in Pai, we spent most of our time out exploring the area on motorbikes. Well, motorbike is a bit of a stretch–they called them motorbikes in Pai, but let’s be honest:

Think Adam's dad would ride with him?

Co0-00-000l Rider!

Sweet helmet

Yes, I'm wearing a pink helmet with a badass visor. I am always practical.

We had an amazing time, just wandering through the countryside and the villages surrounding Pai.

farmland

countryside 2

boys playing in Pai River

countryside

stream and hut

We did run into a couple of roadblocks though:

Face-off

Face-off

Even better than the landscape was the opportunity to interact with some of the local kiddos. As we drove through a small village that was nothing more than a Wat and a row of homes, we suddenly heard “Hellooooooo! Thank you!!!!” We looked over and saw a gaggle of little ones running towards us, shouting the only two words that they knew in English. I responded with the only two words that I knew in Thai, which also happened to be Hello and Thank you. 🙂  After a couple of minutes, I asked if I could take a picture and the three bravest promptly lined up and posed for me.

Little hams

Little hams

I know, same same, but they were too cute to resist!

I know, same same, but they were too cute to resist!

I love watching monks playing--such a strong reminder that most of them are just boys!

I love watching monks playing--such a strong reminder that most of them are just boys!

We also visited one of the many local waterfalls and had a rough day of relaxing and watching the local boys play on the rocks.

That speck in the top left hand corner, on top of the rocks?  That's Adam.

That speck in the top left hand corner, on top of the rocks? That's Adam.

Waterfall surfing--perhaps the next olympic sport?

Waterfall surfing--perhaps the next olympic sport?

And a final shot from Pai, just for fun:

Beat that, Memphis!  Pai has ribs AND fondue!

Beat that, Memphis! Pai has ribs AND fondue!

~ Meg

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A Humbling Experience

As Americans, we take many things for granted.  Despite always having our basic needs met, we sometimes complain about not having enough of this or that, and the this or that is usually a luxury that certainly isn’t necessary just to live.  These luxuries just make our lives easier, better, and more enjoyable.  Everyone likes nice things, and that’s all right.  I don’t think we need to feel guilty about it.  We’ve worked hard to be able to spend our money how we choose.

We also sometimes forget just how lucky we are.  There are many people around the world who work just as hard (and sometimes harder) than we do, yet still barely have enough to put roofs over their heads and food in their mouths.  Sure, we may read about poverty both at home and around the world; we may see pictures in magazines and newspapers and stories on the  news, and it‘s certainly something that can have an impact on us.  It’s quite another thing to not only see it in person, but to speak to people who struggle on a daily basis.

The last few days while Megan and I were in Luang Prabang, Laos, we volunteered at an organization called Big Brother Mouse.  This Lao organization has been around for a few years, and its main goal is to provide books in Lao for children in rural villages.  Because of the vast poverty in Laos, the illiteracy rate is quite high.  Education is hard to come by, and tools to educate even harder.  Many children in rural Lao villages have never even seen a book.  Can you even imagine?

Big Brother Mouse has been working, albeit slowly, to change this unfortunate fact of life for small children.  But they need help.  There just aren’t many books published in Lao, and simply translating and republishing  already existing books isn’t as simple as it sounds.  To try to put it into some perspective, the middle class in Laos earns about 100 US dollars a month, and over 75% of the people live on LESS than 2 US dollars a day.  That’s right, TWO.

In order to better their lives and make any headway in getting out of this poverty-stricken cycle, it’s imperative to learn English.  Children who are fortunate enough to even go to school then try to find a way to come up with the money to take English classes on the side.  Big Brother Mouse tries to help these eager to learn students.  From nine until eleven every morning, they invite any Lao student and any English  speaking tourist to their office in Luang Prabang  to practice English.

Megan and I showed up to this “lesson” for the first time last Saturday not quite sure what to expect.  We walked into the office and were met with emphatic “Sabaidee’s” (Hello) from about ten different students sitting around a table talking to a British tourist.  We were the second and third tourists to show up to help that day, and several of the Lao students quickly jumped up, snatched chairs and glasses of water, and invited us to sit down with them.

They sat around and started asking questions, thinking hard about what they were saying and how they were saying it.  Many of these students were in college, most studying to teach English.  Most had only started learning English themselves within the last two or three years.  We were both thoroughly impressed at their depth of knowledge of the language despite  the short time studying it.  Unfortunately they know the importance of learning English, and despite being able to carry a conversation and being nearly fluent, if not perfect, many of the students didn’t think they were good enough.  Their teachers in college push hard for them to be perfect, even though that’s not realistic given the time they’ve had to learn a language completely different from their own.  If they couldn’t think of a word or didn’t quite understand what we were staying, they would get frustrated and apologize for their “terrible English”.  We did everything we could to encourage them and tell them how good it really was.

Seeing kids beat themselves up over not getting something is never an easy thing to see, but it was even tougher when we really saw a glimpse into some of their lives.  Megan talked to a young man who was from a little village in the northern part of Laos.  His family was very poor, but they wanted him to move to Luang Prabang to go to school to better his life.  This meant rarely seeing his parents and younger siblings since it was very expensive to travel back to see them.  It also meant that he had to work to be able to even pay for school and his very meager living expenses.  So he went to school five days a week, worked six days a week, and voluntarily came to Big Brother Mouse six days a week to improve his English.  And he did all this  with a huge smile on his face and was very thankful for our participation and help.

I met a young man that same day who also came from a small village and a very poor family.  He was in his first year of school and was studying to become an architect.  Then he told me something that really just broke my heart and put things into perspective.  He said that he wasn’t sure that he’d be able to continue studying architecture because he needed pencils to draw, pencils in Laos were very expensive, and he wasn’t sure that he’d be able to afford to keep buying them.  PENCILS!!!  Can you even imagine not being able to continue your education because you can’t afford to buy pencils?  It is almost impossible for me to even wrap my head around that.

At the end of the first lesson, the young men thanked us emphatically and told us that they hoped we would come back again if we could.  They were so sweet and very appreciative of our help (not quite the same reaction I get from my students at the end of a class at home).  We walked outside, and I went up to the boy I spent the most time talking to (the architecture student).  I reached into my bag and pulled out a pencil and gave it to him.  He had a look of shock on his face and said that it wasn’t his.  I told him that it was mine but that I wanted him to have it.  The smile and excitement on his face was worth more than I can ever portray in words.  He thanked me over and over again.  It made  my heart melt, and the fact that a nineteen-year-old man can be so excited about receiving a pencil really made me appreciate everything that I am so lucky to have.

We went back to Big Brother Mouse a few more times during our stay in Luang Prabang, and it was honestly one of the best experiences of the trip so far.  We have linked their website to the right on this main page.  Feel free to check it out; it‘s a fantastic organization that is doing wonderful things to help children of poor villages and these very eager Lao students better their lives.

Until next time…

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A Glimpse of Laos

We’re not in the west anymore.  In fact, even though they share a border, Laos is completely different from the very westernized Thailand.  We have truly arrived in Southeast Asia.  After traveling in some interesting and different  places throughout this trip, we have now arrived in a country that is vastly unique to anywhere we’ve been.

Laos is one of the poorest and most developing countries in the world.  It has been repeatedly bombed, invaded, taken over, and gone through hell in its history.  Although Laos gained its independence in 1949, the following years were devastating to the country, particularly during the 60’s and 70’s when it became a battleground during the Vietnam War.

Many don’t know that Laos is the most bombed country on Earth, and unfortunately most of those bombs were dropped by the United States.  According to official figures (which could be low because it’s really  difficult to know for sure), the US dropped a little over two MILLION TONS of bombs on Laos, trying to drive Communist forces out in the 60’s.  The total cost was over $7 billion, or about $2 million per day for nine years.

Many of  these bombs are still causing havoc today in Laos.  Large areas of the eastern part of the country (near Vietnam and the Ho Chi Minh Trail) are contaminated by UXO (unexploded ordnance) by nearly 100 years of war.  The majority of UXO was left behind by not only the United States, but by the French, Vietnamese, Russians, and Chinese.  Many of these bombs lie in the countryside unexploded and cause many injuries and casualties every year, with the majority being children from nearby small villages.

If you were unaware of its grim history, you would never know it by traveling here.  One would think this kind of historical treatment would make the people surly, jaded, and suspicious, but quite the contrary.  Though more reserved than their Thai neighbors, the Lao people are very friendly.  Just strolling down any street, travelers are constantly greeted with a huge smile and an emphatic “Sabaai-dii!” (Hello!).

But this is a very developing country, evidenced by the painfully slow methods of travel, the uncomfortableness of that travel, the lack of modern amenities, and the insanely cheap prices.  There will be some hilarious examples of this in a few, but to give you an idea of the prices here, we have been here for two full days, and we spent a grand total of $69.  Our room the first two nights was about $7, for a private room with a bathroom (no air conditioning though).  A meal in an Indian restaurant cost us about  $6 total, complete with two large Beer Lao’s.

We crossed over into Laos on Tuesday afternoon from Thailand.  We then proceeded to take a bus to a small village in the north that took about four hours.  We chilled in this little town for two nights, renting bikes and checking out the town and its surroundings.  We then took off for Luang Prabang (a city that is declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site), which is where we are now.

The minivan trip down here was one of the most “interesting” ones of the trip thus far, and I believe a short list will portray why and will also give you a good glimpse of what this country is all about.

Total kilometers (miles) between Luang Nam Tha and Luang Prabang: 300 kilometers (~180 miles)

Total time it took by minivan:  8.5 hours

Number of different types of animals we had to avoid ON the road throughout our journey:  9

Types of those animals: chickens, ducks, pigs, dogs, cats, goats, cows, buffalo, and turkeys

Number of naked children we saw on the side of the road:  countless

Times we stopped for a bathroom break only to find no bathroom:  once

Number of animals we could have bought at the roadside to eat on that “bathroom” stop: 3

Types of animals: live frogs, live eel in plastic hanging bags, and one full deer

Number of people we had in our 11 seated, un-airconditioned minivan in 95 degree heat:  14

Number of hours one of the passengers was throwing up out the window:  ~2

Number of foul, hot garbage-like smelling, sharp, spiky durian fruits under the seat in front of us that kept rolling over onto Megan’s sandal covered feet:  1

Number of times our driver slammed on the breaks in the middle of the “road” to summon a young 10 year old boy over to the car:  1

Number of dead squirrels the driver bought from said boy: 2

So there you go, hopefully you can understand a little more about this funny, quirky, beautiful little landlocked country in SE Asia.  It’s been interesting so far, and we can’t wait to spend an entire month exploring Laos and getting to know it better.

We don’t have a clear cut plan as of yet, but we do plan on being in Luang Prabang for a little while.  There is an awesome program here in Laos called Big Brother Mouse (http://www.bigbrothermouse.com/) that we are going to volunteer at tomorrow and possibly more next week.  It looks like a really cool opportunity to help out the local community, and it’s a fantastic program.

After that, we’re heading south to Vang Vieng and then the capital of Vientiene.  We have two more posts about our time in Pai, Thailand written and ready, but the slow internet connections make it impossible to post the pictures, so they’ll have to wait.  Hopefully it will be a bit better in the capital.

We’ve been reading the requests from Megan’s post from last week, and we plan on honoring some and not others.  Sorry Laura and Biggs, but Christin wins out here, and there will definitely be more pictures of me in that sweet tank top.  In fact, I plan on buying another one while here in Laos.  Since it’s so hot and the a/c is so scarce, they are quite popular here.  Also, I plan on bringing the tank top fad back to St. Louis (and not only on the southside) when we return.

Until next time…

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Our new friend

Our new friend

On my mom and sister’s last day in Chiang Mai, we went to a few of the area’s more fun attractions, the elephant camp and monkey school.   They are both somewhat similar to zoos, but obviously just focusing on one animal, and both offer shows that showcase the talents of these very  intelligent animals.

We first went to the elephant park with our awesome  guide for the day, Max, who runs a travel type agency out of the place we were staying  in Chiang Mai.  When we first walked into the park, we came upon a big stream where many of the elephants were getting bathed, without much of a barrier between us and them.  They were having a great time, especially some of the younger ones who were rolling and splashing and playing as if they were little puppies.

Elephants playing and bathing

Elephants playing and bathing

Elephant giving himself a cooldown

Elephant giving himself a cooldown

After watching that for a while, we headed up to see the show.  Elephants are pretty revered in Thailand, but that doesn’t stop a lot of people and places from exploiting them.  Luckily there are several places who treat their animals quite well, and I think we found one of those places.  Each elephant is paired with one trainer, who takes care of and trains that one elephant their whole life, which I thought was pretty cool.  Once we were all seated, it was time for the opening procession and a bit of showing off.

Procession to start the show

Procession to start the show

Elephant playing possum

After some warming up, it was really time to showcase their talents, as a game of futbol broke out, followed by some time for a little painting.  And they were honestly pretty good at both.

Beginning his masterpiece

Beginning his masterpiece

Not a bad job, especially considering that he's an ELEPHANT!!

Not a bad job, especially considering that he's an ELEPHANT!!

They even put their stuff away themselves

They even put their stuff away themselves

After the show it was feeding time.  The audience could buy huge bundles of bananas and whole coconuts and give them straight to the elephants, who would gobble them up in a few bites.  Then the trainers urged us to come closer, but we really weren’t expecting this.

Elephant with Andrea

Elephant with Megan

Sorry, Biggs, no tank top on this day

Sorry, Biggs, no tank top on this day

Next we went down the road to the monkey school.  Upon walking in a friendly little guy on a leash took a liking to all three of us, which startled us a bit.  It was pretty amusing though.

Monkey with Andrea

Monkey with Megan

Monkey with Adam

Monkey with Megan 1

After buying some food for the monkeys and walking around feeding them, we went to a really small area where they have little shows.  What we went to was an actual school.  They train monkeys to do all sorts of stuff, but mainly to climb big palm trees to gather coconuts.  Getting coconuts from those huge trees proved pretty dangerous for people, so they thought it would be a good idea to train monkeys to do it instead.  Of course they train them to do tons of other things as well, like ride bicycles and shoot baskets.

The show focused on the different monkeys doing all these things.  There were monkeys of all ages and abilities, and they were announced their year in school, just like a high school sporting event…”Now here’s Max, a junior…”

It was pretty hilarious, and we were literally inches from them at times, with no fence or cage or anything between us.  It was a fun time that had us all cracking up with laughter.

Monkey introducing himself to Megan

Monkey introducing himself to Megan

That night my mom and Andrea left Chiang Mai for a long series of flights back home.  As I’ve stated numerous times, we had an absolute blast with them.

Megan and I stayed in Chiang  Mai for almost another week, really just kind of hanging out and enjoying the city.  We had been on a pretty hectic pace (for us on this trip at least) from New Zealand through the first part of Thailand, so it’s been nice to just hang out and chill a bit.  Megan took a 3 day intensive yoga class (for SEVEN hours a day) while we were there, and I got massages and took a cooking class.

We then came north to a small little town called Pai, which is in the mountains.  We’ve actually been here for a week and are heading over into Laos in the morning.  So until next time…

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One of the joys of this trip is being able to experience the simple day-to-day of far-away places, to observe people as they go through their daily routines, eating how they eat, traveling how they travel and shopping where they shop.  Despite it being one of my favorite parts of this whole experience, descriptions of these moments rarely see the light of day, pushed aside in favor of accounts of big planned activities or snapshots of dramatic landscapes.

Since these little moments are some of the things that make me happy on a daily basis, it seemed like it would be an appropriate way to share some pics from Chiang Mai.  I’m still lamenting the fact that I never could whip my camera out fast enough to capture the ubiquitous entire-family-on-a-motorbike, sometimes four or five deep, or the pickup truck filled with fruit or fabric to a height of two or three times the height of the truck.  I’ll keep trying!  Since many of these are stolen shots, they won’t be winning any awards for photography, but hopefully they’ll do 🙂 .

Adam enjoying a traditional Thai breakfast of spicy fishball noodle soup--fishballs are similar to meatballs, but made with white fish.  The texture can take a little getting used to, but the soup overall is so delish.

Adam enjoying a traditional Thai breakfast of spicy fishball noodle soup--fishballs are similar to meatballs, but made with white fish. Yup, that's right, for breakfast.

Monk on a cell phone

Monk on a cell phone

Not, as it appears, a motorbike dealership, but in fact the street outside of a school.  Possibly a junior high.  Driving age of eighteen, my hiney, Lonely Planet--I have seen kids on motorbikes that couldn't have been older than 13.  For reals.

Not, as it appears, a motorbike dealership, but in fact the street outside of a school. Possibly a junior high. Driving age of eighteen, my hiney, Lonely Planet--I have seen kids on motorbikes that couldn't have been older than 13. For reals.

Adam had just made his selections from the smorgasbord of deep fried bugs right behind him.

Adam had just made his selections from the smorgasbord of deep fried bugs right behind him.

Showing off the size of his grasshopper.  heh.

Showing off the size of his grasshopper. heh.

hurgh.

hurgh.

Doing the deed.  No, you will not see a similar photo of me.

Doing the deed. No, you will not see a similar photo of me.

Mmmmm.  Crunchy fried grasshopper.

Mmmmm. Crunchy fried grasshopper.

Wat Chedi Luang

Wat Chedi Luang

pretteh

pretteh

Wat Chedi Luang, decorated for the funeral of the regional chief monk.  You should have seen the crowds that turned out later in the week.  I think everyone in northern Thailand attended that funeral.

Wat Chedi Luang, decorated for the funeral of the regional chief monk. You should have seen the crowds that turned out later in the week. I think everyone in northern Thailand attended that funeral.

The ruined chedi at Wat Chedi Luang.  This stupa was constructed in the fourteenth century, collapsed in 1545 and was just recently restored in the mid-1990s.  Wrap your mind around those dates.

The ruined chedi at Wat Chedi Luang. This stupa was constructed in the fourteenth century, collapsed in 1545 and was just recently restored in the mid-1990s. Wrap your mind around those dates.

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On another topic entirely, I’d love some feedback, if anyone feels like weighing in.  Anything that you’d love to see more of  here at TheWanderYear?  Anything that makes you want to smack us?  I’d love to hear your thoughts, even they consist of “post more often, lazies!” or “sometimes your font is stupid”  (you may have too much time on your hands in that case, but I’m open to all criticisms).  We’re still new at this, and as much as we’re doing this to have a record of this trip for ourselves, we also want it to be fun for people who take time to come here and read it.  And lest you think your comments will not be taken to heart, we have finally taken the advice of our very wise friend Dave B. and started resizing our photos, so they’re no longer so mammoth and should take less time to load.  Thanks Dave!

~Meg

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