Monday, March 23, 2015

Thailand and Singapore Trip: Kok Chang Safari Elephant Trek

A major highlight of our trip to Thailand was getting to ride elephants!  Admittedly, I had mixed feelings going into it . . . I was hesitant to use a company that mistreated their elephants, or that was inhumane in any way.  Originally, we planned on going up to northern Thailand to Chiang Mai for a few days, and had we done that, we would have visited the Elephant Nature Park, which is supposedly one of the best and most humane elephant parks.  But, since our plans changed and we decided to spend all of our time in Phuket and going there was out of the question, we decided to pick another elephant experience.  And, while much less of an overall caring-for-the-elephants and having a life-changing experience, we still had a great time and I feel pretty good about the company we went with for our trek.  

We drove out to Kokchang Safari, which is high up on the cliffs, overlooking the ocean.  We split up, Peter took the older two kids, and I took squirmy Bennett (and was somewhat terrified the entire time that he would wiggle right out of my arms!).  Will and Clara were both a little bit nervous at first, and while Will got over it quickly, Clara was kind of a mess for the first few minutes!  She was pretty terrified of the elephant and did not like the idea of being on top of it!  But, once their trainer stopped and picked her a bunch of flowers to hold, she warmed right up and had fun for the rest of the time.  



The elephant trainers live right on the property with their elephants; my trainer said that he'd been working with his elephant for 15 years!  The elephant was unbelievably responsive to him and they seemed to have a caring and sweet relationship.  

Our guides took us on a 30 minute "trek" up the mountain, which included stopping at a beautiful look-out point that was perfect for photos.  After the trek, we were able to feed the elephants bananas and pineapple.  This was absolutely Will's favorite part of the entire experience.  He loved handing the elephants the fruit and got a kick out of them grabbing it out of his hands with their trunks.  

This was definitely an experience that we will never forget!

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Thailand and Singapore Trip: Phang Nga Bay

Our adventures in Thailand continued as we went and explored Phang Nga Bay, which included James Bond Island, kayaking around limestone cliffs, and eating lunch at Koh Panyee, which is a village built on stilts above the water.  Boating through Phang Nga Bay and seeing the cliffs jut up out of the water was one of the most beautiful and incredible natural landscapes that I have ever seen.    All day long I kept feeling as if I was living in a National Geographic magazine!

Our transportation for the day was a long boat, which was not in the most pristine condition, but fun nonetheless.  Sine there were about 20 of us, we had the boat chartered and to ourselves.  The first stop our boat made was at James Bond Island, being named after the movie in which it appeared years ago, and it was awesome!  

After checking out James Bond Island, our long boat guides took us over to a large anchored boat where we were then divided up into smaller groups for our kayak tours around the limestone cliffs.  While not totally thrilling and exhilarating, this was a lot of fun, and very relaxing.  We even bought fresh coconut water from a vendor selling them from a small, anchored boat in the bay!  Will had fun feeling the water with his hands and feet and we got to see some type of amphibian fish-like creatures that crawled around through the mangroves.  

After kayaking, we were hungry and ready for some delicious Thai food!  We boated over to Koh Panyee, a village built on stilts.  We were served a delicious lunch of noodles, fried chicken, fresh fish, soup, vegetables, and pineapple.  As touristy as it was, it was fun to see this little village built on the water and in the middle of nowhere.  Behind the restaurants in the front were a bunch of shops and vendors selling treats, clothes, trinkets, and all sorts of souvenirs.  The kids each got what they thought were popsicles, but actually turned out to be frozen jelly-like treats.  Not quite what they were expecting, but all part of the experience :)  


By the time we finished our lunch and loaded back onto our boat, we were all pretty tired, and the kids especially were ready to get back to our hotel.  So, we headed back and still had time to rest, relax, and spend some quality time all together in the hotel pool.  The kids LOVED our hotel's pool, which had a pretty awesome (while not totally safe . . . ) slide.  Will and his buddies honestly would have been content to spend all day, everyday, in the pool rather than do any sightseeing at all!  But, we compromised and generally had time at the end of each day for the kids to swim and get their fill of the awesome slide before dinner and bedtime.

Seeing Phang Nga Bay was definitely a highlight of the trip!  I felt like I saw, in person, what the travel sites' photos of Thailand are always advertising!  It truly is an incredibly beautiful place!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Thailand and Singapore Trip: Chalong Temple, Big Buddha, and Phuket Weekend Market

On Saturday, our first full day in Thailand, after swimming and playing at the beach in the morning, we went out and explored a few cultural spots in Phuket.  First up, the Chalong Temple.  I honestly don't know much about the history of the Chalong Temple, but the buildings were beautiful and it was fascinating to see all of the ornate architecture and gold statues of Buddha.

There were vendors lining the streets along the temple, selling everything from toys to food, and some of that food being roasted bugs!  Peter was lucky enough to try some silkworm!  GROSS.

After we visited the Chalong Temple grounds, we drove up to the Big Buddha.  And, let me tell you, that thing deserves its name!  It was HUGE!  Their goal is to make it the biggest Buddha in Thailand and they seem to me to be well on their way.  It was incredible, and the whole time we were there, there were monks inside of it chanting their prayers.  It was a really cool experience to see such a magnificent structure, hear the melodic chanting, and see the view of Phuket and the ocean below.  

Last on our list for the day was to visit the Phuket Town Weekend Market.  This was actually one of the top 5 things I wanted to do while we were in Thailand!  I'd heard that the markets were awesome, with food and clothing and souvenirs for super cheap.  And, we were not disappointed!  The weekend market was bigger than I had expected and had more than I could have imagined!  I wish we had taken more pictures of everything, but honestly, I think we were too focused on not losing each other and our kids in the madhouse to stop and take photos!  Peter grabbed a couple of pictures of some of the quail eggs and street meat that was being sold, but they had booths and booths filled with every other type of Thai food you can imagine!  And probably some that you can't imagine as well :)

In addition to food, you could really find just about anything your heart desired.  There were stores and stores of clothes--Clara and I each got a pair of Thai harem pants for about $3 each, and Will got a Japan National Team soccer uniform for $15!  (Although I wouldn't put money on its authenticity . . . )  Will and Clara also got a couple little knock-off Big Hero 6 toys and we picked up a cool, wooden carving of an elephant to hang on our wall at home.  

The market was insane--crowded, loud, and huge--with winding aisles, making it almost impossible to not get lost or find the exit, but it was a blast!  With Peter's and my love of shopping and of unique trinkets, had we not had 3 tired kids with us (it had been a long day--they were troopers!), I think we could have spent all evening there and done quite a bit of damage!  But, we're happy with our purchases and it's probably better that we saved some of our money for the rest of our trip!

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Thailand and Singapore Trip: Kamala Beach, Phuket, Thailand

Last weekend we got back from our epic trip to Thailand and Singapore!  We went with three other families and it was unbelievable!!!  All except for the flight that is . . .  We caught a military hop down to Singapore, but just two hours into the 7.5 hour flight, Clara was hit with a nasty stomach bug!  She threw up probably 20-30 times and also had diarrhea.  It was a disaster.  Then, a couple hours after she started throwing up, Will had a case of really bad diarrhea as well that exploded all over him!  It was such a nightmare.  I cleaned Will up as best I could in the tiny airplane bathroom (we had to throw away his underwear and I tried my best to rinse his pants out in the sink.  Then we put a diaper on him and put his wet, stinky pants back on--poor kid!  We just weren't prepared with an extra set of clothes for either Will or Clara, but from now on, you'd better bet we will be!  Regardless of how old they are!!!  The entire remainder of the flight, Peter and I were alternating between holding Bennett and cleaning up Clara's vomit/rushing the kids to the bathroom.  I honestly thought the flight would never end.  But, as bad as it all was, our flying situation was actually the best case scenario.  Since we were on a charted military flight, it only had about 20 passengers, so we had plenty of room around us.  And, the two flight attendants were extremely nice and helpful.  They supplied us with plenty of garbage bags and cleaning supplies so that we were able to keep everything relatively clean.  We actually had the same two flight attendants on our return trip, and I was happy to hear that neither of them got sick after that awful flight!  I wish could say the same for our friends though; one of the little girls from another family on the plane with us got what our kids had, but she had it the whole time we were in Thailand :(  Poor thing.  

Once we arrived in Singapore, we rushed to the international airport from the base to buy tickets and catch a flight to Thailand (we only had 2 hours before the last flight was leaving).  Clara had stopped throwing up (for a little while at least), so we were just going to try and get on the plane and get to Thailand so that she could recuperate there.  However, that just wasn't to be.  As we were standing in line to buy our tickets, Bennett, who I was carrying in our Ergo baby carrier, all of a sudden threw up all over himself and me.  Like, he completely drenched us both.  Covered in puke, I looked at Peter and told him, "I cannot get on a plane right now."  He was already digging through our suitcase finding me some clothes to change into, and he said, "You CAN.  Just get cleaned up."  To which my response was, "Okay, let me rephrase that.  I WILL NOT get on a plane right now."  So, Peter was disappointed, but he seceded and Bennett and I got changed and cleaned up in a bathroom and then we went and got ourselves a hotel room for the night.  We ended up spending more money than we would've liked, but for the sake of convenience.  We stayed at the Crowne Plaza, which is connected to the Singapore airport.  It is a very nice hotel and, after all is said and done, even though we missed a day in Thailand, I'm glad we stayed there.  Bennett threw up two more times over the next couple of hours (which is when we would've been on the plane), and Clara threw up again in the morning.  The kids were also able to get more sleep than they would have had we continued on.  So, it ended up being good, but was a bummer that we lost money and time in Thailand.  Oh well!

We finally got to Phuket on Friday afternoon and we were ready for some relaxation!  Clara got progressively better over the next two days, and both Bennett and Will got better right away.  Everyone was ready for some fun!

We stayed at the Swissotel in Phuket (which was fine, but we wouldn't stay there again . . . ), which was right on Kamala Beach.  While we didn't love our hotel experience, we did love the location, which was easy to get places and was only a few minutes from the beach.  We only spent a couple of days on the beach, but I had so many pictures that I thought I'd better make it its own post :)  So, after that massive introduction to our crazy journey, here are some photos of us living it up at the beach!

The kids could have seriously spent all day everyday just playing in the sand.  They made tons of little sand castles and "goop", as Will called it, which was just wet, goopy sand.  And, they were in absolute heaven playing with their friends!

Clara tried boogie boarding for the first time . . . and pretty much hated it!  But she caught a great wave!!!  Her face in this picture cracks me up!

Will came leaps and bounds in his embracing the ocean during this trip!  He overcame his fears (or at least dealt with them) and played in the water, and he rode tons of waves on the boogie board.  He was awesome out there!

Stay tuned for the rest of our adventures in Thailand . . .