Monday, March 26, 2007


Our two weeks in Trat were a wonderful blur of "work" and efficiency.

Here is a breakdown of a basic day in Trat:

-Wake up around 8 o'clock and have a lazy morning coffee and chat about anything on our minds, or begin planning for the day.
-Walk down to the indoor market for a delicious breakfast of Khao Phad (Fried rice with chicken and veggies or egg and veggies) or Phad Thai (fried noodle dish with tamarind sauce and onion, sometimes with chicken or egg).
-Head over to the internet cafe to send emails, update the blog, chat with family, research for our travels and business opportunities or anything else that may be of use to us.
-Eat fruit such as pineapple, oranges, bananas, or jackfruit for lunch.
-Go home for a nap and then another coffee in the heat of the midday.

-Walk around the lovely city of Trat, enjoying the fantastic markets and beautiful scenery.

-Eat dinner in the outdoor market, perusing through the aisles of freshly cooked food and trying new things daily.

Will this be tonight's dinner?

-In the evenings we would often go back to the internet cafe to catch family and friends who may be online in the morning.

We also saw a parade to commemorate the independence of the region from French rule.

Nice leisurely dragon boating in the city. friends forever!

On one particular morning the owner of our guesthouse, Jah, knocked on our door and asked us if we wanted to go to a completely empty beach right by the Cambodian border. We decided to go, as did a fantastic English couple, Kris and Kate. We spent a very relaxing and fun day on the beach (which we were told by Jah was actually private property, but that the owner was in Bangkok at the time).

During the last few days in Trat a festival was on and we went every evening to enjoy the festivities and eat some amazing Thai barbeque and drinking Thai beer from a bag with ice in it through a straw (when in Rome...).

Val dancing onstage at the festival.

Beer in a bag, who'da thunk it?

On the last night of the festival, a very popular band played and the festival grounds were full with thousands of Thai kids going nuts and dancing up a storm. The few fights that broke out were met by a suprising amount of police and army brutality.
Can you spot Val?

The army there for "protection".

Trat was a great place to spend two weeks and we can't wait to come back!

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Thailand, according to Annie (March 2 - 16)

This post was written by Mark's mom, Annie Richard

Well although the flight was VERY long we got to Thailand!!!!!! Our flight from Toronto to Hong Kong turned into a stopover in Vancouver of a few hours, and then because the plane they had to use instead of the upgraded one that can fly over the North Pole, they had to fly another flight path. This all resulted in us arriving late by hours in Hong Kong, and resulting in us not being able to connect to Bangkok with our flight!!!

At first we thought we would have to spend the night in Hong Kong to await a flight the next day to Bangok. But they "RAN" us through the airport and got us on the LAST flight to Bangkok on Air Emirates. Well let me tell you that plane was like a luxury cruise ship. Star lights in the ceiling, personal tv, video games, hundreds of movies to choose from, a camera mounted at the bottom of the plane that you could switch to at any time to see what you were flying over, granite counters in the bathroom, with designer perfume and lotions for you to use. Also REAL cutlery, little bottles of wine, fine these people from Dubai know how to do it right!!!

We landed in Bangkok 8 hours later than planned but very glad to not have had to waste a day in Hong Kong. And all Air Canada offered as compensation was a one hundred dollar discount on a future flight with them. Forget it, 24 hours was going to be long enough and they turned it into a 32 hour flight...I could flap my arms and get there faster. They are definitely going to get major complaints from all 277 passengers. But miracle of miracles our luggage arrived at the same time as us!!!!

Bankok from above.
When we got to our hotel we had a message waiting for us from Mark and Val. They had found a hotel nearby, and we called to let them know we had arrived. I had called Juliana and Chris from Vancouver and told them to email Mark while we were en route so Mark and Val knew we would be either late or not there until the next day. They were happy to hear from us.

A few hours later there was pounding on our hotel room door. It was Mark and Val!!! How happy we were to see their precious faces. After hugs and kisses and all of us trying to talk at once, we headed for breakfast. Our hotel, the Grand China princess was beautiful. it was smack dab in the middle of China Town. This area is close to the Chao Praya Riverand is one of the oldest parts of the city. It is very congested and filled with "stuff" and people. And I just loved it. The hotel had a beautiful buffet breakfast which we all indulged in. Then we headed out into the Bangkok craziness!! Mark hailed a tuk-tuk for us (a three wheeled, death defying scooter thingy) and we went careening around the streets.
Hold on tight!
We went to the Central pier to book a cruise for the next day and then we did a walking tour of Bangkok. We saw such beautiful temples and the Grand Palace, and the Reclining Budha. It is so interesting to see people have to cover themselves "properly" and to see the piles of the shoes everyone has to take off before enteringa wat (temple). And also the "for thai people only" "free" entrance and the tourist entrance - not free!!!

Annie and Val in front of the "Giant Reclining Buddha"

We then ran around Bangkok to various train stations and bus stations to book tickets for all the travel we had planned. We stopped at a little internet cafe and we ate some of the BEST pad thai ever, and then walked to the Chao Praya river to see it by night.!

Eating on the streets of Bangkok.

The next day we went on a Chao Praya river cruise to Koh Kret Island. This island is inhabited by descendents of the Mon tribe. They are pottery makers. The whole island is quiet, because there are no vehicles allowed. There we could see the potters at work and buy handicrafts. We had lunch at a local restaurant, where everyone had to take off their shoes to go in. Then we watched traditional Thai desserts being made...and of course sampled some. We then went on by boat to a beautiful park where we could wander through the gardens and feed the gigantic fish. We ended the day with a swim in the hotel pool which was on the roof. There we had spectacular views of the city.

Swimmin' on the roof!

Then on to supper at a crazy food stall on the street in the middle of the hustle and bustle of China Town! We had "sizzler plates" and pad thai of course. It was wonderful walking around seeing everyone doing their marketing and buying anything and everything you could imagine. And this goes on until the wee hours of the night!

Gardens in a beautiful park outside of Bangkok.

The next day we travelled to the city of Chiang Mai, the Rose of the North. We travelled there by bus, a ten hour trip in a bus that puts our Air Canada flights to shame. Room to almost recline completely, a beautiful Thai attendant in a gorgeaus uniform and the bus drivers wore uniforms like pilots. Included in the price of our ticket of $27.00 was a snack and we stopped at restaurant for lunch, which was also included!!!! Not quite the same as a Greyhound trip, let me tell you.

We stayed at the Prince Hotel in Chiang Mai. And after a good night's sleep and a hearty breakfast, we travelled by bus to Chiang Dao to see the cave complex at Doi Dao (the mountain). We took a local bus to the town. I think we were the only non-Thais on the bus, actually!

The views as we took the 1 1/2 hour bus trip were beautiful. And it was the dry season, it could only be more beautiful when everything is lush and greener after the rains. We got off the bus in the little town, and had lunch in a little restaurant run by a French ex-pat and his Thai wife. In fact she was from one of the hill tribes to the east. She stopped and talked with Val and I and asked if we would be visiting the village. An American woman had left some embroidery needles for the hill tribe village women as a gift. These woman are known for their intricate emboidery. Unfortunately we were not going to the village and so could not deliver the needles.

We then arranged a drive on a songthaew (a pickup taxi). The driver agreed to drive us to Doi Dao, and then come back and get us a few hours later, so we could catch the bus back to Chiang Mai. When we got to site of the cave complex, we were dumbfounded. The entrance to the cave is absolutely awe inspiring!!! It was perhaps the most truly naturally spiritual place I have ever been to.

Entrance to the caves.

The cave complex was huge, and so remarkable. The Thais have temples deep in the cave, and again it is such a place of quiet and beauty....The Thais are so lucky to have temples there....Christmas Eve Mass in such a place would take our breath away, if we could have a church inside the caves. We were led through the complex by a guide with a lantern. A few spots were very small and we had to crawl through to get to the cavern on the other side. I was quite proud of myself for going through those tunnels, let me tell you. And I WASN"t going to let that lantern out of my sight.

Exploring the caves!

On our bus ride back to Chiang Mai, I happened to look out the window. There beside me was a scooter. On the scooter was the "dad" driving the scooter. In back of him was his "wife", and in between the two of them, standing up on the seat....was a baby of about 8 months old!!!!!!!!!! The baby was grinning away...there was not a helmet on any of them...and then were weaving in and out of traffic!!!!!!! And that was not an unusual site. We saw this type of situation more than once, and sometimes there would be 4 or 5 individuals on ONE scooter!!!!! They certainly don't have the same sense of danger we do!!!!!!

The next day we went trekking . We started the day by being picked up at our hotel by an airconditioned miniivan. We were on our way to do some elephant riding!!!!!!. The very first thing we had to do when we got to the place where the elephants were was....cross a river on a bamboo suspension bridge. I managed to get across without losing my breakfast...are you proud of me??? Next it was onto the elephant ride. The trickiest part and the scariest part was just getting on. But once on, it was surprisingly a smooth ride. The elephant's slow swaying walk was quite relaxing...although our elephant must have been a teenager...he didn't listen too well sometimes!!!! The ride in some parts was quite steep, and there were lots of gasps and giggles. The elephants walked through the jungle and then through the stream, and at the end we thanked them by feeding them bananas! (Sweet Val...she even started peeling the bananas for the elephant until we told her that was not necessary).

Babur, our elephant friend.

From there we went onto a waterfall, where we could swim by the fall. Just awesome.

Annie and Paul in a Thai paradise.

Then a 20 minute trek through the jungle up a little hill. We looked down on a beautiful valley planted with rice and soybeans, with a gorgeous mountain in the background. It looked like a painting. In the valley was the Mong Hilltribe village. The area is so beautiful, a paradise even now in the dry season. The hilltribes lead a very simple agricultural life based on the growing of rice and soy beans, and a second income is made from their handicrafts. And like all people everywhere, children will embarrass their mothers. In the middle of us looking at handicrafts two little naked boys run up dripping wet from a swim. Their mother began to chastise them and they just laughed and ran around more. They giggled at us and one of the people in our group pretended to chase them which just made them giggle more. And the mom just shook her head.

Then on to lunch. And what a lunch. Thai soup, Thai rice and vegetables, noodles and vegetables, fried egg and pineapple and watermelon for dessert...heaven!!!

Then on to another hilltribe village. This one belonging to the White Karen tribe. Again an agricultural tribe with handicrafts as a second income. They live in huts and weave beautiful scarves, and all their clothes. White tunics for unmarried women, colored ones for the married ones. And in this tribe it is the woman who asks the man to marry her...and if he doesn't say yes the first time...he is out!!!!

From here we went bamboo rafting. What fun. Val and I were on one raft, with a guide "punting" in front and Mark in back doing the same. Paul went on a separate raft with another couple, lucky him. Because Mark and the guide were in cahoots, and they kept wobbling the raft and spraying us and just laughing the more Val and I shrieked. We got soaken wet. But the ride was beautiful nonetheless.
Us and the rafts.
The best part of this trekk was the price, 700THB per person, which is about $25.00 and that included all the activities, the transportation and the giant lunch!!!
After the trekking we got all dressed up. We went out for our first fancy dinner. Until now we have been eating local Thai food in Thai diners, and food stalls. But that night was Mark's 25th birthday so we decided to get dressed up and go to a nice restaurant on the Ping River, where we dined by candlelight, listend to some really good bands and watched the lights reflect off the river...

Dining out...a regular event!

One of the most interesting parts of our stay in Chiang Mai were the night markets and bazzar. Every evening at about 5:00 PM the street would start to hop. Stall owners started putting up stalls, food vendors started laying out their wares, and street side eateries started heating up their woks!!! I cannot even describe to you all the things that were on display. Shoes, clothes, thai silk products, trinkets of every kind, fruit, vegetables, larvae (yes!) fish, dried fish, giant shrimp, nuts, flowers, cds, t-shirts, jewellery.....and that was just the start. Scooters everywhere, food being eaten, bought, sold at every corner, haggling over the price of trinkets and people weaving in and out so that you could barely walk. I loved it!!!!

Val in a Chiang Mai marketplace.

Our final day In Chiang Mai was spent shopping for souvenirs and a barge cruise down the River Ping. It was interesting to see how people lived along the river. We stopped at herb garden, and had fresh fruit and iced juices made from interesting things like tamarind and ginger. At the end of the day we got on an overnight bus back to Bangkok.

We arrived in Bangkok early in the morning and had breakfast. We then caught another bus that would take us on our 5 hour ride to Center Point Pier where we caught the ferry to Koh Chang Island. The ferry was a cool, welcome rest after our many hours of travel. We had a drink while we watched with interest the approach of the island. It was beautiful. A large mountain dominated and it looked green and mysterious.

We made our way by songthaew to the Siam Beach Resort. Our room was very Zen like, in its decor. For Mark and Val we had reserved a hillside bungalow. It was perched high on the mountain and had views of the whole area and all the islands close by...very romantic.

Mark and Val in their hillside hut.

The first day on the island we just chilled. After having travelled for almost 24 hours by bus and ferry and songthaew we were all a little worn out! It didn't take long to relax though with the warm beautiful waters and sands of our beach resort, and the gorgeous pool.

Primary source for transportation on Koh Chang.

The next day we decided to go for a walk. We walked along the beach, in the jungle, through resorts, on the road and finally arrived at the fishing village of Ban Bao.This village is suspended over the water on stilts. There are all kinds of shops and restaurants. We decided to stop there for lunch. What a lunch. We ordered a kilo of giant prawns. These guys were about 6-8 inches long, of sucuulent shrimp grilled with garlic butter and we had noodles, rice and vegies with them. We all ate WAY to much. Lunch for 4 with beer came to about $30.00. I don't think I can ever take the teeny shrimp we get at home seriously again!

Gorging on giant prawn!

On subsequent days we did other little activities. One day we hiked to the park, and we hitchhiked in the back of pick-ups twice! Another day we kayaked for 3 hours. We kayaked to a nearby island and swam on the beach there. It was so beautiful.

Annie and Paul kayaking amoung the many small island surrounding Koh Chang.

Every evening we had agreat meal under the stars, by the sea.....sometimes a BBQ, which is made outdoors at every restaurant and costs about $3.50 a plate!!!! In the afternoon we lounge around the pool and drink the concoctions Mark makes for us. And we always play a couple of rounds of cards, cut throat rummy.

Koh Chang from Mark and Val's hut view.

On our last day Val and I treated ourselves to a massage. The massages are given right on the beach. You have to pinch yourself to make sure it is all real. You lie there and see the water and the sand and listen to the waves...hold on now that was more than a pinch!!!! These little Thai ladies are STRONG. They push and prod you, and stretch and pull you and some of it is painful. But after the whole thing is done, you really feel great. Even my perpetual kink in the neck and shoulders was gone.

The next day we had to say goodbye to our Koh Chang paradise. We caught the ferry back to Center Point Pier. There our bus back to Bangkok was waiting for us. But Mark and Val were catching a bus in the other direction to Trad.

We had had so much fun together, did so many FIRSTS together. Not all parents are lucky enough to travel to an exotic location with their children and enjoy the experience with them. Not all parents get to share in their children's honeymoon either. We felt very blessed.The goodbyes were very tearful. I hated to see their faces getting smaller and smaller as the bus pulled away, and it was one of the hardest things I've ever had to do. To say goodbye to them, when they would be so far away from us again. Especially after spending so much time together in the 2 just made it harder.

A-1 travel team!

We spent the night at the Novotel at the Suvarhabhumi Airport. It was the height of luxury. A regular hotel room like you would get in Canada for $150.00 - $200.00 a night runs about $50.00 a night in Thailand. Well our hotel room at th Novotel cost us $200.00. Needless to say the hotel was beautiful. It was worth the price, and the reason we broke the bank and paid the $200.00 was because it was 5 minute shuttle drive to the airport. We caught our flight from Bangkok at 10:00 AM and had a long but relatively uneventful and almost on time trip home!
We would love to go back to Thailand sometime in the future. The people are so gentle and kind, and the land is beautiful and there are so many things we would still love to see and do....Kahp Khun Kaa (thank you) Thailand and hopefully we can say Sawatdee Kaa (hello) again someday soon.


Saturday, March 24, 2007

Incredible India

India. There is no way to fully and adequately describe the richness of our experiences in India. All we know is that we are destined to go back one day, as the land, people, food, markets, culture, smells, sights and magic of India will tug on our heart strings forever.

This will be hard to do, but here goes...


Take away your paved roads, your seatbelts, your car seats and your rules. Forget your highspeed internet, your DVD and MP3 players, your cordless phones and even your trusty electricity. Say goodbye to toilets, toilet paper, showers and soap; say hello to squatters (sometimes even a hole in the ground), bucket baths and a serious supply of hand sanitizer. There are no safety standards, quality assurance, guarantees or refunds. No hairnets, no gloves, no worries.

Imagine life without public garbage cans or recycling bins, where people throw litter out of car and train windows because there is no other place to put it. Picture animals everywhere: dogs strolling around without owners, cows roaming the streets, chickens pecking about in the gutters and goats shuffling slowly through the marketplace.

Let go of all notions of organized and safe travel. Your bus will likely pull-over 4 times for fixing on 6 hour trip, and most of the journey will undoubtedly be spent in the oncoming lane as your driver is convinced that the other vehicles aren't going quite fast enough. If you don't have a reservation on a public bus or train, you fight (literally) for a seat or you will be standing for a few hours.

Let go of your conventional ideas of politeness and honesty. It becomes very clear early on that everyone thinks you are a walking bank machine. Your rickshaw driver will insist that the bus station is 5 km away and attempt to charge you double, when your map clearly indicates that it is merely 2. So you bargain furiously with him, until he gives in. You pass 15 taxi cabs in row and every single driver will ask if you need a ride, knowing very well that you already said "no thank you" to the previous 14 drivers.

You forget what its like to have personal space. Every street, bus, train, restaurant, and marketplace is packed with people. You are no longer shocked to see people sleeping in the train station, on the sidewalks, on the curb, on a table, on top of car, inside a car, underneath a car.

You get used to open mouthed stares, constant attention and an extreme lack of privacy. You become familiar with sayings like "what is your good name, sir?" and "from which country are you?"and "one rupee please?". You quickly learn that you can't believe everyone, you can't talk to everyone and you can't help everyone, although you desperately want to.

You realize how much of an impact you have on the world.


You begin to relax about rules. You realize that the world as we know it is over-regulated. Once you survive the first unpaved road, you begin to enjoy the scenery of the route. You point out every banana plantation and rice field, every flowering tree, every mountain in the distance. You take advantage of the unexpected stop on the roadside, because you realize you had to pee anyway. You're glad there are no seatbelts, because you remember how uncomfortable they are. You enjoy the thrilling speed at which your bus driver (and all the other vehicles) are going. The faster he goes, the sooner you'll get there.

You realize that there is life beyond the internet, and that if you could actually find a decent service, you may end up spending all afternoon staring at the screen rather than discovering some ancient ruins. It becomes a fun game to count the number of power outages in your room at night, and you leave a flashlight by your bed, just in case.

You soon become accustomed to squatting and remember to have toilet paper handy in your pocket. You realize how much water you save when you bathe with a bucket and how long your hair can go without a shampoo.

You eat the samosas even if they seller uses his hand to pick them up and then wraps them in a piece of yesterday's newspaper, because you realize that despite this conduct, they still don't make you sick. And they are deliciously irresistible. So you have them everyday, over and over until you can't eat another samosa.

Although you can't bring yourself to litter, you realize that there are people and animals who rely on the garbage that ends up on the ground. The free roaming animals eat whatever food scraps they can find amidst the rubble and the poor scrounge around for bits of plastic, metal and cardboard they can sell. By the end of the day, much of the garbage has found its way from the ground to somewhere...more useful.

You eventually understand that the persistent badgering of taxi drivers and shopkeepers is simply an unyielding dedication to their jobs. It's nothing personal, they're just trying to make a living. You embrace this fact and learn to love the challenge of bargaining and friendly arguing. You realize that relatively, you ARE rich...even if by Canadian standards you're not. So its okay to get over-charged now and then.

You feel lonely when you aren't constantly surrounded by people. You watch in awe as the beautiful cityscape, filled with hundreds of brightly coloured, golden trimmed saris blowing the wind, leaves you breathless.

You ignore the staring. You understand that people are just interested in you because you are so different.

Above all, once you've strolled through the mystical marketplaces, tasted the divine spices of the curry dishes, viewed the rolling hills, boulderous mountains and huge canyons, met the bright-eyed little girls in their saris, watched the changing colours of the sunsets, found yourself lost in the winding cobblestone alleyways, searched for tigers and wild elephants in the teak tree forests, seen the Taj Mahal unveiled in all its greatness...once you've really discovered the magic of India, you will leave of piece of your heart there.

Monday, March 19, 2007

What we did in India, in a nutshell.

Mumbai, MAHARASTHRA (December 27-30)

Mumbai a big and fairly developed city. Here we visited the Gateway of India, a port which was used by the British to import goods during colonization. There were a couple of other neat sights here, like a big statue of Gandhi and a bunch of Bollywood theatres. We also visited a great market in the Collaba area of town which spans about eight blocks.

Gateway of India

Crazy Train Ride

After Mumbai, we headed northbound to Delhi to visit a friend from Toronto named Mitra Joshi who happened to be visiting his family in India at the time. The train ride from Mumbai to Delhi was 30 hours long! It was our first overnight train trip in India and was certainly very interesting. The train was packed! There weren't enough sleeper beds for everyone, so many people were sleeping on the floor. We were the only foreigners in our car and, of course, everyone wanted to talk to us. People even gave us their home addresses so that we could keep in touch via mail. We certainly felt welcome, but also overwhelmed. Needless to say, it was a long but exciting journey to have in India for the first time.

Delhi/Noida (December 30- January 4)

When we arrived in Delhi, we took a rickshaw to meet Mitra. We were swarmed by a gazillion rickshaw drivers, but finally organized with one to take us to his address. As it turned out, Mitra's family lives in Noida which is a nicer and quieter suburb of Delhi (kind of like the Mississauga of Toronto, but Indian style). When we arrived, Mitra's family embraced us with open arms and immediately adopted us as family members. We enjoyed so many wonderful moments with Ama, Papa, Maneesha (sis) and Aditya (bro) and are ever so grateful for their kindness.

Papa and Ama

Maneesha, Val and Ama

The night we arrived in Noida was New Year's Eve, so Mitra, Maneesha and the two of us went to a nearby club to ring in the New Year, Indian style. The place was pretty classy, the hors d'ouvres were delicious and the Indian dance beats (desi) were awesome. Mitra pulled out some serious dance moves and we all tried desperately to keep up with him...but we couldn't.

Val, Mitra and Mark

At home with Mitra's family, we spent most of our days playing card games, eating delicious meals, drinking the best chai of all time and chatting for hours. Ama and Maneesha even let us help in the kitchen, where they taught how to make chapatti, paratha and chai. It was so nice to be part of a family for a while, after being away from ours for so long.

Agra, UDHAR PRADESH (January 2)

During our stay with the Joshi family, we took a day trip to Agra, home of the famous Taj Mahal. Although it costs about 40 times more for foreigners to get in, it was worth every cent. The greatness of this gorgeous structure cannot be put into words. It's unlike anything we have ever seen and it is beautiful! After exploring the inside of the building, we basically sat, enjoyed the view and people-watched all day. It was absolutely wonderful!

The beautiful Taj Mahal

The Army dudes who wanted a picture with Mark (on the Taj Mahal grounds)

The most hilarious outfit we discovered while people-watching at the Taj it just us, or does he have a striking resemblance to Carlton from Fresh Prince of Belair? It's not unusual to be loved by anyone...

A view of the Taj Mahal from a rooftop restaurant...check out the monkeys.

Udaipur, RAJASTHAN (January 5-9)

After sadly saying goodbye to our new Indian family in Noida, we headed to the magical city of Udaipur. This artistic town is famous for its role in the 007 movie, Octopussy. Every restaurant and guesthouse plays the movie every evening at 7pm.

In the middle of the city is a beautiful lake which reflects the surrounding buildings, docks, bridges and the famous Lake Palace. Most of the restaurants have rooftop patios so that you can enjoy the lovely lake view while you dine. It is common to see children swimming and bathing, women doing laundry and animals drinking at the steps leading into the water. Udaipur, filled with it windy streets, stained glass windows and marble, is the perfect place to get lost for a few days.

View of Udaipur from a rooftop patio

Women bathing and washing clothes near the Lake Palace

Among many walks in Udaipur, we hiked to Monsoon Palace which sits at the top of Bansdara Mountain. The palace, built over 100 years ago is 1100 ft above the rest of the city gives a panoamic view of the city, lakes and surrounding countrysides. Really breathtaking...

Lookout point from Monsoon Palace

Mark and a cow hang out on a bridge in Udaipar


Matheran - Pune - Goa (Mapsa, Arambol, Anjuna, Panaji) - Pune - Lonavla - Mumbai

After Udaipur, we headed back to Mumbai to meet Val's mom and little brother who came to spend 2 weeks with us! They were quite shocked as we were swarmed by begging children almost immediately after they stepped out of the airport. Then, as our taxi started off at crazy speeds and we passed by shanty towns and shacks, palm trees and rickshaws, we realized that
the wonderfully chaotic world of India was already introducing itself to our new guests.
The trip according to Mama Pascale:

"Daniel and I arrived in Mumbai on Wed. Jan. 10 and I couldn't believe we're actually there - India! We met up with Val and Mark. Val looked beautiful in her blue Indian top and shawl. With her tan, she could actually pass for an Indian woman. Mark, on the other hand, looked like a very smart and handsome tourist with his blonde hair and bandana.
The whole gang, at a hotel in Mumbai

In Mumbai we walked through the streets and visited the market. I couldn't get over how different it was from Toronto. There were so many people everywhere. The men generally worked in the stores (or booths), the women wore the most beautiful, colourful saris and generally were the customers (no doubt spending their husband's money since they mostly work in the home) and the children, well lets just say that they're very street smart and, except for the very young (3 yrs. and under) are rarely accompanied by an adult.
There is just so much I could talk about. Like the traffic. The traffic in Mumbai is definitely not for the faint of heart. You walk and drive at your own risk as the lights are either non-existent or not working. Even if they are, nobody pays heed, they just go when they can. No one drives in the lanes either and to cross the street, you just weave in and out of the traffic - it' a lot of fun once you get the hang of it!

After Mumbai, we went to a lovely hilltop village called Matheran. It was absolutely breathtaking and so, so clean because they don't allow cars up there. The people were very friendly and so obliging, it is almost overwhelming. But the monkeys - well they're another story. They think it's great fun to hunt down the tourists and steal their loot. Daniel and I were both victimized by the monkeys as we were chased down and robbed of our freshly made corn-on-the-cobs.

Mark 'pondering deeply' at a viewpoint in Matheran

Mark and Daniel...enjoying the view

Daniel, Val and Mom at Matheran lookout spot

We proceded to Goa, where we lived in a cozy little bamboo hut on Arambol beach for about 4 days. It was so beautiful there in January. The weather was perfect. Hot, but not muggy, and sunny every day, all day. I haven't been on an ocean beach for years and I'd forgotten how fantastic it really is. One day we took a bus to a market on another beach, called Anjuna. There were rows and rows of merchants selling their colourful clothes, bags, lanterns, scarves and syrongs, items carved out of wood and ivory, jewellery, sandals, spices, food and so much more. It is such a treat for all the senses and it's great fun trying to barter with the vendors. Mark and Val have become real pros at it.

Val and Mom at a lantern shop, Anjuna Beach Market

Other places we visited in India were Panaji, Old Goa, Pune, the caves at Lonavla, a spice plantation and the Basilica of Bom Jesu where we saw the remains of St. Francis Xavier. We travelled by local and overnight bus, commuter train, boat, rickshaw and taxi. Each was an adventure in itself! I wish I could go into details but I think I've said enough - for now."

Mom and Daniel at Temple in Panaji

Mom and Mark on a sleeper bus to Goa (so comfortable! Hahaha...not)

Passed by friendly local fisherman, Goan boat cruise

Daniel, boat cruise master of the universe...clearly

Our tour guide pours water down mom's back at a spice plantation in Goa!

300 stairs later...we reached the Lonavla Caves

Daniel and Val, Bhaja Caves in Lonavla

Tomb Raiders Extraordinaire...look out Lara Croft!


Palolem, GOA (January 25 - February 9)

After Mary and Daniel left, we decided to stay in one place for a while. We found a little beach-facing hut up in the coconut trees which was so relaxing. From our balcony, we could see dolphins jumping in the distance and watch the sunset every evening. While in Palolem, we did some job searching, meditating and exercise. We also went out on a small fisherman's boat to watch the dolphins swimming close up. They are such magnificent creatures. One day, we even saw a sea serpent! (which is actually a big, huge water snake that swims with its head above the water...scary!)

Beautiful Palolem Beachm, Goa

Sunset view from our hut's balcony

Local restaurant owner, proud of his fish collection

Ready to go see some dolphins!!!!

Dolphin spotting adventure

Fort Cochin, KERALA (February 10-12)

Fort Cochin is gorgeous little fishing city in the south of India. From the boardwalk we sat and watched as fishermen lower their huge nets into the water and then pulled them back out with tons of different types of fish all caught in them.

Fishing nets

The boardwalk, can you spot Val?

In Cochin, there are little restaurants set up along pier that allow you to choose and purchase your own fish fresh from the fishermen and then the restaurant just cooks it for you in a style of your choosing. We bought a plate of prawns (which turned out to be about 2 lbs of prawns!) and had them stir fried with veggies and rice. Mmmmm...

Mark (with freshly cut hair) and 2 lbs of prawns

Fish Market

Just before sun down, hundreds of men, women and children gather on the waterfront to swim, socialize and eat ice cream. The entire beach becomes speckled with colours!

Colours, nets and beaches at dusk...what a treat

Allepey, KERALA (February 12-13)

In Allepey we arranged to go on a backwaters tour, which is the big thing to do in the province of Kerala. The Keralan Backwaters (water in the 'back' of the ocean) are a chain of rivers, lagoons and lakes lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast, formed by the action of waves and shore currents. We took a 24 hour cruise of the backwaters on a houseboat, fully equipped with a captain, a cook, 2 maintenance crew members, a double bedroom, a kitchen, a small dining area and top deck.

Backwaters Houseboat

El Capitan!

Mark taste-testing in the Kitchen
As we travelled around the backwaters all day, we saw lovely rivers and canals, farms and countryside, beautiful birds and flowers, many small fishing boats, fishermen diving for shell fish, women washing clothes and dishes in the backwater and children swimming, amongst others interesting sights.

A backwaters canal

Houseboats on a backwaters lagoon

There are so many small communities living throughout the Keralan backwaters that the rivers and canals operate like streets and people use them to get from one place to another. Villagers own boats instead of bikes or cars. We saw a school boat service (instead of a school bus) picking up a bunch of kids from their homes along the various canals to drop them off at school! We even saw a women on a small boat with her goats! I guess she was taking them somewhere...?

School Boat Service

I would not could not with a goat, I would not could not on a boat!

In the afternoon, 3 of our crew members jumped off the boat to fish for clams for our dinner. It was so funny! Mmmmm...the food on the whole trip was so delicious! At night they docked the boat and we all slept out on the water in the boat. It was all so lovely really. We definitely recommend it!

Our dedicated kitchen staff, fishing for clams
Sunset on our backwaters water journey

Kottayam, KERALA (February 14)

Kottayam was a friendly little city, but not much there (we were in transit). We stayed in a really dodgey place called Happy Lodge which really wasn't as 'happy' as it sounds. During the day we visited an NGO called the Gandhi Peace Foundation and had an afternoon chai and chat with the Director of the organization. We also did a bit of shopping here...we found some cool spoons made out of coconuts!

Thrissur, KERALA (February 15)

Thrissur was a bigger and greyer city than we had expected, and it wasn't very tourist-friendly. But it turned out to be a great day overall. We went for a walk to discover the city and came across 3 men bathing an elephant in a park. We then realized that there were tons of elephants around the park! Although they were each chained to separate trees, they seemed well fed and content.

Bath Time!
The huge Hindi temple in the middle of the city happened to be having a festival on its park grounds that evening and we were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of some traditional Keralan theatre. There was an outdoor Kathakali performance, which is essentially an Indian dance drama with crazy costumes and singing and impressively technical movements.

Kathakali Performance

Coimbature, TAMIL NADU (February 16)

We just spent the night here so that we could catch a VERY early train to Ooty the next morning. It turned out to be a nice little city with some cute little shops and restaurants and really cheap accommodations. Nice and helpful people too! By far, the city with the most power outages per hour on our trip!

Ooty, TAMIL NADU (February 17 - 19)

Ooty is a scenic hilltop city in the southern province of Tamil Nadu. We took a 5 hour, narrow gauge toy train ride up to the city. The ride was amazing! We had such fantastic views of the forests, valleys and hills. We passed through tunnels, over streams and by gorgeous tea plantations. There were so many plants all around us that people could reach out and pick flowers from window of the train while it was moving!

Toy train ride to Ooty
View from the train on the way up the mountain
Inside the train

Ooty itself was quite a big city, but surrounded by beautiful rolling hills and farms. We found a cute little room overlooking Ooty lake and spent a few says here enjoying the scenery and the relaxing vibe. Because Ooty is such a hit with local Indian tourists, the city has an amusement park and some water rides. The rides all look like they were pulled right out of the 70's and the paddle boats were, well, not in great shape. Let's just say that we could only get ours to turn in one direction (to the right), which made getting our boat back to the dock very...interesting!

Broken paddle boat fun!

Amusement park workers...such tacky costumes!

We visited the Centenary Rose Park, which has hundreds of varieties of roses and will be so beautiful when the roses grow in! Despite having few flowers, the park was still lovely so we sat under a gazebo and read for a while. We also went to the Thread Garden, which is a small garden of flowers and grass made entirely out of thread. It sounds lame, but the flowers look so real and they are all entirely hand made (they didn't even use needles). It took 50 artists more than 12 years to's pretty impressive. We also hiked around Ooty lake, visited some plant nurseries, and shuffled through Ooty's marketplace...which was surprisingly large.
Centenary Rose Garden...sans the roses

Thread Garden...these flowers may look real, but they're actually made out of thread! Yippee!

Wyanad Wildlife Sanctuary, KERALA (February 21)

In order to go on a tour of the wildlife center, we stayed in a nearby town called Sultan Batheri. The town is nothing to rave about, but the Wyanad Wildlife Sanctuary which is home to tigers, elephants, deer, bison, bears, monkeys, giant squirrels and more, was one of the highlights of our Indian adventures.

Front gate of the Wyanad Wildlife Sanctuary

The two of us, along with our Indian guide named Ismayal (pronounced: a smile), embarked on a 3 hour walking tour of the sanctuary. Although I knew in my brain that the animals roamed free in this 345 square km conservatory, it wasn't until Mark enthusiastically pointed down at the fresh tiger prints on our trekking trail that I fully realized what we had gotten into.

Fresh tiger print on our trail...yikess!!!!!
Ismayal, thrilled by this paw print dicovery, put a finger in front of his lips. "Sssshhhhh" he said, if we are not quiet, we will not see the tiger. Then he proceeded to draw four lines around the print, explaining that if they formed a square then the tiger was male and if they formed a rectangle then the tiger was female. As interesting and educational as this lesson was, I didn't really care to know the sex of the creature, I just wanted to know that it WASN'T GOING TO EAT ME. Ismayal assured me that usually the animals don't attack the tourists and we continued on. "Usually" was not exactly the reassuring word I was hoping for.

We later discovered a heard of wild elephants, which is supposedly quite rare. Ismayal quickly told us to take off our shirts (because apparently the red shirt Mark was wearing and the white shirt I was wearing were "highly attractive colours to the elephants"...don't worry, I had another shirt on underneath), to hide behind the trees, not to step on any big, crunchy leaves, and to stay at least 50 meters away. These were all safety precuations, so that the elephants wouldn't "detect our presence and charge at us". Luckily, we went fairly unnoticed by the creatures and were able to spy on them in awe as they ate and took care of their young.
Herd of wild elephants, from a spyers view of course
Once we were far from our elephant-watching hiding grounds, I asked Ismayal (out of curiosity) what we would have done if the elephants had discovered our expidition and decided to charge at us.

He simply smiled at us and said "Well, then we run."
I didn't bother asking if there was a Plan B.
Us and Ismayal...what a guy! (Wyand Wildlife Sanctuary)
As we continued through the sanctuary, we also saw a giant squirrel, wild monkeys and some spotted deer. No tiger though. When we left the sanctuary, I felt both dissapointed and relieved not seeing a tiger, becuase the thought of almost encountering one was so thrilling! Overall I was especially glad to be alive.

Can you spot the giant squirel?
Mysore, KARNATAKA (February 21-23)

This bustling city, with its silks and sari-shops gallore, was more developed than many of the others we had been to in India, thus far. We visited the famous Mysore City Palace and a peculiar, but interesting art museum. In Mysore, we succumbed to a western-food craving and visited the Pizza Corner (which is like the Pizza Hut of India)...although the pizza ended up tasting like curry anyway! Gotta love India!
Mysore Palace
Colourful Tikka Powders, Mysore market

Hampi, KARNATAKA (February 24-27)

The sights at Hampi were simply breathtaking. This small city, surrouded by hundreds of thousands of boulders lying on top of one another, has acient ruins hidden everywhere. Here we adventured through banana plantations, searched for waterfalls and spent hours climbing and jumping from boulder to boulder.

Boulder hopping

Baby cute! (Lived at our guesthouse)

Big, friendly green bug

Boulders everwhere!
We rented bikes and rode them through the ruins of the ancient kingdom that once existed there. The remains of forts, temples, pillars and bathing pools, elephant stables, royal buildings, statues and intricate rock carvings cover the land. We even saw some prehistoric writings on various large stones.

Remains of an Ancient Temple
Ancient Stone Carvings

Luckily Val is so strong...this huge rock would've killed everyone!
Rice Fields of Hampi
Washing clothes and swimming in the river
The magic of the boulder-strewn landscape of Hampi, combined with the beautiful Tungabhadra River running along side, made it one of our favourite places to visit. It is a must see of India!
Bangalore, KARNATAKA (February 28-March 1)

We flew out of Bangalore on March 1, headed for Bangkok to meet Mama and Papa Richard. We we sad about leaving India, but we were so very excited to go adventuring with our family in Thailand! Before we left, we did some last minute shopping in Bangalore and visited the city aquarium. Bangalore is by far the most modern and progressive city that we visited in India. People, especially women, are generally quite liberal and educated and also fluent in English. The downtown core could easily be mistaken for Yonge and Dundas and there are martini bars and pubs everywhere! It was a nice place to end our Indian journey...for now.
Flower market, Bangalore