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 cuisine...man 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 weeks...it 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.