May
15

What We Love About Home

Our re-enry this go around was rough.  Really, really rough.  We flew home with a terrible flu.  Our immune systems were shot. The combination of flu symptoms and jet lag completely took us out and we did little more than lay in bed for days.  Before our flu from Asia had abated we got head colds, probably picked up from the recycled air on the airplane.  Before these head colds relinquished their firm holds on our bodies we caught another flu.  Basically in our first month of being home we left the house less than a handful of times. All of the things we were looking forward to from being home were put on hold as we recovered. Thank goodness for the generosity of my mother who kept us fed during this time!  The last beat down came to me on Easter when I got an infection in my gums around a half protruding wisdom tooth.  I had to bail on our family Easter dinners and lay in bed with fever.  Reluctantly I took antibiotics which I think was actually a good thing as it fought all the nasties still lingering in my body. Within a week I was at the dentist having oral surgery to get my last wisdom tooth removed.  Like I said, a really, really rough re-entry.

We have been healthy for a few weeks now and are getting back into the grove of home life.  We have dove in deep and have what seems like a million projects on the go.  Mike has been working six or seven days a week on a renovation and then trying to finally finish the last handful of things left to go on our house.  We have been working on landscaping our yard and of course planting our huge garden that will sustain us this summer.  Our hens are laying about 40 eggs a day which we eat and sell to friends. We are raising meat birds as well and will have a freezer full of chickens this summer.

It has been hard going from living a life of travel and adventure, to being house bound with sickness, to being so busy we feel like we bit off more than we can chew.  It has been an adjustment for sure but we are also finding so much enjoyment in being home.

Travel is awesome. It’s amazing. It’s transformative.

Home is awesome. It’s amazing. It’s transformative.

What we LOVE about home:

Family

No one loves you like family does. The love is unconditional.  One of the things we miss the most when we travel is being near family.

Community

While we usually seem to be able to create some sort of community when we travel our community at home is our rock.  We have been blessed with amazing friends and feel privileged to be a part of their lives.

Growing our own food

Knowing where our food comes from is very important to us and it is not something that is a part of our lives when we travel.  We are now working our way through all of the food we preserved from last year as well as what is left of the pigs we raised for meat.  The garden vegetables are now poking their heads through the soil for a new season of bounty.  The joy I get from cooking a meal where almost all of our food was grown or raised by us or someone we know is enormous.

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Infrastructure

There is always a few weeks after we first come home from a 3rd world country where the little things make us smile.  Simple things like sidewalks! Imagine walking down the street without having to dodge potholes, rubbish piles, and oncoming traffic!

Homeschooling Resources

My children learn just as much when we are out traveling as we do back at home, the learning is just much different.  At home we are enjoying our Learning Circle that meets twice a week for projects, mentorships, and friendship.  We are taking full advantage of the local library.  We are able to work on projects that take up space that we don’t have when we are living out of a back pack.

Nature

The air is clean, the water is clear, the land is lush with growth.  We are so lucky to live in Canada where the wilderness is so accessible.  We are breathing deeply.

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What do you love about home?

 

Mar
22

Flying With The Flu

Our route home took us from Bangkok to Hong Kong where we had a two night layover before our flights from Hong Kong to Seattle and then Seattle home to Canada.

Four days before we were set to fly to Hong Kong my husband came down with flu like symptoms.  Coughing, fever, chills, and dizziness plagued him for two days before we decided we should go get him checked out by a Doctor.  Our worry was that if he had something bacterial we needed to be treating it before the plane ride.  We went to a hospital in Bangkok that was close to our hotel (Sukimvit Hospital) and he tested positive for Influenza A.  Now that we knew what we were dealing with we felt some relief but we were also quite stressed out about our upcoming flights.

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Waiting for the test results at the hospital.

 

The next day (the day before our flight) I started to come down with the same symptoms.  I was coughing, achy and running a fever.  The day of our flight both children started to feel sick and soon fevers were upon them as well.

The next few days were rough on us.  The morning of our flight we woke up, packed, and then went back to bed until check out time.  We dragged our asses to the airport, made it through security, and then curled up on benches until our flight time.  The kids were distracted by the iPad on the flight while Mike and I closed our eyes and tried to rest.  Once we got to our hotel in Hong Kong we went straight to bed and my flu progressed to a point that that I couldn’t leave the bed at all the next day.  In our two night stay in Hong Kong all I saw was the inside of a hotel room.

Waiting for our flight.

Waiting for our flight.

Next up came the marathon of travel that would take us home.  Seventeen hours of travel including layover time.  We armed ourselves with medication to combat our flu symptoms and pushed our bodies hard to get through.  Flying across the world is no fun, flying across the world with a flu is torture.  By the time we reached home we were walking, coughing zombies.

The only thing we could do on the flight was try to limit our symptoms with medication.  We were taking Tylenol, anti-phlem, anti-mucus, and anti-cough medicines as well as plenty of cough candies.  I felt sorry for the people sitting around us as we were quite the sorry sight and I am sure that we infected quite a few people on the plane even though we did our best not to.

We are home now, and thankful for it.  I think the jet lag has made the flu worse (Mike and I don’t sleep on planes so we were awake for a full 24 hours), and the flu has made the jet lag worse.  Our bodies are all confuddled!

Mar
11

Wat Pho, Bangkok

One of the tricky bits about taking the night train from Chiang Mai to Bangkok was that we arrived at Bangkok’s Hua Lamphong Station at 7am.  Since our hotel didn’t allow early check in we needed to figure out how to tackle the day.  Luckily Hua Lamphong offers left luggage services for a reasonable price so we were able to leave our heavy bags (minus any valuables which we lugged around town ourselves).  Mike and I are familiar with the area around Hua Lamphong, having stayed right on the Chao Praya river before, so we opted to walk through China Town for some morning sight seeing on our way to Wat Pho.

One of the best ways to get around Bangkok is to take the many public boats that chug up and down the rivers.  We always find it a bit difficult to figure out where to get the public boat launches as opposed to the private ones that vie for your tourist dollar.  Touts are always out to hustle us at the docks which I find SO off-putting.  I hate the hustle.  One lady got down right rude to us when I told her we didn’t want the tourist boat, we wanted the public boat.  But of course, as always, we found helpful strangers who have not been jaded by the tourists industry who are more than willing to help our smiling family.

The public boats are a great way to see life on the river in Bangkok and are worth any trouble it takes to get to them.  The cost of the ride up river was 30 baht for our family (about a dollar).  Many of Bangkok’s most famous sites are located along the river and the boat drops people off right in front of them.  On this day we were opting to see Wat Pho, one of Thailand’s most famous Wats and the home of a massive reclining Buddha.

The entrance fee to Wat Pho was 100 baht per adult (children free).  Having to pay to enter into a Wat kind of bugs me.  We have seen so many beautiful Wats around South East Asia and almost none of them have an entrance fee.  With thousands of tourists visiting the Wat a day they are making mucho moola but I suppose such grandeur comes at a price.

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Tips for visiting Wat Pho:

  • It’s hot. Freaking hot.  Be prepared.
  • Dress appropriately.  As always when visiting a Wat show some respect and cover your knees and shoulders.
  • Come early to avoid the tour buses.
  • The Grand Palace is literally across the street so plan on a day between these two places!
  • Take the river boat to get here, it is way more cool than a taxi!
  • Don’t listen to any touts who tell you it is closed for the day. They are trying to scam you into taking a ride with them.
  • Be prepared for crowds. This is one of the top attractions in Bangkok.

Mar
08

Getting Sick is a Part of Travel

Just as we all inevitably get sick at home, getting sick while traveling is just par for the course. The difference lies in the types of sickness you will encounter. I have yet to meet a traveler without some sort of food poisoning tale. I have heard some doozies, the most intense being a friend who had violent diarrhea while on a river boat in Central America. With no bathroom on board my friend literally pooped his pants and then had to sit in it until they finally came to shore in the next town. Getting sick is not on the glamorous side of travel but it is something us travelers accept as being part of the experience.

But then there are the other more dangerous diseases that we are risking by coming to far away parts of the world. Dengue and Malaria are a risk in many traveler destinations. Luckily for us Malaria is not a risk where we are traveling right now and we managed to avoid it when we were in Cambodia and Laos. I have always sort of discounted Dengue as a disease I did not have much control over. There is no way to avoid it except avoiding mosquito bites, which is near on impossible in South East Asia. When our friends came to visit us they asked about Dengue and I calmly answered that it was a risk but not something I particularly worried about.

Unfortunately I had to eat my words a few weeks later when our friend S was hospitalized with Dengue fever. His symptoms started with a fever and soon progressed to body aches, rash, and hallucination. It was a very scary time for all of us and I was racked with guilt for my cavalier attitude at the beginning of their trip. Luckily for S this all went down when we were staying in Phuket where there are several international hospitals. His insurance company sent him to Bangkok Hospital Phuket where he was admitted for the next eight nights. His room was like a nice hotel room and he was very well taken care of there.  Even with the high level of care however, it was still an understandably stressful experience for all of us. The stress of the situation took the greatest toll on his wife whom we did our best to console and take care of while her husband was down and out in the hospital.

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Our next bout of sickness came when we returned to Chiang Mai after our accommodation woes on Lanta. We found cheap flights back up North and were lured by the very cheap cost of living and the fact that our friends still had many things they wanted to do there that we did not get the chance to do the first time.

Our first few days went well until I was woken up in the middle of the night with the strong urge to vomit. For the next thirty hours I was violently sick with vomiting, diarrhea, body aches, and stomach pain. There was a point at about hour 24 where I considered going to the hospital. I could not keep anything down including water and I was in a lot of pain and worried about dehydration. I decided to push through though and the worst of it was soon over. It took me another three days after that to get my appetite and energy back.

I thought I had been afflicted with some type of severe food poisoning until I was proven wrong when my sons began to have the same symptoms. Luckily their illness was not nearly as severe as my own. The nasty virus then migrated over to our friends and took them out one at a time. Our week in Chiang Mai ended up being a week of barely leaving our guesthouse.

The last month has been a rough one in the health department for our traveling tribe.  Our friend’s encounter with Dengue was down right scary and our encounter with the nasty virus was just plain nasty.  Still though, we accept that getting sick is just another part of traveling that is pretty hard to avoid.

Feb
20

Accommodation Woes on Koh Lanta

Koh Lanta.  The name evokes images of crystal clear beaches, laid back beach lounging, and a family friendly atmosphere.  Yes, Koh Lanta is all that and more.  I must say I am really digging this island.

At the North you have Saladen Town.  It is a small place hyped up on tourism.  There are the obligatory tourist markets, the colourful local markets, plenty of restaurants, and some half decent street food.  It is a fun place to come to get your dose of busy.  Our favourite part of Saladan has been the many restaurants built out over the ocean on stilts.  Upon a recommendation of a friend, of a friend, of a friend we have been frequenting Baifern Noodle Shop.  All kinds of yummy going on over there.

Baifern Restaurant, just down from the pier.  Seek it out and eat there!

Baifern Restaurant, just down from the pier. Seek it out and eat there!

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Looking for fish while we wait for our lunch.

Looking for fish while we wait for our lunch.

Dining with a view.

Dining with a view.

We have also enjoyed frequenting the local market in the evenings which has this crazy Thai carnival going on right now.  It is small, cheap, and a bit dirty but for 30 baht the kids get to bounce for 15 minutes on this bouncy castle.  They come off dripping in sweat and asking to go again.

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Koh Lanta is long and skinny and the West coast is dotted with beaches.  Ahhhh….beaches.  It has been fun exploring the different pieces of paradise.  The kids have been creating architectural wonders in the sand, exploring the sea life at low tide, and snorkelling at high tide.  The beach life is pretty sweet.

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At the other side of Lanta you have Old Town.  A quaint fishing village with century old shop houses, most of which are now filled with tourist paraphernalia.  It is a nice place to take a stroll if you can handle the heat!

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We have been exploring the island with our friends on rented motorbikes. The island is mostly flat and the only real road hazards are the pot holes.  It is a good place to ride, although I do feel that I need to add that we have seen plenty of travellers covered in bandages from motorbike explorations gone wrong.

That us us on the left and our friends on the right. Rockin it four to a bike.

That us us on the left and our friends on the right. Rockin it four to a bike.

And now the accommodation…it sucks.  Ok, Ok, let me preface this by saying that we like to travel by the seat of our pants.  I don’t like pre booking for more than a night or two because I don’t like to commit.  What if we like a place and want to stay longer?  What if we hate a place and want to get out of dodge?  So it is that we find ourselves here in PEAK season.  Not high season, peak season.  The majority of the island is solidly booked up until the end of February.  We have been here almost a week and have spent countless hours on the internet and pounding the pavement to find good accommodation.

All the rooms on the island are overpriced.  We have not found anything with more than one bed for less than 1200 baht and those places are not at all nice.  The first few nights we were in an overpriced agoda room, then we moved on to an overpriced room we found ourselves and took out of desperation, and now, finally, we are in a nice place but are still WAY over budget.

Not only are the rooms overpriced but the people running them are unfriendly.  Are they so jaded from the tourist industry?  Almost everywhere we enquire we get the attitude of ‘I don’t care if you stay because there will be someone else here five minutes after you.”  And while this is probably true it would be nice to get a smile.  At our second hotel the staff was so terrible and uncaring it was our biggest motivation to leave.  Seriously, I would feel a lot better about paying double the price if the staff would at least thank us when they took our money!

So it is that we love Koh Lanta but will probably leave sooner than we would like to.  Serves us right for traveling in peak season.

 

Feb
17

Goodbyes

The best thing we could have done for ourselves and our traveling friends was to split the costs of renting a home on Phuket. It was so good for all of us to slow down our travels and take a breather.  Our days were filled with both relaxing and exploring (and also a very stressful time which I will write about at a later date).  We self catered for most of our meals and instead of being a chore, cooking was a beautiful communal effort amongst the adults with a little help from the kids.  We lounged poolside, the kids played to their hearts content, and each day we chose a different beach to explore.

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Out of all the things I was looking forward to on our trip, traveling with our friends from back home topped out the list.  I pictured amazing explorations, sharing our knowledge of Thailand, discovering great places,  and connecting with our friends on a deeper level than we could ever expect in our lives back at home.  I was not disappointed.

Of course traveling as a large group is not always easy.  It was hard to do too much in a day, hard to make decisions, and hard for the kids to get down time.  As a group we witnessed each others struggles, sometimes with spouses and most of the times with children.  We REALLY saw how we parented as opposed to when we would meet up back at home and be at our parenting best (you know what I mean right?).  We discussed our struggles with our children, our worries, our fears, and were able to sometimes give suggestions but most of the time just commiserate in our shared struggles as parents.

It was with heavy hearts that we said goodbye to the B family, the first of us to leave for the winter weather back home.  We drove our rental van (aka Big Bumpy Bus) on the B’s last day from Phuket to Krabi town where they boarded a plane for Bangkok.  We returned the van and we and the W family continued on our adventure down to Koh Lanta.

Goodbyes are never easy and I would be lying if I said I did not shed a tear on our farewell.  We have had one heck of an epic adventure.  While we and the W family are still carrying on with our travels for another month I am still saddened that this part at least is now over.

Feb
07

I Could Get Used To This!!!!

We have been traveling with two other families in Thailand for close to three weeks now.  Our first weeks were jam-packed!  We explored Bangkok, toured the sights in Chiang Mai, rented a van for an epic road trip down the length of Thailand, rode bikes around the ruins in Sukothai, hung out in Prachuap Khiri Khan, and then headed farther south to the beach.

When we were in Prachuap we were unsure of our next destination. We had a few different beach spots in mind but were finding it really hard to find accommodation that would fit all three families as it is high season here.  So what we did instead was do an internet search on accommodation and decided that the accommodation would dictate where we would go, not the destination.  So it was that we found the most beautiful villa for our families on the island of Phuket!

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Our villa has three large bedrooms each with a king sized bed.  Two bedrooms are on either side of the living space and the third is in its own self contained structure.  This has given each family its own private oasis where we can retreat to when we need some alone time.  The living space is pretty huge with a large couch that fits all the kiddos for movie nights.  The kitchen is large enough for all the adults to help contribute to meal time.  There is a great outdoor eating area too, although we have not used it much as the ants tend to take over!  The pool is lovely and refreshing.  Yes, this is about the most luxurious place I have ever lived in.

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We would never have been able to afford staying here on our own as the price tag rounds out to $150 per night.  When split between three families though, the price becomes affordable.

I must say it has been pretty darn sweet living in this beautiful villa with our friends.  Our kids are oh so happy, as are the adults. Having a space for the adults to gather to talk and play games once the kids have gone to bed has made our time here seem like an endless party.  I am also thoroughly enjoying having a kitchen again, as I have really felt the need to have a break from eating all our meals in restaurants.

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The greatest part for me has been the feeling of living in community.  We have created something really special with our friends.  We have settled into a rhythm where we all contribute to the running of the house and the taking care of the children.  Living together has brought us closer as friends and has made us more like extended family.  We are building community and it is awesome.

Yes. I could get used to this.

Feb
02

Angkor Wat Has Ruined Us

I suppose it is a casualty of travel.  When you travel you get to see amazing things. Things that some people only dream of. Things that make you drop your bottom jaw. Things that are considered the best in the world.  Angkor Wat was one of those things for us. We saw a world famous UNESCO heritage site that is definitely in the top 10 of the world.

So it was, that when we found ourselves touring the ruins of Sukothai, our reaction to the ruins was rather….meh.  Yes, we are spoiled travellers.  My oldest son even said, “This is boring.”  Yikes!  Have we ruined our children’s appreciation of anything less than magnificent?

On the brighter side we LOVED LOVED LOVED riding our rented bikes around the Sukothai Historical Park.  Thirty Baht (a little more than a dollar) gets you a bike for the entire day.  And they had kid’s bikes!!!!!  We haven’t rode bikes since the summer so we were pretty stoked to get on some and cruise around the flat grounds while we checked out the ancient temple ruins.

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Jan
28

Wow, That’s A Lot Of Kids!

As you may have read in my previous post, we are now traveling with some very good friends of ours from back home.  Actually this past week we have been with FOUR families.  We have all been exploring Chiang Mai together and let me tell you, we are quite the crowd.  Can you imagine a group of eight adults and nine children exploring a city together?  Everyone seems to stop and have a double take when our troupe arrives.  Waiters rush to put together tables for us at restaurants, people stop on the street and stare, and we even have people take our photographs all over the city!  One of the families has since moved on to other travels and we are now back to traveling as three families including us.  Even though our group is now smaller we still feel a bit like movie stars as people are so often asking (or not asking) to take pictures of our gaggle of children!

Photo credit: backwoods mama.com

Photo credit: backwoodsmama.com

I have found that I have needed to adjust my expectations for our time together with our friends.  It has been hard, logistically speaking, to do very much with such a big group of people.  Even just getting everyone up and out in the morning can be a task in itself and everything takes longer when you are doing things with so many people.  Add  that to the fact that some of the children are still quite young and need a lot of down time and the older children are more than happy to just hang out and play lego together, it has meant that we have not been able to do or see as much as I expected.

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Our time in Chiang Mai has flown by and is almost at a close.  We have taken our friends to our favourite dining spots, explored the amazing sticky waterfalls at Buatong, visited the 3D art museum, the bug museum, introduced the grown ups to Thai massage, got our feet ticked at a fish spa, explored numerous markets, had a day with elephants, and we even caught a movie at the theatre.  Still I feel like we have only brushed the surface of Chiang Mai with our friends.

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It has been SO good for all of us in my family to be surrounded by our friends.  My boys have had constant companions to play with and they rush out of bed every morning eager to start their day of play.  They have been acting as tour guides to our troupe and have been sharing their knowledge of Thailand.  We have had lovely nights of grown-up conversations with our dear friends while our kids entertain themselves. We have even been able to share the child care duty so that some adults could run errands, go get a massage, go out shopping at a night market, or go hang out and play pool.

We will be starting a very big adventures soon.  We have decided to rent a van and drive from Chiang Mai in the North of Thailand to the beaches in the South.  THAILAND ROAD TRIP!!!!  The cost to rent the van ended up being slightly cheaper than getting flights so we have decided to take Thailand at our leisure and drive ourselves to where we want to go.  This way we will get to see more of Thailand, explore some more sights, and always have our own wheels to get us around instead of relying on public transport for our very large group.

Wish us safe and smooth travels!

Jan
27

Learning About Elephants

Visiting the Elephant Nature Park has been on my list of things to do for quite some time.  We had yet to do it as the cost was prohibitive for us at over $80 per adult and $40 per child.  With a generous Christmas present of cash from Grandma we were able to swing it this time and lucky for us our friends that are traveling with us were keen on treating themselves to this experience as well.

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I was unaware of the seemingly rampant mistreatment of the Asian Elephants before visiting the Elephant Nature Park.  From what we learned today the elephant trainers need to “break the elephant spirit” in order to domesticate them to work in tourist camps providing elephant rides and entertainment. This breaking begins when an elephant is four years old and involves putting them in a small box or cage, tying them so they can’t move and then poking them and prodding them harshly for up to a week until the elephant submits.

Many of the elephants at the park have been rescued from abusive handlers.  We saw many elephants who were blind and were told stories of how one was blinded by its mahout using a sling shot to get the elephant to bend to his will, another by being in the circus and having decades of flash photography ruin her eye site.  We  met an elephant who had a broken hip from being hit by a truck, another with a mangled foot from stepping on a land mine, and one with a broken leg from being overworked.  It was a sobering experience for us all.

At the Elephant Nature Park there is no show. There is no riding of elephants.  In fact I felt that the interaction with the elephants to be somewhat lacking.  But after learning more about the situation of elephants I feel this is not a bad thing. The elephants are not chained and are free to roam the grounds.  They come when they know there is food to eat and at such times we were able to feed them and touch their bristly bodies.  They allowed absolutely no touching of the two baby elephants (except from their mahouts) and at one time we even had to run from a baby elephant who was being “naughty” when he kept coming up to our group to play.  Apparently this is a dangerous thing because the babies are not separated from their moms as they would be in a traditional camp and, as we all know, mamas can be fierce in protecting their young!

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We were able to observe the elephant herds from a safe distance throughout our day and we even got to give an old lady elephant a bath in the river.  We used buckets to splash the grandma elephant until she was clean and then of course, once the elephant decided she had had enough, our children gave each other a cool down in an all out water fight!

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DSCN2819Visiting the Elephant Nature Park was a day of education for us. We learned about the bad side of the elephant tourist industry and were able to observe free roaming elephants who are cared for and loved.  Although it was an expensive day for us I feel very good that our money went to support such an amazing not-for-profit organization.  Of course the best part of the day was that our children walked away from our day with a once in a life time experience they will remember for the rest of their lives.

 

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