Dec
16

Old and Grumpy

Last night was the first night since we left Chiang Mai that I have had a decent sleep.  Seems like I have been running on fumes for the last four days.

Our first night we were kept awake by a crying baby in the next door room.  The room we were in was one of those rooms that attach through an interior door to another room. That door was a hollow core wood door so when the little babe in the next room wailed from 1am to 5am it sounded as if it was right in our beds with us.

The second and third night I lay awake in new surroundings in a bungalow that our friends had booked for us on Koh Phangan.  The smell of must, and air freshener (which gives me terrible headaches), hard beds, lumpy pillows, and the sound of a tree knocking on the roof in the wind kept me awake.  Those bungalows were not suitable for our family so we moved house to a small resort a few beaches over.

Haad Salad is a busier beach and on our fourth night we were kept awake by obnoxious, drunk men singing songs at the top of their lungs.  To their credit they sounded fabulous and I liked the folky songs in some language I didn’t recognize, but not at 3am!

I am feeling old.  And grumpy.

I’m not quite digging the Koh Phangan island feel.  There are too many young people here to get their party on.  When we were here 10 years ago we avoided the infamous Full Moon Party and felt the island gave a good dose of laid back island life.  Now, ten years later, there are not only Full Moon Parties, but half moon parties, new moon parties, shiva moon parties, acid moon parties…the list goes on and on.  It seems I have a very low tolerance for the young backpacker crowd who travel half way around the world to get wasted.

We are also feeling quite stressed with Christmas around the corner.  Our resort is fully booked over Christmas and it seems most other places are too.  The prices seem to double from the 23rd until New Years and we aren’t sure what to do.  Keep pounding the pavement?  Pay a ridiculous amount for a room?  Leave the island and fly to Bangkok?  Maybe head up to Prachuap Khiri Khan?  The planner in me is freaking out for not having a plan!

Of course it’s not all bad;

Now that I have had a good night sleep I am hoping this anxious feeling I have had since we got here will subside.  Our hotel is a beautiful three star place with all the modern conveniences.  It is right on the ocean (I’m typing this on my balcony watching the waves pound the shore at 6am while my family sleeps).

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We are very lucky to be surrounded by friends.  Our friends from back home are the reason we came to this island and we have been hanging out with them every day.  We also have friends staying in this resort with us whom we met at dinner one night in Chiang Mai.  Having friends for our children to play with makes traveling SO much easier.  Traveling with friends is like having a babysitter, our children are completely entertained and only come to us when they need to eat.  The adult company has been pretty darn sweet too!

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Have you been to Koh Phangan?  Did you like it?

Dec
11

Chiang Mai’s 3D Art Museum

After seeing photos from a friend of ours at the Art in Paradise exhibit in Chiang Mai, we knew we had to take our kids to go check it out and hopefully get some equally awesome photos.  The entire gallery is dedicated to 3D art and it was pretty darn rad.  The admission was a bit steep I thought (but not compared to western prices) at 300 baht per adult.  Kids are 200 baht if they are under 120 cm tall which our children are not so we had to pay full adult price for them.  The Thai price was written in Thai alphabet so this is one of those places where they charge a reasonable price to locals and an inflated price to foreigners.

Here is our time at the 3D Art Museum in pictures:


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Dec
07

A Waterfall All To Ourselves

One of the things we love about Chiang Mai is that when we want to escape the city we can head out from our apartment and be in nature within an hour.  Jungled mountains surround Chiang Mai and they beckon us with promises of fresh air, mountain hikes, cool streams, waterfalls, and picnics.  We were invited out with friends to enjoy a morning hike to a “secret” waterfall….secret only because it is not well signed nor well known.

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After driving for about a half hour outside of Chiang Mai (see directions below).  We began our hike on the unmarked trail through the jungle.  Our children imagined tiger attacks and star wars battles as they trekked through the jungle with their friend.  Even though they had good company they still whined about the hike as it was a lot of up and down through the jungle heat. I think “How much longer?” said in a whiney voice over and over is a universal complaint amongst children that all parents must bear!

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It took us a good 45 minutes to reach the waterfall and the cool, cascading water was a welcome sight for our sweat drenched bodies.  The boys and I changed into our swim suits to play in the falls.  Once we worked up the courage to go right under the falls we were rewarded with cold water pummelling down on us at a force that took our breath away.  We could have spent hours here if we had brought more food!

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Once we returned down the path and drove back down the dirt road to Huey Teung Thao Lake we stopped at one the numerous eateries for lunch.  Coming out here just for this experience alone would be worth the drive.  We sat on a bamboo platform at the waters edge and enjoyed a very authentic Thai lunch.  Afterwards the adults lounged while the kids played in the water.

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How to Get There

Without the help of our dear friends we would have never found this waterfall.  Indeed I am not even sure of the name of it as the only signs were in Thai, nor am I sure that my explanations could even direct someone else to it.  This waterfall is not on the tourist trail. In fact the trail that it is actually on is not well maintained, with fallen logs frequently crossing the jungle path that we had to scurry under or over. Getting here is half the adventure though so if you find yourself in Chiang Mai, anxious to escape the city, see if you can find it!

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To find this waterfall, head up Canal Road past the Chiang Mai Sports Complex and turn at the signs for Huey Tueng Thao Lake.  There is an entry fee of 20 baht per person (our kids were free).

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You can stay to the right or the left, both roads lead around the lake.  On the North East corner of the lake there is a dirt road veering off.

DSCN2129Take that road past the rice fields and into the jungle.  Stay left.  Eventually you will come to a ranger station. Park here.

DSCN2090On your left you will see a concrete damn. This is where the trail starts.

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For the first half of the hike keep the river on your right.  Eventually you will hop across the river at about the half way point and then you will keep the river on your left up to the falls.  There are trails leading off of the main trail at various points in the trip but if you stay close to the river you should stay on the right path.  It is a good hike and should take a fit person between 30 and 40 minutes.

 

Dec
04

Feeling Pampered

At home I don’t spend money on pampering myself.  I have never been to a fancy salon. I think $30 is the most I have every paid for a haircut.  I have been to the spa twice in my life the first was when I was part of a bridal party and the second was when I was the bride.  There are just too many other expenses back home to be able to justify spending that much money on a lovely, but frivolous thing.

Here in Thailand, Mike and I have been getting massages a few times a week.  Oh, how lovely it is to take an hour to yourself to get pummelled by a small Thai woman!  Massages here start at $5 an hour for a traditional Thai massage.  Ever had one of those?  It is in between massage and body contortion.  It is like massage mixed with aided yoga. They stretch you while they massage you. They use their hands, their elbows, their feet.  Sometimes they will even stand on you!

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We have had many massages of varying quality. Sometimes it is much too light and I am thankful I only paid $5 for the hour, sometimes I wonder if the massage is going to leave bruises, and sometimes it is just right.  Hmmm. Sounds a bit like Goldilocks!

Yesterday I was able to enjoy an afternoon of pampering all to myself. Mike took the kids to the movie theatre while I went to my favourite salon in Chiang Mai, New York New York (on Nimmen Soi 13, GO THERE!)  The salon is modern and lovely, owned by a Thai/American woman who really knows her stuff.  I was a walk in customer but only had to wait a half hour before being pampered by a team of Thai stylists.  First I got my hair washed in the most comfortable hair washing chair I have ever sat in.  No neck cramps for me, oh no!  But wait! It wasn’t just a hair wash it was a head massage!  Lather, massage, rinse, repeat. Condition, massage, rinse. Hot towel, massage, rinse. Oh my!

The stylist who cut my hair was meticulous. It was the longest hair cut I have ever had and I have yet to find a stray hair that was missed.  Once the cut was finished I was sent back to the washing area for another rinse, and yes, one more head massage!  Then my hair was blow dried by my stylist and her assistant at the same time. Then I was styled and ready to roll.

This is probably one of the more expensive places in Thailand to get a hair cut.  When we took our son to the barber for his cut we paid just under three dollars!  This exercise in pampering cost me a whooping $15!  Ahh. Life is good.

After my haircut it was time for me to make my way to the mall to meet up with my family.  I window shopped as I walked and passed numerous Thai massage parlours.  In a spur of the moment decision I decided that I might as well pull out the big guns and make the delight of my haircut carry on into the delight of a good massage.  I texted Mike and told him I was going in for a two hour massage and I would find my own way home.

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I chose a nice looking place and stepped inside the cool interior of the room to ask if I could get a one hour foot massage followed by a one hour thai massage.  I was promptly ushered into a lazy boy recliner and my feet were placed into a warm bowl of lime filled water.  The foot massage that followed was pure bliss and I closed my eyes, sat back, and smiled.

After the foot massage I was taken to an upstairs room that had raised beds with curtains. There were quite a few Thai ladies in there getting Thai massages which made me happy I had found a place that the locals like.  I was rubbed, pummelled, contorted, and stretched for the next hour.  My masseuse used just the right amount of pressure and by the end I felt like a rubber doll…in a good way.

The cost for such pampering?  Another $15.

Have I told you how much I like Chiang Mai?

Dec
02

Having Lunch On Top Of The World

In an attempt to escape the city of Chiang Mai, our family rented a truck for four days so we could do some day tripping in the surrounding countryside.  Oddly, a truck was cheaper to rent than a car.  We asked our expat friends for some recommendations of good day trips outside the city and we were told about Mon Cham.

Mon Cham is a restaurant, campground, and social project set up by the Queen of Thailand to help a hill tribe hmong village raise themselves out of poverty. The initiative started with helping the farmers to switch from low income crops to crops that hold more value such as strawberries and brussel sprouts which grow well in the cooler mountaintop temperatures.  As the location on top of a mountain was simply stunning they also added a restaurant and tent platforms to draw in tourist dollars.  Our friends told us it was a spectacular place to eat lunch on a clear day.

Driving to Mon Cham was an adventure in itself.  Google maps was of little help to us.  We knew to head North on 107 and turn left on 1096 but after that we were relying on finding the right sign.  We passed a plethora of tourist traps; this lovely valley seems to be the place to be if you are interested in watching men kiss cobras, ride an elephant, roll down a hill in a large ball, or gaze at orchids. After what seemed like a very long time of scanning every sign there was on the highway we came to a small town and saw the sign to turn right to Mon Cham.

Up, up, up we went.  Steep inclines and harsh switchbacks made us glad for our truck (although there were scooters doing the same climb!).  At the very top of the mountain we were motioned into a large parking lot that was filled with vehicles and souvenir shops.  Hmm. Not quite the serene experience I was expecting.

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After some confusion of where we should go next (there were no English signs as this is not on the foreigner tourist trail) and tromping through dirt roads the wrong way, we finally looked up behind us instead of out in front of us to find that we needed to climb up a bit more to the restaurant.  There were motorbikes ready to take us the final ascent but we declined and in a few minutes of huffing we had reached our destination.  We walked through another parking lot full of cars, more souvenir shops, and then there was this:

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The view itself was enough to make the effort of getting there worth our while.  The fact that we could sit in our very own bamboo platform and linger over a long and lazy lunch made this spot one of the most spectacular places we have ever enjoyed a meal.

DSCN2042 DSCN2028Have you ever enjoyed lunch in such a stunning location?  Where was it?

 

Nov
27

Nong Buak Hat Park

Chiang Mai is packed.  Packed with traffic and fumes that make us gag, packed with people both local and foreign,  packed with buildings that house the people, restaurants that feed them, stores that clothe them.  It is fun and exciting for our small town family to get out and explore amongst this busyness that is so foreign to us.

When we are looking for a little break from it all we either head outside of Chiang Mai into the mountains or we head to the one and only park in the entire Old City, Nong Buak Hat Park in the South West corner of the moat.

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Our first visit to Nong Buak Hat Park was at the wrong time of day. It was about 2pm when we arrived, and the heat was oppressive.  We felt like we had the park almost to ourselves for our first few hours there!

The thing to do here is feed the pigeons.  There are little kiosks scattered around the park selling pigeon food for 30 cents (they also sell cold drinks and simple snacks).  Our kids got a kick out of all the pigeons that flocked towards them as they scattered food on the ground.  I just hoped none of us would get pooped on!

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There is a small children’s area in the park with very old metal play equipment donated by Lions International.  Rickety old things with questionable safety.  The monkey bars were not even attached the ground and Mike was easily able to tip the structure over as he tested for stability!  Despite the sorry shape of it our children still had fun.

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The park is reasonably large with a nice pond in the middle, bridges, and a path ringing the outside edges.  It would be a nice to place to come for a picnic and we saw young Thai couples snuggled up on straw matts under the shade of the trees.

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Once four o’clock came around things started to pick up.  The locals are smart waiting for the heat of the day to pass before coming out to exercise, next time we will take their lead!  It got busier and busier as the evening wore on.  People came out to jog the track, work out on the outdoor exercise equipment, play badminton, basketball, and kick ball.

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We people watched for a long time until our boys were invited by two Thai ladies to play a game of basketball.  Such a beautiful thing to see them interacting and playing games without a common language.

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If you are looking for a place to run a bit wild this is the place to come!

Nov
21

Chiang Mai…..Again

It is  kind of a weird feeling coming back to Chiang Mai again.  We have been here quite a few times before. We know this city.  We have our favourite restaurants, places to hang out, markets, grocery stores.  We’ve done this all before and there is an extreme comfort in going back to a place you know and love.

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Coming back to a place that we have already spent so much time in also means that we have done most of the things we want to do in this city.  We’ve seen all the Wats, shopped at the markets, visited the waterfalls, and explored the sois. So now we have no pressing “to do” list while we are here because we have already checked everything off that list.

I won’t say that we are bored because we are not but life has REALLY slowed down for us here.  We have no chores to do, no work. We have only a few small tasks like laundry (which is easy as our apartment has its own machine), and of course cooking every once in a while when we don’t feel like going out.

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Part of our nutritious breakfast!

So how are we filling our time?  It is funny really, our days are mapped out by what we want to eat.  We usually have breakfast in our apartment which consists of toast, eggs, and fruit.  Then we plan out our meals…maybe lunch at the courtyard and dinner at Chiang Mai Gate, or lunch at Pun Puns and take out from The Lemon Tree for dinner.  Once we are out for our meals we might explore that neighbourhood on foot, or maybe we will linger over a deck of cards, or Mike and I will take turns getting a massage.

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Lunch at Pun Puns Organic Vegetarian Restaurant.

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Spending an afternoon playing cards.

We have been trying to really give the kids a good balance on being out and about and staying home.  I have two homebodies on my hands and we have found on our previous trip that too much activity breeds temper tantrums and fights.  Luckily our apartment is quite beautiful and has a pool and a gym to keep the kiddos occupied.  Mostly though they enjoy drawing, listening to books, playing lego, and creating with clay.

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This slow life takes some getting used to.  We have been going at full speed for the last year and a half with all of our housing problems and renovation work.  It is a beautiful thing for the kids and I to have Mike with us all the time as we have gotten used to him working six or seven days a week.  We are breathing deeply (but trying not to choke on the traffic fumes!)

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Nov
16

In Our Neighbourhood

The apartment we rented for the month is in a typical Thai neighbourhood nestled between the touristy old town and the trendy Nimmen area. We quite like it for its authentic flavour and easy commute into the old town.

Take a walk with us?

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The back entrance to Wat Suan Dok is right next to our apartment.

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Our neighbourhood is surrounded by quiet sois (small streets).

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A squished rat! This rather large rodent was freshly dead on the day of our arrival and every day since he has become flatter and flatter!

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Onto the main street of Suthep Road.  Lots of traffic, small stores, eateries, and a large amount of barber shops!

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Small shrines are dotted around the streets.
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The sidewalks contain all sorts of obstacles. There is no such thing as walking a straight line!

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Yes, there is even a McDonalds within walking distance (we haven’t been desperate enough to go yet!)

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Thanks for walking with us!

Nov
11

We Have Arrived!

Jet Lag.

It hits some people harder than others.  I have now resigned myself to the fact that jet lag will always hit me full on, debilitate any normalcy in my rhythm, gnaw at my hunger, swirl my nauseous stomach, set my anxiety on high alert, and turn me into a complete zombie.  Sigh.  The good news is the kids bounce back from it like they just took a walk in the park.

Our day started out at 4am in a hotel by the airport.  By 4:30 we were in the shuttle bus and by 6 am we were on our first flight to Seattle.  The ride was turbulent and my boys revolted to the early morning motion by getting good use from their complimentary puke bags.

We had 7 1/2 hours in the Seattle airport waiting for our next flight.  Sure, we could have left the airport but we were underdressed and overtired.  Better, we thought, to enjoy a latte and watch some movies.  It seemed like we were there all day.  Oh Wait!  We were!

My fashion faux pas.  Traveling light takes precedence over fashion!

My fashion faux pas. Traveling light takes precedence over fashion!

Then came the long haul flight to Hong Kong.  Thirteen hours.  The kids did marvellously. They watched movies and then they slept.  Oh to be small and be able to curl up in an airplane seat to sleep instead of having your head loll around like one of those wobbly head dogs on a dashboard!  Mike and I barely slept a wink.  But the food was good!

Last time we flew to Hong Kong we had an apartment rented in Kowloon. This time we knew we would be too tired to make the trek into the city and since we were flying out the next morning we decided to pull out the big bucks to stay at the Regal Airport Hotel.  Yes my friends, you too can stay at the Hong Kong Airport for only $220 a night!  Our room was pretty average and smelled musty but we were so happy to flop down on those beds!

But then my anxiety kicked in, just as it did last time we flew to Hong Kong.  Laying in bed I cycled through all the terrible ‘what ifs’. Insomnia ensued. The last time I looked at the clock it was 1:30 am and by 4:30 am my family was awake and rested while I was teary with tiredness.

I’m sure I sound really whiny right now.  I do.  I am!  But I just wanted to share the hard parts of travel.  Cause sometimes, man it’s hard!

This morning we flew from Hong Kong to Chiang Mai, Thailand.  An easy two hour flight where we were blessed by the travel gods to have two empty seats in our row! Yay for laying down on a plane in economy!

We were picked up at the airport by our dear and generous friend Neil.  I tell you, it is SO nice to know that there is someone on the ground who is waiting there for you and is excited for your visit.

We are now fed and settling into our new apartment.  We found this place on the internet and had our friend Lauren come and check it out for us.  After her stamp of approval we felt comfortable enough to book it sight unseen and I must say we are very happy with it so far.  The bags are unpacked and we are sitting back and enjoying the feeling of being settled for awhile!

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It feels good to be back in Chiang Mai!

Jul
23

Asia Called

Ring, ring, ring.

Me, “Hello?”

Asia, “Hi! This is Asia.  Are you coming back here or what?”

Me, “Oh, I don’t know.  We are thinking about it.  You know we love you but there are just so many other places in the world that we want to show the kids.  We kinda feel like we should give them some fresh experiences, ya know?”

Asia, “Yes, I understand this but don’t I call to you?  Don’t you love it here?  The food, the people, the culture, the price…did I mention the food?”

Me, “Yes, you do call to us. You have since the first time we saw you.  It is just so hard to make up our minds when there is a whole world out there.  And really, the flights are so expensive.  We need to tighten our budget straps.”

Asia, “Let me sweeten the deal.  I’ll give you a deal on airfare so good there is no way you could pass me up.  Check it out….”

Me, “Oh geez!  That is such a good deal!  Ok, Asia.   We are in alignment.  We will come back to you.  You know we can’t resist!”

Asia Called.  We Answered.

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After much contemplation over where we would spend next winter, returning to Asia won out in the end.  It was the cheap flights that cinched it for us.  All four of us for $3018 all in.  I’ve never seen a deal so good from Western Canada.

So back to Asia we go.  This time we plan on travelling a little differently.  We have tentatively decided to split our four and a half months between just two places, Chiang Mai, Thailand and Ubud, Bali.  This trip will be more about relaxing than seeing the sights, about finding the time for our passions. We plan to take it uber slow.  Play.  Eat. Enjoy.

Care to join us?

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