The Beach Crawl

We had one goal in mind. To see Catching Fire in English. Our options were to head from Kanchanaburi to Bangkok or Hua Hin. With a political coup brewing in the former, we chose the latter and went by minibus. A moment of politeness on our part resulted in seats at the back of the bus with Kyle sharing 1/2 of a seat with a pink suitcase. Fun.

We picked a seriously cheap hotel right next to the movie theater. Clearly we were on a mission. And it was perfection. I don’t think I’ve ever been so giddy about seeing a movie but a dose of Hollywood blockbuster is just what we needed.

Hua Hin, however, was not for us (well, Sean feels differently…see his post) – a dusty strip of chaos: knick knack shops, construction and tourists abound. We packed the next day and moved onto Prechuap Khiri Khan, 1-1/2 hours south.

In Love with Karsts

In Love with the Karsts of Prechuap

Prechuap Khiri Khan

Here we hit gold. The quintessential mellow seaside town, replete with seafood, smiles and sun. Thanks to a prior rtw traveling family, we knew to look up O Design Bay Hotel, an inexpensive oasis in the middle of town…spacious, modern co joining rooms with desks for homeschooling and good coffee to boot. Prechuap has a long, clean promenade perfect for a morning run along the shore….you learn to appreciate a good sidewalk in SE Asia!

National Park Hike, Teak Temple & the Lovely Promenade

National Park Hike, Teak Temple & the Lovely Promenade

Plenty of mellow activities for families in Prechuap. Amy of the Worldschool Adventures blog captures them well here: http://worldschooladventures.com/2013/02/09/things-to-do-in-prachuap-khiri-khan/

Ao Manao Beach in Prechuap

Ao Manao Beach in Prechuap

Our last day in Prechuap was the King’s birthday, who is quite revered in Thailand. We watched the parade in his honor and then took our celebration to the beach with inner tubes, endless waves, seafood fried rice and Chang beer.

Long Live the King!

Long Live the King!

Ban Krut

An hour south of Prechuap, we landed on the near deserted gulf beaches of Ban Krut. Most tourists go to the Andaman coast in winter and leave the gulf until summer. Wind, waves and solitude.

The first plunge brought jellyfish stings and thereafter we enjoyed the view from the hammock but not the sea itself.

Ban Krut Beach, Jellyfish Sting Herbal Remedy, Bachavara Bungalow

Ban Krut Beach, Jellyfish Sting Herbal Remedy, Rachavadee Bungalow

The town was quiet…relaxation is the only item on the menu in the low season. We stayed at Rachavadee Beach Resort, simple beach bungalows with outdoor stone and rock bathrooms. A couple of the bungalows have a loft for kids (steep ladder…not safe for small kids). The property itself is beautiful, albeit overpriced, with a gorgeous slice of beach. Kyle said it was the first place in Thailand we’d been to that he’d return. Got to get that man a hammock when we return home.

Kyle's Perch, Ban Krut

Kyle’s Perch, Ban Krut

Ko Lanta

Heading southwest, we made our way to the island of Ko Lanta. When deciding which Thailand beach to visit from afar, the choices seem endless. We picked Ko Lanta because it was described as laid back, party free, family friendly. In reality, its one of the many spots in Thailand that is no longer as precious as it once was…tourist development abound, dead coral washing up on the shore (due to climate change). Had we come straight from a Seattle winter, I’m sure we would have found it paradise. But we were just plain tired…it was the end of our SE Asia leg and we were ready to move on.

Not to say we didn’t have fun! Staying at Castaway on South Long Beach, we explored every nook and cranny of the beach…even stumbling upon the nude beach at the north end (Kyle & I stayed nonchalant thinking the kids hadn’t even noticed and as we walked away, Sean asked “Why were those people naked?”). We swam, snorkeled, read, napped and started again.

Long Beach, Ko Lanta

Long Beach, Ko Lanta

Our best day was our last day in Ko Lanta…we took a long tail boat to Ko Rok and snorkeled in the most gorgeous emerald green sea followed by dips in the clearest Tiffany blue water. We saw live coral and the bright, beautiful fishes that come with it. It was a perfect way to end our time in Thailand.

Ko Rok

Ko Rok

I’m still processing Thailand. Perhaps its because the paths there are so well trodden by tourists…or that the sex industry is so openly on display…or that we personally failed at making local connections. But we didn’t love it in the way I anticipated and I’m still working through why.

I find a look in the rear view mirror helps.  So as we soak in our next destination, I’ll be pondering Thailand.  Munich, here we come!

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The Kanchanaburi Files

Wat Wang Wikeraram

Wat Wang Wikeraram

Anchorless in Northern Thailand, we struggled with “where to next?”  Do you plan your every move or let fate have its say? Long term travelers will tell you to keep a serendipitous schedule, but what you don’t plan in advance, you plan from the road. And starting each day with tripadvisor gets old.

That’s how we started a day in Chiang Mai and ended it in Kanchanaburi, a province four hours west of Bangkok along the mountainous border of Myanmar. Less frequented by tourists, the region boasts four national parks replete with waterfalls, rivers, hot springs…well basically our kids favorite thing ever…water. And as the location of Hellfire Pass and the River Khiaw, a history lesson for us all.

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Erawan Falls

Kyle believes that you can see one too many waterfalls. I disagree. Erawan was a seven tiered wonder with natural made rock slides and a free fish spa for your toes. As with anywhere, go early to avoid the tour buses that pull up mid-day.

Erawan Falls

Erawan Falls

Raft Bungalows

Beautifully situated on the riverbank in Sai Yok National Park and flanked by yes, waterfalls, is Krit Raft House. Longtail boats tug floating restaurants up and down the river to beachfronts, raft houses and directly under the waterfalls. Water everywhere…the kids happily pruned up.

Out of nowhere, fifty-plus Russians in orange life jackets bobbed by our deck waving and shouting hello as they went.  Later that evening, a tour bus of Thais arrived and boarded the raft across from us…we enjoyed listening to their bad karaoke (I say this with affection because its the 1st time I’ve felt I could join in without judgement because I’d simply be another tone deaf voice). Eventually their raft was unhooked and driven down river for the night and, as the only guests at Krit, we owned the river again.

Krit Raft House

Krit Raft House

Bamboo Rafting

Moving further afield toward to the Myanmar border, we arrived in Sangkhlaburi for a day of bamboo rafting, where we learned another talent we lack. En route to the rafting, we explored an underwater temple…submerged in Khao Laem Reservoir by the building of a dam. (Hydropower continues to be significant economic development in SE Asia with environmental and humanitarian concerns growing as indigenous villages and wildlife are destroyed when a river is rerouted and a valley flooded.)

In addition to Thais, Sangkhlaburi hosts Burmese, Mon and Karen peoples and has a number of longer term volunteer opportunities available in support of these political refugees. Set between an expansive lake and mountains, Kyle and I agreed this would be a sweet place to settle down for six or so months.

Khao Laem Reservoir

Khao Laem Reservoir

Hellfire Pass & Museum

Did you know that the Japanese occupied Thailand during WWII? We didn’t. We also didn’t know that the Japanese marched into Malaysia, occupying Singapore (which was at that time a British colony…funny sense of ownership all the way around), taking POWs along the way. Many of these POWs (British, Australian, American among others) were brought to the border of Thailand and Burma and forced into harsh labor camps to build a railroad that would carry war supplies to Japanese forces.

The museum is well done and the 45 minute walk through Hellfire Pass beautiful and eerie at the same time.

Hellfire Pass & Memorial Museum

Hellfire Pass & Memorial Museum

Three Pagodas Pass

So you’re on the border of Thailand and Myanmar. Cool. Now unless you are a shopping fiend, time to keep moving.

Kayaking Down the River Khiaw

Not recommended. This river is somewhat industrial and simply not as enjoyable as a more remote location. Nevertheless, walking across the bridge Khiaw, immortalized in the movie “Bridge Over the River Kwai,” is worthwhile.  The bridge was bombed in 1945 by Allied forces in an effort to stop the Japanese.  (Khiaw vs Kwai? Thais spell it with a H.)

SLEEP

Oriental Khiaw Resort: Loved this property. 13kms from town, its an oasis on the river with spacious, upscale bungalows, a decadent pool area, sweet resident dogs and great service. Highly recommend.

Krit Raft House: This is all about experience not decadence. Very basic rooms…type of toilet you pour water in vs flush and then listen for the fish flurry below you (really). But the beauty and quiet of the location. The thrill of swimming to a waterfall and jumping off the raft…it’s just one of those places where the smile doesn’t leave your face.

P Guesthouse: Odd. The location is great, right on the river and there are a number of accommodations to meet various travelers needs.  I believe its mostly know for small, inexpensive fan rooms with beautiful views and shared bathrooms. We had a family room and while the view was wonderful, the place had an odd vibe. 3-D topless lady art hanging above my son’s bed didn’t help sell it to me.

Coffee Resort: Pass. We spent Thanksgiving night at this nondescript motel on a Kanchanaburi highway. Being called the Coffee Resort, you can imagine what I conjured up prior to arriving to disappointment. Clean, yes. Character, no. Kyle said it was what he imagined a white collar prison to be.

But, we did enjoy our Thanksgiving spread, complete with sautéed pumpkin, and were thankful to discover Kanchanaburi, which hadn’t even been on our radar two weeks prior.  Serendipity and thankfulness go hand in hand.

Thanksgiving Dinner, Thai Style

Thanksgiving Dinner, Thai Style

To Ride or Not to Ride…the Elephant

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We came to SE Asia sound in our decision to NOT ride an elephant. It is the quintessential tourist activity to do here and yet there are many reasons one should not partake (brutal training, back breaking work). My friends and family know I can be holier than thou and they love me anyway, so they humored me as usual when I said we would absolutely not ride an elephant.

And then what did we do? Yes. We did it. We rode an elephant.

And it sucked.

Our intentions were true. In Luang Prabang, tuk tuk drivers called out daily “Elephant camp?” No, no, we’d shake our heads, not for us. We would be heading to Chiang Mai’s Elephant Nature Park (ENP) in a few weeks, where one feeds and bathes but does not ride elephants. We were resolute.

At ENP, we shared a special day with the kids and their grandparents marveling at these beautiful creatures. Our guide, Ruby, pointed out an elephant whose back was deformed from years of giving tourists rides and we were grateful to be here vs down the road where tour buses sat in droves while tourists were paraded in a long line up and down the dirt road on their ellies.

Ellie Moments

Ellie Moments

We listened to Lek, ENP’s founder, discuss the important work necessary to save this graceful creature headed to extinction. We left happy, satisfied and a little smug.

A few weeks later we were in Kanchanaburi province, an area four hours west of Bangkok rich with national parks and green peaks that separate Thailand from Myanmar. I was travel planning weary and had scheduled four days with a tour company to rest my Trip Advisor satiated brain.

Lek & ENP's Ellies

Lek & ENP’s Ellies

In my inquiry, I said we were a family that loves animals but prefers not to ride them. I was a bit perplexed when the suggested itinerary returned with an elephant trek. I responded that we weren’t interested in the trek. No worries, I was told.

After a wonderful 1st day on the tour in gorgeous Sai Yok national park, day two brought a visit from one of the tour company’s lead guides telling us that the trek was ethical, the ellies only worked four hours a day and they lived free in the jungle with the Mon villagers. We were told the ellies would be put to work in the forest industry if they weren’t carrying tourists. The villagers needed a way to pay for the enormous amounts of food the elephants ate. The guide was concerned whether our kids could trek on foot which was our plan. And on and on.

We started to waver.

My family was uncertain and left the decision up to me. And I made an error in judgement. Despite our conviction and all that we’d read telling us NOT to ride an elephant, I went to that “once in a lifetime” place…when would we ever have another opportunity like this? So we said yes.

Fast forward to two beautiful elephants and two mahouts with bull hooks and menacing voices. The instant knowledge that this was wrong. The village leader trying to coax a smile out of us to take a picture while Julia was close to tears and the rest of us were miserable.

Here’s the truth. Riding an elephant is not fun…even if you could not give two hoots about whether its ethical. It’s super uncomfortable and add to it the ethical context and its just not worth it. Read more here: http://adoreanimals.com/blog/the-ethical-elephant-experience/

Learn from our mistake. Enjoy your ellies at great organizations like ENP or Boon Lott’s…bathe them, feed them, whisper sweet nothings to them, but please, please…don’t ride them.

Elephant Nature Park

Elephant Nature Park

Bath, Feed, Walk, Scoop…& Start Again

I am pleased to welcome a guest blogger this week, one of my two fabulous kids, Julia.  Julia, Sean, Kyle and I volunteered for four days at a wonderful nonprofit this week in Thailand.  Julia, take it away!

Doggy Love

Care For Dogs is an organization that provides shelter, care, and food for dogs in need. Most of the dogs are really sweet-they love to be pet and play. But others are aggressive or scared of people because of what has happened to them in the past. All the dogs are street dogs, and some of them have been saved from awful fates such as the dog meat trade, or abusive owners

Care For Dogs has close to 200 dogs and we spent four days feeding, bathing and walking them.  We also spent a lot of time socializing the shy dogs…just giving them love to help them adjust to humans.  And my parents scooped a lot of poop.

One of the dogs I really liked was Cara. She is medium sized with a white coat and brown markings. She was really nice and she loved the puppies, whenever I went into their area she would always try to get by. She was always happy and playful.

Cara

Cara

The puppies were really cute, there was a litter of six that were brown and really small. The other three were all different types, and they were older and bigger than the the brown ones. They were all teething, so they would bite on my fingers, shoelaces, and hair. The brown ones were so sweet. One time I went in their pen, they were all sleeping but one got up so he could sleep on my lap instead. They were so helpless, sometimes they would fall into a gutter on the ground and cry until I came to carry them out. I felt bad for them because they didn’t have their mother-she was too scared to be rescued. CFD is still trying though.

Oh the Ears!

Oh the Ears!

The big puppies weren’t so needy. Two of them went to the adoption fair on our last day, the other one stayed because he’s sick. The biggest one was white and brown, he looked like Mickey did when Mickey was a puppy. Then there was one who was black and brown striped. The last one was the sick one, he was white.

Hey that's my camera case!

Hey that’s my camera case!

When I saw them they were all locked up in a cage. I gave them water and let them out. They drank the whole bowl of water in a minute, they were so thirsty. The problem with the big ones is that they try to playfight with the little ones, but they are too rough and end up hurting them.
Aw shucks

Aw shucks

On our second day of volunteering, the shelter got a call for twenty puppies. They went to pick them up, managed to get one of the mothers but not the other. The puppies were dewormed and are going into the puppy area in a week.
Hello!

Hello!

Some of the dogs were missing legs, eyes, or ears. There was one who had half of his face gone, but I never saw him.
Celine

Celine

Emily

Emily

Poey Poey

Poey Poey

Care For Dogs slogan is “Saving one dog won’t change the world, but surely the world will change for that one dog.”  You can help by going to http://www.carefordogs.org and making a donation.  You might ask “Why Thai dogs? There are plenty of dogs at home in need.”  This is a valid question.  The average annual Thai salary is under $9,000 annually, so spending money on sterilizing and care for dogs is not a priority.  Think how much impact a small $20 donation could help!

Chiang Mai: Activities for Kids Beyond Tiger Kingdom

We arrived in Chiang Mai from Luang Prabang and started to spin, rudderless. The city — 2nd largest in Thailand — was bigger than anticipated and we were overwhelmed with where to start. Our first base was near the heavily touristed night market and the calls of tuk tuk drivers to take us to see tigers, elephants and the night safari were endless.

Here’s a few activities we found in Chiang Mai with nary a wild animal in sight.

Be in the Art at the 3-D Museum, Art in Paradise 

Located on Chang Klan Road just passed the Shangri La, this museum requires you to interact with the art. Perhaps you won’t see any masterpieces here but you’ll laugh heartily while trying to create your own.

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Make Your Own Art at Noina’s Studio 

A sweet neighborhood studio in the NE corner of old town, Noina offers a three hour course using whichever materials interest you. Kyle did sketching, Julia and I did watercolor and Sean used acrylic. A chill afternoon to just summon our muse was relaxing. 500 baht/pp for three hours.

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Make Edible Art at Thai Farm Cooking School

I think my son is a future chef! We wondered if the kids would be bored at a full day cooking course. But they both dived in, had fun and whipped up wonderful dishes and Sean was particularly apt at making his feast. I am dreaming of a cold, rainy night back in Seattle, when I say “Children, I’d like green curry and phad thai for dinner. Oh, and some mango sticky rice please! Thanks, I’ll be reading in the bath.”

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Be an Archeologist at the Terra-Cotta Garden 

Baan Phor Liang Meun’s Terra-Cotta Arts is a sprawling garden of moss covered clay sculptures. The labyrinth of Buddhas, disciples, and Lanna representations in a sumptuous, verdant setting can mesmerize all people, big and small. The garden can be found a few blocks west of the south Chiang Mai Gate (turn right on Roi 6).

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My mother found out about this gem while chatting up an Aussie Chiang Mai regular. My mom has a genuine sociability to get the inside scoop. It isn’t hereditary. We part ways tomorrow for the duration of our rtw tour and I will have to uncover secret treasured spots on my own.

So did we turn our backs on the mighty tigers and elephants?  Of course not.  More on an incredible day at Elephant Nature Park soon!