The Last Few Days

My time here in Southeast Asia is running out quickly! Like always, I’ve been rather busy the past few days and without decent internet. Last time, I left off in Luang Prabang where we explored beautiful waterfalls and had quite the birthday party for our tour leader. The next day (the 8th), we were off to Vang Vieng. Although the distance between Luang Prabang and Vang Vieng is only 184 k (114 miles), the ride took seven hours because of the mountainous terrain and the bad roads here in Laos. That is literally averaging a speed of 16 km/hour… it was a long bus ride when half the time I felt like I could walk faster! I had quite the surprise in Vang Vieng when I arrived–if you remember, I jumped off in Chiang Mai along with about half of my group but the other half continued on… definitely a bummer of a situation as we all got along so well. Well, the rest of them (who thought that they couldn’t jump off the bus due to time constraints), hopped off at Vang Vieng so we had quite the reunion with our old group being back together… along with a few new people. Although I was a bit tipped off, I was so thankful that everyone was back together and we could enjoy a few days together again! We quickly settled into our hotel in Vang Vieng then changed into our swimsuits and headed for tubing… essentially what the town is known for… and what a blast it was! We checked in and then the tuk tuk took us up the river to an outdoor bar (located right on the river) which was filled with people… more precisely, tourists. We spent awhile hanging out at the bar, playing games, and enjoying the beautiful weather before it was time to get on our tubes and head down the river to another bar… essentially it is bar hopping via tubes on a river! The next bar was incredibly fun as there was music, dancing, volleyball courts, basketball courts, a mudslide, and sprinklers… what a fun day it was! We stayed there until the bar closed then we headed an hour down the river on our tubes to the end. A bunch of us linked up and enjoyed the stunning sunset as we made our way down the river. Tubing was certainly a highlight of the trip so far and it was even better enjoying it with EVERYONE… even those I never thought I’d see again! The next day, we made a quick pit stop at Tham Jang cave before heading off to the capital city of Vientiane. The cave was used in defense against Chinese Ho in the early 19th century. After the cave, we headed out on a five-hour bus ride to Vientiane. Vientiane is the capital city and largest city in Laos with a population of 750,000. Our first stop in Vientiane was to the COPE visitor center. COPE stands for Cooperative Orthotic and Prosthetic Enterprise and is a locally run non-profit organization that works with the health system here in Laos to provide rehabilitation for survivors unexploded ordnance (UXO) survivors. The visitor center is a place where people can learn about the problems of UXOs here in Laos and the services that COPE provides. Laos is the most heavily bombed country in the world (per capita). During the Vietnam War, more than 580,000 bombing missions dropped more than 2 million tons of explosives on the country. At that rate, a bombing mission occurred here in Laos once every eight minutes, 24 hours a day for 9 years… wow. More than 270 million cluster bombs were used during the war, of which more than 80 million malfunctioned and remained live and buried in the ground following the war. These and other such explosives (grenades, mortars, landmines) are referred to as unexploded ordnance (UXO). Today, 25% of Laos’ 10,000 villages are UXO contaminated meaning that there could be an explosive anywhere–in forests, rice fields, villages, schools, roads, and other populated areas. This is a huge problem here in Laos as more than 50,000 people have been hurt by these explosives (30,000 during the war and 20,000 post-war). Often, people lose an arm or a leg from the explosives… or even worse, death. More than 300 people die each year from UXO incidents here in Laos. The country set up teams that are trained to find and destroy the UXOs but unfortunately it is a very slow process. More than 1,000,000 UXOs have been destroyed in the past 10 years but still, many UXOs remain. COPE is an organization that works with victims that have come into contact with UXOs and provides prosthetic arms and legs for those in need. They also provide rehabilitation services, an important step in dealing with such a situation. The visitor center was extremely moving and it is sad the realities of the after-effects of the war here in Laos. After visiting the COPE visitor center, we headed off to Pha That Luang, a large, golden Buddhist stupa in the center of Vientiane which is often regarded as the most important national monument here in Laos. The stupa was nice but at this point, we have all seen enough temples and stupas for a lifetime! People were selling birds that you could free for good karma… it’s a little ironic that they catch birds so that you can pay and free them… oh Laos. Our last stop was at Patuxai or the Victory Gate. The Victory Gate is a war monument dedicated to those who fought for independence from France. The United States government gave Laos $40 million dollars to build an airport but instead they built this monument… I guess we can all have our opinions about that, ha… Afterwards, we settled into our hotel and went out for dinner on the waterfront–it was my last night with everyone so it was certainly bittersweet. The next morning, I got up and said goodbye to everyone… definitely a very hard thing to do! I already miss everyone so much and its only been two days since I’ve seen them! Fortunately there were seven of us that finished the trip in Vientiane so we were all able to travel back to Bangkok together via an overnight train. We got back into Bangkok at 6 am and I accidently booked a hotel room for the previous night which actually turned out great as I had a place to go and wasn’t just hanging around with my luggage! I got settled in then headed off for the day. I went to breakfast and then somehow I ended up in a custom tailor shop. There are a ton of custom tailors here in Thailand and that is one of the “big things” to get while here in Thailand as the suits good quality and much cheaper than they would be at home. So, I decided to look and I ended up deciding it would be a valuable purchase for my future… so I’m not bringing home a three-piece suit. You know you’re old when your souvenir becomes a suit rather than a stuffed animal… what a sad day! I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the Khao San Road area (a pretty touristy area) before grabbing some street food (pad thai… yum… I’m going to miss the food SO much) and heading off on an afternoon/evening tour. Our first stop was to Rom Hub Market… or better known as the folding umbrella market. The market is built on active train tracks so the shoppers walk on the narrow railway track to shop as the stalls line the track. When a train approaches, the vendors quickly fold away their umbrella and move things away from the tracks to let the train pass. Once the train passes, the stalls are back up and ready for customers! I found a youtube video of the market as a train passes (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zvS1gb5zbP8). Next up was Amphawa Floating market, a large market that was packed with locals. The market had a few souvenirs but had lots of food and restaurants with a great atmosphere. The small rowboats on the river often served as the kitchen… it was really neat! Old, wooden shops lined both sides of the river and as I mentioned, it was packed with people! I fought my way through the crowds to make my way around most of the market before heading on a long tail boat ride to see the fireflies once the sun went down. After spending so much time in such a crowded place, the breeze was definitely welcomed! Fireflies filled the trees and sparkled like blinking Christmas lights… it was absolutely beautiful and quite the sight! It has been a great few days and I’m really bummed to be heading home tonight… I could definitely use a few more months here… but, I suppose that there is reality to get back to. Fortunately, I will have the memories forever! Also, I can officially check off “filling up a passport” on my bucket list as I’m officially out of pages… I guess it’s time to head home!

I’ll be back soon,
~Susan

PS–make sure to check out my previous post for lots of pictures (as promised!)

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Tubing in Vang Vieng

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Pha That Luang–Vientiane, Laos

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Pha That Luang–Vientiane, Laos

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Patuxai (Victory Gate)–Vientiane, Laos

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The beautiful sunset on the overnight train to Bangkok

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The beautiful sunset on the overnight train to Bangkok

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Folding Umbrella Market

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Folding Umbrella Market

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Amphawa Floating Market

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Amphawa Floating Market

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Amphawa Floating Market

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Amphawa Floating Market

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Amphawa Floating Market

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Boat ride near Amphawa Floating Market

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Amphawa Floating Market at night

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My “big girl” souvenir (half-way done!)

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Pictures, Pictures, Pictures

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Night Market in Chiang Mai

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Cabaret Show in Chiang Mai

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My motorbike in Chiang Mai

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Bath time (and spray time) with Wanalee at Thailand Elephant Conservation Center

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Post bath time with Wanalee

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Elephants painting at Thailand Elephant Conservation Center

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Elephant Parade

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Dismounting (the fun way!)

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Wanalee (my elephant!)

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Wanalee

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The White Temple in Chiang Rai

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The White Temple in Chiang Rai

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Mekong River, Laos

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Mekong River, Laos

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A hut in a village in Laos

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Our boat on the Mekong River, Laos

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Kuangsi Waterfall Park in Luang Prabang, Laos

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Kuangsi Waterfall Park in Luang Prabang, Laos

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Laos–so beautiful

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Laos

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Adventures in Laos

It has been a few busy days of traveling. I “hopped off” the bus in Chiang Mai and now our group has grown to 22 and is huge! Luckily this has meant getting to know some new people as well! It was another independence day away from the US again this year which meant no fireworks, BBQs, or spending time with family and friends but I guess I can’t complain! Well, stray has been keeping us on the move the past few days as we left Chiang Mai on the 4th and headed towards Chiang Rai, home to one of the most famous temples here in Thailand… the White Temple or Wat Rong Khun. The temple was absolutely stunning as the white shined in the beautiful sunlight. We walked around the grounds of the temples that had many other white, sparkly structures before it was back on the bus to travel through the windy and hilly roads of northern Thailand. We crossed the border in Laos then drove along the Mekong River to Houay Xai where we stayed the night. We had a wonderful sunset dinner overlooking the Mekong River before watching some soccer! The next day we boarded our private longboat with room for about fifty (so thankful for the extra bit of room) and headed South down the Mekong River for seven hours. It was quite relaxing as we spent time talking and listening to music, playing card games, and enjoying the beautiful views of the Mekong River with a nice breeze. We stopped at a village along the way to see how a few local Lao families live. The village was quite small and doesn’t contain much. Many of the families farm but it didn’t look like a whole lot was going on in the village when we visited. We continued down the river to Ban Pak Nguey village where we had a homestay. About one hundred families or five hundred people live in the village, a pretty typical village-size here in Laos. Some of the children walked us around the village before we stopped and played for awhile before dinner. After dinner, the village performed a baci (or welcoming) ceremony for us. We sat around a silver platter which was filled with strings, flowers, and plates of bananas, sticky rice, and gifts for Buddha. The village members chanted for us during the ceremony and gave us many well-wishes. We were all given a plate and enjoyed eating the bananas and sticky rice before village members came around and tied strings around our wrist as they prayed for us and wished us well. By the end of the ceremony, I had more than 40 bracelets around my wrists which means lots and lots of good wishes. We are supposed to keep the bracelets on for 3-7 days otherwise bad karma will come to us. But if we leave the bracelets on for at least 3 days, we should have good luck come to us… I’m not risking this one and my bracelets are currently still on! After dinner, we split up and headed to different houses in the village to stay for the night. It was nice getting to meet some of the local Lao people and getting to see how they lived. The next day, we were back on the boat and had another seven-hour ride down the river. Although it was a long ride, I would much rather be on a boat than in a car for that long! The boat ride was quite similar to the day before–talking, listening to music, playing games, and enjoying the view and the breeze. We stopped at another village along the way–this one was quite different in that the men literally don’t do anything… they sit around and smoke all day (illegal substances) while the women raise the children and do the farming… it was quite sad to see. After the village tour, we headed back on the boat for another few hours. We made another stop at Pak Ou Caves, just about an hour (on the river) from Luang Prabang. The Pak Ou Caves consist of upper and lower sections–the lower contains more than 2,500 sculpture of Buddha and is called Tham Ting. This is where we gave our offering to Buddha that we got at the village the night before. The upper cave is called Tham Phum and contains about 1,500 Buddha sculptures… so many Buddha’s here in Southeast Asia! When we arrived in Luang Prabang, we settled in before heading out and exploring a bit of the city along with the night market. We stayed in Luang Prabang for two nights which meant that we had an entire day to enjoy Luang Prabang and further, it also means that we got to unpack a bit and settle in! We spent the following day exploring Kuangsi Waterfall Park which had literally the most beautiful waterfalls I have ever seen. The water was a perfect aqua-blue and the water temperature was a bit chilly but it definitely felt nice in the Southeast Asia heat. For dinner, we had traditional Lao barbecue which was very similar to Korean barbecue… essentially you are given raw meat then you cook it by yourself at the table for a fabulous dinner! It was our trip leaders birthday so after dinner, we headed to a disco here in Luang Prabang… and what an experience that was! Everything in Laos is extremely conservative so I felt as if I was at a middle school dance… but we all had a lot of fun! We were the only Western people in the whole place so we got quite a few “what are they doing” looks when we walked in… but it all worked out in the end! Laos actually has a curfew of midnight so all restaurants, bars, and shops must close by 11:30 pm so that everyone can get home by midnight… and it is strictly followed. This has meant early bedtimes for me which I certainly can’t complain about! We have more traveling to come in the next few days as I finish my tour of northern Laos before heading back to Bangkok.

Once again, the internet isn’t fast enough to upload photos… so there will be a post soon with lots of photos for ya!

More to come!
~Susan

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Two in One!

Well, it has been awhile since my last update as I have been at elephant camp without any internet so I have two posts for you today! I hope you enjoy them!! Also, the internet wasn’t fast enough to upload any photos but next time I have some decent wifi, I’ll make sure to upload some!

Chiang Mai
My last blog left off in Ayutthaya as we were getting ready to board an overnight train to Chiang Mai. Well, the train wasn’t half bad and actually was quite a bit of fun! I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect but fortunately the train had air conditioning which made the trip a thousand times better. We each had a top bunk and most of us were in the same train car so we were able to hangout in our train car before heading to the dining car where we spent the rest of our night before heading to bed. We were nearly to Chiang Mai when we were woken up so the thirteen hour train ride went rather quickly. We got all checked into our hotel before grabbing breakfast and heading out for a day of exploring. The greater Chiang Mai district is quite big and has a population of more than one million people so there is plenty to see! A group of us walked around Chiang Mai, exploring a few of the temples and different roads throughout the city. We came across a walking street and everyone was busy setting up for the weekly Sunday night market that we would come back to that night. We spent a bit of the afternoon relaxing at the hotel by the pool before I took off for a quick hour massage… oh boy am I going to miss those when I get home! We met up with the entire Stray group and headed back towards the main street area for dinner before checking out the weekly night market. The Sunday night market was huge… it stretched for a good half of a mile with side streets containing lots of stands as well. Most of the stands had souvenir-like things so the market was geared towards tourists. We didn’t even make it to the entire market before heading off to our next adventure, a Cabaret Show. Thailand is well-known for their “Lady Boys”–some of which are now transgendered. Thus, a big attraction here in Thailand is a lady boy or Cabaret Show… which was certainly an experience. I probably wouldn’t have gone to the show alone but as my entire group was going, it was something I couldn’t miss out on! The dancers (males who have turned female) were excellent and their costumes were elaborate. Most of the dancers were quite convincing and had I not seen them at a Cabaret Show, I would never even guess that they had undergone a sex change. Next, we were off to watch a world cup game. One of the travelers in our group is from Mexico and is a huge soccer fan. He had been talking about the game since the first day of the trip and we all agreed to watch and cheer with him! Being that we are half-way around the world, the games are at pretty crappy times: 11pm, 2am, and 5am… but fortunately this one was at 11pm! As we were driving down the street near our hotel trying to find a place to watch, we came across a sports bar that was filled with Holland fans… literally packed with probably 200 or so Holland fans… I still don’t understand why there were so many Holland fans in Chiang Mai and how they all knew about this one sports bar but everyone was there. The bar was even decorated with Holland flags, balloons, and signs. So, we joined… and the bar now consisted of countless Holland fans, one Mexican and his fellow travelers who were also cheering on Mexico. If you watched the game, you know it was an exciting one! Holland has been doing extremely well in the World Cup so when Mexico took the lead 1-0, there was a bit of tension in the sports bar… in a good way though. We were extremely respectful and Jamie (the guy from Mexico) made quite a few Holland friends throughout the night. In the last few minutes of the game, Holland scored two goals and ended up winning the game and holy mackerel, I don’t ever think I’ve seen a celebration quite like this one. When the bar closed (right after the game), the celebration continued into the street and I could imagine for much of the night to follow. The next day, I planned on exploring some more and taking it easy. I had to go to the bus station to get a ticket for the following day and a tuk tuk to the bus station and back would be more expensive than simply renting a motorbike for the day. Well, I was pretty hesitant as I don’t know the city at all, the streets aren’t marked well at all, and the city is quite big. But somehow I got roped into it and for $5, I rented the motorbike. It was great fun although I was lost the majority of the day. My 15 minute journey to the bus station took about an hour as I tried to figure out what streets were what… a very difficult task when streets are unmarked. I walked around a shopping area for a bit before seeking shelter in an air conditioned mall to cool off as it was quite a hot day. I was pretty surprised when I walked around the five-story mall and found that it consisted of nothing except for electronics and software (printers, computers, cameras, CDs, DVDs, software). The “old town” at the center of the city is surrounded by a moat and old, destroyed city wall which is lined by major, one-way roads on each side which essentially makes a box… this makes for an excellent racetrack. I felt like I was in a live game of Mario Karts driving around the track. I drove around the racetrack probably fifty times, working to perfect my Thai motorbike driving. The driving is no where near as crazy as Bangkok but still the rules are rarely followed as people tend to drive wherever they want, rarely signaling what they are doing in the process. Essentially motorbike driving is a big game of chicken as motorbikes drive between the cars, even when it seems like there is no room to do so. Although I played it safe most of the time, I’d have to say that I was pretty impressed with my motorbike driving skills. Although I was lost most of the day, I still really enjoyed driving around on the motorbike for the day. That night we headed out for dinner as a group and then I headed to the daily night market. Others were heading to Thai boxing (which didn’t really interest me) so I said my goodbyes to some of the passengers that are leaving tomorrow. Stray works as a “hop on, hop off” bus so if you want to spend extra time in a specific place you can simply catch the next bus (or the bus after that, etc) to continue the journey. I am heading off to an elephant camp for three days so I will be hopping off here at Chiang Mai and catching the next bus. Probably half of the bus is hopping off so I will continue the journey with those individuals but for the people continuing on tomorrow, I won’t be traveling with them anymore… kind of a bummer as you meet great people but for only so short. The night market that I went to was the same that I remembered from five years ago and filled with shops that lined the street… I’m amazed by how many shops and stands are there every night as this night bazaar covers a good half mile as well. After looking around, I headed back to the hotel and packed up my things as I leave tomorrow at 6:30 in the morning for elephant camp for three days! I had a wonderful time in Chiang Mai with some great people but I’m really excited about spending some time with elephants 🙂

Off to elephant camp I go,
~Susan

Elephants, Elephants, Elephants
Summer camp was a huge part of my life growing up as I spent a week at camp each summer before I was old enough to volunteer there. Once I was able to volunteer, I spent 3-4 weeks each summer working with horses in the barn before I went on staff when I graduated from high school. Although I loved the camp I went to, nothing quite compares to elephant camp. For the past three days, I have spent my time learning about elephants and how to ride them… a once in a lifetime experience that I’ll never forget! On the first day, I was introduced to my elephant (Wanalee) and my mahout (Tiam) and was with them for the entire three days. Mahout means one who works with, rides, and cares for an elephant… so I was referred to as a “junior mahout.” Wanalee is a beautiful Asian elephant who is 18 years old and currently 12 months pregnant with her first baby… which is incredibly exciting. Unfortunately for her, a baby elephant can be in the womb for 18-22 months and then nurses for three years following… so she has quite an adventure ahead of her! Although Asian elephants are smaller than African elephants, Wanalee stood at an impressive three meters (about 10 feet) tall… this made it quite the challenge each time I went to get on. Over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at being able to jump up on horses but elephants… that’s a different story! Fortunately I was able to get off much easier–my favorite method was sliding off the front of her face like a slide! Just like real mahouts, we sat on their neck with our feet dangling just behind their ears to help control them. The balance-thing was a little funny at first but I caught on with time and by the end, it seemed to be second nature… however, elephants have a bit wider of a body than horses which makes holding on with your inner thighs a little different! Tiam, my mahout, was absolutely wonderful! He has been with Wanalee since she was just one month old so Tiam knows her inside and out. He was able to teach me a lot about her and elephants in general… a topic I loved learning more about! After we were introduced, we were given a rundown of the elephant commands that we would be using the next few days. For instance, “bai” means walk forward while “ben” means turn left or right. Of course we are quite lazy here at elephant camp and if we drop something we simply say “geb bone” and have our elephant pick it up for us. I was surprised to learn that you simply wear sandals or go barefoot around the elephants… I could just see myself with a broken foot in the near future but fortunately that didn’t happen! It was much easier grasping the elephant barefoot so we often just kicked off our sandals while we road then had the elephants pick them up for us when we wanted them… if only I had some sort of system like this at home! The spots for being junior mahouts are quite limited as there were only three of us–a couple from Australia and myself. Further, the couple from Australia only did the two-day program so I was by myself the entire last day which certainly has its pros and cons! The days were pretty repetitive but despite the routine, they were absolutely wonderful! My alarm went off at 6:15 in the morning and I dressed in my mahout suit (or elephant suit) to meet the group by 6:30. We had two junior mahout coordinators who basically spent the entire time with us–they took us from place to place, took our photographs, and made sure we were well hydrated and fed… they were wonderful to say the least! At 6:30 we met up with the mahouts and armed with bananas, we headed to the forest to fetch our elephants. The walk was quite far and our elephants stayed deep within the dense forest, through a river, and up a few steep hills. They were chained up from the previous night but their chains were plenty long to let them graze and have space to walk around. The mahout would undo the chain and Wanalee would pull it towards her to gather up the chain… even if the chain got caught on a branch, she would whip the chain free then continue pulling it towards her… what a smart girl! Then she was commanded to lie down so we could clean her off… elephants tend to put dirt and leaves on themselves to protect them from the bugs out in the forest… which are huge and pretty disgusting. Then we’d jump on and ride through the forest to the river. Elephants drink 200 liters of water per day so the elephants had a bit of time to drink… and have a morning bath… which meant we enjoyed a nice morning bath as well… aka we were soaked! We rode them back to the stall area where they were hooked up. Then we got some time to go back to our homestay area, take a shower, and eat breakfast before we headed back down to the stalls and got onto our elephants. We usually had a bit of time so we walked around the complex and enjoyed the morning before it was time for our first event–the elephant bath. Tourists gathered as they got to meet the elephants, pet the elephants, and feed them. Then they watched as the elephants (and ourselves) went for a bath in the river. The elephants would dunk themselves and us in the process which meant we were soaking once again. The first day was actually quite a nice day weather wise (high 80s… which is a nice break from the consistent high 90s or 100 degree days that I’ve had for the last six weeks or so!) so we didn’t dry off as fast as the following two days which were in the normal high 90s. During bath time, the elephants would drink, spray themselves, spray the elephants around them, and of course spray us… each time it turned into one big elephant water fight. I caught on quickly that the elephants knew a command for this and especially the last day when I was the only junior mahout, I got soaked by ALL of the elephants… the rest of the mahouts were having a hayday with it… but I didn’t mind and it was quite fun! Afterwards, one or two of the elephants would carry water in their trunk and spray the visitors… always quite fun reactions there! Then we stood off to the side and allowed the visitors to line the street as it was time for the elephant parade. One of the young elephants stood in the front waving a Thailand Elephant Conservation Center (TECC) flag as three elephants followed–two elephants which were carrying a big drum and another in the center banging the drum with a mallet… Wanalee and I had the job of carrying the drum a few times! The rest of the elephants followed as we headed towards the elephant show arena and it was time for the big event–the elephant show! All of the visitors made their way from the parade area to the arena in high anticipation (but really… there were quite a few kids and as in my own experience five years ago, visiting the elephants is certainly a highlight of any trip!). The show began by a young elephant lifting the TECC flag on the flagpole before each of the elephants were individually introduced. Then the elephants made a single file line, grabbed the elephant’s tail in front of them and we walked around the arena and each of the elephants posed as a welcome. Then we demonstrated how to get on and off of our elephants in both the traditional manner (the elephant lifts his/her leg and you step up or down via the elephants leg… this was difficult!) or the fun way (slide down the front of the elephant’s face then jump over the face onto the neck then turn around). All of the other elephants then demonstrated how their elephant can sit down, lie down, and sleep… however Wanalee wasn’t allowed to participate in these demonstrations due to the baby. Instead, we had our own part of the show. I got off of Wanalee and she took my mahout’s hat then walked up and placed it on my head then she put her trunk on my shoulder and we walked off of the stage together… it was actually quite cute! The rest of the show involved elephants throwing balls into baskets, elephants catching sticks, elephants walking and turning around on logs, and an elaborate demonstration of how elephants are able to pull, push, and stack logs. Afterwards, five elephants played a lovely tune using different toned chimes and their trunks. Then came everyone’s favorite–elephant painting. Three elephants would take their place around the arena with a blank canvas and go at it–they painted lots of elephants, flowers, and trees. I was quite impressed with the painting abilities of the elephants which far surpass anything I could ever paint! The elephants rotate the days that they paint and Wanalee got to paint the second day so I got to join her and Tiam at the canvas as Wanalee painted. Tiam would get the paintbrush ready then Wanalee would grab it with her trunk and proceed to paint. Tiam would talk to her and guide her through voice commands on where to paint and what shapes to paint… it was pretty incredible. In fact, I was amazed at how well trained all of the elephants were. It takes six to seven years to fully train an elephant and a great bond between the mahout and elephant. As I said, Tiam and Wanalee have been together since her first month of life and they know each other inside and out. As much as I would like to say that I could control my elephant, I really didn’t do many of the commands as Tiam was in constant communication with Wanalee. Whether Tiam was right by our side or across the arena, Wanalee could immediately recognize Tiam’s voice and follow his directions… this made it easy for me as I got to ride and enjoy without much of the “work”… ha. Of course I bought a piece of Wanalee’s artwork and it will be a great reminder of the fabulous time I had at elephant camp. To finish the show, we all bowed then headed to the front of the arena and let the visitors touch and feed the elephants once again. This is Wanalee’s favorite as she gets to eat banana after banana after banana. Of course she has to pose for a few photos in between but those bananas make it all worth it. I’d guess she eats anywhere from one hundred to two hundred bananas each day… and oh boy does she love them! Wanalee goes so far as intruding other elephants spaces to persuade visitors to give her the bananas… and she’ll even grab the entire bundle of bananas if a visitor isn’t careful! I’m not sure if this is normal behavior for her or her pregnant food obsessions but either way, she lives for those bananas! She also loves sugarcane which is her nightly treat before heading back to the forest! After the show, we had a bit of free time before lunch (which was always delicious)… and then it was time to repeat the schedule! The afternoon was the same as the morning so we’d start with an elephant bath before walking in the parade and performing the show. I can’t hear the commentary very well during the show (as the speakers are pointed towards the audience) so I’m not exactly sure what they say about the “junior mahouts” but it is something along the lines that we are learning how to train the elephants because after one of the shows, I had a group come up and talk to me… they asked me where I was from (in English) and then they proceeded to ask me if I was learning how to train elephants here in Thailand to go back to Nebraska to train elephants… haha, well if only that was my life! In actuality, I’m really just a tourist like them that has spent just a few hours on an elephant… ha… but I figured it was at least a good sign that I maybe looked like I knew what I was half-way doing? Ha. When we finished with the two shows, it was time to return the elephants back to the forest for the night. We took them back through the dense forest, through a river, and back up the steep hills to a large area where they could graze. We spent a bit of time just giving them some love before heading back to the homestay area for the night. We had some free time before dinner so we showered then got to see other parts of the complex. We visited the elephant dung paper factory where they turn elephant dung into paper and use it for various things. The poop is collected then the large fibers are removed before the poop is put into a rotating chamber with water to make it a thinner consistency. Then the poop is washed with more water before being spread out on a tray for drying. It takes about two days for the paper to dry then it is ready to go! A pretty neat process for some sturdy paper! We also got to see the elephant hospital. Because the center is owned by the Thai government, the center collects hurt elephants from all across the country and transports them here for care. They can have about ten or so at a time. They don’t kill the elephants or put the elephants to sleep but rather they care for the elephants until they are stable enough to move to retirement aka a jungle where they can live well for the rest of their life. We saw a few of the hospitalized elephants–one of which was in his eighties and was at the hospital for an eye problem. Because the center is owned by the Thailand government, all of the money earned from the center goes right back to the elephants for their feed, for medication, etc. I knew I wanted to do something with elephants when I was in Thailand so I did quite a bit of research prior to coming which elephant center was the best and almost all of the results pointed towards TECC. The main reason was for the treatment of the elephants–they take such good care of the elephants and I was able to see that firsthand throughout my time at TECC. Further, as this is a government center, the king of Thailand actually keeps some of his white elephants here in a portion of the complex called the “Royal Stables”… visitors (myself included) aren’t able to visit the stables but I can only imagine that they’re living quite the life! The complex also has a nursery currently with three babies… four in just a few months! The babies now range from 14 to 19 months and the babies will be kept in an enclosure with their mother until they are three years old when the baby stops nursing. The babies were full of energy–they were climbing on the fencing, chasing roosters in the enclosure, playing with soccer balls, and of course bothering their mothers! Baby elephant fur is actually pretty long making them look all pokey and a bit funny… like a porcupine. But, they were absolutely adorable… as were their mothers! I made a few trips here throughout my three days to see the babies!

When I got back to Chaing Mai and was able to get some WIFI, I researched a bit more about Thailand Elephant Conservation Center (home to more than 50 elephants) and Wanalee herself. TECC was founded in 1993 by the government of Thailand (Thailand’s only government-owned elephant camp) and has close ties to the Royal Family as TECC takes care of six (of ten) of the King’s royal “white” elephants. Because of the ties with the government, many school children get to visit and learn about elephants and conservation. TECC was the first place in Thailand where elephants learned how to paint. TECC plays a big role in creating public awareness about elephants and aims to improve the quality of care given to elephants here in Thailand and around the world. TECC is also involved in elephant research focusing on reproduction and the movement of animals. I was shocked to find out that Wanalee herself is also considered a “royal elephant” as she was adopted by Her Royal Highness Princess Galayani, the elder sister of His Majesty the King of Thailand… thus she is often referred to as the princess. Her nickname (princess) goes along with her personality which was very evident over the three days that I spent with her–she loves her bananas and the staff seems to absolutely love her… so they sneak her a few extra after the shows! She also loves her baths… and often doesn’t want to come out for the show… she would rather play in the water and eat bananas all day! But she has the sweetest personality so everyone loves her anyways! I also found out that Wanalee is considered one of the top three elephant artists in the world and her paintings have had international fame… dang! She was the best selling elephant artist from 2005-2009 and continues to be in the top 3 each year. She paints both abstract and realistic works. One of her paintings sold for more than 1,000 pounds (about $1700 or more depending on date of the purchase) at Bloxham’s Gallery in London. Little did I know that I spent a few days with Thailand Royalty!

Elephant camp was spectacular–three days that I’ll never forget! I had a wonderful elephant and mahout which made the entire experience that much better. I still have to figure out how I can get an elephant on the plane as I’m not sure it will fit under my seat or in the overhead bins as my carryon… fortunately I still have about a week and a half to figure it all out!

Tomorrow I’m off to Laos for more adventures!
~Susan

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Bangkok Part One

Although it was sad saying goodbye to the beautiful island of Phuket, I had a wonderful time during the first part of my time in Bangkok (I left today for an organized tour but we end up back in Bangkok where I will spend two nights before heading back to the states–so fortunately I still get some time to explore a bit more of Bangkok in the near future!). I flew on Bangkok Airways, an airline that prides themselves on being the boutique airline of Asia, from Phuket to Bangkok. The hour-long flight was wonderful as the plane was only a third full and we were served a full lunch. For short trips in Asia, the cost of airfare is extremely affordable as I paid about $50 for my flight… I’m not quite sure how this airline or other airlines make money but I’m not about to complain about the cheap costs and the free food! I got settled into my hotel on Khao San Road, the well-known travelers road in Bangkok, then spent the afternoon exploring the area around my hotel. After a few hours, I headed back to my hotel to get ready for Siam Niramit, “Thailand’s Must-See Show.” Transportation was provided which was certainly a good thing as we spent about an hour in stand-still traffic during Bangkok’s rush hour. During this hour, I got to experience the madness of driving here in Bangkok. The “rules” are rarely followed as people tend to drive wherever and however they wish. The motobikes don’t help the cause as they are constantly driving on the sidewalks or between cars to try to get to their destinations… oh the drivers here in Southeast Asia! We finally made it to the theater for a night of entertainment. After checking in and getting my ticket, they guided me to the buffet which was on the third floor… however, along the way, I found the elephants… and if you know me at all, you know right where I headed! There were two elephants for visitors to feed, pet, and get photos with. These elephants were extremely well trained and they were the same ones used later in the night for the show! Fortunately, I arrived quite early to the theater so I had plenty of time to spend with the elephants (before most of the other people arrived) and before I had to grab dinner. After about a half-hour of feeding and mostly petting the elephants (and being THAT tourist… which I was completely fine with), I said my goodbyes and headed up for an extravagant buffet with far more options than my stomach could handle. The food was absolutely delicious! Just after I had finished my meal, a parade of drummers came through announcing the pre-show which was going to take place outside… I figured I’d be up for catching it prior to the performance. Well, on the way I was once side-tracked by the beautiful elephants and decided to spend some time with them for awhile instead. They were show-ready as all of their gear was on and they were ready for the performance! I caught the second half of the pre-show, which consisted of dancing and drumming, before the performance began. The theater itself is actually in the Guinness Book of World Records as being the highest stage in the world… pretty cool… and the theater was very pretty! The show was all about the history of Siam, a district of Bangkok. It began with a journey back into history–Siam is home of many diverse cultures so it showed a bit of each of these including the North (The Ancient Kingdom of Lanna), the South (Traders from overseas), the North-East (Khmer Civilization), and the Central Plains (Ayutthaya, the Mighty Capital). Then the show took a turn and focused on the journey beyond imagination which focused on karma, a common belief amongst Thai people that good or bad deeds in this world will result in merit or suffering in the next life. This act depicted the fiery hell, the mystical forest of Himapaan, and the Blissful Heavens. The final act focused on the Journey through Joyous Festivals which combine religious ceremony with colorful and joyful celebration. The show was incredible–the dancing, music, and acting was all wonderful. My favorite part was the live animals, of course! They had goats run across the stage, live chickens, and elephants which all joined the show! After the show, I headed back to my hotel and arrived in perfect time as it was time for the World Cup game which started at 11 pm. I headed to a local bar to watch and I was lucky to catch the game in English! Although the game didn’t turn out as hoped, it was still fun to watch. Then it was off to bed as I had a long day ahead. The next day, I was up bright and early for a full day in Bangkok. First on my agenda was the Palace. The Royal Palace is extremely strict with its dress code which consists of knees and shoulders being covered along with no sandals… this is literally my worst nightmare. So, I dressed in long pants with a t-shirt and shoes and walked to the Royal Palace so I was there when it opened. The fact that I was already hot and sweaty from just the fifteen minute walk from my hotel to the entrance wasn’t a good sign… it was definitely going to be a hot day. Anyways, the Royal Palace is combined with Wat Phra Kaew or the Temple of the Emerald Buddha so one entrance fee covered both attractions. I visited the Royal Palace and Wat Phra Kaew five years ago with People to People and I just remember how gorgeous they were… nothing has changed in a matter of five years! First up was Wat Phra Kaew. Wat Phra Kaew consists of many buildings and temples with the main building housing the emerald Buddha. All of the temples, pagodas and buildings were very detailed and absolutely beautiful with elaborate the colors and design. Wat Phra Kaew is regarded as the most sacred temple in Thailand as it houses the Emerald Buddha. The Emerald Buddha is believed to be originally from India but was acquired by Bangkok in 1782 during the reign of King Rama 1. The statue is 26 inches tall and can only be touched by the Thai King himself during ceremonies that occur three times each year, one time for each season. The Emerald Buddha wears a cloak but there are three different cloaks for the three different seasons: summer, winter, and rainy. Next to Wat Phra Kaew was the Pavilion of Regalia, Royal Decorations, and Coins where we were able to see the other two cloaks along with many of the royal treasures like crowns, coins, swords, gems, and many gifts. After exploring the complex, it was off to the neighboring Royal Palace. The Royal Palace was the main residence for the King, his court and his royal government until 1925. Now, the Royal Palace serves as a second home for the King and is still used for many official events and ceremonies. Some royal offices are still situated inside the Royal Palace as well. The Royal Palace sits on a lot nearly 54 acres in size and is made up of many buildings, halls, pavilions, and shrines set up around lawns, gardens, and courtyards. The buildings were very traditional in Thai style and elegant, of course. I saw where coronations took place and the thrones that were used for the king… they were pretty neat! I also saw the main palace where the king used to live which still has guards outside of it. I walked around the rest of the palace area and as I was leaving, the soldiers came marching through to the beat of a piccolo. I’m not quite sure where they were going as they left the palace grounds but it was neat to see! I was extremely grateful that I got there at a decent time however because as I was leaving, swarms of people were heading into the Palace… I was lucky to miss most of that! By the end of the two hours I spent at the temple and the Royal Palace, I was in need of some air conditioning as I was hot, sweat, and gross… I never been so thankful for air conditioning but after this trip, I will NEVER take air conditioning for granted again! I had about an hour to rest before I was off to the stray office for an afternoon of orientation. I am traveling with Stray for the next two weeks on a tour throughout Thailand and Laos. The day prior to traveling, they offer an orientation for the travelers as a way of getting to know others before the trip and as a way to see a bit of Bangkok. There were six of us, all heading on the trip the following day, that were off to explore the city. We began by heading to the water taxi and went down the river to then catch the sky rail which was extremely nice and far surpassed my expectations (plus there was air conditioning!). It was a great way to see a lot of the city as we traveled from one side to the other. Then we took moto-taxis (motor bike taxis) to a bar that had a flow rider and spent the afternoon there. A few of the people did the flow rider but most of us just hung out and got to know each other. Just like my tour last year, many of the fellow travelers are quite seasoned travelers so it is always fun sharing stories and hearing where everyone has been in the world… it was really good getting to know them and I am quite excited to get to know them all better over the next two weeks. After a few hours, we headed back to the sky rail and then to the river where we caught a water taxi down the river and back to the Khao San area. It was a nice afternoon as we got to see many different neighborhoods of Bangkok from the ritzy, nice hotel area to the shacks along the river. My night was pretty relaxing as it consisted of dinner and repacking. Today, I was up early and headed to the Stray office where I met all of the other travelers–there are 14 of us total that will be traveling together. The other passengers are from Canada, Mexico, Finland, England, Australia, and New Zealand… of course I am once again the only American. We packed up our luggage and headed an hour-and-a-half north to Ayutthaya, a wealthy kingdom that existed from 1351 to 1767 and served as the capital before it moved to Bangkok. During its prime, it is believed that Ayutthaya had a population of 1,000,000 making it one of the largest cities in the world at that time. Ayutthaya was destroyed in 1767 by the Burmese army which burned the city to the ground… this is when the capital was moved to Bangkok. Today, ruins remain in the Ayutthaya region which attracts many of the Bangkok tourists up to this area for a day or so. The city is surrounded by a river so ten of the Stray travelers, myself included, grabbed a boat for a tour around the ancient city. Our first stop was at Wat Phra Sri Sanphet, the former palace of the King from 1351 to 1767. Today, only ruins exist but we were still able to go up into the towers and see many of the headless Buddha statues. Our next stop was to Wat Lokaya Sutha, a massive temple ruin. The temple includes a monastery, a large bell tower, and the highlight which is an enormous reclining Buddha. Our last stop was to Viharn Phra Mongkol Bopit which now houses a massive bronze Buddha. Many Thai individuals consider it to be the most beautiful Buddha figure in Thailand. It was extremely hot so we all enjoyed a bit of breeze while we were on the boat as we got to see the surroundings of Ayutthaya. We currently have a bit of downtime before heading for dinner and then we are off on a night train to Chiang Mai for more adventures!

Unfortunately my time is winding down but you can be assured that I’ll be making the most of it!

~Susan

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Elephant at Siam Niramit

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Elephant at Siam Niramit

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Elephant at Siam Niramit all ready for the show!

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Siam Niramit Show

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Wat Phra Kaew

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Wat Phra Kaew

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Royal Palace

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Royal Palace

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From the water taxi in Bangkok

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Wat Phra Sri Sanphet

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Some of the Stray Travelers at Wat Phra Sri Sanphet

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Wat Phra Sri Sanphet

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Wat Phra Sri Sanphet

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Wat Lokaya Sutha

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Viharn Phra Mongkol Bopit

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I love Phuket!

I think I can officially say that I am absolutely in love with Phuket and I am so grateful that I decided to hop on down to southern Thailand and explore this beautiful place! After a few great days of scuba diving, I had three days to explore and enjoy all that Phuket had to offer! I began on Monday by visiting Tiger Kingdom… one of the coolest experiences of my life! At Tiger Kingdom, you get the opportunity to get up close and personal with the tigers themselves! At the entrance, you chose what tigers you would like to see… of course the more you see, the more you pay… but I decided on the smallest, small, and medium tigers… and what a great decision it was! In each of the different sized cages, you got about fifteen minutes with four tigers per size. You began with the smallest and worked up to the largest. The smallest were about two-and-a-half months old and my goodness, they were adorable! Typically, tigers spend 16-20 hours sleeping per day and I caught these guys during nap time… but that certainly didn’t take away from how adorable they were! I was even able to nap with one of the small ones… I just wanted to pack him up and take him home! After the smallest came the smalls… which weren’t exactly small! These guys were about a year old and more active than the smallest ones. I got to pet and play with these guys and of course, take some photos! They are absolutely magnificent animals with beautiful markings and I was surprised by their calm demeanor. From the research I did prior to visiting Tiger Kingdom, I found out that the facility feeds their tigers A LOT of food so that they are extra happy and sleepy for when visitors come… I guess that is a good thing as we got so up-close and personal with them! Next, it was off to the medium-sized tigers and once again, size is certainly relative as these guys were big! A few were taking naps and one was even laying on his back so I got to give him a good belly rub… I think he enjoyed it! The others were up and ready for some love… which they certainly got! I absolutely loved spending some time with the tigers and I wish I could have stayed there my entire two months… ha! I think for now, I will have to suffice with a stuffed tiger to bring home! I spent the rest of the day exploring the city and walking along Bangla Street, the “go to” street here in Patong. I ended up finding their shopping mall just in time as there was a bit of an afternoon shower that hit. The mall was absolutely gorgeous and the entire bottom floor was filled with handmade crafts and massage shops. Somehow, I ended up being convinced to get a Thai massage… but the $6 massage was so worth it… and a great way to wait out the rain!! Having a massage now in Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand, I must say that the Thai massages are my favorite… and hopefully a few more occur in the near future! I have really enjoyed the food here in Thailand, especially the curries! My favorite is called Massaman Curry, a coconut based curry that is absolutely delicious. I have had the dish quite a few times in the past few days and each time, I’m blown away with how delicious it is! I might need to find that recipe and take it home!! The next day was a day of relaxation as I spent the day at the beach just across from my hotel! I found a great deal on a hotel room–$10 for a king sized bed, air conditioning, WIFI, fridge, and pretty much anything else you would need–which happens to be literally across the street from a gorgeous beach. Here in this area of Patong, there aren’t any hotels on the actual beach but rather just across the street so I was as close to the beach as I could get… and at a great rate… heck, it’s cheaper than my apartment in Omaha… I might just stay here, ha! Anyways, I rented a beach chair for the day and enjoyed a day in the sun as I spent time listening to music, reading, and playing a few games on my iPad. It was so nice having a day of relaxation… especially after five or so weeks of traveling! Once the sun went down, I enjoyed a movie before calling it a night! Today was absolutely incredible day with a perfect excursion, perfect weather, and perfect new friends to round out a wonderful day! To be honest, I didn’t quite know what this was going to entail but I had seen photos of the Phi Phi Islands and all of the reviews said it was a must so I knew it was on the list of things to do in Phuket! I had actually booked the tour for yesterday but the weather didn’t look very good so I changed the tour to today… which is a good thing as we had beautiful weather for the day! I was picked up from hotel bright and early and headed to the dock which took about an hour… surprisingly, Phuket is far larger than what it seems on a map! I met a wonderful family from Sydney, Australia, a nice gentleman from Turkey, and a few fun individuals from Colorado so I had a few people to spend the day with which was wonderful! When it was time to board the boat, I was right up at the front and ready for an adventure as we were taking a speed boat across the ocean… and an adventure it was! There were quite a few waves so we bounced up and down all the way to the first island on our Phi Phi adventure. The Phi Phi Islands consists of six islands and they’re located about 40 km southeast of Phuket. Our first stop was at Phi Phi Leh, home to Maya Bay which was featured in the movie, “The Beach.” It was absolutely stunning with the turquois-blue water! We got off of the boat and had some time to enjoy although it was quite crowded with tourists… but I was still amazed with how stunning the views were with the limestone karsts jutting out of the sea–I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a place so absolutely beautiful! We continued to the back side of the island and went into Loh Samah Bay… also stunning! We headed back out to the ocean and moved onto Ao Ling or Monkey Bay but unfortunately none of the monkeys were out today. Close by, we stopped for some snorkeling. The water was gorgeous and there were loads of fish. Some people had brought bread and were throwing it into the ocean and literally a hundred or so fish would swim around you to get the bread… it was actually quite overwhelming! We had about 40 minutes to swim and then we were back in the boat and headed to the main island of Koh Phi Phi Don for a buffet lunch! The highlight was a little monkey dressed in overalls which you could take photos with… he was just the cutest little thing!! After lunch, we were back on the boat again and headed to our last stop of the day… and my personal favorite stop–Khai Island. It was picture perfect with white sand beaches, aqua water, and a bright sun. We had about an hour and a half on the beach to relax and enjoy… I decided to take the time to relax in the shade… which was probably a good decision otherwise I’d be looking much more lobster-like right now! Unfortunately, the perfect excursion had come to an end as we traveled back to the mainland of Phuket then back to our hotels. But what a way to end Phuket… I literally can’t put into words how beautiful the Phi Phi Islands were… just take a minute to google it… and I don’t even know if that does it justice! I can’t say enough good things about Phuket–the people were wonderful, the place is gorgeous, and there is so much to do! I’m bummed that I am leaving tomorrow for Bangkok but I know that more adventures await!

All for now and hope all is well,
~Susan

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One of the smallest tigers at Tiger Kingdom

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Beautiful, beautiful animals

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Love them!

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Love these guys!

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Patong Beach

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Maya Bay

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Maya Bay

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Loh Samah Bay

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My monkey friend on Koh Phi Phi Don

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Khai Island

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Khai Island

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Scuba Diving in Phuket

I was able to safely travel from Siem Reap, Cambodia to Phuket, Thailand a few days ago and since I have been busy getting scuba certified! After figuring out a taxi situation from the airport and splitting a taxi with a few nice strangers to make the fair much cheaper, I arrived in Phuket the night of the 19th. The next morning, I was off to scuba school–sitting in a classroom learning the theory and rules of scuba diving. Fortunately I enjoyed physics as most of the theory was buoyancy-related which I was able to understand quite well. I spent all morning watching videos and taking quizzes which counter towards my certification. The afternoon was spent in a scuba pool. We spent hours learning how to work the equipment and working on skills to perfect the art of diving. Surprisingly, it is much harder than it looks! We learned how to put together all of the gear and of course take it apart… we did this a few times just to ensure that we had it down. In the pool, we worked on skills such as: buoyancy techniques, using alternate air sources (in case you ever run out of air), descending and ascending, buddy checks, cramp removal, removing scuba gear and replacing it while in the water, and many other skills required for the certification. We also had a swimming test but thanks to my parent’s upbringing, this was certainly not an issue! I was exhausted by the time we got back to the scuba center as it was already dinner time… and time for me to head to bed! The next day, we were back at it early in the morning but this time, in the ocean. We took the scubacat boat out about an hour-and-a-half to Racha Yai island… a beautiful island just south of Phuket. Unfortunately this is “monsoon season” here in Thailand which means rough waves that shook the boat back and forth. When we got to the diving bay, it was time to put all of the equipment on and jump in! We still had to practice many of the skills that we had learned the day before so our actual diving time (to see fish and such) was quite short… but certainly enjoyable! With our short wetsuits, the water temperature was perfect! After our first dive, we grabbed some lunch on the boat and took some time to relax and recoup before it was time to jump in again for our second dive. Again, we practiced a few skills but we had a bit more time this dive to enjoy! Once again, the dive went well… but exhaustion set in once we were back on the boat… scuba diving takes a lot out of you… that’s for sure! I tried napping on the boat on the way back but there was no way that was happening with the waves–so I dozed in and out until I was shaken around by the waves. When we got back to the scuba shop, I had to finish a bit of theory and take the final test which ended up being a breeze! I’ve certainly enjoyed the Thai food here so I had a wonderful dinner before calling it a night! Today, we were back on the boat early in the morning and ready for another full day of diving. Just like yesterday, we headed towards Racha Yai island and the waves were once again horrendous. The bays, where we dive, are quite sheltered however so the water there is quite calm and enjoyable for diving. Today I got a bit more actual dive time as there were fewer skills to complete. This meant I was finally able to break-in my gopro and I got some great footage! We saw lots of fish, eels, sea stars, and even a sea snake! Each dive lasts 50 minutes and we spent a good majority of the time down exploring the ocean. On our second dive, we got to explore an abandoned ship wreck which was really neat! Once again, the exhaustion set in after both dives and I enjoyed getting to rest on the bumpy ride back. With my classroom and pool learning along with my four open water dives and of course passing the quizzes and tests, I completed my certification which means I can now dive anywhere in the world! Who knows what this will lead to but at least the opportunity for future dives will now be available… and it is something that I’ve wanted to complete for awhile now so its something else that can be checked off of the bucket list!

I have a few more days to properly explore Phuket and hopefully I will have a bit more energy in the coming days to do so! I really enjoyed getting to learn about scuba diving and explore a bit of the ocean but it will be nice to be on land for the next few days!

More adventures from Phuket are on the way!

~Susan

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Flying into Phuket

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Flying into Phuket

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Sunset–Phuket, Thailand

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Pier–Phuket, Thailand

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Racha Yai Bay 3

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Swimming with my instructor

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Check out the sea snake!

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I love scuba diving 🙂

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Shipwreck!

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