Last three days! - Tuesday, March 23, 2004

We are now chilllin in Kuala Lumpur, simply called "KL" by those in the know. Much like downtown Bangkok and Hong Kong, KL is full of shopping malls and is pretty sprawled out. However, there doesn't seem to be as much pollution here. We are only in KL b/c we found a VERY cheap flight home originating here. So, we aren't doing much except a little shopping. It's been a while since we walked around the mall and thought of wearing anything other than flip flops and the stuff in our backpack. Our little shopping excursion was much more exciting than we had anticipated!

The past few weeks have gone by so fast! We will most likely update our jounal next week at Linda & Joel's house with all our pictures and adventures in northern Thailand, Ko Phangan, and Cambodia. It's been hard to keep the site updated since we've been moving around so much. The connections are not very fast either, making photo uploading painstaking.

We are happy to report that we're not too sad that our trip is over. It's the right time to come home. We are looking forward to many things:

- sleeping in our OWN bed
- settling into our OWN house
- Uncovering the treasures in the time capsule that is our storage unit
- finding a place for all of our souvenirs collected during our travels (mostly frig magnets & beer labels)
- cooking our OWN meals
- having a washing machine of our own
- playing with Chuy
- having family and friends nearby
- being able to turn our stereo on and just relax on the couch for a while
- Tuna Runa Cassarole (Marisa)
- Chips & Salsa & Guac
- Wearing some respectable clothes and burning everything in our backpack

We look forward to catching up with everyone after we get settled in.

 Last Week of our trip - Beaching it! - Saturday, March 20, 2004

We weren't really sure how to beat our fabulous beach experience in Koh Bulone Lae (KBL). No other beach could possibly compare! We considered going back there for our last week of the trip, but decided that it would be better to explore another place. Fellow travelers were ripe with suggestions. We settled on going to Koh Phangan after we found an incredibly cheapo flight. This island is near Koh Samui in the Gulf of Thailand along the opposite coast from Koh Bulone Lae. It was a great choice! Check it out:

After both a ferry and long-tail boat ride, we settled in for our last week of our 2 year journey. We stayed at a place named The Sanctuary Resort - Spa & Wellness Center. This island was much bigger than Koh Bulone Lae. Every month ~10,000 people gather on one of the beaches on Koh Phangan to celebrate the infamous Full Moon Party (missed it by a week or so). Unlike KBL which has no roads, no streets, and no spas, Koh Phangan has cars, buses, taxis, spas, hotels, resorts, and much more. However, we found a small slice of paradise at The Sanctuary because it's isolated - only reachable by long-tail boat. Similar to KBL, but they also offered a spa, yoga, and a wellness center.

On arrival we grabbed a smoothie at the wellness center and were talked into (didn't take much) to participate in a 3 day cleanse and fast. That's right - no food, only a strict regiment of herbs and shakes to help promote the bodies natural ability to clean out toxins and begin healing itself. We figured, why not! We've been doing a pretty good job of eating healthy as we travel, but it seemed like a good opportunity to clear out all the German Brats & Beers and Turkish Kebabs. What the hell, we had nothing else to do except sit around on the beach during our last week.

The 3 day fast turned into 7 days after talking with many folks who were just completing a 7 day program. They felt and looked great, literally glowing, so we decided to go for it. Besides, we felt great on day 3, never feeling hungry, lethargic, or nauseous like some of the other participants. All in all, it was a great week because we met some great folks (along with some very strange rangers) and shared in this unique experience with others.

Our days consisted of several doses of herbs, shakes, and juices starting at 7am and finishing in the evening over DVD's and vegetable broth with lots of chili pepper. The soup was a great end to our day and tasted as good as a big 'ol steak dinner to us. After a week we down to our fighting weights, felt great, and were ready to start eating again.

We spent our days lounging in the sun and reading up on lots of nutritional information. On day 5 we did feel pretty lethargic and generally yucky. Not sure if it was because our bodies were releasing toxins or because we needed some real food. Either way, we made it through the day and were rewarded with soup in the evening. Also, the wellness center had a great chill out area with hammocks, pillows, and chairs to make hanging comfortable. The center also had a herbal steam room, spa, and massage services along with a herbal tonic and juice bar.

It was such a great experience because we had committed to it so spontaneously. All in all, it was one of the best out of many great experiences our journey. M will miss all the fresh coconut juice......

 Visit to an elephant conservation camp - Monday, March 15, 2004

Chiang Mai is filled with travel agents offering many types of hill-tribe treks, cooking school classes, and elephant camp visits. We decided not to go to one of the touristy elephant camps after learning about Elephant Heaven, an elephant conservation center. It turns out that most of these tourist outfits don't treat their elephants very well - overworked and controlled with ropes and chains. We would have never known this and gladly taken a trip with one of those of those outfitters had we not stumbled upon Elephant Heaven.

As we described from our visit to Pai, the air in Northern Thailand is full of soot and ash as people are burning down the forest to make room for more farmland. As the population continues to boom and clear the land, wild elephants are left with no space to roam. Also, domesticated elephants, whose occupation was logging until it was banned in '89, have no understanding of how to live without their handlers. These domestic elephants are now employed at elephant camps for tourists or can be seen with their mahouts (handlers) begging for food on the streets of Bangkok. Wild elephant numbers have dropped by 95 percent over the last century!

Elephant Heaven is a conservation camp founded by Sangduen "Lek" Chailert for abused working elephants. Lek also provides free elephant medical care to anyone who asks throught the country. At her camp, elephants live without chains for the first time in their lives or are born into a life of freedom. Follow this link to learn more about the camp and the some of the herd we met during our visit.

It took us an hour to drive to the hills where we ate lunch and watched a National Geographic video which won a bunch of awards (Genesis Award, a Cine Golden Eagle Award, a Finalist Award at the International Wildlife Film Festival, and was nominated for an Emmy). Good stuff. It was a tear jerker and gave us an appreciation for Lek's hard work. We learned about the trials and tribulations these animals were put through in their working lives. After the video, we got to hang out with these gentle giants now living in freedom for the first time in their lives. Lek (the founder), the mahouts (elephant handlers), and the volunteers love these animals and just want to provide these animals a bit of peace.





Too bad we didn't know about this place earlier in our trip, or we would have spent a few weeks there volunteering.

 Touristy in Bangkok - Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Despite many pitstops in this busy city, we hadn't seen too much of Bangkok on our short stop-overs. Street vendors that hawk anything imaginable (esp. fresh fruit), blaring car horns, scooters with no mufflers, and unrelenting tuk-tuk drivers soliciting business are a few things that make Bangkok unique. Think about how crazy we are about child seats/safety in America. Check out this kid squeezed between her parents, a very common sight:

The street side vendors have very tasty food (most of the time) and it is only about $.20 for big plate. Also, they sell a miriad of fresh fruits and vegetables. It's pretty cool when you get to know the pineapple vendor outside your guesthouse. It's pretty easy to drop some lbs. while traveling in Thailand, as the food is fresh and for the most part good for you.

As we mentioned before, we were able to catch a movie at a mall which had 7 floors. It's pretty fun to visit the mall because each floor has different item. For instance, floor 5 is the cell phone and electronics area full of individual booths with the proprietors loudly hawking their items. The next floor down is the home furnishings floor also full of individual vendors stacked elbow to elbow selling the same stuff available at the Chatachuk Market, but for about 2x the cost. Thankfully, we visited the market long before we made it to the mall.

Wats, etc..
We hit the most visited tourist site in town first thing in the morning to avoid the big tourist buses and beat the heat. The Grand Palace is the former residential palace of Kings Rama I to Rama IV of Chakri Dynasty between 1782 and late 1800 A.D. and is famous for its stunning architecture. It's surrounded by high white walls and occupies an area of about a square mile.

On the Grand Palace grounds, stands Wat Phra Kaeo, the royal chapel and Temple of the highly revered Emerald Buddha. The temple was made famous by the Emerald Buddha which is carved from a single block of emerald to a sitting posture of the Buddha 30 inches high. Buddhist pilgrams and tourists from all over the world come to visit and to pay homage to the Emerald Buddha. We removed our shoes and went inside the temple for ~ 5 minutes. What a peaceful, spiritual place....No pictures allowed!

Damndensaduak Floating Market
We signed up with a tour company to go visit the floating market. Since we didn't make it to Venice, we thought it would be fun to check out this diverse network of canals, locally known as "Klongs." Until recently, the residents of Bangkok did a great deal of commuting by small boats on the Klongs. Commerce throughout Bangkok was often conducted on boats, and merchants would take their fresh produces by boat each day to the so-called floating markets, where they would meet and conduct trade. We took an hour ride out to one of the markets and got on a boat to check out the floating shops of all kinds: fruits, flowers, culinary tools and food, textiles, spices, and much more. VERY FUN!

The Snake Farm
A trip to the Snake Farm was included in our tour to the floating market. Dave loved this place because he got to touch a real live cobra! The snake handlers start their careers very young and work their way up to be performers when they are not milking the snakes to produce anti-venom. The announcer was like a ring master at the circus describing the thrills and sensations of the snake show with much style. The snake handlers were very brave and showed this while wrestling 3 snakes at once!

Also, they did a show with a mongoose and cobra in a glass box. Did you know that a mongoose is one of the only (maybe the only) animal that can attack and kill a cobra? It's pretty cool. The mongoose didn't kill the cobra at the snake show, just held it down and then the handlers separated the combatants. No harm, no foul!

 Pai, northern Thailand - Thursday, March 04, 2004

With only 5 days left in northern Thailand, we left behind the hustle and bustle of Chaing Mai for a small town called Pai. We were told that this would be a good place to chill for a few days, go on a hill-tribe trek, raft, and hike without being too touristy. The four hour ride halfway to the Burmese border from Chiang Mai was along the typical Thai roads - twisty and bumpy. The bus driver made like Mario Andretti and passed all the slower forms of transportation along this mountainous route. We are serious this time, NO MORE BUS TRIPS!

Pai was not exactly the peaceful haven we were expecting. It is a picturesque town, but people have found out about it and it's become very touristy. Pai is in a mountainous region which is green most of the year, but we hit town right at the end of the dry season. Farmers were preparing their fields for the new season by practicing slash and burn. Let's just say that visibility was very low and the air quality sucked. We couldn't even see any of the nearby mountains, nor could we go rafting because the river was too low. However, it was fun wandering around this little village and seeing all the creative ways the locals would use to differentiate their businesses in the town.

We decided not to go on a trek to visit the hill tribes as we had originally planned. First of all, with all the smoke, we wouldn't have enjoyed hiking very much. Also, we couldn't find a company who was running an authentic trip. We didn't want to be paraded through a village for 15 minutes and stare at and take a bunch of photos of a bunch of folks, too voyeristic. We were looking to spend time with the tribe to learn their customs, even stay overnight if possible. No such luck. We'll find a way to do that some other time when we come back and visit another town called Mae Hong Song which is West of Pai and much less touristy... We did manage to sneak one photo of the Pai River early in the morning. The smoke wasn't as thick, but it was still pretty bad. You'll notice that you can't see the mountain behind the hut and trees. Oh well.

 Chiang Mai, Thailand - Monday, March 01, 2004

Big town. Chaing Mai has been a traveler’s hub for centuries. It’s not challenging in the least for English speaking travelers to get around. Our plan was to stop in Chiang Mai for a day or two to organize a hill tribe visit and trek for several days then head east to float the Mekong River to Louang Prabang in Laos. Well our plans changed as they always do. We ended up getting sick again like we did in Turkey. We had nasty colds and some sort of infection requiring antibiotics which were easily dispensed for under $3 for two of us at the local pharmacy. No doctor required. Also, recognizable prescription medicine is available over the counter for pennies on the dollar compared to at home. A box of Tylenol is $.25. Incredible. Anyway, after 5 days of sleep and doing nothing but blowing our noses, we are ready to start moving our legs again. Perhaps we'll go see if the rumors are true: Elvis has resurfaced in Thailand:

We did manage to do a few things while sick to keep away the boredom. Our guesthouse offers 1-2 day classes for cooking school, a very popular and inexpensive activity. With five other English speaking folks, we donned our aprons, recipe books, and learned how to cook eight Thai dishes throughout the day. We started the day with a visit to the local market and learned about all the veggies and spices we’d be cooking with. Most were familiar, but some were indigenous only to SE Asia. We arrived at the school which consisted of an open air canopied kitchen with about 16 cooking stations. Luckily, our class was small which made it a really fun experience. The head chef John was a crack-up. He was like Emiril on TV in the States saying “Bang” every time he needed to emphasis something, except that said in a nasaly Asian accented, “ahhhhhhh”. I think you had to be there as it was pretty hysterical. It was informative, fun, and interesting as we learned some of the Thai staples: of course Pad Thai, spring rolls, Tom Yum Soup, chicken & cashews, and a sort of fish soufflé. Let’s just say we didn’t go hungry that day. We also learned how to carve onions to look like lotus flowers and make roses out of tomato skins. All in all, it was a great class but I don’t think we are going to end up guest starring on the Iron Chef any time soon!

Our classmates were a varied bunch from the US, Britain, Switzerland, and Australia: A folk singer, chef @ Spago in LA (why he in a cooking class?), interior designer, and a P&G marketer.

Much of our time was spent wandering around town. Every few blocks we stumbled into one of the many beautiful wats (temples) in the neightborhood. This was our first chance to get a close up peak at them. There are usually monks inside willing to chat it up and say a prayer to Budda and light some insense for you if you make a small donation.

We also visited the famous Night Bazaar for some shopping. The vendors are lined up on both sides of a main road hawking their wares. You can find anything: baby clothes, pirated DVD's/CD's, silk pillowcases, textiles, t-shirts, GOOD fake watches, photo albums, wood carvings, etc.. A shopper's paradise. Since we don't have a house, we shopped for items that might look good in any home. Hopefully our choices are good ones!

We also noticed that in Chang Mai there are more photos of His Majesty the King of Thailand than any other spot in Thailand! The photos are huge (billboards/painted on sides of buildings) and show the King and Queen particpating in various royal activities throughout their lives. It was a bit weird for us since it would be highly unusual to see photos of GW posted throughout the country except during campaign time. I imagine the GW photos would have alot of grafitti on them, not so in Thailand. Mucho respect for the royal family. We were treated to a 3 minute video of the King while at the movies. After the previews, we all stood for this unusual tribute to his excellency which included photos of the King and his ever-present camera in different areas of the country. These shots were strangely superimposed into raindrops and set to the national anthem. Very interesting....

In a couple of days we are heading out to do our hill tribe stuff and hopefully head of to Laos. However, we may end up staying in Northern Thailand for a while longer as the water the Mekong is supposedly quite low. This would prohibit us from our much anticipated float down the Mekong from the Thai border to Louang Prabang. If we can’t float, we’ll just spend more time here. No worries.

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