Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thailand: Around Pai

After catching our breath for a few days at Suansawan, we were ready to head north. Our first stop was Pai, where we were excited to spend time with good friends. Of course, we had to get there first, so we took a taxi to the bus station in Chiang Mai, and from there got on a mini bus for the three hour ride north to the little mountain town of Pai. The road is only 135 kilometers, but there are over 700 curves and hairpin turns along the way! Erik picked up some motion sickness pills at a ubiquitous 7-11 before the journey, and thankfully everyone did fine. (On the ride back the man behind us was throwing up in a plastic bag. I will spare you any more details.) We arrived in Pai and waited for the shuttle that was supposed to come pick us up to take us to the hotel. They knew we had six people plus luggage, so when the motorcycle with sidecar appeared, it didn't occur to me that it was for us! We continued to wait and finally Erik called them again, only to learn we had missed them already! They sent out the driver again, and he ferried us and our bags back to the hotel. Getting there is always an adventure! The kids have deemed this the Best Transportation Ever and have decided that when we get home we should sell the Suburban and buy one of these. That would certainly be an adventure!  

There is a small river that runs through Pai, and a number of pedestrian only bridges made of bamboo. Pearl was a little hesitant at first to step foot on it, but she quickly realized it was sturdy.

These lovely people are the reason we came to Pai. Fifteen years ago, I first traveled to Asia with a group of friends including Rachel and Chinua. We shared life and traveled together for the better part of a year. They married shortly after that trip, and Erik and I were married a few months later. In the following years, we all had lots of children, and have only seen each other every few years. They now live in Pai, and it was so fun to get to visit them. They warmly welcomed us into their home and it was wonderful to share food and memories while our children deepened friendships with one another. 

Dragonfruit! It's pink!

My favorite sign so far. Don't squat on the western toilets! 

Peregrine's passion right now is filmmaking, and he's had big dreams of the movie he would make during our time in Thailand. Chinua graciously brought out his camera and spent hours filming the kids' post-alien war movie! I will be sure to post it when the editing is done.

It makes me so happy to see these two playing together. Rachel happened to be visiting the day I went into labor with Raphi, and she (and Solo, who was in utero) were some of his first visitors!

The kids were fascinated with this huge, woven palm leaf that was on a trash pile outside of a temple we walked by.

The tip-top of the wat.

I'm always intrigued by marketplaces in different countries. Bicycles and cookware all on the same aisle! Yay!

Rachel is an artist and author, expressing beauty with pen, paintbrush, and words. I own a few of her prints already, and was happy to buy a couple more. (No shipping!) You can check out her etsy shop here. She's running a 25% off sale now through the end of the month, making her beautiful artwork a great deal. I love the detail she puts into her paintings. She is also about to publish her second novel, and you can read more about it on her blog, Journey Mama. (I wrote a review of her first novel here.) She's also published compilations of her reflective blog posts. I'm excited to read her new book, a story about a traveler in India.

Street food is another reason I love to travel. It seems that every culture has its smoking grill of interesting meats!
Stay tuned for more Pai pictures, including a day with the elephants! 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Thailand: Suansuwan Resort Chiang Mai

The first time I visited Thailand was in the fall of 2000 with a group of friends. We hit the ground running, staying in a bustling guesthouse on Khao San Road and running around Bangkok for a few days before taking an overnight bus north to Chiang Mai. Traveling with four children is a bit of a different story, and I knew that our first order of business upon arrival needed to be rest. I also knew that if we were in the city, I would want to go out and explore! Two days of travel and a fifteen hour time difference is hard on anyone, and I wanted to ensure we had a few days where our main focus was to rest and relax. I found Suansawan Resort online and booked three nights. It was about  a half hour out of Chiang Mai in the beautiful, quiet Mae Rim District, and ended up being exactly what we needed. 

This was our villa, with two bedrooms and room for all. 

The grounds were lush and beautiful, full of flowering trees, orchids, a fish pond, and a little lake. 

This was the path from our room to the restaurant. Being out of town meant I want tempted to go exploring and looking for food! The food was not spectacular, but enjoyable enough. 

Peregrine enjoyed taking the little boat out on the lake.

There were many beautiful seating areas throughout the grounds.
Pearl was happily finding snails! 
Hibiscus in bloom.

There was a fun playground for the little ones.

Ice cream on a hot afternoon is a special treat. We have a tradition of buying Magnum ice cream bars when we travel. I don't think we've ever bought them in the US, but they've been enjoyed in Panama and Mexico. 


Raphael is always on the lookout and notices many interesting things that others may miss. Here is a cicada! We also saw the biggest geckos we've ever seen, and the kids were quite excited about that. The largest one was at least a foot long! 

Even the housekeeping signs are pretty! 

Part of Suansawan's facilities are a Care Resort assisted living community. We got to spend time with a few of the residents and especially enjoyed getting to know Joyce. She's from America's east coast, and reminded me so very much of my Italian great aunt and grandma. Peregrine also really enjoyed visiting with Marianne, a lovely woman from England. (He used his best British accent the entire time, and was excited afterward because he felt that by listening to her he had improved his pronunciation!)

We went out for a walk in the surrounding countryside one day and the children wanted to have their picture taken on the steps leading up to the wat (temple). 

Rice fields!
Beautiful, delicate flowers. 

Starfruit! It's always fun to see tropical fruits growing. 


Pink dragonfly over the fishpond. 

Night swimming.

Our time at Suansawan was exactly what we hoped it would be. We left feeling refreshed and ready to take on new adventures and explore this beautiful country! 

Monday, November 16, 2015

Thailand: In Which Our Passports Travel to Singapore Without Us

We were all thankful to get several hours of sleep in Bangkok. The girls have been so excited to share a bed! I had forgotten how hard beds in Asia are, but I was so tired it didn't matter a bit. 

A "western style" breakfast was provided by the hotel. I'm not sure why anyone would travel here to be served airy white bread, Smucker's jam, a hot dog, eggs, and fake orange juice for breakfast, but we were thankful nonetheless. We had a little time before needing to leave for the airport again, so we took a little walk beyond our hotel. 

All kinds of things grow here! 

The kids were excited to find this rhinoceros beetle! And geckos never fail to bring squeals of excitement! And, Bangkok is hot!

We loaded up our bags and squashed into a taxi for the (supposedly) hour long drive across Bangkok to the older airport, where we were to catch a flight to Chiang Mai. We should have left earlier, as traffic was quite bad and we ended up arriving only about 45 minutes before our flight was to depart. Thankfully, as we were about to get in the very long queue to check in, I saw a woman holding a sign with our flight number on it and she ushered us over to be checked in. We had no time to spare, and after going through security, we sprinted through the length of the airport to our gate, which of course was the very last one! We got there right as the plane was supposed to be departing, but to our pleasant surprise they were still boarding and we were in time! 

This is the look of gratitude and relief that we made it onto our flight! 

There is a trick to getting four kids off an airplane. One parent assertively plants themself in the aisle to prevent anyone behind from passing while the other quickly shoos the children into the aisle, making sure they each have their backpack, and telling them to "go, go!" At times we just sit and wait until everyone else deplanes so that we can take our time, but for some reason, this time, we hurried everyone off the plane. After gathering up our checked bags, we exited the luggage area and were about to leave the airport when I realized the small bag I keep our passports in was not over my shoulder. I realized that in my haste to get everyone off the plane and make sure they had gathered up their belonging, I must have left my own bag under the seat. I quickly found the airline office and told them what had happened. They went and checked the plane and didn't find it. My heart sank, thinking of the difficulty in replacing six passports while in a foreign country. At the time I didn't think of it, but the bag also contained credit cards and my camera. The airline said they would go look again, and had me sit down in their office to wait. A while later someone returned saying they had found the bag, but the plane was already headed back to Bangkok! I was greatly relieved, and filled out a form so they could contact me when they received the bag.

The place where we were to stay said they would send out a van for us, so we decided to get something to eat in the airport. After that we waited outside until finally the van arrived. By this time the sun had set and we were so very tired. I fell asleep on the drive, which took nearly an hour. At last we arrived at our lovely accommodation, a beautiful "garden resort" outside of Chiang Mai. I had chosen a place that looked relaxing and out of the way so we could have a few days to rest and be together after our long travel days. (I knew if we were in the city I would want to go out exploring!)

We walked to the restaurant for some dinner, and a while later, we received this email:

Regarding to passenger left a small bag with 06 USA passports on arrival flight FD3445/14NOV15, we are regret to inform you that your item have not been found on arrival flight. However, the aircraft went to Bangkok FD3446/14NOV15 and staff not found your item on aircraft also. we are so apologize for this problem and now we contact with staff at Bangkok again to found your bag again and again, if we get the answer from staff at Bangkok we will contact by this e-mail again. If you would like to contact us, please feel free to call Hotline:081-1710693..

At this point I realized what else I had in the bag and that I'd better call the credit card companies and let them know. I was so exhausted by this point, nodding off and jerking my head up while waiting on hold! There had been no transactions on the card, so that gave me hope that perhaps the bag hadn't been stolen after all. It seemed so strange that the airline would say they had it and then say they did! t was googling what to do about lost passports and imagining all the hoops that would have to be jumped through if we had to replace them. Just about this time I received another email: 

I am so apologize for interrupt you for night time, now we will update for your item, staff air asia at singapore found your item at aircraft and will forward to Bangkok maybe tomorrow and will forward your item to Chiang mai again.  If Bangkok confirm flight for send your item to Chiang Mai and Chiang Mai staff receive your item.  we will confirm with this e-mail again.  Thank you so much.

As you can imagine, I was so thankful to hear this, but still didn't know if the contents of the bag would be there still. The next morning they let us know the bag had arrived back in Chiang Mai, so Erik took a taxi to the airport and collected it. We were so relieved and grateful that everything was still there! 

So mamas, put on your own oxygen mask before helping others! Or, gather up your own belongings, all of them, before helping your children! 

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Thailand: In Which the Journey is Part of the Destination

Leaving Eugene
    My children have grown up hearing stories of their parents' travels in far off and exotic places. Sailing in Greece, fending off monkeys in India, riding elephants in Thailand; these and more have filled their childhood dreams. We've given them as many of their own travel experiences as we've been able, and when we came upon a super deal on tickets to Thailand this fall, we decided it was time to take a little journey! The last several weeks have been filled with logistical planning, passport renewal, trying to keep everyone healthy, learning about rice farming and silk production, elephants, Thai culture and more.

    Finally on Wednesday, the big day arrived, and ready or not, we headed to our little local airport. Excitement ran high, knowing we were off on a long awaited adventure. I was reminded again of a saying in my family that was something like, "The journey is part of the trip." Years ago, after a very long travel day, we arrived at our family's home in Mexico where I happened upon a journal written by my adventuring great grandfather. On its cover was a quote that read, "It is a pleasant journey in which the trip is part of the destination." Getting there is often not the most exciting or memorable part of a trip, but it can certainly be an adventure! Join us on our journey to Thailand.

We started out with a short flight from Eugene to San Jose, California. Pearl was pretty pleased to get Daddy all to herself!

Upon arrival in San Jose, we rented a van and stopped in to see my dear friend Christy and her lovely girls. Christy and I lived and traveled together in Asia for the better part of a year a long time ago. Christy's family is walking through a dark valley as her husband battles leukemia, and our visit, while short, was a wonderful time of connection and love. She and the girls had made lanterns for a St. Martin's Day lantern walk, and the children carried their lights, ran and played in the dark evening. We all enjoyed a wonderful meal that Christy had prepared, and ended our sweet time together with hugs and prayers. It was a wonderful start to our trip! 

We spent the night at a hotel near the San Franciso airport, where we would be flying from the next day. The children all settled down well, but Erik and I lay there all night, tossing and turning and not sleeping. The longer I lay there, the more anxious I became, knowing that we were about to embark on a very long and tiring journey and that I was starting out completely exhausted. I tried to fill my mind with truth and reject the fear that was creeping in. I spent time praying, trying to breathe in peace and let go of the anxious thoughts that seemed to fill my mind. Morning arrived and I felt physically sick from lack of sleep. We had at least 24 hours of travel before we would see another bed, and I felt entirely unprepared after a long, sleepless night. 

Ready or not, we made our way to the airport and got checked in. Our first flight was to Wuhan, China, and would be nearly 14 hours long! This is the first time we've flown so far away with the kids. We had quite a bit of time to wait in the airport before boarding. So much of life, and travel, is waiting! 

On our flight at last, we settled into our seats. The kids haven't ever been on such a big airplane. They were most excited about the personal entertainment centers in the back of each seat, which had a large selection of movies and games they could play. Also, hot meals! And steaming face cloths! And blankets and pillows! It was all quite exciting, for a few hours at least. We flew up along the west coast and over Alaska, across Russia, and over China. We were in daylight for most of the time, except for a little while over Alaska, and then the sun set over China shortly before we landed. It was fun to watch the progress of the plane on the monitors. 

We had to collect our checked bags and go through customs in China, and had a little over three hours there before our next flight. Most of the kid and I had gotten a little sleep on the first flight, but we were all pretty sleepy by this time. I decided that next time I need a new passport, I should stay awake for about 40 hours before I get my photo taken, as the Chinese authorities didn't seem at all certain it was me. They kept looking at me, then the passport, then conferring with one another, then having me write my name, then sign my name. Finally they decided I could go through!

Peregrine lay down on the floor, and then across some chairs, and slept for a while. The girls and I popped into a book shop where they got to play with a fun calligraphy set. There were some Chinese tour groups, and the women were absolutely taken with Pearl. They kept coming over and taking pictures of her with their cell phones. I also forgot how in Asia, it's totally okay to stare at people! There is actually something kind of refreshing about that. 

And here is the Feedback Toilet, where you can rate your toilet experience! Considering there were squatty potties, which I'm quite fond of, and western toilets for people who prefer them, and toilet paper, which is not a given in this part of the world, and we didn't have to pay to use the toilet, and it was all quite clean, we gave it a good review! 

The flight from Wuhan, China to Bangkok was a little over three hours.  We were,  as you can imagine, good and tired by the time we arrived! I was so proud of how well the kids had done throughout a very long day. We happily collected our bags and breezed through customs. We had to wait a while for the shuttle to our hotel, and finally exited the airport into a steamy Bangkok night. It was after two in the morning here, fifteen hours ahead of Pacific Standard time. But after so many long hours of traveling and a sleepless night to start it all off, we were definitely ready for a quick shower and some sleep. We couldn't know it then, but the next day, our hourlong flight north to Chiang Mai would prove to be an adventure of its own. 

Sneak preview... there will be Bangkok traffic, and geckos, and sprinting through an airport, and passports that traveled to Singapore without us!