Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Siem Reap Day Four: Silk Worms, Quad Adventures, and Planes that Leave Early

Today is our last day in Siem Reap.  So what better way to start the day off than with a couples massage.  After breakfast Bill and I leave the kids in the room and go just down the hall to the spa at the hotel.  And when I say spa, I mean an air conditioned room with two tables and curtain dividers.  An hour later we are refreshed and ready to go.

We had decided take a tuk tuk to the silk worm farm to experience the entire process of making silk.  It was about a thirty minute ride by tuk tuk.  I love riding in the tuk tuk.  It's such a fun way to get around with the wind blowing your hair and really seeing the people and landscape as you pass by.   Once at the factory/farm a tour guide shows us around.  First we see the silk worms, their cocoons,  and then the process of drying them out.  I didn't realize that they don't let the moths hatch because then the silk will be broken.  Once the cocoons are dried out, they are put in a pot of boiling water and the outer layer is unwound creating the raw silk.  The finer silk is from the inner layer of the cocoon.  We are shown how the silk is dyed and then we walk through the area where the weaving happens.  It is incredible.  So much time and work involved to make some of the intricate patterns.  I have a whole new apprentice for silk making.  Even the kids were impressed by this tour.

On the way back to town the rain started, so our tuk tuk driver pulled over to put the plastic sides up on our ride.  He asked Bill to hold his phone so it didn't get wet.  We asked for a recommendation for food and he took us some where I'm sure he was getting a kick back because the prices were double what we'd been paying.  We decided not to eat there and had him take us to the shopping area.  We found somewhere else to eat and then did a little shopping.

At 4:20 we returned to our hotel since we were getting picked up at 4:30 for our quad adventure.  The rain had been coming down for the last couple hours and it was still raining.  We were supposed to ride quads for about an hour through the countryside of Cambodia, but we weren't sure if it would be any fun in the rain, plus we were getting on a plane as soon as we were done.  Being wet and dirty on a plane late at night didn't sound like fun.  We talked to the driver from QuadAdventures who was there to pick is up, what he thought.  He said we could cancel if we wanted, but he couldn't give us a recommendation either way.  Ava thought we should do it.  She said who cares about the rain and it will be an adventure.  I love my girl!  So we went for it!

Riding in the open bed of a small truck down the tiny dirt roads to QuadAdventures was an exciting way to begin.  We had only booked two quads and we weren't sure how this would work.  Apparently our guide rides a motorcycle to lead us and I didn't want my kids on a  motorcycle.  They put plastic bags around our shoes, and were getting the quads ready.  It was decided that Bill was going to take the girls with him, one in front and one in back.  They gave us helmets, which was a pleasant surprise, and took me on little mini test drive.  The owner decided Ava looked nervous and decided to give his guide a quad to use so he could take Carter with him and Ava wouldn't be squished with Bill and Mia, she would ride with me.  So much better!

With shoes covered, helmets on, and training completed, we were off!  The rain had stopped and although it was muddy, it was beautiful.  We got out of town quickly and drove through the rice paddies and small dirt roads with houses.  Kids would wave at the side of the road to my kids.  We stopped to take pictures and learn some more about farming and history.  The hour flew by!  We were supposed to watch the sun set in the rice paddies, but with all the clouds in the sky we were not going to be able to see a sunset, which was perfectly fine since what we had seen was so peaceful and beautiful.

The owner printed out certificates for the kids commemorating their first quad ride.  Then we were returned to our hotel where we quickly gathered our things.  Much of the staff was out in the rain, because the rain had of course started again just as we finished our ride, to see us off.  Bill exchanged email with a couple of his new friends and goodbyes were said.  They all stood and waved as our van pulled away to take us to the airport.  I don't think I've ever had a send off like that.

Here's where it gets interesting, everyone had said we needed to be at the airport two hours early.  Okay no problem, we show up early.  We think there must be lines for checking in, no that's not the casement we sail though check in, well security musty take awhile, um no that is even easier.  Okay , okay it must be immigration, I mean getting into Cambodia was tricky so maybe leaving is too.  Nope, not even a line to wait in, they scan our passports and stamp them and we are through.  Wow, now we have over an hour and a half to wait around.  Our flight is scheduled to leave at 9:25pm.  It's 7:45 so we decide to eat some dinner at a restaurant.  We are just about done eating when we hear over the load speaker that our flight has begun boarding.  It's only 8:00, that's weird, I guess they like to start early.  We had just finished paying when we then hear Last Call for flight VN 814, wait thats our flight!!!  How can it be last call it's not even 8:15yet?  We grab our things and rush to the gate.  The screen above our gate that has flight by umber and departure time says 21:25 still.  We give them our boarding passes and climb onto the plane.  We are the last ones on.  The flight is taxing on the runway at 8:25!!!!  We are in the air before 8:30!!!!!  What?!  Our plane took off an HOUR early.  Now we know why everyone kept telling us to arrive early at the airport.

We made it to Ho Chi Minh City!  Since we left an hour early we arrived an hour early too.  Our friend Jacob was meeting us so we had a bit of waiting to do.  It all worked out though, we found Jacob, took a cab, and ended up at this beautiful house our friends had rented.  We made it!

Siem Reap Day Three: Hanging With the Locals

Today was an early day, really early!  We were going to Angor Wat to watch the sunrise.  Up at 4:30, we grabbed our breakfast which the hotel was nice enough to pack for us, and we left with Jet at 5am.  Did I mention that I set an alarm for 3am so I could wake Bill so he could watch the World Cup U.S. game.  Turns out Bill had the day wrong and the U.S. game was tomorrow, but he watched whatever game was on anyway.  So we were starting today extra tired.

We arrived at Angor Wat and walked to a reflection pool inside that is a great spot for watching the sunrise.  We are not visiting at a great time of year since the skies are cloudy since it is monsoon season.  We did catch a little of the sun, peeking behind the clouds.  Regardless it was beautiful seeing the temple in a different light.

We left after we had our fill of pictures since we had already explored Angor Wat the day before.  We headed to Banteay Srey, Jet's favorite temple, next.  We were the only ones there when we arrived.  It was smaller than most of the temples we had seen, but the carvings are very detailed and cut very deep so they are almost three dimensional.  Most of the temple is roped off so you can look but you can't get very close to the major parts and its hard to really see.  Jet told us since it was so early we could basically bribe the police guard to let us past the ropes.  Really?!  I thought you got arrested for bribing a cop?  But this is Cambodia and, well, Jet said it was okay so we agreed.  Jet did the talking and a small fee of $5 was agreed upon.  We paid the bribe and the guard lowered the rope for us to cross and even showed us some things himself.  It was amazing getting to see the carvings up close.  We were able to see many that would have been hidden from our view.  It turned out to be my favorite temple too.

It was another scorcher of a day.  We visited about five more temples, feed some monkeys, and after 7 hours of sight seeing, were dropped back off at our hotel at noon.  Our private three day guided tour was over.  We had a great time and my girls loved Jet!  They were a bit sad to see him go.  Now we were on our own!

The kids and Bill played in the pool while I had a 90 minute $13 massage at the hotel.  I
LOVE this place!  Bill had been talking to a few guys who worked there about soccer and World Cup, they said they were going to play in a couple hours and Bill and Carter should come and play with them.  By this point it's dinner time, but this sounds like fun.  At 5pm we meet the guys in the lobby, they have their motorbikes and we hope in the tuktuk. They have said they have rented a field, we have no idea what we are getting into.  We are all very curuios about what a soccer field in Cambodia will look like.  As our driver is navigating the narrow, crowded, dirt roads weaving in and around traffic, it already feels like a real adventure.  We pull up to an outdoor sports complex and are pleasantly surprised.  There are three small soccer fields, as well as volleyball and a few other things.  Bill and Carter are playing in tennis shoes, a few of the guys have cleats, but many play with bare feet!  After a little while the girls want to play as well so they go on the field.  After an hour the team that Bill and Carter are on loses, but not by much.  Carter has now been nicknamed Neymar, the Brazilian soccer player, by the locals.  They had a blast!

We decided to take the hotel's tuk tuk to a restrarant Jet had recommended called Khmer Kitchen.  It was amazing!!  I had the Amok, a traditional Cambodian dish that I had been eating quite a bit, and it was fantastic here.  After dinner we walked around the night market and did a little shopping.  I met a girl whose name was Happy and we talked for awhile since she wanted to practice her English.  She is twelve and works in her mothers store.  She also is in the ninth grade since she skipped two grades.  We talked about school, holidays, and her desire to be a fashion designer.  The locals are what make Cambodia so wonderful.  They are so friendly.

We are just about done shopping, when Mia starts crying.  She said a bug landed on her face and she swatted it off, but now it hurts badly.  I don't see any marks, but Mia doesn't cry from pain.  We head
back to the hotel and I look again, no one sees any mark.  We wash her face and put her to bed.  It's been another long, exhausting, fun filled day.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Siem Reap Day Two: Angkor Wat

The breakfast may be one of my favorite things about this hotel, and by breakfast I mean the chef who will make a fresh noodle soup with whatever you want.  There were so many different options and favors to add, I just asked her to add what she thought.  Everyday it was amazing!  My kids loved it as well.  Besides the hot soup to order there was also a table of fresh fruit that included mango, watermelon, papaya, and a few things I've never seen before, but they were excellent as well.  There were chocolate croissants, pancakes with honey, fried rice, potatoes, bacon and sausage, plus eggs made to order as well.  A great way to start every morning!

Today we were going to see Angkor Wat, the reason we came to Siem Reap.  Jet picked us up at 8:30 and we were off.  It was a short drive to this temple.   The first thing you notice is the giant man made moat that surrounds the temple.  It is massive and hard to believe it was made over 900 years ago.  Once we  turned the corner and came closer you could see the entrance of the temple, but it doesn't really prepare ou for how massive it really is once you enter.  Besides the sheer size, what's so incredible is how well it has withstood time.  It is not in ruins like some of the other temples we had seen.  It still had most of it's stone ceilings and carvings.  It truly is an impressive sight.  We walked around and Jet showed us the best places to take pictures and when we came to the stairs that you had to be 12 years old to climb, Jet sat with our girls so Bill, Carter, and I could go and explore.  This actually happened at a few of the temples.  Another great perk about having a tour guide.  

It was a day FILLED with temples.  We saw eight different temples that day, including the one where Tomb Raider was filmed.  We finished our day at Phnom Backeng watching the sunset.  Well, they actually closed before the sun set, but we watched it go behind the clouds.  It was a cloudy day so we were lucky to see a bit of the sun setting at all really.

It was extremely hot and humid and everyone was  constantly dripping with sweat.  The kids did complain a little at the end, but I was surprised how well they did.  It helped that the van was air conditioned and that they had cold bottled water waiting for us as well.  Overall it was a fun day.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Siem Reap, Cambodia: Day One

Siem Reap is famous for Angor Wat, which is why we came, but there are over 500 temples in the Siem Reap area alone.  For this reason we booked a three day private tour package with Kris ahead of time.  There are two options:  one, you hire a driver to take you to the sites, but they are not allowed to enter any of the sites with you, for that you need an official tour guide.  Which brings us to option two, hire both a driver and a guide.  I felt to really see the city, understand its history, and appreciate all we would be seeing we needed a tour guide.  I was not wrong, best decision ever!

Jet, our tour guide met us at our hotel at 8:30 am.  The waiting van, like the ones we came in was very clean and air conditioned, a huge plus I this crazy humid heat.  Our driver was Sveit.  He didn't speak much English , but compared to the driver we had last night he was amazing!!!!  We did not go to Angor Wat on the first day, but instead went to Beng Melea, about an hour away.  It was beautiful, big, and crumbling, due to the trees that were growing through it.  Beng Melea is over 900 years old.  We walked and climbed around and then went back to the city for some lunch.  We went to a nice restaurant where a lunch entree was about $4-$6 drinks around $2.  What I found so interesting about this country is that not only do they take american dollars, every menu only has the price in dollars.  Even people from other countries use american dollars when traveling here.  They will give you change in american dollars except coins they convert to riel.  

The best part about having Jet as our tour guide was learning about Cambodia history from his perspective and hearing stories about his life.  As we were driving out to the floating village I asked Jet where he grew up.  It turns out that Jet is from a town that borders the jungle where the Kmehr Rouge  was pushed too.  Every night after dinner around 4pm his family would get in their foxhole, because that's when the fighting would start.  He said with the bullets and grenades and constant 
fighting you could not hear the person next to you talking, it was so loud.  Every night he did not think he would live, but he would fall asleep and the next day he was fine.  As a child he and his
friends would pick up the bullets and walk past dead bodies and this was normal life for him.  This is 
one of many stories that Jet told us during our three days with him.  

He also told us how he wanted to be a tour guide and learn to speak English.  It used to be against the law to learn but after the defeat of the Kmher Rouge things changed.  His father had been a doctor and spoke French, but he died in 1997.  One of his brothers also spoke French, but he was killed by the Kmehr Rouge as well.  Because of them he said he had a passion to speak another language.  He told the story about how he went to school to learn English and they learned lessons 1-5.  Then classes ended, but his teacher opened a new class so Jet followed him since he was the only teacher who taught English.  Again he learned lessons 1-5 and then classes ended.  A third time Jet took lessons for. Him and again the lessons ended at level 5.  Jet finally asked him why they didn't learn lesson six, he was bored with lessons one through five.  His teacher pulled him aside and said he was sorry, but he didn't know lesson six, only one through five.  Jet is laughing when telling this story.  So he ends up moving to a different town where they have a very good school for learning languages.  

We arrive at the floating village and we must pay a fee $12 a person to take a rickety boat to and around the floating village which sits on Tonle Sap Lake, the largest lake in Southeast Asia.  We have our own boat along with Jet and we cruise down the river and see people living in tiny house boats, which apparently they have done for hundreds of years.  We see mothers cooking, babies crawling, children playing and swimming, men fishing and just glimpses of everyday life.  We ask Jet if the people mind all the tour boats that cruise by their homes daily, but he says they love it because the money we pay helps them when they need it.  Not sure what that means exactly.  We got off the boat for a pit stop and saw the crocadiles that they raise.  We also climbed to the top of this boat store and had a great view of the river and lake.  We cruised around for about an hour and then parked the boat
 up on the land, we jumped off the front of the boat into some mud and walked up the steep wooden 
steps to where we started.  

We returned to our hotel around 4:30, just enough time to play in the pool, shower off and meet our driver at 6:30 so he could take us to watch traditional Aspara dancers and eat a buffet dinner.  The
dancing was interesting, but most people didn't seem to be watching the show.  There were many food options and it was fun to try new things.  Even the kids got into the spirit.  They've actually been doing grat with eating new dishes.  We try to stick to noodles, chicken and shrimp for them, which is not too hard.  Plus they love all the fruit!!!

Our driver was waiting for us when the show ended and drove us back to our hotel where once again lizards roam the outside corridors otherwise known as our hallways.  We wrapped our mosquito nets around us and drifted off to sleep.  Okay, so maybe drifted isn't the right word, more like sweat dripping, air conditioner barely working, exhaustion taking over kind of sleep.  Whatever. 

Cambodia Border Crossing

I thought today would be a relitevly easy and uneventful day, since it was a travel day.  Wow, was I ever wrong.   Our day included traveling 13 1/2 hours, 3 different drivers, an act of faith,  blind night driving, lost camera, and more.

We met our taxi at 9 am and headed to the airport.  Our taxi driver was Joseph's friend, since Joseph's "taxi" was not allowed to take us to the airport, he arranged for someone else to give us a ride.  We check in, eat a little breakfast and proceed to get a little lost.  It's fine, we find our gate.  No big deal.  The flight to Bangkok takes about an hour and after we land and get our luggage we look for the driver who is supposed to meet us.  He is no where to be found.  This is our day's first dilemma.  We look around the meeting point   He's not here.  I sit down with the kids while Bill scours the airport.  I'm supposed to find free wifi to look up Kris's, the man we booked with, phone number.

After 15 minutes Bill returns.  No luck, but I'm connected to the Internet and find the emails that were sent.  That morning Kris had also sent us a "hot" number for the driver, his words not mine.  The number did not work, apparently it's not that hot.  I emailed Kris and told him we couldn't find his driver and had been looking.  Bill started looking into alternative ways to get to Cambodia.  Kris emailed back.  His driver was on the first floor, arrivals are on the second floor, and he was waiting at door eight, we are all the way on the opposite side.  After an hour and a half we finally meet our driver who does not speak any English and follow him to our van.  Not what I was expecting.  I'm pretty sure I saw ants crawling around.  I'm sure it will be fine though.

We drive three hours towards Cambodia.  We are almost there when he needs to get gas.  Right next to the highway there are two gas stations, literally right next to each other.  One is empty, the other
has a line of about fifty cars and they are not moving.  It seems only one pump is working.  Of course that's the line we get in.  Seriously?!  After sitting in this line for 15 minutes and not even inching
forward Bill asks why we don't go to the gas station next door.  It turns out the other station is twice
the cost.  Bill says he'll pay the difference.  Our driver gets on the phone then hands it to Bill.  Bill talks to someone at Kris's office and gets the okay for our driver to go to the other station as long as
we pay the difference.  To save at least an hour of our time, no problem.  We are quickly back on the road.

We come to the border and our driver pulls in a big dirt parking lot.  As soon as we park someone is opening our door.  He speaks English and tells us we must leave the van.  He says Mr. Kris sent him to help us cross the border, and then we will get a new van.  Um, okay.  We gather our things quickly and then sit down outside at a plastic table so he can fill out the necessary forms to get our visas.
Then he says, "Follow me."  So of course, we do.  It is so hot and humid and dirty and congested with cars, motorbikes, and tons of people.  We dodge traffic as we cross the street and walk along the road, (there are no side walks).  He tells us we must go through Thailand checkpoint by ourselves and he
will meet us on the other side.  So we follow the crowd of people and go through immigration.  The officer is not friendly but it goes well.  We find our guide on the other side.   Following him over a river that is filled with trash, children begging, people selling food that appears to have been sitting our for days, people honking, it's crowded, it's busy, its chaos.  He then helps us navigate to an outside restaurant, if you can call it that.  He tells us we need to give him the money for our Cambodian visas, plus our passports and he will go through the VIP line.  It is much faster, thirty minutes, and we won't have to wait in line, sometimes an hour.  I had read about this, so I felt it was legit, plus we had set it up with Kris, a man we meet on the internet, that someone would help us with the border crossing so we gave him about 6000 baht and all our passports.  I mean really, what could go wrong?  Bill asked if he should come to, but was told, no just wait here, I'll be back.  Talk about a leap of faith.  We were now standing in Cambodia, alone, and passport less.  Ava was worried and said she did not like this place.  She was felling very unsafe she said since a few people had come up and touched her face and hair.   I reassured her that it was fine and hoped I wasn't lying.

Thankfully thirty minutes later our guide came back with passports that now had Cambodian visas
inside.  Phew!!!  We weren't going to be stranded after all.  We followed our new friend through the
Cambodian checkpoint, which consisted of 2 soldiers sitting in plastic chairs.  A few words were
exchanged,  and we just walked by.  Very strange.  It was night now.  We were originally supposed to take a bus to our waiting van, but things had changed and our van was going to pick us up right there.  I almost get run over by a motorbike, but somehow we make it to the van.  They load our luggage, we pile in, say goodbye to our friend who helped us cross the border and take off on the scariest drive of our lives.  I'm not kidding!

The road that leads to Siem Reap is a main road, but this is Cambodia so all this means is that some of it is paved.  It is two lanes, but that means nothing to these drivers who constantly pass and and create a "third" lane in the middle of the road.  As if having multiple head on collisions isn't scary enough, our driver is speeding, and on at least one of his two cell phones at all times.  Oh and did I mention it is a stick shift, and no, he doesn't have a blue tooth.  It gets better, about 30 minutes from the border the road becomes an obstacle course with potholes easily 5 feet wide and 5 feet long.  Also there appears to be no road maintenance because some sections are literally dirt.  But wait, it gets  EVEN better, many vehicles don't have rear lights, even the big rigs, so as our driver is weaving in and out of traffic at 70mph we come up fast on these slow moving vehicles while creating a third passing lane and trying to avoid hitting the motorbikes as well.  The icing on the cake, there are NO SEATBELTS!!!!!   This went on for about three hours until we finally made it to Siem Reap by some miracle.

Can't wait to see what else Cambodia has in store for us!

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Phuket Day Four: Death by Elephant Or Something Like That

Today begins with fighting, bickering, crying, and some yelling.  We haven't even been awake for five minutest when it starts.  Someone touched me, someone's not being nice, someone hit me, you can't touch that it's mine.  Agh!

We decided we wanted to go elephant trekking today.  When  I say we, I mean everyone except Carter.  Carter would like to spend the day at the pool and he says that elephants are boring.  He is really moody and is very unhappy we are making him go.  We've explained we only plan on being gone half the day and will spend the other half at the pool.  He doesn't care because he is adamant that this is the worst thing.

With two happy kids in tow plus one sullen almost teen, we head off.  We find Joseph, our driver from yesterday, at the same spot on the rode.  He runs over and tells us he will meet us at the grocery store.  As Bill is trying to explain what we want to do today, he is looking around frantically telling us "No talk here."  Shady, perhaps.  So we meet him at the grocery store just up the road where it is safe to talk.  He agrees to take us to the elephants and waterfall at one of the national parks.

The negotiatining begins as soon as we arrive.  EVERYTHING is negotiable.  A price is finally agreed upon for our 30 minute trek.  We climb to a landing where we will load onto the elephants.  Bill along with Mia and Carter are on the first one.  Ava and I are on the second.  We get on this bench seat atop the elephants back.  We have a pseudo seat belt aka rope that both Ava and I could slip under, and cling for dear life to the side metal bar that is part of our bench seat.

We walk about 3 minutes and then I see Bills elephant heading down a steep embankment into a
river.  WHAT THE??????!!!   I've changed my mind, I don't want to do this, we are going to die!!!
I'm hanging on to the side and to Ava while we are slipping under the rope as our elephant slowly
walks down.  What makes us even more vertical to the ground is our elephant is putting its head down to eat the tall grasses as he/she walks.  Carter was right, this was a bad idea.  It sems like it took forever, but we finally make it down and I see Bill taking pictures of us.  I know I should take pictures of them but I can't seem to release my hand from the death grip it has going on with the side railing.  I now fully appreciate the term white knuckled.

As we trek through the river I see Bill's guide has gotten down from the neck of the elephant where he was perched to wander into the jungle, leaving my family alone on top of this elephant.  Oh he's back now, apparently he found a piece of fruit he wanted to cut down and save for later.  Awesome!  We continue down the river, all the while I'm thinking worst case scenarios, if the elephant freaks out I'll save Ava first.  I've decided if neceassy, I'll grab her and throw her on the river embankment.  She
could probably even  jump, it's parallel to where we are sitting, she'd be fine.  Much better than death
by elephant.  As I've finalized my plans in my head I notice Bill's elephant climbing a VERY steep mountain up out of the river.  You may call it an embankment but I'm sticking to mountain.  This mountain is high and it is steep.  Bill laughingly tells me I'd better hold on, I'm not going tomlike this.  Seriously, those are his encouraging words to me?!  My elephant guide sees my panick and says, "Is okay, is okay, this way, easy" while pointing to a switchback route instead of the vertical incline my family just took.  He was right, easy.  Phew.

We come up from the river into a clearing of grass and tress.  Beautiful.  I'm just beginning  to finally relax.  I can do this, this is fun.  Then I see up ahead, Carter is now perched on the neck of the elephant where once the guide sat.  The guide is now on the ground taking photos with Bill's camera. Next thing I know our guide is swinging down from the neck of our elephant and asking Ava if she
wants to sit on the elephants neck.  My timid girl, who I'm realizing is not very timid, says yes.
REALLY!!!  Bill thought it safe enough for Carter so I'm thinking it will be a quick photo op and then back in the bench.  So I help her slide gently onto the elephant's neck.  Our guide takes my
camera and takes many pictures.  Then our elephant begins walking.  Ava rides bareback or in this
case bare neck almost the entire way back.  Finally I help Ava slide back into the bench seat, our guide climbs back on the neck where he was originally and we return to where we started.  That was crazy!  That was fun!

After we disembark this man comes up and guides us to a cage where a couple of pythons are living.  Great, now they are going to wrap a python around my children.  We survived the elephants and now we aredealing with giant snakes.  Thankfully that wasn't the case.  He did however hold the snakes head near each of my children's faces so we could take a picture.

As soon as we get back in the car, Carter turns to me and says, "That was a lot of fun!  I'm sorry, you were right.  You're always right".   Thank you Carter, and yes I am!  I only had to travel halfway around the world for him to say that!

Further up the road we came to the waterfall we had heard about.  We hiked up rough the jungle about 10 minutes to get there.  We were sweating everywhere, I think even my eyeballs were sweating.  It was so hot and humid!!!  We encountered all different types of bugs, spiders, giant ants, lizards, even a red crab.  Besides the sweating, Ava was having a meltdown because of some injustice caused by Mia of course.  So everyone climbing up to the waterfall that day was lucky enough to hear the cries of Ava.   Just another day in paradise.

Once we arrived back at the hotel Mia and I headed straight to the pool.  Bill stayed with Carter and
Ava so they could serve their timeout punishments.  We swam for awhile and then Bill found a $10 hour massage just next to our hotel.  It was outside, about 12 tables lined up, and I just layer down
not really knowing what to expect.  I had asked for the oil massage and it was heaven.  She did have
me shimmy out of my bathing suit top, but covered me with a hand towel.  The next 60 minutes were pure heaven.  I could hear the ocean waves crashing and I was so relaxed even if there was another man getting a massage a few tables over.  I can't believe it was only $10!  And why did I only find
this on my last day, not my first!!!

We were too tired from our busy day to leave our room or even call room service so we ate granola bars for dinner and passed out at 6:30.  So much for a last night great dinner.  Can't wait to see what tomorrow brings

Friday, June 27, 2014

Phuket Day Three: Our Own Adventure

Today we decided to venture out on our own, which is always an adventure.  As we were walking into the small town next to us, a man standing on the side of the street was asking if we wanted a taxi. Bill did the customary negotiating and we hired him to drive us around all day.  His name was Joseph, as the decal stated on his driver side window, and his car was small.  We got into the taxi, with Mia on my lap,  and we were off.  What we quickly learned was 1) this was not a taxi. 2)  Joseph would be fined 2000 baht ($60) which is more than we were paying him, and 3) because of 1 & 2 we had to take a few detours to evade police.  Like I said, always an adventure.

We started off in Old Town Phuket which was about a thirty minute drive.  It was interesting.  Very run down although you could see the architecture was really beautiful and I'm sure in its prime, amazing.  We had a fabulous traditional Thai lunch, where we tried some new things including mango sticky rice with coconut ice cream.  Everyone attacked it, although Mia now says she didn't really like it.  I have photos that prove otherwise.  Everywhere we walked tuk tuks would approach us asking is we needed a ride.  It was incredible hot and humid since we were exploring at the hottest time of the day and my clothes just stuck to me.  We went in two buddhist temples, where shoes are not allowed, but bird poo is.  You had to watch where you stepped, I learned this the hard way.  Ugh!

We were a little late meeting back up with Joseph who was worried we had left him there and found a cheaper ride.  After reassuring him we would not do that, we were off to Monkey Hill, supposedly a great lookout point of the city.  The other big draw is that, as the name implies, there are monkeys roaming freely all over, including baby ones.  They sell fruit to feed the monkeys so of course that's what we did.  They will literally come up to you and take it out of your hands.  My kids were a bit freaked out so they instead tossed them the food.  It quickly became apparent which monkey was in charge.  We walked a little further to the lookout point which was blocked off because it was under construction so the view was not great, but still well worth the drive.

Next stop, Wat Chalong, a famous Buddhist temple.  On the property there are many temples and pagodas.  Very different from anything we had ever seen.  This one was three stories tall and although no shoes were allowed, it was enclosed so there was also no bird feces to worry about.  Inside there were many golden statues, staircase handles carved into snakes and painted brightly,  and shrines.

Patong Beach was next.  It is a vibrant touristy town with many shopping opportunities.  We headed to the beach and let the kids play for an hour.  The beach was beautiful, warm turquoise water, smooth white sand, and plenty of people watching available.  The craziest part was that the para sailing speed boats and the jet skies all drove RIGHT next to shore and seemed to literally weave around the people swimming.  It was crazy!  Dinner was gyros, we needed a little break from Thai, from a  street vendor and we cruised and shopped Bangla Road as dusk set in.  If you think Vegas is wild, it has nothing on Bangla Road.  Not a place for families when the sun goes down.  That would be a very different type of vacation.

Once again Joseph quickly ushered us into our waiting "taxi" and drove us back to our hotel.  We just spent 10 hours with Joseph as our own personal driver.  Very fun and very different.  I should mention that although we had fun there was a bit of bickering in the car, whining, crying, elbows, pushing.  Close cramped quarters with three exhausted children is not that much fun.  Thank goodness we didn't spend too long on our car rides.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Phuket Day 2: Highlights and Observations

Here are my highlights and observations:

*  Full day exploring Phi Phi Islands, means butterfly, but pronounced pee pee..  Surprisingly my kids were very mature with this information.
*  Learning that fish eat bananas.  That's what we were given to feed the fish while snorkeling.  Who knew?  Side note, fish will nip your fingers as Carter can attest to.
*  Monkeys hide on Monkey Island when they are worried of approaching bad weather.  Not the best feeling when on a speedboat an hour away from the mainland.
*  Scoping out the life vest situation and telling Bill that when the boat begins to sink he better help grab five.
*  Not everything is included, snorkeling masks, yes, fins not so much, those are an extra fee.
*  Lunch however was included.  It consisted of curry, rice , a seafood soup, and of course spaghetti and barbecue sauce.  I am not kidding.
*  Saw a water snake and an eel, along with some amazingly colorful fish.
* My kids don't like snorkeling in the rough open sea with the rain pounding down and the boat rocking like crazy, although they did enjoy snorkeling just off the beach in the coral.  Go figure!
* Ava is a brave girl when it comes to the wildlife, she held an iguana and it sat on her shoulder.  To be fair, I think all my kids wanted a chance, but it costs money so for those 5 minutes she was the chosen one, aka favorite.  Good thing I have a photo for all the times she tells me she is unloved.  Now I can point to it and say to her,  "Do loving parents allow a wild animal to sit on their child's shoulders?"  On second thought, maybe I should burn that picture.
*  No one got sea sick, though it was touch and go for a few of our team.
*  Swimming pool time to end our day and Dim Sum for dinner, which surprisingly everyone loved!  I'm sure it's not because they were famished.
*  Everyone in bed and asleep by 7:45.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Phuket Day One

We were only in Bangkok for the night since we weren't sure what to expect in Thailand and especially Bangkok becaus of the coup.   Although I didn't observe any signs of a coup.   Thank goodness!  We had one flight left until we arrived at our first destination,...Phuket .

As any good family, we decided to start the day off right with the most important meal, breakfast.  The girls ordered the traditional Thai breakfast of waffle with ice cream covered in chocolate syrup.  Okay, so maybe traditional is not exactly true, but there it was, giant picture, right on the menu.  Carter went for the breakfast of champions, a Thai pancake.  What made this version a little different is the fact that they do not have syrup, but instead a giant bottle of honey arrived.  Carter decided this is much better than maple syrup anyway.

Our one hour flight to Phuket was uneventful, unless you ask Bill who was surrounded by non wearing deodorant passengers.  Apparently he hasn't mastered the art of breathing through your mouth.  I honestly didn't know if he was going to make it.  Thankfully he did.   We were finally reunited with our luggage which we hadn't seen since SFO and hired a taxi for the 30 minute ride to our hotel.

The hotel is amazing!  They gave us eucalptus scented cool towels upon arrival and fresh tang to drink.  They let us check in early which was great!  We spent the day at the pool which overlooks the ocean.  We weren't able to go into the ocean because there were red flags out on the beach.  When Bill inquired about the red flags he was told that you can swim in the ocean but it is not advised because of the strong undertow and all of the jellyfish.  Undertow,,,,jellyfish, I think well stick to the pool, at least it has a water slide.

The hotel we are staying at has a baby elephant that they bring out twice a day.  The kids were able to feed and pet it.  Ava and Mia were even able to ride it, although Mia was completely petrified.  Then for even more excitement a snake was found slithering right next to the pool.  After a few screams from the women and children near it, the staff  proceeded to quickly catch it and then drape it over my daughter's head for a picture opportunity.

For dinner we took the free shuttle down to the last stop, which is the next hotel and walked into the little town.  I forgot to spray on the mosquito repellant which for Mia was a grave mistake.  We had a very expensive dinner although they did provide a free taxi back to our hotel.  So that was nice.  Plus all through dinner, which was eaten outside overlooking a lagoon, the kids were obsessed with trying to take pictures of all the lizards walking around.  Also Mia was being eaten alive but this was not realized until we returned to the hotel.  Note to self, Mosquitos LOVE Mia.

Monday, June 23, 2014

We're off!

We're off!  Packed and ready to go. Southeast Asia for 23 days and then 15 days in Tulsa and Route 66.   Looking forward to the adventure, making memories and new experiences.

 Every trip I make I feel like I get a little better at packing, but I'm sure there will be stuff I wished I didn't pack and other things I wished I would have.   There comes a point where it's good enough or  at least the point where the taxi is waiting to take you to the airport and you just have to grab your bags, ready or not.  Go!  Go!  Go!

Day one was LONG, but relatively uneventful.   We left home at 8:15 and arrived to SFO around 9:00.  The only problem was that Bill was not on our flight.  So the kids and I left first and traveled 10 1/2 hours to Japan, layover for 3 1/2 more hours.  We saw Bill just as the kids were beginning  to fight and 30 minutes before our next flight.  We loaded up most of Team Thompson and then flew Thai Airways, which is amazing by the way, 6 1/2 hours to Bangkok.  Where we meet up with the rest of Team Thompson, aka Bill.

Overall the kids were really good.  Not having to entertain an infant or cranky 3 year old for hours makes the flight just a little bit better.  Everyone entertained themselves by watching movies, such as Labor Day, which is totally kid friendly right?  No video games except for a little Fruit Ninja at the airport in Japan, appropriate I'd say.  And lets not forget a  little violent Japanese murder drama, all in Japanese, that my kids were engrossed in at the airport in Japan.  I was being a good mom and reading my own book, while my kids were watching the murder of a child on a swing with a wrench on the big screen public TV.  I only know this because when it was over Ava told me all about it and how she didn't really think it was appropriate that they watched it and now she was scared.   On the upside after 3 hours of listening and watching Japanese maybe they picked up a few words.

The flight from Japan to Bangkok was great!  We each had our own little tv screens and could watch what we wanted.  The kids actually slept and again no fighting.  Yes!  I thought the food was really good, although my kids barely touched theirs.  We started out with a snack which was some kind of rice crackers and dried little anchovies.  I wasn't really paying attention to what I was eating, and didn't realize I was snacking away on whole dried fish until my kids each handed my their bags, shaking their heads with a disgusted look on their faces.  They all tried some at least.  For the main meal I had the chicken curry, which was wonderful.  The flight attendant thought my kids would prefer the pork and noodles so I agreed.   Yeah, not really a hit with any of them either.  Last we finished up with a little green tea ice cream.  Amazing, although my kids slept through that part.  You snooze, you lose.  Seriously!

We arrived in Bangkok and went through customs and then waited for Bill.  Now my kids were tired, now the fighting began.  Luckily Bill was only an hour behind us.  Needless to say we were super happy for Team Thompson to be reunited.  The taxi we crammed into was a small economy car.  Mia sat on my lap and Ava's seatbelt didn't work.  Awesome.  Our hotel wasn't too far and at least this taxi driver wasn't  texting while driving like the taxi driver who took us to SFO.  After  driving for awhile we turned off the main road onto what appeared to be an alley way and took it all the way to the end.  It seemed a little dodgy getting here, but the hotel is actually very nice.  We got out of the taxi and straight to the lobby, which is outdoors.  My kids were ecstatic because there were a bunch of lizards crawling around on the walls.  Best Place Ever according to Carter, who can't wait to catch some.  So not going to happen.

We went straight to bed since it was midnight here.  I could only sleep for 5 hours which is why I'm typing this.  Our taxi picks us up at 8am to finish traveling to Phuket.  It's only an hour flight.  Can't wait to get to our destination, get our luggage, and relax.