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.