Macao and Hong Kong

Our end of term school break came around this February and we decided to take another trip.  We have always wanted to visit China but have found that visiting the mainland is very expensive for Americans due to Tourist Visa costs.  However, we discovered that both Macao and Hong Kong are both considered “Special Administrative Regions of The People’s Republic of China” which allows us to get tourist visas for free.  Even better, we can fly to Macao from Utapao airport in Pattaya and the flight is just under three hours.   Once in Macao you can take the Turbojet ferry to Hong Kong in just about an hour.  This is what we did!

We flew from Utapao airport on a Tuesday to Macao International Airport.  We secured a Hong Kong / Macau SIM card and got a taxi to Hou Kong Hotel in old Macao.  At first impressions, coming from the Taipa area, Macau’s casino side seemed like an asian Las Vegas.  The buildings were huge and over the top, lacking any real cultural character.  Lots of flash and decadence.  However as we approached the old city portion of Macau things started to morph into the Portugese / Chinese / Macanese feel as far as architecture and the color schemes of the buildings.


After checking in, we walked a short distance and found “Cafe De Novo Tomato” which is supposedly rather famous in the area for its traditional food like portuguese chicken, beef curry, and bacalhau as well as portuguese beers.  It was a nice inexpensive lunch.


Just next door is a small buddhist temple that we found a bit different from those in Thailand and other parts of SE Asia.


After lunch we made our way towards one of the big attractions on the old city, The Ruins of St. Paul.  On the way I had to stop and try a Portugese Egg Tart.  It tasted like a sweet quiche.


The streets became more and more congested with people as we got closer to the ruins.  There were street vendors everywhere clipping pieces of sweet meat jerky with giant pairs of scissors, trying to get you to purchase a slab.  We eventually made it to St. Paul’s Ruins and it was quite beautiful.  There were people everywhere snapping pictures and selfies and children running up and down the steps.  On the other side of the stone pillars were tombs.

There was a beautiful green space next to the ruins so we made our way that direction only to realize there was a stone fort in the middle of it.  The fort is called “Monte Fort”.  We scaled many steps to the stop where there were sweeping views of Macau and old cannons sparsely strewn around.  This would have been the lookout spot many years ago.  It reminded me of St. Augustine, Florida.

After the ruins we made our way to Senado Square.  The most memorable part for me was the ornate tile that is laid everywhere in Senado Square.  There were still many different sculpture and inflatable pigs left in the center of the square from Chinese New Year celebrations just a week or so prior to our visit.

By the late afternoon our kids were feeling tired so we made our way back towards the room.  We ended up walking down Rua de Felicidade, which translate into “Happiness Street”.  It was an interesting small pedestrian road that felt untouched and well preserved for many years.  It was like something out of a movie.

Wednesday morning we woke up in not the most pleasant of ways.  Somehow my wife’s phone screen had broken while we were sleeping and when we got out of bed we accidentally broke a glass in the room.  Cleaning glass off of tile when you tend to also only wear flip flops was a challenge.  Not the best start to the day, needless to say.  Anyhow we had to walk to a random phone repair shop in the old city and pay about $650 MOP to fix it.  This was also while carrying our luggage, in the rain.  While the phone was getting fixed we grabbed a bite to eat at Jollibee for breakfast.

Once all the phone situation was sorted we decided to catch a zen moment and went to the Lou Lim Leoc Garden in the middle of town.  This place was just what we needed after a stressful morning.  It was lush and full of mandarin oranges, flowers, birds, fish, turtles, and interesting rock formations.  There were people doing tai chi and even playing traditional folk music.  In the center of the garden was an art space exhibiting wood-block prints which was interesting to see.

We spent about an hour there before making our way to the Turbojet ferry for our trip to Hong Kong.  We looked forever for a taxi to Macao Outer Harbor to get to the ferry terminal!!  Probably the hardest taxi hailing experience we’ve ever had.

The Turbojet ferry was an interesting experience.  It is a hydrofoil boat which goes VERY fast, yet very smooth.  The seating inside the boat was similar to being in an aircraft.  The entire trip took about 1.5 hours to get to Scheungwan, Hong Kong.


Upon arrival at the Shun Tak Centre ferry terminal in Hong Kong, we took a taxi to the Queens Central road area and checked into our AirBnB.  This place was in the middle of everything!  There were high end restaurants, hip coffee shops, art galleries, office spaces, small mom & pop dim sum shops, fresh markets, and everything in between.  There was a mix of backpackers types, businessmen, tourists, etc.  It was a real melting pot.  I loved the street art everywhere as well.   Even better, we found good Mexican food, margaritas, and Micheladas!  In Hong Kong! HA.

After dinner we walked up the steep incline steps of Ladder Street to Upper Lascar Row, which was a side street parallel to Queens Central that had so many interesting things.


They also call the area “Cat Street Flea Market”.  Piles of “junk” had old playboy magazines, jewelry, bibles, glasses, bullets, watches, more than I can name.  It was like going through your grandfather’s attic in China.

We wandered these back streets taking in the sights and sounds.  The area had such a cool vibe!  We ended up sitting at open air restaurant/bar called Blue Supreme for a couple of beers before heading back to the room.

From our room we decided to purchase some Big Bus sightseeing tickets for the following day.  These buses are double-decker buses with open air seating on top.  It allows you to ride along different routes throughout Hong Kong and hop on and off whenever you like.  This allowed us to get off, take our time, and then catch another bus when it came around.  Even better, there was recorded audio you could listen to while riding to inform you of interesting facts along the route.  Once we purchased the tickets, we had difficulty viewing them on the app so we needed to print them, however we had no access to a printer.  So, I went walking through Hong Kong asking hotel desks and even random people if they knew a place to do this or where a print shop might be.  I eventually ran into a young blond guy who said his girlfriend might know of a place.  The two of them were Dutch and they both walked me to a spot they had used before but it was unfortunately closed.  Upon realizing this they offered to print my tickets from their office.  We walked about a block further and they were kind enough to let me use their printer to print the tickets!  WOW!  So kind.  I normally wouldn’t just walk with any stranger to their office around 9pm at night but I got a good vibe from this young couple. We chatted about musical festivals we’ve been too and about Thailand.  COOL PEOPLE.

Thursday morning, went to Man Mo Temple which is located on Hollywood Road. It is a temple for the worship of the civil or literature god Man Tai / Man Cheong and the martial god Mo Tai.  It was supposedly built in 1847 and is a cool sight set amongst the modernity of Scheung Wan.  Upon first steps in, we were struck by the low-lit smokiness of the temple.  This is because there are countless spiral-shaped incense cones burning everywhere!  We did a quick  walk through and marveled at the ambiance.

After about 20 minutes in the temple,  our Big Bus tour arrived at the temple which was one of the “hop-on/hop-off” points.  We boarded and made our way to the top of this double decker bus to get great vantage points of the city.  They also offered headsets to plug in to your seat in order to hear recorded audio commentary that was synced to our location on the tour.  Our kids loved it!.

We rode the Big Bus to Victoria Harbor, where we walked towards the classic Star Ferry.  Our Big Bus tickets included a round trip pass on the Ferry so we took it over to the north part of Hong Kong, Kowloon.  The entire trip took about 15 minutes.  I was amazed by the views of the two sides of the city but also struck the amount of smog hanging in the air!

Once in Kowloon we hopped back on the Big Bus tour and went to Ladies Market, which is in the Mong Kok district.  It was overwhelming with all of its t-shirts, watches, belts, electronics, tourist kitsch, etc.  We had to stay close to each other as one could easily get separated and lost amongst the huge crowds and labyrinth of shops and stalls.

The majority of our time in Kowloon was spent seeing everything from above while riding the Big Bus.  It allowed us to see so much that would have been impossible on foot or even with a taxi.

Our last big attraction we wanted to see was Victoria Peak which is back on the south Island where we were staying.  So we hopped back over on Star Ferry to take us back towards Scheung Wan.  Once there the Big Bug took us to Victoria Peak.

Upon arriving we queued in line for a funicular train that took us up the peak.  Once there, you take a series of what felt like 10 escalators even further up until you’ve reached the Skywalk.  From here, you have amazing views of Hong Kong.  People even skydive from up here!  Me? No.  We took our obligatory family photo and made our way back down in order to head towards our AirBnB to freshen up and get some dinner.

For dinner, I just had to try real Dim Sum in Hong Kong.  We found a place that is rated the Best Dim Sum in Hong Kong!  We sat down and ordered an array of things.  This is what I have to say about it.  It tasted good, but the texture was off-putting.  I like food that has a little crunch to it but all the dim sum was simply soft and gooey.  Hey, maybe it wasn’t for us.

We ended up leaving after giving them all a shot and had lebanese for dinner instead.  Our kids loved it!

Friday morning, we woke up and checked out of our AirBnB in Hong Kong and set out for breakfast.  At a communal table at the restaurant we met a husband and wife who were shellfish farmers and the owners of Saltspring Island Mussels in British Columbia.  They were the sweetest couple and discussed their travels around the world with us.  It was so random but wonderfully welcomed.

After the breakfast we headed with our luggage back to the Turbojet departure dock to head towards the Taipa area of Macao.  Taipa was much different than the Old Macao.  It was opulent and to me lacked the character of Old Macao.  Our first and only stop that day was at The Venetian.  This mammoth-sized casino/hotel/mall/art space/kids playground was GRAND and dwarfed our family of four!  We were amazed by the intricate paintings on the ceilings and the giant archways.  There is one room where the sky in painted onto the ceiling and there is a moat and gondola that you can ride throughout the space.  There are high end restaurants, cheap eats, luxury stores, and of course the casino.

After spending quite a while in The Venetian roaming is expansiveness we tried to find our way out.  We actually had to ask for directions to find an exit!  Ha.  No offense to The Venetian, but I was craving some character after that so we headed to a cool street in Taipa called Rua de Cunha. In the midst of all the hotels and casinos is this pretty hip street filled with eateries, touristy kitsch, and cool art.  It had a wonderful Portugese vibe that slightly reminded me of parts of Miami.  While there we had to try a popular meal, the Pork Chop Bun.  It’ exactly what it sounds like, a pork chop.. on a bun.  It was alright except for the fact that I though it would be boneless and I bit straight into it, luckily not breaking a tooth!  Still tasty.

Rua de Cunha was our last top before heading towards the Grand China Crown Hotel for a night of rest before an early departure back to Pattaya.  The Grand China Hotel was dated, not close to anything too interesting, but was LITERALLY right across a small street to the airport which was very convenient.  We caught a nights rest and we were back home in no time!  We enjoyed our trip to the two places and would recommend it to anyone!






Osaka and Kyoto, Japan

For our “fall break” this year we decided to leave SE Asia and experience a country we’ve long desired to visit, Japan.  We left for Osaka, Japan from Bangkok on a Sunday afternoon and arrived in Osaka approximately 5 hours later.  Osaka is interesting because Kansai International Airport if situated on an island of reclaimed land, dredged up from the sea floor.  When landing, it looks like you are about to land in the middle of Osaka Bay.

Once we exited the plane and made our way through immigration, etc.  we looked for the “Klook” desk to pick up a pre-paid SIM card we had pre-ordered before arriving in Japan.  Unfortunately, the Klook desk closed at 10:00pm and we didn’t get there until about 10:30pm.  Damn!  Luckily I had prepared for this and printed out directions to our hostel in Osaka.  We hopped on the Namba-Nankai Railway headed towards Namba Station.  At this point it was getting rather late and we were struggling to keep our kids awake due to the calming rocking motion on the train.  The train was SO VERY QUIET.  All Japanese passengers were sitting quietly using their phones.


As we arrived at Namba Station we then had the challenge of finding the Nerarel Hostel. We walked out the train spot in the wrong direction and had to circle the entire Namba Station before finding Nerarel.  Success!  We found it!  Or so we thought…. The entry door was locked.  There was a sign out front saying that we needed to call the sister property to have someone check us in after 11:00pm.  At this point it was about 12:15AM and we had no SIM card to make calls.  We felt stranded so we gestured to a random gentleman on a bike that ended up being a police officer.  He spoke little English but was eventually able to call the number listed and hand us the phone.  The receptionist arrived 15 minutes later and checked us in to our little hostel with two bunk beds, a small desk, and no TV.  It was TINY!!  We were starving because our flight did not offer dinner.  We put our things away and went across the street for our first meal.

This first meal in Japan was amazing and I think it was so because of how hungry we were.  We walked in to a small diner with a wrap around, low bar.  There was two computer kiosks at the entry way where you ordered.  You pick your meal, any sides, and drinks and then you insert Japanese Yen.  Any change is dispensed and tickets are printed.  You hand the stack of tickets to the waitstaff and take a seat.  Within minutes, your food is delivered.  It’s like Japanese fast food I guess??  I realized how common this was the more time we spent in the country.


The food we got was an assortment of miso soup, kimchi, Kirin Beer, and beef gyudon.  The gyudon is literally a beef bowl with rice, green onion, tofu, and various toppings.  Mine was served on a flame-heated cast iron dish and I added a raw egg to it which slowly cooked in the dish.IMG_1841.jpg

This stuff was RICH but awesome, especially at 2:00AM….HAHAHA… It reminded me of my late night Waffle House visits in Atlanta.  After dinner it was time to go to bed in preparation of the exploration of Osaka the next morning.

We woke up around 9:00AM, took showers, and made our way our to JR Namba station to find our pre-ordered SIM cards from a different pickup spot.


JR Namba is a different station from Namba station, as it is on the Japanese Rail (JR) line.  We walked into Namba station first and tried to follow signs, mostly in Japanese, to JR Namba station via “Namba Walk” which is an underground tunnel connecting the two stations.  Upon first visit the train station is a dizzying maze of connecting rail lines.


We were utterly confused at this point if we were going the right direction.  We tried to ask a few people but they unfortunately didn’t speak english very well.  I will say that Japanese people that we met were VERY friendly and tried to help if we seemed lost.  After about 45 minutes of searching we finally found the “OCAT” tourist information center to get the SIM card.  Once we had the SIM, life was MUCH easier with the use of Google Maps and Google Translate.  We made our way to one of the central tourist spots, Dotonbori, to check things out.


Dotonbori was very cool!  It is overloaded with gift shops, restaurants, sushi spots, ramen houses, and bright flashy neon signs.  Down the center is a canal dividing up the area.  I cannot stress how impeccably clean things were!  Not a cigarette butt, crumbled piece of paper, or tin can to be found.  I was amazed!



As we walked, we saw a long line of people waiting for a street food so I decided to jump in and try what they were making.  The food was “takoyaki”.  I really didn’t know what it was but people were waiting in lines 25 people long.  I ordered a regular-size order through another kiosk and handed my ticket to the cooks.  These things looked like little pancake balls with fried garlic and onions on top, garnished with mayonnaise. My daughter and I shared it and realized there was also tiny octopus tentacles inside them as well!  It was ok for me, texturally weird, not something my daughter much enjoyed.



We went down a side street to have our first Japanese ramen experience.  It was interesting because we ordered our ramen through a kiosk outside and then walked in and sat the a bar surrounding the kitchen.  We handed over the tickets and they prepared whichever ramen we ordered.  You could hear the “slurps” of satisfaction all around.


After this stop we continued to tour the street, finding a coin locker to store our baggage for a few hours.  We then headed towards Kuromon Ichiba Market, which was highly recommended by a few Thai friends.  It was awesome because it had so many varieties of seafood.  They had shrimp, prawns, oyster, urchin, squid, octopus, king crab,… you name it!  There was pretty much anything from food, clothing, art, etc.  We rummaged around and I had to try some “time sale” Red King Crab for 200 yen.


After spending a good while in Dotonburi we decided to make our way towards Kyoto to check in to our AirBnB in the Shimogyo Ward of Kyoto Prefecture.  The entire journey there took about 1.5 hours from JR Namba Station to Kiyomizu-gojo Station.  The AirBnB was a classic machiya-style Japanese wooden home called Aotake-an.  It was AWESOME.  It had three bedrooms, a kitchen, living room, hot tub, and a japanese garden.  The windows looked like something out of Karate Kid, with a grid-papered pattern.


That evening we walked towards Hokanji Temple looking for food, but quickly realized that the area was more of a tourist destination rather than a place with food options.  Either way it was beautiful to see the sun setting around the temple.


This area of the city is mainly full of touristy gift shops and fine dining so we ended up near the canal off of Pontochodori Street, which is filled with restaurant options. Our son love the beef from the previous night so we ended up having beef gyudon again at another gyudon fast-food place.  Afterwards it was time to go to bed.

The next morning, we walked towards  Kiyomizu-gojo Station and stopped off at fruit market on the way.  We got some deliciously crisp apples for a quick breakfast that my son still talks about.


First place we traveled to was Arashiyama Ward to see a Monkey Park, the Bamboo Grove, and the Sagano Romantic Scenic Railway.  Upon arrival at Arashiyama we walked a few km towards the monkey park.  There was a beautiful river running through the center of the complex.



We scaled a series of some steep inclines and twists to finally make it to the top where the Monkey Park was located.  There were stunning views of the city and surrounding prefecture.


The monkey’s ran wildly around us, playing and fighting with each other.  You could feed them if you wanted, but only within the confines of a building which had wired fencing to prevent an ambush by the monkeys.  It would not be safe to attempt feeding them while walking freely outside.


After an hour or so at the monkey park, we walked our way towards  the Bamboo Grove. There were rickshaws’ everywhere offering to take you around by foot.  There was a very nice dining complex nearby with all sorts of noodle dishes, deep fried foods, and beer.  We made a short stop and had some grilled chicken skewers.  Then, onwards we went to the Bamboo Grove.  It was a beautiful sight, yet very crowded.  We found ourselves ready to leave after about 20/30 minutes.  It was a maze of Bamboo that you could easily walk for a few hours.


We used the GPS to walk towards the Sagano Romantic Train, which is operated by JR Railways.


The Sagano Romantic Train ride is a short 30 minute ride from one end of a deep gorge to the other, traveling through some beautiful countryside.  The train is supposedly an antique still in operation.  Our children loved it and we were able to see the rushing river below and the vast array of plants.  I recommend it to anyone looking for a nice break from walking.


After Arashiyama and the Sagona Romantic Train ride, we went to Fushimi Inari Taisha.  This was our last tour stop for the day.  We took the train to the Fushimi Inari Station and found ourselves very close to the attraction upon exiting the train.  The shrine is only a short 5/10 minute walk.  This was an impressive structure said to celebrate rice and foxes.  It is lined with red archways that extend for a very long time.  Each red gate is supposedly paid for by donations from different people.  I hear it takes almost an hour to walk the entire loop.  Our kids were tired by this point so we spent about 45 minutes before leaving.  It is a very iconic location and featured in films and television.


After a busy morning, we came back to the AirBnB for a short rest.  It was nice to relax for a bit before going out to find some non-japanese food for the evening.  We found a great italian pizzeria nearby called Goichi Pizza.  The food, the wine, and the waiters were great!  Just what we needed after a long day of touring Kyoto.  I highly recommend it to anyone visiting Kyoto.

Next morning we checked out of our AirBnB and walked to train station to put baggage in coin lockers.  Throughout the last day in Kyoto we walked to Otani Hombyo Tombs, Kiyomizu-dera Temple, and Yasaka Shrine.  This was perfect because all three were in rather close proximity to each other.


By around 3:30pm in the afternoon, we were ready to go ahead and head towards the airport hotel in Osaka to be prepared for our departure the next morning.  We returned to the train station to get our luggage from the coin lockers and made our way to Kansai Airport to check in to the very swanky Hotel Nikko for the night.  Japan was a whirlwind of excitement!  I’d love to go back!

Home again and home again

Again I sit here in Thailand, at home in Rayong surrounded by our things and the comfort of our own beds.  For the summer break we were able to return to the USA to see our families and friends for a month.  I had anticipated the visit for a long while and, within the blink of an eye it seems, time flew by and we were back on planes in route for Thailand for one last year.  Each week in the states was carefully planned and crafted in a way that we could see and do all we could in a short amount of time.  It was an enjoyable and intense visit.  We allocated one week for my family, one week for my wife’s family, a week to visit friends and family in Atlanta, and a final week divided between families to say our goodbyes.  It was go-go-go the entire time!  I am so thankful for the people that support and love us and we were lucky to see so many of them in a short time.  I wish we would have had time to see many more people.

Upon arriving back in the states, my initial feelings were clouded with jet-lag and anxiety anticipating the intensity of the pace of life in the USA compared to what we had been experiencing the past year.  The familiar sound of English language spoken everywhere was refreshing.  We of course made sure to visit all of the favorite food spots and to walk down memory lane by tracing our old routes.  We indulged in good wine, craft beers, burgers, pizza, great Mexican food (Tacos and Tequila), southern BBQ, fine dining, and soul food.  We had wonderful bonding time with our families and countless friends.  Past coworkers set aside their time to meet up and take a moment to catch up.  We were reminded of the traffic and gridlock that happens in big cities like Atlanta.  We even had our first two AirBNB experiences which were quite bizarre.  The USA is expensive!  WOW.  I knew this but it was painfully obvious now, after living in a place where you can stretch your income fairly easily.  We saw tiny southern towns, beautifully manicured gardens, classic dive bars, Antebellum mansions, hip and trendy urban developments, and we gazed off the back porches of our parents homes.  This trip was refreshing (yet exhausting at times) and medicine for my soul.  It’s important to know and remember where you come from and dream of where you’ll go.  “Home” is a heavy word.  So now begins another chapter in our Thai experience.


Viharn Sien Pattaya Chinese Temple

After multiple times of passing the Viharn Siem Temple throughout the past two years, we decided to make a visit today.  This is a Chinese Temple used as a place of worship but also as a museum of Chinese artifacts.  It sits next to a beautiful lake FILLED with catfish (they sell food to feed them outside the complex).  So, our first stop was to take a brief moment to feed the fish and take in the sights.  We then went to the ticket booth and purchased our tickets for 50 baht each.  The temple complex is surrounded with amazing sculptures and wonderfully manicured plants.  Inside the building you can see artwork, pottery, linens, statues, etc. from China.  They even had a few of the clay warriors from Emperor Qin’s Terra cotta Army, along with a minature replica of the excavation site.  This place was definitely worth the visit!


Road Trip to Siem Reap / Angkor Wat

For the second week of our Songkran Holiday from school we decided to take the less expensive route of road-trippin’ to Siem Reap rather than purchasing 4 flight tickets.  We were curious about how well our children would cope with the upcoming 4 hour ride to the border, 1 hour for customs, and the 2 hours by taxi to Siem Reap.  Either way we packed our things after two restful days from our previous trip and set out for Siem Reap early one Wednesday morning.  We left at 7:30AM from Rayong and were at Aranyaprathet (Thai-side of the border) around 11:00AM.


We parked our car at a border parking lot and walked our way to the departure gate to be stamped out of Thailand.

Once stamped out you walk across a bridge in “no mans land” to the arrival gate into Cambodia.

As we walked across the bridge we were surrounded by beggars, peddlers, young children, and lots of people trying to offer their help.  We knew we had everything sorted already so we ignored the chatter and made our way through.  There are a few casinos between the two countries to gamble in should you choose to.   This was my first experience land-crossing into another country and it was surprisingly not too bad.  We had already purchased and printed e-Visas’ so I believe that helped a little.  We were able to pass through customs in about 45 minutes.

Once we walked out into Cambodia at Poi Pet (Cambodia-side of border), we were mobbed by countless men trying to offer us a taxi ride to Siem Reap.  We walked as far as we could before striking a deal with a driver.  Prices quoted ranged from $30-$50 and they were quick to drop the price.  We got our ride in a Lexus SUV for $30.  My first impression around the Cambodian border was the amount of trash on the sides of the road.  I also noticed that the majority of vehicles driven are either Toyotas’ or Lexus’.  I’m serious, like every car!  Our trip from Poi Pet to Siem Reap was about 2 hours.


It was a very intense ride into Siem Reap, which seems to be common.  There is only a two lane highway into Siem Reap and it is consistently traveled by taxi drivers moving tourists back and forth.  Our driver would fly down the road, passing people when it seemed dangerous, honking the horn relentlessly, and “playing chicken” with cars and motorbikes countless times.  We even had some cattle stop us a few times.  Luckily, we made it safely into Siem Reap and checked in to our hotel, Sonalong Boutique Village.


Sonalong Boutique was an awesome accommodation set in central Siem Reap but enough outside of everything to have some peace.  It was surrounded by lush, tropical gardens and included a very nice pool.

The hotel manager immediately greeted us, checked us in, gave us a welcome drink, reviewed a city map, and helped to line up a tuk-tuk driver for the next few days to help with our travels around the city.  We knew that if we purchased our 1-day ticket for Angkor Wat after 5pm, we could see the sunset that night and then continue to use the ticket the following full day.  So, we placed our bags in our room and had the manager arrange a driver to pick us up at 4:30pm to ensure we could get the tickets after 5pm.  First of all though, we had to get lunch.

The tuk-tuk driver took us to an awesome Mexican Restaurant called “Viva” in Central Siem Reap near Pub Street.  As we drove in to the city center it was obvious how much more tourism was present.


It was a variety of cultures all mixed together!  We saw Americans, Italians, French, Chinese, Malaysian, Thai, Khmer, Russian, and many more.  There were even some guys from near where we used live in Atlanta staying at our hotel!! Crazy.  Anyways, I digress.  For $4 our driver waited until we were done eating at the Mexican restaurant.


Afterwards, he then returned us to Sonalong to get ready for our trip out to see the sunset.

At 4:30pm we left to see the sunset.  We first purchased tickets at the Angkor ticket center.


We then headed to what I believe is called Phnom Bakheng Hill.   This is a giant ruin that is somewhat treacherous to climb in places but is a hot-spot for people looking to watch a sunset.

We scaled up to the top and wandered around.  I’ll admit it was frightening at times because there are no ledges or railings so I was concerned about my children getting too close to the edge.  There had to be 100-200 people all sitting on top of the structure with us.  After spending a little time there we returned to the hotel to catch some rest as we were having an early start to see more of the archeological park in the morning.

At 7:30AM on Thursday we hopped back in to our tuk-tuk and made our way to the first stop, Angkor Wat.  Although early in the morning it was extremely hot!  The tuk-tuk driver (“Top”) parked and we made our way under a lane of hanging ribbons and then onto a plastic floating bridge.

The bridge extends across the moat surrounding Angkor Wat.  This was by far the most populated ruin we visited during the day (for good reason).  Everything was amazingly impressive.  The details and imagery carved into the stones, the height of some of the structures, the shear ingenuity was astounding.  I’m told that Angkor Wat is also one of the main religious sites still in use.  Due to this there were many monks and people in prayer throughout.  Words and pictures can’t describe it.

Our second stop was Angkor Thom.  This ruin was not as well preserved but very detailed.  It was surrounded by vendors selling fruit shakes, coconuts, grilled meats, etc.  After walking up into Angkor Thom I was amazed a the detail.  There were smiling faces everywhere carved and sculpted into the walls!  Inside the temple you find yourself in a labyrinth of passageways.  The temple was swarming with people but we were still able to walk through corners, nooks, and crannies to find ourselves alone, only hearing faint sounds of others talking.  Although it was hot you could find cool pockets in the shady areas throughout the temple.  I kept wondering what it must have been like when it was new and fully functioning! Wow.  I believe this was my favorite temple of the three I saw that day.

Our final stop was Ta Prohm Temple, often called “Tomb Raider Temple” because of the film featuring Angelina Jolie.  This temple was the least preserved of the three.  There was loose stone everywhere.  Wooden supports were built to hold walls, ceilings, etc. that were leaning or sinking.  The most impressive site, which is also the most photographed, is the giant tree growing over and into the temple complex.  The roots are overtaking an entire corner of the structure and have wrapped beautifully around it.  We were met with lines of people looking to take their photo in front of this ancient amazing melding of nature and human ingenuity.

After seeing this temple it was about 2:30pm and we were hot and exhausted.  We decided to make out way back to town to grab some lunch.

Very hungry, we had our tuk-tuk driver stop at one of the many happy pizza joints in the city.  Essentially, you order a pizza and then you can choose to make it happy should you desire.  We made ours ‘happy”.  It was indeed happy so we made our way back to the room to relax by the pool and take a rest for a while.  Haha!


The next two days of our trip were spent simply enjoying all that Siem Reap had to offer. There are so many little markets, places to eat, spots to drink (Pub Street), and sites to see that we roamed with leisure and truly relaxed.  I’ll say we don’t normally relax on trips, it’s usually GO GO GO.  It was nice.  I highly encourage anyone considering a trip to Siem Reap to go for it.  It’s a beautiful place with lots of history and an interesting assortment of people!


Songkran in Hatyai and Koh Lipe

Once again we have approached the Songkran Holidays in Thailand.  This is essentially the spring break at our school, giving us two full weeks to travel.  We decided to make our way to the furthest southern parts of Thailand by flying in to Hatyai and then traveling to a small remote island located on the Andaman Sea called Koh Lipe.  This proved to be a fairly inexpensive and enjoyable holiday!

We flew out of Pattaya’s Utapao airport on a Wednesday afternoon and arrived in Hatyai around 6:30pm.

We checked into our hotel (Aloha Hatyai) located in Central Hatyai and were quite hungry so we walked outside in search of some food.  We often eat Thai food but were instead in search of something a little more Western like maybe some pizza, a sandwich, fish and chips, etc.  We walked around a few blocks only to find lots of Halal, Muslim, Malay, Thai, and Chinese foods but not what we were in search of.  We weren’t too keen on walking around much at night because of our slight paranoia due to the past turmoil that has occurred in Hatyai on occasion (look it up). We finally gave up and settled for a restaurant next to our hotel called Washington I believe.  This was a Chinese restaurant that was set up with banquet-style round tables each with their own lazy-suzan wheels in the center for sharing food.  There was also a revolving group of people who got up onto a stage in the corner to sing traditional Chinese karaoke songs. We got lots of stares and attention as we were the only western people in the place. At one point 7 or 8 servers gathered around our children, pinching their cheeks and rubbing their heads.  We got a quick dinner of stir-fried noodles and rice and made our way back to the hotel for the night.


The next morning we were met in our hotel lobby by a gentleman from Dee Travels Hatyai to take us on a two hour shared-van ride west to Pak-Bara Pier.


We left around 8:30AM and made our way towards Pak-Bara.  We had a brief scary moment along the way when we reached a police check-point.  The police let many cars go by but stopped our van and made us pull aside. He asked our driver to step outside and began talking to him.  Eventually he made the driver take a breath-a-lizer test.  Luckily the driver passed and we were on our way again but it was briefly scary.  It also made sense because we were driving during the first day of Song-kran and it is common to have many drunk drivers on the road.  By 11AM we arrived at Pak-Bara and walked towards the pier to check in.


We boarded our large speedboat with about 30 others and departed for Koh Lipe at around 11:30AM.


We arrived at Koh Lipe at about 1:00PM.  It was a beautiful island surrounded with soft white sand and clear, bluish water.  You could easily see the floor of the ocean from above in our boat.  Pockets of coral beds were everywhere.

We were dropped off at Pattaya Beach (there are three beaches; Pattaya, Sunrise, Sunset) and unloaded our bags to make way to our bungalow.  Pattaya Beach is the main beach that tourist are dropped off at so there are lots of long tail boats and speedboats parked out in the water at all times.  Also the beach has lots of people at most times of the day.

We checked in to a very chilled out, kind of hippie-style bungalow called Blue Tribes Resort.  We were given one of the best bungalows on the property which was literally steps from the water and had a wonderful view of the beach and ocean.


Our only complaint eventually was that there was only two fans and no A/C which was difficult on the children at night, but not a deal breaker.  We placed buckets of ice in front of the fans at night to drop the temperature a little.

After checking in we walked a few meters from Blue Tribes to Walking Street which has lots of shops and restaurants.


We had lunch at Elephant which is a very popular spot on the island. Great food!  Great ambiance!  Great music!


We headed back to the bungalow to get some snorkel gear together and take a swim.  There were many beautiful multicolored fish and coral that could easily be seen through the ultra-clear water.  We did this for about an hour and then took a break from the sun inside the bungalow until dinner time.


We found dinner at a place a couple of buildings up from Elephant called The Box which had Spanish tapas, good wine, pasta, and burgers.  Our waitress there had just moved to Koh Lipe the week prior from Spain.  She encouraged us to check out both Sunrise and Sunset Beach.  As it got darker it was time to head back to the bungalow to settle the kids down.  Blue Tribes was set up with beach mats out front in preparation of viewing the fire show happening in a few hours.  We hung out long enough to watch the show before crashing out for the night.

The next morning we took a tuk-tuk to the other side of the island on Sunrise Beach, next to the Andaman Resort (the tuk-tuk driver insisted it was the best view).  We immediately noticed how much less crowded this beach was.  It also sit closer to the mountains of a nearby island, Koh Adang.  We felt as if we had the beach all to ourselves.


There none of the long tail boats or speedboats like on the Pattaya Beach side.  It was tranquil.  After about an hour we decided to make our way back towards Blue Tribes on the other side of the island to get our water guns, etc. for the Songkran festivities going on off of Walking Street.  After doing so we made our way up Walking Street greeted by the relentless onslaught of people dousing you with ice water, spraying you with supersoaker water guns, or simply smearing talcum paste on your face screaming, “Happy New Year, Happy Songkran!”  This was as exciting as we had remembered from last year’s Songkran in Ao Nang.  In front of a 7-11 people stood posted up ready to attack any tuk-tuk, motorbike, or passerby who was brave enough to walk through.  Very cool!

After a good hour or so of water wars and a quick lunch we decided we were ready for a second helping of the calmness of Sunrise Beach.  We eventually made our way back, around a small cove on Sunrise beach close to Mountain View Resort.  This vantage point was especially impressive and very secluded feeling.  It felt like a true paradise.


This was an excellent location for snorkeling and the water in this cove never seemed to get very deep.  It is instantly awe-inspiring from the moment you see it.

The next day it was time to catch our speedboat back to Pak Bara Pier and then catch the van back to Hatyai for one more night.  We were slightly sad to leave this paradise but also welcomed the idea of our next night in an air-conditioned hotel room.  We arrived in Hatyai around 3:00PM and checked in to our hotel.  This time around we were able to find an Irish pub within walking distance to find dinner and swung by a Tops market or a couple bottles of wine.  It was a chill evening.

On our final day we had afternoon flights back to Pattaya so we decided to find somewhere to kill some time before heading back.  We made our way to Hatyai Municipal Park.  This was a nice little find that offered expansive views of Hatyai and some impressive Buddha sculptures. There was also a planetarium that had a very retro feel.

If we had more time, there was the option of taking a aerial cable car to another mountaintop across the way, where there was supposedly more temple complexes to see.   We instead caught our flight and were in route back home.  All in all, I loved Koh Lipe and Hatyai was OK.  Now, onto Siem Reap.

Luang Prabang, Laos

For our holiday break this December, we decided to spend a few days in Luang Prabang, Laos.  We knew little of the country of Laos or the city of Luang Prabang but were pleasantly surprised at the quaint atmosphere of the place.  We flew in to Luang Prabang International Airport on a Wednesday and spent 4 days in LP.  Upon arriving at the airport I was very surprised at how quiet the airport was.  There were not many people moving around and you could nearly hear a whisper! We walked to the taxi desk to arrange the ride to Cold River Hotel & Guesthouse alongside the Nam Kahn River in LP Town Center.  Walking outside we were met with a chilling temperature difference we had not felt in some time!

As we entered the town many sights immediately reminded me of Thailand, but as we continued I started seeing slight variations to the architecture and the overall cleanliness.  The old town portion is a peninsula of land created by the divergence of the Mekong and Nam Khan Rivers.  LP was occupied by the French for many years and you could see the influence in the architecture throughout the city.  I noticed many more backpackers and younger travelers than we normally see around Pattaya.  The city is very funky, hipster-catered, full of western tourists (lots of French and American) and expat friendly all-in-all.  We arrived at the guesthouse, checked in, and went out for a nice dinner because we happened to arrive on our 9th wedding anniversary for my wife and I.


After a short walk (1 km?) we reached Sakkaline Road which is a touristy area filled with nice restaurants, coffee shops, bakeries, wine bars, tour package salespeople. and more.


We went to a French-Laotion fusion restaurant, called Tangor.  OH man, amazing!  The food and the wine were more great examples of the French and Laotian cultures melding together in wonderful harmony.

Feeling stuffed after a great anniversary dinner we stopped next door for a bottle of Bordeaux and retired to the guesthouse for the night.  I’ll mention that our room was VERY cold as the temperature outside had dropped to about 9 degrees celsius!

The next day we decided to spend roaming around LP town center.  We had a breakfast of scrambled eggs, crepes, baguette with butter/jam, and spicy noodle soup (separately, not together) and started walking.  Our first adventure was to scale Mount Phou Si, which is a 100m tall mountain in the old city center.  The steps up were winding and steep, with little presence of side-rails in some portions to prevent you from falling down the side of the mountain (this made me a worrisome father at times).  As you ascended this mountain there were many different buddhist shrines. Two notable shrines were Wat Tham Phou Si which was located halfway up, and What Chom Si which is on the very top.   Exhausted and proud of ourselves, we finally made it to the top of the hill and enjoyed a wonderful sweeping view of LP and surrounding terroir for a few minutes.

Afterwards we made our way down the opposite side of Phou Si which led us down to Sakkaline Road again which was perfect for an early lunch at Le Banneton Cafe’.  We had heard of this cafe on Lonely Planet’s website as a must-see stop off in LP.  It is essentially a classic french-style bakery which serves crepes, baguettes, tart tatin, pate, etc.  Again, the food in LP did not disappoint!  Wow.

After lunch we began a walk back towards the guesthouse but made a stop off at a bamboo bridge located over the Nam Kahn River.  Supposedly this bridge is only constructed 6 months out of the year as is cannot withstand the currents of the river during the rainy season.  For a 20.000 kip per person you can walk across this swaying and flexing bridge to the other side where you are greeted with a bar and gift shop.

We walked across and then returned back and caught a tuk-tuk back to the guesthouse for a couple of hours of downtime so the kids could rest and enjoy some cartoons.  Just before getting off the tuk-tuk, our driver asked if we wanted to go to the Hmong Tribe New Year Celebration.  We declined the offer as we were not aware this was going on and wanted some rest but it sparked our interest.

We decided to check out the Hmong New Year Celebration later that afternoon as it seemed something we might never see again.  The celebration lasts for 3 days!  So around 3:30pm we caught another tuk-tuk for a 40-minute ride in the middle of NOWHERE to witness the event.  At times we were honestly a little worried about where the driver was taking us as we traveled further and further away from the center of town.  Finally we arrived in the middle of a teak tree orchard filled with people.  There must have been hundreds of Hmong people in traditional dress and adornments.

WE STUCK OUT to say the least.  Haha.  Out of the many people we were probably 4 of the maybe 10 people who were not Hmong.  We got some interesting looks and smiles but this is all something we are pretty used to at this point.  The vibe was far different that LP town center where expats seem to outnumber the locals.  The New Year celebration was filled with vendors selling food, carnival games, live music, clothing for sale, people with elaborate backdrops and clothing for photo opportunities, farmers selling fruit, and the locals playing a traditional game of “pov pob”.  The game is played when teenage boys and girls line up across from each other and look for someone that peaks their interest.  They then throw a cloth ball back and forth in a game of catch until someone drops the ball.  If one person in the pair drops the ball the other person receives a gift. The presents are taken back by singing love songs to the other person.  It was interesting to see lines of Hmong teens in traditional clothing playing this.


After about 45 minutes at the celebration our tuk-tuk driver (who waited for us) drove us back to the guesthouse, or, almost there because his tuk-tuk broke down a few 100 meters from our guesthouse.  That was lucky for us considering it could have happened 20/30 minutes out of town.  That evening as we came back into the lobby of the guesthouse we booked an excursion for the following day.

At 9:00am a songthaew driver greeted us to take us on our excursion for the day.  We booked a half day trip which included the following:  a trip down the Mekong River by boat to a whisky village, then onto Pak Ou Caves, and finally a trip down to the Kuang Si Falls.  So, our songthaew driver took us down to the Mekong riverside where we were greeted by our boat driver and his wife, standing next to their impressively long, wooden and enclosed, long-tail boat.

We stepped inside and made our way upstream towards the whiskey village.  We had the boat all to ourselves so our kids entertained themselves by running up and down the vessel.


The views along the river were spectacular!  We saw small rice fields, rows of various crops alongside the water, fishermen, houseboat communities, wild cattle, and steep mountains.


After about and hour we arrived at the first stop, the whisky village.  We stepped off the boat and walked up a bamboo bridge into the village.  The whisky was being made over a wood fire and the men had their finished products on display.  Some bottles had scorpions, snakes, spiders, preserved in the bottle.


I asked him if there was any purpose to it or just for looks and he said, “Old Chinese people believe it gives them energy for the boom-boom”.  Hahaha..  Ok.  I tasted a few of the whiskeys and we toured around a few other parts for about 20 minutes.  Lots of the village people were selling handmade textiles. We made our way back to the boat to continue on to the Pak Ou Caves.

An hour later we were at Pak Ou Caves.  Twenty or so boats were parked alongside the cave where you would then step onto a floating bamboo dock to get to the cave entrance.  After a few steps you are inside the cave which is filled with lots of images of The Buddha.

If you continue up higher via the very steep steps you reach another much deeper cave.  After making a small donation we were given flashlights and entered into the cave.  There were impressive statues and sculptures of more Buddha images hidden in this dark cave.  It was impressive and gave me a sensation that we were discovering something “secret”.  It was very cool.


After seeing this we returned to our boat to go back downstream on the Mekong to LP city center.  After about an hour and a half we were back to where we started and caught a ride with our songthaew driver to the Kuang Si Falls, our last destination for the day.

Kuang Si Falls was about a 40 minute drive outside of LP city center.  The journey there was awesome, allowing us to see much of the untouched countryside and rice fields.  Upon arriving at Kuang Si our driver directed us to the entry area which was flanked on both sides of the street with vendors selling all things tourist.  We paid the entry fee and walked our way towards the falls.  As you walk in, there is a bear reservation where you can see a variety of different bear species.


When we saw the falls I cannot describe how beautiful they were.  The aqua-blue/green color looked UNREAL as it cascaded from a still pool of swimmers down into the streams below.  I had never in my life seen such clear, pleasantly colored water.


We made sure to get as many photos there as possible and then went our way back to LP for a nice dinner and a relaxed evening as it was our last night in LP.

On Saturday morning we checked out of our room and made one last venture into the city before our early afternoon departure.

We grabbed a couple of cheap Beer Laos on tap and sat with the kids admiring this hip, kinda trendy, clean and cultured city.

We both agreed that Luang Prabang was one of our favorite cities we had visited in SE Asia thus far.  I doubt we’ll ever be able to make our way back but I would recommend a visit to this pleasant city to anyone!



Good Times in Chiang Mai

Ever since we moved to Thailand countless people have RAVED about Chiang Mai.  They talk about the overall relaxed vibe, the temples, the cooler weather, the coffee, the food, and the culture.  We were excited when our midterm break from school arrived and it was time to set out for our first venture to Chiang Mai.  On a Tuesday afternoon we hopped on an Air Asia flight from U-Tapao airport in Pattaya and within about an hour we we had arrived at Chiang Mai International Airport.  We grabbed a taxi and were at our hotel within 20 minutes.

Our first hotel was the Pha-Thai Guesthouse in Old City Chiangmai (within the walled portion of the city).  Because we arrived late and it was dark, we checked in to the hotel and walked down the street for a late snack/dinner.  It started raining rather hard so we didn’t go far. Luckily the first place we stopped had one of Chiang Mai’s most popular food dishes, Khao Soi. It’s essentially a curried soup with fried and boiled egg noodles, pickled mustard greens, shallots, chili’s, coconut milk, etc.  I had mine with chicken.  AWESOME.


Afterwards we picked up a couple of Leo beers and headed back to the room for the night.  Before going to bed we did manage to schedule an excursion to the Maerim Elephant Sanctuary the next morning, an essential thing to do when visiting Chiang Mai I believe.

At 8:30am Wednesday morning a songthaew driver arrived in the hotel lobby to pick us up for the trip to the elephant sanctuary.  After stopping by two other pick-up locations we were in route to the sanctuary.  We were accompanied by three other people who turned out very cool to hang with.  One girl was from Israel and had just left her boyfriend in Myanmar after a breakup, there was a couple on their honeymoon from Washington State, and there my wife and I and our 2 children.  We were an interesting mix of people.  After arriving at Maerim we were greeted by some of the tour guides who walked us to the elephants to “say hello”.  Afterwards we were presented with traditional denim clothing and changed into them.  We filled every pocket of the denim garb with as many bananas as possible and entered the gated area with the elephants.


There were 5 elephants in total, one being a baby.  However sweet, hungry elephants surrounding you when you have pockets full of bananas can be intimidating.  I felt like I had bait tied to me. It was awesome and humbling to stand with such huge creatures.

We walked with the elephants alongside a stream running through the woods to a mud pool where we were asked to bathe them.

The elephants loved it.  We basically paid to give them a spa day. I think they should have paid us.

Afterwards we all headed out and changed back into clean clothes in order to learn how to make a traditional Thai noodle soup for lunch.


By 1:30 we were back on the songthaew and heading back to our hotels.  This was an experience I highly recommend as it was like nothing else I’ve ever done.

After returning back to the Old City from seeing the elephants we decided to venture out and see some of the sights within the Old City walls.  Pha-Thai guesthouse was conveniently located so we were able to walk a short distance up the street and we found ourselves near Wat Chedi Luang.  This temple was supposedly built in 1441 when the area was known as the Lanna Kingdom.   I was thoroughly impressed with the striking nature of this structure.  It is said that “The Emerald Buddha”, now housed in Bangkok, was held within this building until 1475.  There is a Jade replica of the original inside it now.

All around the grounds were other smaller temples and bells.  I am to sure of the exact names of all these others we saw.  All very impressive.

After all this temple-trekking and the morning we had had, we decided to catch a tuk tuk for a Mexican dinner and then head back to the hotel for the night.

Thursday morning we decided to call a taxi to see Baan Tong Luang, a tribal village nestled within the northern hills of Chiang Mai.  This village is made up of 8 different refugee tribes from Myanmar and Laos all living amongst each other in a setting surrounded by bamboo, water buffalo, and rice patties.  It was like no other place I have ever been and I had only seen on television.

For about 600 baht (kids were free), we entered the hill tribe compound and walked by each group.  Each tribe still seems to retain their tribal identity in clothing, accessories, trade, etc.

The most memorable was the long-necked women of the Karen Tribe.  These women often start placing rings around their necks as young as 5 years old.


Every tribe sold a mixture of textiles, handmade musical instruments, jewelry, handmade cigars, dolls, etc.  The whole area is definitely geared towards the tourist but is still well worth the visit.

We departed Baan Tong Luang around 1:00pm and headed back to the old city to check into a new hotel, V-Lodge.  Most of Chiang Mai was quiet on this day because it was The Royal Cremation Ceremony of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej.   Most of the businesses, including 7-11 and Tesco Lotus, were closing around 3pm to show respect.  Our taxi driver, Chom, was very kind and offered to take us around the city the following day which we arranged.  He himself was going to a ceremony for The King that evening, which is another reason we wanted to get back to the hotel early so he could make it there in time.  We ate lunch at an awesome place called “Cat House” and even purchased more food from them for takeaway so we could eat it later for dinner when everything was closed.

Around 11:00am Friday morning, Chom returned to our hotel to pick us up for a day of temple-hopping.  We initially only wanted to go up Doi Suthep mountain but Chom mentioned he would not only take us there but also show us two other temples.  We were pleased to see what else he might take us to.   We journeyed our way out of the old city and went northwest towards Doi Suthep.


Our first stop was Wat Sakithaka (Pha Lat) while in route to Doi Suthep.  This place was very secluded and was positioned deep in a quiet, lush, green forest.  When we arrived there were many people presenting the morning alms to the monks.  We passed by them and made our way through the grounds.  There was a peaceful waterfall and astonishing views of the city below.  Many people go to this temple & monastery for a place to meditate. I could see why.  It was gorgeous.

After a solid 45 minutes at our first stop, we jumped back in the car to continue our trip up the winding mountain road towards Doi Suthep.  Chom stopped at an overlook spot where we were able to see magnificent unobstructed views of the city.


There were vendors selling barbecued meat, coconuts, and fruit.  There was also a man sketching photos of whomever wanted to sit in front on him.  Our two kids took a seat and he went to sketching them.  Within about two minutes he completed their portraits.  He did not ask for money but we of course gave him a tip.  This was an unexpected treat!


We got back in the car and within 15 minutes we arrived at Doi Suthep.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep is one of the biggest tourist attractions in Chiang Mai.  This day in particular was fairly busy.  Chom dropped us off at the funicular train lift and would return in an hour.  The roadside was covered with vendors selling clothing, strawberries, coffee, bbq meat, and fried insects.  We took the train up the mountainside and made our way around Wat Phra That.  It was a very impressive golden temple.  The sun reflecting off of it made it somewhat difficult to look at.  Surrounding the temple grounds at a few other smaller temples, restaurants, and gift shops.  Again, the views from the summit of this mountain are amazing.

Our third temple stop with Chom was Wat Umong.  It is a 700 year old buddhist temple at the foot of Doi Suthep mountain located very close to Chiang Mai University. The temple itself has a series of connecting tunnels, each leading to areas with various buddha images.

The tunnel walls feature worn paintings of bush scenes.


Resting on top of the network of tunnels is a massive stupa you can reach by walking up a series of steps above the temple.


The grounds that it is located on are filled with trees, fish ponds, ducks, and turtles.  Outside the structure is a garden area filled with very old broken buddha statues.


There are signs hanging from the trees on the footpaths that feature proverbs written in thai and english.


The entry to the temple is a slanted wall covered with ivy.  I highly recommend visiting this place.


Once we has seen the three stops that our taxi driver/tour guide had planned, we asked him to take drop us off somewhere for lunch.  He recommended this place below.

When we got in we sat down, took off our bags (we had all our luggage at this point), I placed the drawing of my children on the table, and we looked over the menu for a late lunch.  The food we ordered was delicious, although I ordered “fat noodles” which had a slightly unappealing texture.  I tried butterfly pea tea for the first time too.  We had no idea where we were actually but planned to catch a Grabtaxi (kind of like Uber) back to the airport as we had a flight departing around 7:30pm.  After leaving we instead grabbed a songthaew to Central Mall as we had some time to kill.  The entire ride there took almost 45 minutes because of heavy traffic.  The moment we get to the mall I realize that I left the sketch of my children at the restaurant.  We decided to catch a Grabtaxi back to the restaurant (luckily I noticed the name of a place nearby and traced it’s location) to see if they might still have the drawing or instead threw it in the trash.  After arriving in about 30 minutes we tried to gesture to the waitress that we lost the drawing. She did not understand at first until I flashed a photo of it on my phone.  She immediately nodded and ran to the back to grab the scrolled drawing.  We were ecstatic that we did not lose it!  AMAZING!  After this we were on the way back to the airport to wait for our flight.

The entire trip was random and diverse, relaxing and stimulating.  I know we will be back in Chiang Mai again whilst living here.



Lost in the Forest

This past weekend we decided to check out a place we had heard of before but have never visited.  We went to the Royally-Initiated Siri Charoenwat Forest Plantation Project, located in the Chonburi province around She-Ohn Mountain, about 15 minutes from our home.


Supposedly 26 years ago this area was a barren, bald mountain with few animals or plants.  The king of Thailand, His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej, ordered the restoration of the forest to return the natural balance and as a gift to Her Majesty Queen Sirikit on her 60th birthday celebration in 1992. This is why it is called “The Forest of Love.”  We have always loved going though parks, nature trails, etc. so it was nice to find out about this place.

Upon our arrival we parked and walked out amongst the trees where we immediately passed a few Buddha statues.  We walked a paved path to an interesting junction of visual stimulation.  On the left was a huge lotus pond and on the right was a garden of indigenous varieties of thai banana plants.  The lotus pond was striking with its carpet of lily pad leaves and its jutting lotus flowers.  There was a bridge that led to the middle of the pond where there was a covered gazebo.  It was beautiful.


We looked at the bananas from afar and then made our way into a forested walking path.  The path itself was probably 1-1.5k and had multiple stop-offs for taking a rest.  We saw many varieties of bamboo and thai trees and fauna.  Trees that you pass are labeled with the name of the species in both thai and english.


Once we reached the end of the trail we found ourselves at another small pond in a space we were unfamiliar with.  We weren’t sure of where we parked and luckily there was group of thai people approaching.  They waved at us and smiled at our children.  We asked and gestured, “where is the car park?”  One lady nodded and said, “Yes!  Come with us!  No worries!”  We fell in line with this group of about 15 very friendly thai people and assumed that we would be led back to the car.

As we walked, the woman who flagged us over told us she was visiting the forest from Bangkok, and that she and her employees were going to do an activity with the rangers.  She said “you should join!”.  We smiled and told her that we needed to find the car and would not have time for the activity.  She nodded and seemed to understand.  We continued to walked a paved road and then veered off onto a dirt path.  This dirt path soon got narrower and narrower.  We assumed that they were perhaps taking us through a shortcut?  Eventually we found ourselves stepping over thorny branches, hopping over ravines, balancing across logs, and pushing bushes out of our faces.  This might not be too difficult normally but we did have our 3 and 5 year old with us which was a little difficult.  We finally stopped in the middle of the forest and realized that they were all there to build a dam out of bamboo and rocks.  As they began tossing the rocks into the bamboo frames we asked the original lady again, “We need to go, we need the car park.”  She apologized and said she misunderstood us.  She motioned to a park ranger who said she would lead us out.  Before doing so she asked our kids, “Selfie first!” She took a selfie with our kids and then grabbed my son’s hand to help lead us out.


After about 20 minutes of forest-trekking, we were out and on our way back to the car.  What originally would have been a light journey turned in to a deep forest trek.  Ha.  Everyone was so kind and we won’t forget that trip to the “Forest of Love” anytime soon!


A Whirlwind

I title this entry “A Whirlwind” because that’s exactly what our trip home to the USA was.  From the moment we re-entered the country, we continuously traveled from place to place seeing friends and family.  So much happened in 6 weeks that it can be a bit difficult to even recall everything!

The first culture-shock we experienced was when we stepped into our rental car in Atlanta and had to re-acclimate how to drive on the right side of the road while in the left side of the car (as well as the whereabouts of the blinker and windshield wipers, ha).  Once out of the car rental parking area and onto the 5-6 lanes of highway, it’s immediately obvious how much more intense driving can be in the states.  It was also funny to see how FEW motorbikes (or any) were present on the road.  There is definitely a busier, faster pace to life that we immediately felt upon our return.

Once out on the road, we did exactly what we had planned which was to go directly to our favorite Mexican restaurant “El Solecito” for lunch.  The owner remembered us and we made sure to let him know how long we had thought about sitting in his restaurant.  We went rather indulgent for lunch by ordering carnitas, tacos, ceviche, rice, beans, cheese dip, margaritas, and micheladas.  It was heavenly to say the least.  We sat there deliriously enjoying our lunch while simultaneously trying not to fall asleep from the near 30 hour journey we just experienced.  After we all had our long-awaited fill of Mexican food we headed to our hotel to check in.  We noticed a Target store next to the hotel so we decided go there as we hadn’t experienced a store with that kind of variety in nearly a year.  WOW.  You don’t realize how much choice you have everyday until you aren’t surrounded with it.  We definitely saw Target in a different light/perspective.  Consumerism is king in the US.  After we lazily zombied our way through we came back to our hotel and immediately passed out.

After that first night in the USA, the following weeks of our trip focused more on the family we hadn’t seen in so very long.  We spent our weeks jumping back and forth between Perry, Savannah, Milledgeville, Atlanta, Athens, and countless other cities and small towns all around and in-between throughout Georgia.  We were fortunate enough to borrow a 1998 Buick Park Avenue from my aunt which we mercilessly drove about 3000 miles within just 6 weeks.  We were able to spend lots of quality time with our parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, coworkers, and countless friends.  We visited the new and revisited places of our childhood witnessed with brand new eyes.  River Street, Historic Savannah, Ocmulgee Indian Mounds, Rock Eagle, Lockerly Arboretum, Uncle Remus’ House, Rose Hill Cemetery,  Downtown Macon, childhood playgrounds, old back roads, pool parties, etc. were amongst the detours and stops we made whilst home.  Nostalgia was running high and emotion was full.

Towards the last week of our time back home, I felt a real sense of melancholy.  I was so happy with the QUALITY time I experienced with our families and friends.  Even when we lived in Atlanta, we rarely had the opportunity to spend so much time with family.  This allowed us to create some real memories and share some wonderful conversation.  Of course, as with all goodbyes, it was sad hugging everyone knowing it would be another year before we could see each other beyond a Skype session or say “hello” beyond an online chat.  It is the most difficult aspect of international living.  Yes, it is a 22 hour flight but I’m seeing the world much smaller these days.  Although vast and full of stimulation and things to witness, it is indeed a small world after all.