Vietnam Vacation

With the kids and my wife both out of school for the Christmas holidays, we were ready for a trip somewhere else within Southeast Asia.  A few months back we looked around on travel sites, etc. and decided upon a trip to Vietnam; Hanoi to be exact.  One major factor why we chose Hanoi was because I had a friend from college (whom I hadn’t seen in 16 years) who was living there and I figured it would be great to catch up and also get “the scoop” on the city from a local.  So, after a few trips to Bangkok to get our visas straightened out we were finally in route to Hanoi on a Friday afternoon, the day before New Years Eve.

We arrived at the Ha Noi airport around 4:30pm and made our way through immigration to the taxi waiting area.  We were immediately solicited by a gentleman offering to take us to our destination for $20 USD.  I tried to put him off by saying we had to get money first and he instead directed us to an ATM and waited on us.  We got our cash and tried to go elsewhere but he signaled to us that he had our ride ready.  I guess our own politeness roped us in a bit.  The gentleman who drove us was kind, speaking a little english, and he quoted us 480,000 VND (Vietnamese Dong) which was equivalent to about $21.  We learned later to simply get a taxi with a meter vs. paying the flat fee.  Either way, it was worth the convenience.

While looking around from within the taxi I noticed some differences from Thailand.  The vehicles are driven similarly to the USA in the fact that they drive on the left side of the car and on the right side of the road.  Vietnamese LOVE… LOVE LOVE LOVE… their horns.  I feel like most drivers keep their hands stationed on the wheel to blow the horn every time a vehicle comes anywhere close to them.  It was insane!  People also drive VERY close to each other.  A few times I swore that the handle bars of a motorbike or the jeans of a rider grazed the sides of the taxi we were in.

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People who drive this a lot are so use to it that they simply flow in and out of each others paths in calculated and sometimes dangerous manners.  Also, it could’ve been this particular day, but the smog was pretty bad when we arrived. After about 40 minutes we reached our destination, a coffee shop called Cong Caphe.

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When we got out of the taxi, we were on the opposite side of the road from the coffeeshop.  Crossing roads in the Hanoi takes a little bravery because you have to move slowly and not change pace and the traffic will weave and swerve around you.  The four of us eased our way across and stepped inside the coffeeshop to meet up with my friend and his wife and grab a local favorite coffee.

After a quick coffee and a few moments of catching up, all six of us decided to go put away our things at my friend’s apartment and grab a bite to eat at a nearby restaurant.  We headed to one of many “Bia Hoi Ha Noi” restaurants near his house which sat right across from Lake Ho Tay (West Lake).  These restaurants make Bia Hoi which translates into “fresh beer”.  This beer is a very light draft lager that is incredibly cheap, around 20K-24K VND.  They make this beer every day and discard what is not consumed by end of day.

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We ordered an array of sautéed morning glory, fried bok choy, fried and chopped chicken (head included), rice, etc.  Ingredients in Vietnam I found to be very similar to Thailand however there was less fish sauce used (or i just didn’t notice it).  This was a great first evening in Hanoi.

The next day we all had a quick breakfast and set out into town (the Old Quarter) to see various sites of the city.  As I looked around at the scenery there were many interesting elements all combined together.  The buildings sat tightly together, aged by the years, resembling something like Savannah, GA (where I was born).  Similar to Bangkok, the industrial and natural settings were well inter-laden, with trees and plants dotted throughout each alleyway or street.

Street vendors with conical hats and sometimes bamboo poles over their shoulders were selling everything from two hanging baskets on either side of them.  Gold jewelry, Vietnam tours, handmade clothing, spiritual adornments and Buddhas, zippo lighters, fresh fruits and vegetables, fried doughnuts, paper sculptures, pho, bun, french baguettes, coffee, massage, the list goes on and on.

The energy of the city is very vibrant with the constant movement of motorbikes, horns honking, pedal-taxis soliciting you, and vendors looking to make a deal.

You cannot go the Hanoi without witnessing some of the old structures and remnants of the Vietnam War or, American War, as the Vietnamese refer to it I believe.  We did not make it to the Vietnam War Museum  or the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison but were still able to see some sites dotted around the city.  My friend took me to a location off the beaten path via motorbike (my first time on a motorbike).  We came to a small polluted pond about the size of a swimming pool which held the remains of a B52 bomber shot down during the Christmas bombings of the Vietnam War.

It was eery to think that the structure had not been moved for so long and to think about the set of events that occurred that day.  It was a quiet part of the city but well worth a visit if you had time.  I also saw the lake where John McCain crashed and was pulled out of by the Vietnamese before he became a POW.  There was even a figural sculpture of McCain’s body alongside the lake marking the location where he was pulled out and briefly citing the events of that day.

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Most impressive was witnessing Ho Chi Minh’s Mausoleum.  It is a massive guarded structure which houses the embalmed remains of the revered Vietnamese figure.  We did not go inside but viewing from the outside was striking.

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After most of the day spent sightseeing, we decided to stop for a beer and some snacks in the middle of the Old Quarter.  We had a fantastic view of the area as well as the lake.

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They happened to be setting up a Heineken-sponsored stage for the New Years event that night.  Massive!

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We spent the rest of our evening chilling out and enjoying conversation.  We had a great rooftop view of the city to ring in the new year!

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The remaining two days of our time in Hanoi was spent trying different foods, experiencing the markets and shops, and touring a few temples and sites, etc.  We saw the Thap Rua (Turtle Tower) on Hoan Kiem Lake (Sword Lake), Ngoc Son Temple (Temple of the Jade Mountain), The Presidential Palace, and many more I did not photograph and can’t remember the names of.

As far as food, we tried some local favorites like bun cha, bun bo nam bo, bun ga, bahn mi, etc.

 

I would love to return one day to experience more of this country!

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Khao Chi Chan & Silverlake Winery

Last week my family and I decided to go out to the Khao Chi Chan (Buddha Mountain) site to see it up close, first hand.  This is a giant mountain-side with an image of Buddha drawn in gold.  The site is free to visit however it is encouraged to donate money in a few areas at the foot of the mountain. Upon arrival there are many different vendors around selling clothes, coffee, food, and touristy items.  The area is great for kids because it is wide open and spacious so they were able to run around and burn off some energy.  There are multiple covered areas to  stop off for some shade and a rest if you desire.  As you approach the foot of the mountain there are roped off areas you must not cross however there are wonderful stone paths up to the foot of the mountain where many people go to pray.  Definitely an awesome site to see!

 

After seeing Khao Chi Chan we decided to drive over to Silverlake Winery, which is literally right next door to Khao Chi Chan.  Silverlake Winery is impeccably built in an Italian architectural style and attention to detail is evident.  Access to Silverlake is also free and it is a stunning location just outside of Pattaya.   There is lots to offer including wine tastings, vineyard tours, a full service fine-dining restaurant,  a pizzeria, ice cream shop, as well as a store you can purchase about anything imaginable made from grapes.  I’m told they even have sleeping quarters for those who look to stay an evening on property.  It’s definitely somewhere I look forward to returning to!

 

 

 

Religious Tradition

I live in a fairly rural area of Thailand surrounded by golf courses that lie between Rayong, Pattaya, and Ban Chang.  As of late, there has been lots of building and construction for a new development set to by ready by 2018.  New roads, roundabouts, ponds, foliage, and shrines have been popping up each day with the progression of this project.  Something different and new that I witnessed for the first time was the procedure of creating a shrine, in this case the shrine to Brahma.

For the past few weeks a beautifully constructed  spanish-style “gazebo” (for a lack of better words) was slowly taking shape.  It was the first fully formed structure in the middle of desheveled rock and soil at a construction site close to the entrance of our subdivision.  My wife and I had been wondering and discussing what exactly this thing could be. Most recently a giant golden statue was placed within this “gazebo” causing us to infer that it was in fact some sort of shrine.  A few days later there was a large tent set up next to the shrine with many people dressed in all white conducting some sort of ceremony.

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Firstly, I am not keen on Buddhist or Hindu tradition so I apologize if I am getting any of my information wrong and for my naievty on the subject .  I am simply writing what I perceived as a quick passer-by.  What I have gathered is that this is a shrine to “Brahma” the creator god in the Trimurti (or Trinity of Supreme Divinity) of Hinduism.  From my own google research, Brahma has four faces looking in four directions and appears to be a protective deity upon the land.

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I assume this might by why the shrine was the first structure built as it may bless all the building to follow?   Either was this was a beautiful and intriguing thing to witness as an outsider.  Experiencing things like this is one of the reasons we wanted to come to Thailand.

Koh Samet

This past week we took our very first trip to the island of Koh Samet.  To those who are not familiar, Koh Samet is an island in the Gulf of Thailand off the coastline of the Rayong Province.  It was the closest island to our home and easiest venture with two small children.  So, on a Wednesday morning we packed up the car and headed towards Ban Phe to park our car for the next few days and journey to Koh Samet by boat.

 

Upon arrival into the fishing village of Ban Phe we saw a sign that said “Car Park” so we pulled in and paid for three nights of parking (100 baht per day).  The attendant was very nice and actually escorted us across the street to Municipality Pier to speak with a travel assistant about how we would get to the island.  We were set on taking a ferry as we heard it was less expensive. The woman we spoke with kept asking, “Why not speedboat?  Why Ferry?”  We gestured, rubbing index and thumb fingers together, saying “Money!”.  She made a quick deal.  She would give us a speedboat that would leave right then and there for an additional 300 baht and she would not charge for our smallest child….ANNNNDDDDDD…. it would include a free ferry ride back.  You’ve got a deal! (Normally speedboat’s can be 2000 baht for one way).  We were shown to a queue area and were escorted to the boat within 5 minutes.

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After a short 20 minute boat ride we arrived at our resort on Koh Samet island and were assisted in carrying our bags off the back of the boat, through the waves, and up onto the beach (no pier).

The resort we reserved was Tubtim Resort south of Ao Phai Beach.  This was a great location with a peaceful/small beach.  The bungalows were somewhat dated but perfect for us.  Our room was equipped with a single king-sized bed, tv, small refrigerator, western toilet, and shower.  Simple was all we needed as we came to get away, to relax.  Our first afternoon was simply spent lying around the beach, sipping on a few beers, and a casual dinner at the resort.  It was nice.  We planned to do more exploring on Thursday, our second day on Koh Samet.

 

Thursday morning we got up early and enjoyed the breakfast provided by the resort.  It was my idea to trek up the beach towards the main pier in order to see the island first-hand and eventually hit up some shops and restaurants as our resort was a bit secluded.  The four of us walked the beach, jetties, and pathways up the coast of the island stopping every so often to break from the heat of the sun.  Countless photo opportunities were seen.  Around the north end of Tubtim (closer to the Pudsa Bungalows) were some amazing rock-stacking sculptures.

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We passed countless food stalls selling coconuts, grilled squid/crab/shrimp/fish, fruit shakes, handmade roti, and some things I’m not even sure about.  Most shops were stocked with ladies swimwear, hats, tourist kitsch, liquor, beer, and wine.  We passed people offering beachside massages, handmade body wraps, henna tattoos, hair braiding, and sliced fruits.  I considered getting corn-row braids for a minute… just a minute.    We passed a gentleman offering parasailing, snorkel tours, and boat tours.  He talked us in to getting a 2pm boat tour which he assured us was good for the kids as well.  He assured us a boat would pick us up on the beach at Tubtim at 2pm.  After a nearly hour long walk we finally made it to an area filled with 7-11 minimarts and restaurants.

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We stopped in at the Funky Monkey Restaurant and Bar for an early lunch.  After lunch we decided to catch a songthaew (a converted pickup truck with bench seating aka a taxi) back to the resort instead of walking all the way back.  It was time to rest before our boat venture at 2pm.

We sat out at the beach around 1:45pm to keep an eye our for our boat tour.  They arrived around 1:55pm.  They set anchor and we waded through the waves to hop onto the back of the boat.  The waves were a bit choppy so the boat was jostled all around during this time.  We handed our daughter to one of the boat-hands first, he placed her up onto the back of the boat.  My wife hopped onto the boat and then we handed my son to her.  I followed while carrying my backpack and camera.  To give you an idea, the boat appeared to be ran by a family.  Our boat “captain” was probably a 16 year old.  There was an older man who appeared to be maybe an uncle or friend, and there were two young children working as well (maybe ages 7 and 10).  The boat was tossing us all around, at one point nearly knocking my wife over. We quickly paid them and they handed my wife and I two adult life jackets.  We asked for children’s life jackets and they nodded at us and began moving.  We were in route to pick up two more people from another beach before heading out on the tour.  While picking up the other two, who were a thai/chinese couple, we asked again for children’s life jackets.  The 7 year old girl gave us two more adult-sized jackets.  Reluctantly, we put the oversized jackets on our two kids.  This was my first feeling of uneasiness. We began whizzing through the ocean to our first stop.  We continually “caught air” while in the boat as we coasted over large waves.  There was a STRONG smell of diesel coming off the boat motor.  Our kids were troopers, staying calm and collected as we traveled towards the first stop.  Suddenly, the boat motor died while we were in the middle of the ocean, resuming after about 15 seconds.  Oh CRAP.  The boat “captain” gestured to the 10 year old to go inspect the motor, looking concerned.  This kid jumped on the back of the boat and leaned his head down next to the RAPIDLY SPINNING BOAT MOTOR while we were FLYING over waves.  He proceeded to grab the drip line/fuel line hanging from the motor and began to blow air into it to clear the line.  I was worried the kid would either fall into the ocean or get injured from the motor propellers.  He jumped back up front and grabbed a stick to probe into the line.  The boat captain started checking under the boat floorboards to see if we were taking on any water.  By this point, everyone in the boat just wanted to turn around and go back.  The couple on the tour with us had equal looks of concern.  After about 10 more minutes we were on the first island.  From that point on, our day became more and more enjoyable.  Haha.  Hey, things are done differently in Thailand!

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We visited a total of three islands, all with small stop offs with plenty of coral reef areas to see by snorkeling.  The kids enjoyed walking around and wading in the water.  Vendors on one of the islands sold cold drinks and beer, fruit, and ice cream.  We found a few good spots for photo ops. By 4:30pm we were on our way back to the resort to close out the evening.

 

On Friday we decided to have a more relaxing day, as the boat ride on Thursday was a bit stressful initially with small kids.  We went south on the island to see a few other beaches. We were initially looking for a mediterranean restaurant near Baan Thai Sangthian Resort. We were dropped off by a taxi at the main drop off point for Ao Sang Thian.  We journeyed down a long path of tile to the oceanside and walked alongside the endless rows of beachside resorts looking for the restaurant.  This area was much different that Tubtim.  It felt nearly deserted when we were there.  We rarely saw another person.  It almost felt like we had the entire place to ourselves.

Occasionally we would walk up on a resort/bungalow with a few of the staff either sleeping or on their phones.  They would see us and perk up to say “Sa Wa Dee Ka!”  The sights here were stunning, pretty much as picturesque as it gets!  We walked a good 20 minutes before asking someone where Baan Thai Sangthian was.  They said we had passed it.  What?  We turned around.  We gave up on the search and instead went to a place called “The Viking”.  This chance stop off turned out to be a highlight of our trip.  We had one of the best meals since on the island!

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Afterwards we found about 7 hammocks under some low-growing trees to relax in and take in the ocean air and sounds.  The kids went from hammock to hammock, playing.  It was perfect.  On our return visit to Koh Samet, this will be the beach we stay at.  It was amazing.

On Saturday we made our way home via the ferry from Nadan Pier.  We had wonderful time together as a family for our first trip to this island.  I know we will be there a few more times while living here.

A Return to Bangkok

We have just returned home from “one night in Bangkok”.  We had to go back into the city to visit the United States Embassy to get a few documents notarized for our visa extensions.  We knew that simply driving there and back in a day would be difficult so we decided to make a venture of it and stay the night.  It was an adventure to say the least which I will try to capture in this blog post.

Our journey began on Sunday morning around 10am, after a light breakfast.  We all packed up and hopped in the car to make our way towards Bangkok.  The ride into Bangkok from our home is about a two hour drive.  Not even 45 minutes in we have to make a pit stop so our daughter could use the restroom.  This was her first encounter with a squat toilet.  It was hilarious!!  She comes out from the bathroom telling me, “Daddy, I peed in a hole and flushed it by pouring a bucket of water in it.”  I was first impressed that she tackled using the bathroom in such a new way until my wife informed me she basically missed the toilet completely.. haha.

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After our break we got back on the road.  We discussed our plans of things to do once in the city.  Shopping, touring night markets, and visiting some nice restaurants we can’t come across near Pattaya were on the agenda.  We were especially psyched to get some Mexican food as we had not had any since our arrival in Thailand (we ate Mexican one/two times a week back in Atlanta).  I was able to locate a Mexican restaurant on google that seemed close to the hotel.  We just needed to make it there first!  I swear, the GPS will give you so many varying ways of getting to places in Thailand… to the point it can be a little confusing.  Roads diverge and reconnect in odd ways and the road names listed on the GPS are almost never the same the road names you physically see when driving.  You can easily miss a turn or exit and end up riding many more miles only to have to u-turn back to where you need to be.  We ended up taking a wrong turn which actually was a good move because it still led to Bangkok, just under the shade of another road running parallel over our heads.  In fact, the road ran the ENTIRE route to Bangkok.  Our guess was that it was perhaps a toll road or something that you could use in the event of bad traffic.

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As we drove into the city the roads do get very intense.  You will find that people cut in and out from all directions, motorbikes swarming you from all sides, busses and tuk-tuks all come intimidatingly close to your vehicle.

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I’ll admit our anxiety levels were a bit through the roof for those minutes before we found our hotel.  Just a little after noon we arrived at the hotel and were excited to check in, put our things away, and get some long-awaited Mexican food just walking distance from the hotel.  YESSS!  Well, we checked in and looked outside to see that Bangkok was experiencing an INTENSE downpour!  I’m talking HEAVY rain! We sat for a few minutes in hopes it would subside but instead took a taxi recommended by the hotel concierge.  It was only a few blocks and cost about 40 baht (just over $1 USD) so it wasn’t that bad.  We finally got to this Mexican restaurant and made our way inside.  There were only 3 other people inside but we were welcomed out of the heavy rain by smiling faces ready to serve us.  It looked nice!  There was a salsa bar, tequilas on display, and American programming on the TVs.  We sat and looked over the menu.  We ordered some street tacos, chips & salsa, and some cheese dip.  We were STOKED!  About 10 minutes later this came out…

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Now I’ve had amazing Mexican food in my lifetime and knew this would probably not match what I was used to but it was the closest thing I could get in Bangkok so I was excited.  I took a bite and will say it was “ok”.  It was a good attempt considering the ingredients available.  I tend to set my expectations too high quite often.  Suddenly I saw a small, quick streak of motion in my peripheral vision.  Wha?  I looked across the room and noticed an old european couple in the back of the restaurant intently staring at the floors.  What are they looking at?   When I looked down and around I noticed a HUGE roach running quickly across the floor…. then another… then another… then another.  I’m not sure if it was from the rains outside pushing them in but the place I soon realized was INFESTED with cockroaches.  The waitresses continually walked around us with brooms and mops, moving furniture and chairs to cause movement so they could kill them and sweep them out the door… all while smiling and checking in on us every few minutes.  As I ate, I couldn’t help but scan the place visually back and forth, over and over again.  Needless to say I still ate those tacos, however with a slight feeling of nausea and my hopes just a little squashed considering how much we pumped ourselves up over the idea of Mexican food.  I think I’ll stick with Thai food while in Thailand.

When finished with lunch we flagged down a tuk-tuk to take us back to the hotel as it was still raining very hard.  Tuk-tuks are pretty cool because they give you a very authentic Thai experience and also a much closer and intimate look at your surroundings albeit a little dangerous.  For a minute I was concerned the tuk-tuk would not make it back to the hotel considering that the roads were so flooded that it almost submerged the tuk-tuk to our foot level.  This is a pretty common occurrence with heavy rains there.

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Shortly after arriving back at the hotel the rains finally stopped and we were able to tour around the Silom road area of Bangkok, just outside our hotel.  Everywhere you go there are massage parlors with ladies yelling “massage!”, street food vendors with all sorts of kebabs and fruits and pastries, and merchandise vendors ready to haggle over wallets, watches, t-shirts, and more.  We scored a few good items for fairly cheap at the Patpong Night Market and made our way back to the hotel to put our kids to bed.

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The next morning we woke to tackle the reason we came to Bangkok, to go to the US Embassy.  We knew were only about 1.5 miles away from the embassy so we gave ourselves about 45 minutes to get there in preparation of traffic.  WHOO!! Maybe we should have left an hour early.  First of all there is a lot of traffic at 10:00am in Bangkok on a Monday.  Secondly, there are multiple one-way roads that run very closely side by side.  We were in one of two roads going the same direction, separated by a concrete barrier.  We soon realized we needed to be on the opposite side of the street.  This was a challenge because we could not just cut over but rather had to go a full block around and come back.  We BARELY made it to the embassy by our appointment time!  Barely.  However, the visit was a success and we were able to make our journey  back home to the quieter side of Thailand, haha.  I’ve decided I really do like Bangkok…. but I prefer it on foot.  Driving is not for the faint of heart.  You’ve got to have driving SKILLS… which is why my wife did most of the driving.  To finish this post, I’ve included some random sights from around the city.  Until next time!

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Some sights of Pattaya, Khao Chi Chan, & Wat Phra Yai

This past weekend we decided to make a point to journey around and see some new sights. On Saturday we went to one of the local malls, Harbor Mall Pattaya, as well as some western expat grocery stores.  At the mall we were successfully able to find a Google Chromecast dongle which has been very helpful in streaming Netflix, Hulu, etc. (we don’t have cable).  I highly recommend it!  At the grocery store we found some comforts of home like Kraft Mac & Cheese, Heinz Ketchup, sliced deli meats, and Nature Valley breakfast bars.  I honestly didn’t think much about these foods in the USA but was excited to see something familiar to eat.  On our way back home we managed to pass Khao Chi Chan or “Buddha Mountain” which is a limestone hill carved with a sitting image of Buddha and painted gold.  It is actually very close to our home. img_1792

On Sunday, we decided to take a journey to Wat Phrai Yai aka “Big Bhudda” at the top of Pratumnak Hill between Jomtien Beach and Pattaya.  I’m told is is one of the largest in the region and it is approximately 59 feet high.  It is free to visit however it is a nice gesture to donate a little money once there.  We traveled the 40 minutes from our home and finally arrived.

As you begin the trek up the hill you see many sites and sounds.  We heard people praying and monks chanting.  We heard bells ringing.  We passed an old lady who was selling small cages of birds that people often purchase and release through Buddhist ritual.  There were vendors selling food items and drink, as always.

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As we approached the footsteps of the Big Bhudda a gentleman quickly snapped a photo of us in hopes to sell some tourist kitsch later.  The temple was intense!  Huge “naga snakes” which look like golden dragons run up the stairwell of Wat Phra Nai.  At the top were multiple smaller Bhudda statues in various positions which represent days of the week.

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If you walked behind the Big Bhudda you could witness wonderful views of Jomtien Beach and Pattaya.

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As we took our own pictures, our kids became little celebrities again.. HAHA.  A few groups of people asked if they could take pictures with them.  We obliged but I managed to take my own of the process.  The kids aren’t put off by it but it is definitely a different experience for them.

As we departed we decided to go ahead and buy a piece of tourist paraphernalia considering we had yet done so since our arrival in Thailand.  The gentleman who snapped our photo earlier affixed the image of us onto a plate.  200 baht!  Not bad.  However I’m kinda creepin’ in the background.. oh well.

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Frustrations

With any move, but especially to  a foreign country, there are frustrations.  Adapting to how things are done in a different place takes time, patience, and understanding.  We’ve been experiencing this quite a bit in the past month.  In Thailand, the expression is “mai bpen rai” which essentially means “don’t sweat it” or “never mind”.  A friend of mine equates it as the Thai equivalent to “hakuna matata”, haha.  I’ll try to explain in a few bullet points.

  • When trying to pay our car rental or home rent payments with an ATM and not knowing exactly how to send money to the provider’s savings account. (People you pay provide their savings account numbers)
  • Not knowing what type of gas to put in your tank (I know unleaded, but which pump!?!) and realizing that you don’t pump it yourself but rather allow the attendant and they ONLY take payment in cash at the pump.
  • Trying to get simple lawn maintenance done only through referred Thai people as we don’t speak the language and can only work through referral.  They usually take about two days to complete the work as well, I believe.
  • Getting fresh water delivered to our home by a weekly truck vendor and leaving payment taped to the empty water bottles is a new experience.
  • Realizing that google maps will often take you a completely WRONG way because of the lost translation of street names and businesses at times.
  • Trying to use bamboo brooms and rakes to do simple house chores takes some skill.
  • Drying clothes outside on a line.
  • When does the mail run? (I’ve yet to notice a marked vehicle for delivery.. it seems to just appear)
  • Learning to embrace the metric system.  Understanding distance with kilometers and temperature in celsius.
  • Learning to cook with different ingredients ie. fish sauce, chili sauce, sesame oil, unusual squashes, minced porks, dried fishes, etc.
  • Trying out a squat toilet for the first time as well as embracing the “bum guns”.

These are the things I’ve encountered in a month and we are definitely handling it in stride.  I’m sure I overlooked a few.  The great thing is there is always someone around who is willing to take time away from whatever they are doing to help you figure it all out!

Markets

I’m living in  fairly rural part of Thailand.  I can go 20 minutes in any direction and find a fairly large city, whether Pattaya, Ban Chang, or Rayong.  Lining all the roads here are multiple street vendors and markets selling all sorts of things at a cheaper cost than a corporate chain like Tesco or 7-11.

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I am finding fruits like mangosteen, lychee, pineapple, coconuts, durian, rambutan, and dragon fruit.  There are dried goods like dried mushrooms, dried fish, dried shrimp, and even dried squids which I assume are for making stocks.  Vegetables are harder to come by but you do tend to see corn, green tomatoes, peppers, eggplants, and radishes.  Leafy greens seem more rare at the moment. As far as housewares I’ve been seeing lots of the bamboo brooms and rakes, hats of all sizes, pottery, etc.

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My son and I made a trip out yesterday to see what we could find.  I think I spent about 100 THB and left with a nice bag of goodies!  Before we left I wanted a coconut to drink.  I asked a local lady selling them for 20 THB.  She quickly chopped it open and presented it to us with a straw.  She was enamored with my son and asked if she could take a picture with him on her phone.  I told her “chai” meaning “yes” and then gestured with my phone indicating I’d like to do the same.  He’s not a big fan of coconut water though.. haha.

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First Week of School

So last week was our children’s first week of ACTUAL school.  While in the states, our children stayed with a wonderful woman who loved them as her own and ensured they were fed, changed, entertained, etc.  The only thing missing at the previous daycare was a structured educational environment.  This is exactly what our children are enjoying here in Thailand.  Before moving here, if you asked my daughter what she was most excited about she would say “I’m excited to go to school!”  Her excitement and anticipation has come to fruition in a beautiful way.

Our children are both attending an International School.  The school’s main focus is on the child’s self-discovery and engagement to form a love of learning.  In the nursery (age 2) our son has been playing with clay, doing P.E. activities, swim lessons, arts/crafts, and simply loves his teacher who is amazing.  When I come to pick him up he most times does not want to leave.  He loves it!  He’s been a reserved kid often in crowds but has been adapting nicely.  He’s been coming out of his shell!  My daughter (age 4) has been learning to count in Thai, draw, tell stories, interact and socialize with children of all nationalities, and brings home a book every night assigned by her teacher that we read and discuss so she may share her thoughts the following day.  The change I have seen in these two is immense and it’s only been a week!  One thing I love most about the structure of this school is that they have a progress book carried in their book bag each day that informs us of the activities the children have done, complete with pictures from that day!  So awesome.

Bike Rides & Rugby

As a kid I grew up playing baseball and basketball.  I would like to say I was actually pretty good at baseball for a while.  I am left handed which tended to be an advantage as a pitcher and I often played center field or first base.  However, once I hit my early teens I abandoned athletics to become a rocker (Ha).  Basically once I discovered grunge music, learned a few chords on guitar, and learned the pleasure of recreational pot (sorry Mom), I had no desire for sports.  Well, in the past few days I have found myself engaging in physical sport more than I have in many years.  With my new friendships here I try my best to get involved in any manner possible in order to make friends and get to know everyone.

Last night one of my new neighbors invited me out for a “bike ride” which I thought would be a leisurely stroll around the golf course we live on.  I was wrong.  This bike ride took me up mountainous dirt roads, through stray-dog laden woods, down those same mountainous roads with gusto, and all around my new neighborhood.  The views and experience were amazing and I know my body will thank me later but, DAMN, it was strenuous.  I honestly am out of shape and not accustomed to the ride so I’m sure it will get easier with time.  I plan to make this a routine.  At the end of our ride I was invited to play “touch rugby” the following day (today).  I obliged.  Keep in mind I rarely play American football and if you know anything about rugby you’ll know it’s a very intense sport.  I planned to give it a go.  Well, after playing today I left the field with some bloody knees, sweat-soaked clothing, and I ultimately had great time.  Actual rugby seems to often be a  brutal sport but touch rugby is actually a great workout and wonderful team building game.  Upon entering the field I joined about 15 other guys and girls.  Everyone was patient with it being my first time and my general lack of knowledge about the rules.  I can see this being a sport to bring back with me to the states to play with friends.