Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Best Adventure Yet!

Yesterday was one of the best days of my life! Diane and I went to the Patera Elephant Farm which is located in the hills north of Chiang Mai. ( to be elephant owners for the day. Basically you get to know and do as what one of the elephant owners would have to know and do with their elephant throughout the day. We learned how to approach our elephant (we were each assigned one), how to unchain it, clean it, learned about it's poo, walked it, feed it, and washed it in the river. We then got to ride it through a mud/water system for foot care - the muck helps with keeping their toe nails filed down. We then took our elephants up to a waterfall for lunch and to watch them play in the water.

Riding an elephant is not that hard once you figure out how to haul your butt up on to one and getting off of it is fairly easy (they kneel down and your slide off the head), however the whole riding thing does a number on your hips! You essentially ride up on the elephant's neck and your hold your knees up in a folded position behind their ears. Once you legs start to quiver in utter pain and exhaustion, you can put them down and ride with them straight. For the little, skinny girls - that hurts too but for those of us with larger hips, not so bad. Needless to say, both Diane and I are sore today!

My elephant's name was Mae Boon Dee (something like that) and I fell in love with her instantly (and I think she with I!) She was just such a gentle soul and was so much fun to be around. She LOVED to eat and grazed the entire time we were walking. She is also an avid "logger" as I called her - she loved to snap logs while we were walking - me not so much given that I was sitting on top of her while she did this and was always worried that I would get hit by a stick!

At the elephant farm there were 3 baby elephants - ranging in age from 10- 12 weeks old and so bloody cute and friendly! It was so hard not to love them! Their mamas were really good about letting us play with them. There is a really good chance that these elephants will be released into the wild when they are old enough. This farm that we went to both rescues and rehabilitates elephants but also runs a breeding program and in the past 10 years has been able to put 7 elephants back into the wild. I know it may not seem like much but it is a step in the right direction.

So far the only colour that I am really sporting on this trip are shades of blue, purple and ugly brown - all from my various and assorted bruises that I mainly got from my ill-fated landing while ziplining. Although some of my massages are leaving me a little coloured. Important to note that if you look at me the wrong way I bruise! My one leg looks just lovely! Although it is hotter than Hades here - it is about 33C with about 60% humidity - so needless to say I am sweating non-stop - it is worse than India where I was dewy all the time. When we were in Bangkok the humidity was around 95% so this has been a little better. I am just hoping that when we get down to Koh Samui that it is 33C with very little humidity and a lot of sun so I can bake for a while!

As previously mentioned, I have been wanting to get a Thai massage and did so the other day. Let's put it this way, I probably won't be doing that again any time soon and will just stick to my regular foot massages. I wasn't violated in any way like the first massage, however he sure loved to dig deep into certain pressure points and seemed to have a love affair with my IT bands on my left leg. They weren't loving him so much and neither was I! Holy painful! Then he did a number on my triceps as well - who need that pressure points in your triceps could hurt so much! I am hoping that down in Koh Samui that I will be able to find a good massage place - I am really enjoying these $6 foot/back/shoulder/neck massages!

One thing I have noticed about Thailand which has totally surprised me is how good the meat has been. Normally when I travel I don't eat the meat b/c it always tastes a little off - but not here. Their chicken is great and so is their pork - and the bacon. . . . oh the bacon at our hotel in Chiang Mai is so amazingly good!

Diane and I are off to Koh Samui later this afternoon. We were supposed to leave at 4pm but got an email from Thai Airways this morning saying that our flight was cancelled and we are rebooked on a 5pm flight - which is all fine and dandy except we had to check out of our room. We are able to use the hotel until we leave for the hotel at 3:30pm but most of the common areas are not A/C but rather open air and fanned so we are both sweating like little pigs!

Last night, both Diane and I agreed that while the adventure portion of the trip has been amazing, our bodies probably can't take anymore and we are both really looking forward to the relaxation!

Friday, April 29, 2011

Keeping the Thailand Economy Going

Well, I do believe that Diane and I (more Diane than I) are keeping the Thailand economy going and I can honestly say that I am almost shopped out. Today was a "shopping day" and we wandered around the streets of Old Chiang Mai looking for that elusive find. We ended up going into a bead shop - my aunt has asked me to buy her beads and it turned out that they had some great necklaces. We ended up giving in and hiring a tuk-tuk driver to take us a little out of the main part of town to some of the bigger shops to look at silks and the like. The tuk-tuk drivers get some sort of commission or something if they bring you to a shop and our driver was more than happy to oblige us. Personally, I think that hiring him was the best thing we did today b/c the 3 hours we spend wandering around the streets, we hardly bought anything b/c all the stores sell pretty much the same things - just like at the night market.

Last night when we went down to the night market, I wandered into a shop while Diane was buying a shirt and ended up having a custom made suit made - jacket, pants & skirt, in charcoal grey cashmere & wool blend and a white blouse for about $350 cdn. I went back this morning to have my jacket fitted and my pants measured and will go back this evening for another fitting - the entire outfit should be done by tomorrow. I am super excited to see the finished product because having a jacket that fits properly over my chest will be nice and a pair of pants that are long enough in the leg but short enough in the rise has always eluded me. Somehow I don't think that I will really want to go back to off the rack after this!

Last night was an evening of excesses. Because it was my birthday, we decided to eat at the night market which cost each of us about $2 - yes $2 - including a drink. Add on the ice cream we had after, we were up to $3. We have also found a new massage place and decided to splurge and spent a whopping $6 on a foot, back, shoulder, neck, head and arm massage - for 1 hour. I think we are going to go back there again tonight - I am bound and determined to have my Thai massage. We figured that this place we went to must be a pretty good place b/c it was full of Thai people getting massages as well. I likened it to Chinese food - if there are Chinese people in the Chinese restaurant eating, it must be good food - same with massage. Oh it was heavenly! Honestly, I could probably get massaged a couple of times a day.

I forgot to mention that the other night when we were at the night market, I had stopped and asked a woman about how much a magnet is (a practice in my team at work is when you travel you buy everyone a magnet) and she said 100 baht - about $3. I said - "they are cheaper in Bangkok" at which time she responded to me - "go back to Bangkok then" - the first time I have experienced any sort of attitude here! I did manage to find some magnets for about $1 each at a different stall.

A couple of things that I have noticed while in Thailand is that it is fairly clean and there isn't a lot of trash around - which is nice. And the other big thing that we have noticed is the absence of Americans - I wonder why that is? Don't get me wrong. . . I am not complaining!

Tomorrow is hopefully going to be the highlight of our trip - our day at the elephant farm. We are going to be elephant owners for the day. We will each get assigned an elephant and we will be responsible for it for the day - including feeding, cleaning and bathing it. We will also get to ride it. So make sure you check out my blog in the next day or so to read about that (and hopefully I can get some pictures up too!)

Well better get back to watching the Royal Wedding - Kate looked so beautiful!

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Chiang Mai Adventures

Well folks, we have moved into the adventure phase of the holiday - in case I forgot to mention, this is our shopping, culture, adventure & relaxation holiday. We did culture and shopping in Bangkok, are doing shopping and adventure in Chiang Mai and will be doing relaxation in Koh Samui:-)

Happy to note that 1 hour foot massages here in Chiang Mai are down to a paltry $5 - yes, you read that right - $5 - same with a 1 hour Thai massage, which I will be getting this evening and I am happy to report that this type of massage does not include any sort of violation - I stay fully clothed!

Yesterday Diane and I went to a Thai cooking school that had come highly recommended to me by my friends Michelle and Chris. Given that they are foodies, I knew that this place would not disappoint and it didn't. We were picked up in the morning and taken to their main office to register where we met a lovely lady from Tasmania named Lyn who we ended up cooking with for the rest of the day. Our first stop of the day was to a local market where we were given a tour and each had to "buy" a local ingredient for our cooking. When I say "buy" - essentially we handed the stall person our piece of paper with what we wanted and how much and somehow it got paid for. One thing that both Diane and I noticed was the level of cleanliness and the good food handling/sanitation in the market - at a much better level than I had expected. Next we were taken about 10 minutes out of Chiang Mai to the cooking school which was set in a lovely community. We were each given our own cooking station, complete with wok and assorted cooking utensils. The format of the day was they would show you in an air conditioned classroom what we were making and then you would go out into the open air, although covered kitchen and you would have to replicate what was made. The beauty of it all was in between cooking sessions the little cleaning fairy came along and cleaned up your station and reset it with everything that you would need for the next dish. In the end we made a noodle dish, a yellow curry with chicken, chicken with cashews, a prawn salad and a dessert - I am sure we made something else but I can't remember. In total, we were there about 5 hours, 6 including the market.

Last night we opted to go back to the Night Market for some more shopping. Now the night market here is nothing like it is in Bangkok. Firstly, it is less crowded and secondly, the knock-off quality is a fraction of what it is in Bangkok - not a place that I would be buying a Rolex (which by the way I did buy in Bangkok) Nevertheless, Diane and I have each managed to purchase something each night and I am sure that tonight will be no different.

Today was an AMAZING day! As it is my bday, we decided that we wanted to do something fun and chose to go ziplining up in the jungle and it was so awesome. The hotel that we are staying at recommended Jungle Trek Chiang Mai and they sure did not disappoint (they also got good reviews on TripAdvisor). We were picked up at 9am and taken up into the mountains about an hour north of Chiang Mai. It was a gorgeous drive up into the jungles and I was amazed to see all of these remote little towns just dotting the landscape with nothing more than a few people living there. By the looks of it, their homes are rather simple and sparse and although there looks to be electricity in the area, I am not sure that many people had it in their homes, which makes me kinda wonder what they do at night when it is dark?

Back to ziplining. In total we went on about 30 different ziplines with the longest one being just over 300m. We had to do 4 apeils (repels down) with the longest being 40m down. We also had a couple of suspension bridges and a lovely .5km hike uphills - in the hot and humid forest. Let's put it this way, I didn't realize that if I kept going down I would eventually have to go back up and it was a hellish back-up when you are overweight and out of shape! :-) In the end though it was so worth it - although I did have a nasty crash coming into one of the platforms with a tension wire. I banged my leg into it pretty good and managed to cut it on a bolt but the staff were so good in doctoring me up. They were all very concerned that I was alright (which I am) although I will have some bruising. What I learned with all of this is that when you bang yourself or have a fresh bruise, put Tiger Balm on it as it stops the internal bleeding - what went from looking like really, really, really nasty bruising will not just be some nasty bruises. Another thing with this company was safety - it was paramount! I was truly amazed a how conscious they were about safety - not just for their customers but also for their staff. At all times you were safety strapped to the platform or the zipline. After the first couple of zips, and after I developed trust in my gear, I just let go and went for each and every time - it was so much fun. On top of it, our guides were super funny.

Tomorrow is going to be a shopping/relaxation day. Our hotel is amazingly beautiful - complete with an active rice paddy, so it will be nice to spend a little time enjoying it. We have also heard that there are a couple of really good silk shops here in in town that we want to check out so. . . .that will be tomorrow. Oh, one last thing - shortly after we got back from ziplining there was a knock at the door and there was a staff member holding a small chocolate cake with happy birthday written on the plate - it is those little extra touches that make this place great. (it was great cake!)

Until tomorrow. . .

Monday, April 25, 2011


Sorry about the delay in posting to my blog - as I mentioned, I am not a fan of the touch screen typing on my iPad and have been searching, albeit not very vigorously, for an external keyboard, to make my bloggin & emailing much easier. Unfortunatley I haven't found one yet, but I did find a computer :-) so now is time for a BIG update on our trip. As I mentioned, this is a "spoiled Heather & Diane" holiday and the avails of all of my work travel are paying off. What I have learned is that my Elite status allows me to bring a guest into all of the lounges with me, and all I can say is that I far much prefer hanging out in a lounge during our layovers! Right now we are in the Royal Thai Silk lounge in Bangkok - awaiting our flight to Chiang Mai but I will get to that in a bit!

We have a fairly uneventful flight from Tokyo to Bangkok however we were on United Airlines and that is enough said. Happy that we are flying with Thai Airlines from Bangkok to Tokyo on the way home :-) Managed to make it through customs very quickly, grabbed our bags and were in a cab all within 30 minutes of landing. We got to our hotel - the Le Meridien Bangkok at about midnight - what an amazing 5* hotel. We were both a little peckish given that we had just been travelling for about 20 hours, so we went to one of everyone's favourite haunts - the Golden Arches for a quick snack. Yep - sad to say that our first meal in Thailand was a set of chicken nuggets. Our hotel was in the Silom region (?) which is the main business district but also fairly close to the red light district. Although we didn't "see" a whole lot, we were asked a lot if we wanted to "see" various and assorted sexual acts - we both passed.

Bangkok is famous for both it's night market and it's weekend market and given that Diane is a huge shopper, and I persuaded her to come to Thailand with grandeurs of shopping, we opted to go to the weekend market as our first activity. We hoped on the subway (great system by the way) and headed out for a day of shopping. Let's put it this way - we only lasted 3 hours at the market - partly b/c of the heat and humidity - it is about 34C and about 95% humidity - but also because the market was SO overwhelming. If you wanted to buy it, they probably had it. There were 8000 stalls and it covered about 35 ha. It just reinforced to me that there is far too much "crap" in this world. In the end, we covered maybe 10% of the market and missed out on some of the good parts like furniture and house stuff but I saw enough. I did manage to get something and bought myself a pair of Havianas (a type of flip flops) for about $10 and that was about it. After about 3 hours, we both admited defeat and decided to head back to our hotel and go for a famed foot massage.

Now all along the roads are places that specialize in massage. One tradition that Diane and I started on our trip to Hawaii was to go to the spa in the Vancouver airport and were planning on doing that on Friday, but there is no spa in the international departures level - go figure - so I was a little bummed. Now, not so much after seeing how cheap massage is here! A 1 hour foot massage is running you about $8 :-) Diane and I loved our foot massage so much, we both decided that we wanted to continue our relaxation and opted to each have an oil massage and this is where the violation began! Let's put it this way, every bit of me was massaged short of the lady bits! She even did both the girls. Humility was thrown out the window when she had me on my back with my arms above my head with the girls hanging out as she massaged my stomach (which by the way feels really good) She did my butt, she did my legs, my back - you name it, she massaged it. And then when she was done, she said "have a shower now" - there was shower in my room and pulled my towel off me - so there I was buck naked - she was waiting for me to get up so she could change the table. Oh well, I am sure she has seen white cellulite before - just not sure she has seen girls like these though! :-) Both Diane and I agreed that we were equally violated. I have to admit though, I am now addicted to foot massages and went for another one yesterday. I think that this might be my daily trend.

Yesterday we spent the day touring Bangkok. We both agreed that it was probably best to hire a guide to take us around and asked the conceige for a recommendation. The hotel lined us up with a tour guide and driver - her name was Ning and our driver's name was Mr. Wat. I found it interesting that they provided us with a female guide and she made it very clear when we got in the car that they were insured. We had a brand new Toyota Camry - with air con, which became so essential! Ning took us to a bunch of temples - now for those of you who know me and have read previous posts - if I have seen one temple, I have seen them all. Well let's put it this way - I saw a lot of temples and was amazed by each and every one of them - not sure I need to see too many more though on this trip ;-) I learned how to tell the difference b/w a Buddha statue and a monk statue and how to tell the different cultural influences on the temples. (when I can upload some photos I will and I will show you) We also went to the Grand Palace and on a long tail boat down the river. By the end of the day, both Diane and I were exhausted - mainly from the heat and humidity - it was so hot even the front of my shins were sweating! No tour would be complete without the requisite stop at some place to go shopping. Here it was a gem and silk shop. Diane found a set of ruby earrings and pendant and I bought 5m of some beautiful blue silk. I have a couple of weddings this summer and figure I will have it made into a dress for those.

As I mentioned, we are heading up to Chiang Mai for about 5 days. We are staying at the Siripanna Villa Resort and Spa -which looks devine on the website - another 5* resort. I think tomorrow is our Thai cooking school and on Saturday we are going to the Elephant Farm to be owners for the day. Not sure what will fill our time in between but I am sure we will have no problem making the most of it. Once again, there is supposed to be some good shopping in Chaing Mai!

Well - gotta run - flight is boarding soon. Until my next posting. . .have a good one and remember to smile!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bangkok Bound

Greetings from Tokyo. You will have to forgive my sentence structure as I am typing this on my iPad vs laptop and this onscreen typing and me don't get along too well. My friend Diane and I are offtoThailand for a couple of weeks for a little adventure, culture, shopping and beach time. We are currently on our way Bangkok - we have a 3 hour layover here in Tokyo and fortunately my Aeroplan stays allows me to bring a guest into the lounge so Diane are just hanging out. She/we are chatting with a guy who went to see the oldest cherrytree in Japan. She is currently looking at pictures as I type this.

Back to our trip - all of my flights last year paid off and Diane was the lucky recipient of my excessive travel as I upgraded us to executive first over here - once again, I have avoided economy long haul :-). Not too sure that we will be so lucky on the way home - keep our fingers crossed. Managed to watch 4 movies on the flight from Vancouver to Tokyo - hopefully onourflighttoBangkok there will be some different movies - we are on United for the Tokyo to Bangkok flight. It is currently pissing down rain and this airport from what I can see is fairly boring so we are hanging out in the lounge. We get into Bangkok tonight at 11 pm. I hope to be at our hotel (the Le Meridien) by about 12:30 am - by then I will have been up for about 36 hours and traveling for about 20! I am trying out those No Jet Lag pills - I have heard that they work - we shall see.

We are in Bangkok until Tuesday when we will hard up to Chiang Mai for 5 days. Tomorrow, I do believe that we are going to take in the weekend market which looks huge and insane! Quite looking forward to it.

Well, I have determined that I hate