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We’re Back. For Reals.

25 Jul

Even though we technically flew back to the states last Wednesday, we were still “traveling” in the last week. Less than 2 days after we got to SFO, we jumped into our car and headed towards LA for a family/friends reunion. After enduring many transit connections over the course of our trip, the 6 hour drive down I-5 seemed like a breeze!  We spent a long and fun filled weekend in LA and now we’re back in the bay area, ready for more reunions galore. Here are some things we are embracing about being home:

Having personal space. It’s nice to not be surrounded by people wherever we go!

Getting free water with ice in restaurants.

Non-confusing weather. July in the northern hemisphere should be no rain jackets or umbrellas.  We’re talking to you, Europe!

Consistent internet.

Driving…from one end of the parking lot to another.  Hey, the Gilroy Outlet is very big.

Our laptops. It’s glorious to be blogging with a real keyboard!

And the most important thing:

Spending time with our families and friends in person.

We are so happy to be home!

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Chiang Mai, Thailand

5 Jun

Note: Heavy photo post! But the elephants and tigers are so cute!

Chiang Mai is the second-largest city in Thailand. It’s a destination city that is known for hosting many of the outdoor and wildlife activities that Thailand has to offer. In addition, all of the activities are child-friendly and the Elephant Nature Park is particularly enlightening.

In our 3 days in Chiang Mai, we were able to walk the old city and visit the huge Sunday Walking street market, hike a 10-level waterfall, play with live tigers, go to a Thai cooking school, and visit an elephant nature park where injured, sick, and orphaned elephants are given a good home for the rest of their lives.

But first, we had to get there. We booked a private first-class cabin on a sleeper train, and it turned out to be a pretty rough experience. Train travel on the Internet is a little romanticized, with the main positive points being transportation and sleep accommodations all rolled into one. The reality is that it’s small, cramped, and uncomfortable, with dirty bathrooms and bad overpriced food. We had our own cabin with private sink and two fold-down beds, but the western toilet/shower combo did neither function well. 15 hours later, we arrived at 9:30am, an hour and a half late. Neither of us were well rested and we looked forward to taking a nap before visiting the Sunday Walking night market.

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The train station in Bangkok. It was a little ghetto to be honest. FYI if you order your ticket online, they won’t give you a hard copy at the counter. Instead they’ll direct you to an Internet cafe. We solved this problem by taking the train to our hotel, explaining that we were going to check in the following week, and asking if they could print for us. Cost us 50 cents, but cheaper than an hour at the Internet cafe! Thanks Holiday Inn Express!

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Different modes of transportation in Thailand- modern subway and elevated “sky” trains, rickety old school trains, and trucks converted into passenger bench taxis.

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The Sunday Walking night market sells a collection of handmade goods and excellent food, all for a buck or so. This was one of the better markets in the world that we’ve been to, and easily surpasses Mongkok, Temple Street, and Saigon Ben Thanh in terms of variety, quality, and price. Instead of tacky fake goods, there tended to be well crafted handmade wares. Similar to Unique LA, without the hipster factor.

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Bugs anyone? Crunchy!

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Flowers are huge in the Thai culture

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What’s nice about the market is that the paths take you to some wats along the way, sightseeing and shopping all in one.

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Fresh donuts/street side foot massages

Refreshing Thai iced tea, super cheap and strong at a cafe.

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On day 2, we hired a private driver to take us to the Maesa waterfall and Tiger Kingdom. Maesa was nice but the 100 degree heat and high humidity quickly drained our energy. And after having been to Iguazu Falls, sadly other waterfalls aren’t the same to us.

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Afterwards, we hopped back into the car and 5 minutes later were at the Tiger Kingdom. At TK, they breed and raise the tigers from birth, and socialize the tigers with humans every day in order to make them somewhat domesticated. This allows them to make money by giving visitors a chance to get up close and personal with the tigers. They have 4 sizes of tigers to “play” with: small (2 months), medium (6 months to a year), medium-large (1 year), and large (18 months). There is a huge difference between the ages, even though all of them can be considered juveniles. We chose to visit 3 cages: medium, large, and small.

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The medium tigers were our first cage. We were a little apprehensive at first because we’ve never been close to a tiger and these medium tigers could easily kill you without much effort. The trainers were nice and showed us various poses to with the tigers and even how to lay down on them. General rules for approaching tigers: approach from the rear, pet with a heavy hand, and do not touch the head, face, or front paws. After visiting the medium tigers, we played with the large tiger and small baby tigers in their respective cages. Though the biggest and smallest tigers made for the best pictures, we found that we enjoyed the medium tigers the best. They were more interactive and playful. The big ones are lazy, sleepy, and lethargic, and the little ones were a bit ADD. The mediums were the most fun to watch! PS, did you know tigers sleep 16-18 hours a day??

The Tiger Kingdom is certainly for tourists, and if you’re a PETA activist this place isn’t for you. But for those who want to do something crazy? stupid? fun? this place fits the bill.

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The next day we made an all day trip to the Elephant Nature Park. Here, they don’t offer elephant rides and the elephants don’t do tricks. It’s a nature conservatory where abused, orphaned, and handicapped elephants are brought to give them a sanctuary for the rest of their lives. Most people don’t know that domestic elephants are accorded the same rights in Thailand as livestock. Its sad to see that they are beaten, abused, and overworked to the point where they break down. One elephant was blinded by its former owner, who shot out its eyes to try to get the elephant to carry lumber faster. Another elephant had stepped on a land mine and lost a foot. It’s sobering to see these elephants, but good to know that they have a good home at the park. We were able to feed them, pet them, and play in the river with the elephants. It was a wonderful experience and something that will be remembered for a long time.

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Finally, we also took a Thai cooking class. I’d say that equally attractions in Chiang Mai are a third animal related, a third massage/spa, and a third cooking schools. We chose Basil cooking school because of great reviews and also because the kitchen is more modern. Tip: choose the evening cooking class, the weather is cooler, and the food doubles as dinner.

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Chiang Mai is a great place to visit, both kid and adult friendly! We highly recommend it.

Bangkok, Thailand

4 Jun

Warning: some information in this post is not suitable for young children. Please pre-screen the text before you read aloud to the kids at home.

After our time in Vietnam, we were pleasantly surprised upon our arrival in Thailand. The airport is new and modern, the transit connections are efficient and clean, air conditioning is everywhere, and the people are nice and courteous. We actually had a car stop to wait for us to cross the intersection, which was a first since we left Japan. What a difference a new country makes!

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Everyone from America seems to like Thailand, and now we understand why. You get westernized standards for a fraction of the price. We easily found great food for a buck or two in the mall food courts, which are more like restaurants than typical American mall food courts. An ice cream cone costs a quarter! The prices for western goods (ie clothing, cameras, electronics, etc) are the cheapest in Asia, but that only means equivalent to American prices. We are so lucky to live in a land where items are cheaper than most of the world!

We’re not alone in liking Thailand. A number of middle-aged to old white male foreigners wander the streets and side alleys of Bangkok looking for companionship, mostly the physical kind. Some even manage to make a girlfriend out of it, even though it’s clear that the Thai woman is in it for the money and the old guy is in it for sex. It’s common to see a 60-year old man with a 20-year old Thai woman! We call these old guys “sexpats”, and they are everywhere. One night Jeannie and I roamed one of the nightlife streets of Bangkok and squeezed each other’s hand every time we saw a sexpat. By the end of the night, our hands were hurting!

Let’s go back to the malls in Bangkok. If you like shopping, this is the place for you. I’ve never seen a city with such a high concentration of shopping malls on one street! Wisely, the city has connected all of the malls with an aerial walkway which protects you from the sun/rain (and lightning), and provides an easy access to the BTS aerial tramway.

Terminal 21: an airport themed mall. Each floor is a city, London, Tokyo, Istanbul, etc.

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Even an SF floor, which was food! We didnt eat here, but prices looked cheap, and it was still happening despite the late hour. I believe you can still eat there even after the shops have closed. The Hollywood floor was the movie theater, no surprises.

Central World Plaza: mid range, you can find chains such as Uniqlo, Zara, Forever 21. Their food court was the best!! We got three mains, two drinks, and a dessert for only $8! Ridiculous! FYI, portions are smaller, which I like. That way we could try different dishes without wasting food!

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Thai iced tea made fresh in front of customers.

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Huge portion of mango with sticky rice.

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The top right and bottom pictures are at Central World, the top left picture is at MBK.

Other malls: Siam Paragon, you can find the baller stores such as Chanel, Hermes, etc. There is even an aquarium! The food court seemed affordable considering, but we didn’t eat there.

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MBK, this is probably the most affordable mall for wares, not really brand names, more of a flea market type of joint. That’s where Jeannie found her cell phone case. They have a bunch of restaurants, two food courts, a dirt cheap one, and pricey one. At the pricey food court, if you show your passport you get a free Thai iced tea. You don’t need to purchase food to get your free drink which is what we did the first time. The second time we decided to lunch there and found the portions to be very generous. See top left picture in the collage above.

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Fine dining at Pizza Hut??

Besides being mallrats, we also visited the Chatuchak Market (aka JJ Market), which is very huge and expansive. This market is open year round, but on Sundays, the market comes to life when every single retailer is open. You can find anything under the sun, including pets. This was the saddest part of the market. The dogs for sale were either newborn puppies packed together or in too-large cages.

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The market is divided into sections: clothing, housewares, crafts, wedding, shoes, pets, religious artifacts, eating, etc. it was pure chaos.

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We found THE best orange juice ever at this market. No sugar or salt added! It was supremely delicious.

We thoroughly enjoyed our short time in Bangkok and will be back sooner than later! We only had a day in Bangkok and didn’t make it to the famous palace, wats, or the floating markets. If you plan on going, allocate a couple days for the sites, and maybe a day for shopping. Until next time!

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