Ayutthaya: The Ancient Capital of Thailand

Well, my second semester at Interlingua is now in full swing and I have to admit it is off to a much better start than the first semester!  It’s always difficult taking over another teacher’s classes, but when that teacher is loved by students, management and colleagues alike, it’s a little hard to match up.  Somehow I persevered and have proven my abilities.

This is Amanda.  She's very bright and loves learning English (she especially loves hangman!!).  At the end of last semester she got really worried that I wasn't going to come back after my trip to Thailand.  I promised her I'd be coming back and she grabbed me in a huge hug thanking me.  I love my students!!
This is Amanda. She’s very bright and loves learning English (she especially loves hangman!!). At the end of last semester she got really worried that I wasn’t going to come back after my trip to Thailand. I promised her I’d be coming back and she grabbed me in a huge hug thanking me. I love my students!!

Since our return from Thailand, I’ve had several parents come to the school specifically asking for me to teach their children.  Mostly these parents are referrals from parents whose children I already teach.  I’ve also had great feedback from management at the school, who appreciate my organizational skills and diligent lesson planning.  I’ve been asked to extend my contract here and even the other teachers have begun to ask for my help when they are having difficulty with particularly shy students.  I feel like super-teacher again!!  I can’t even explain how great that feels!!!

These are 3 of my students:  Coco, Kyle and Lily (left to right).  I introduced them to Dave while he was at the school one day, and when I came back from recess, I found this lovely mural on my chalk board!  They'd spent their break making it for me :)
These are 3 of my students: Coco, Kyle and Lily (left to right). I introduced them to Dave while he was at the school one day, and when I came back from recess, I found this lovely mural on my chalk board! They’d spent their break making it for me 🙂
One of my higher level students, Zoe, made me this bracelet :)  When she gave it to me she said "I made it for you by myself (we'd learned that phrase last semester)"  and added excitedly "I hope you like it!!".  Clearly, I do :)
One of my higher level students, Zoe, made me this bracelet 🙂 When she gave it to me she said “I made it for you by myself (we’d learned that phrase last semester)” and added excitedly “I hope you like it!!”. Clearly, I do 🙂

But none of that can top how valued my students make me feel.  My kindergarten students in particular are sweet, affectionate and love coming to my classes.  This week I’ve been teaching them family member vocabulary (Mommy, Daddy, Sister, Brother, Grandma, Grandpa…) and then also teaching them phrases that they can use this vocabulary with (Mommy is happy, I have 2 sisters).  On Sunday I taught them a new phrase:  “I love my ______”.  I play a game with them where they have to throw my fuzzy dice at the black board and whichever drawing they hit, they have to make a sentence with it.  So if they throw the die and it hits my drawing of ‘mommy’ they have to say ‘I love my mommy’.  Of course, I always draw myself on the blackboard as well, so they have a reference as to how these bubble drawings are related to me, and before I knew it, they made it a game of throwing the die at MY picture, so that they could say ‘I love my Marie!!!!’.  It was so sweet I could have scooped them all up and hugged ’em forever!!!

This was one of the family pictures I drew.  As you can see, I'm quite the artist!!  (also...my mom isn't always sad...I was just getting them to talk about emotions!!  "Mommy is sad" and then "Your mommy is sad".  My brilliant little monkeys :)
This was one of the family pictures I drew. As you can see, I’m quite the artist!! (also…my mom isn’t always sad…I was just getting them to talk about emotions!! “Mommy is sad” and then “Your mommy is sad”. My brilliant little monkeys caught on so quickly 🙂

But I suppose I’ve gushed enough now.  (If you hadn’t caught on yet…I love my job)

BACK TO THAILAND!!!

Ayutthaya is located roughly 2 hours away by train.  A lovely ride :)
Ayutthaya is located roughly 2 hours away from Bangkok by train. A lovely day trip 🙂

Ayutthaya was founded in 1350AD by a King trying to escape a small pox epidemic.  It became the capital of Thailand or Siam, as it was known at the time.  Fast forward to 1767, when the Burmese army invaded and burnt the city to the ground.  What’s left today are the stone structures that survived the sack of Ayutthaya…

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The city Burma left in ruins is now a UNESCO World Heritage Sight

We took the train down to the old city, which was apparently the cheapest way to get there but provided the best views.  It cost us a total of 40 Bhat to get there and only 30 Bhat to return ($1.54 and $1.16 respectively), so we definitely didn’t break the bank on the trip.  Also, it’s a fairly popular destination, so it was no problem to get help at the train station, even though many of the staff didn’t speak much English.

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Waiting for the train
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A Thai train ticket. I love their writing 🙂

I had done a bit of reading ahead of time, so when we arrived in the ancient city, we knew our best option for getting around was by scooter.  I would have never been brave enough to drive myself (in Thailand, they drive on the opposite side of the road), but Dave is brave that way, and before long we were cruising around the city, in search of some lunch.

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Clearly, I was pretty excited 🙂
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Our scooter for the day. It was smaller than our scooter in Guiyang, but it runs on gas (ours is electric) so it had WAY more power!
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I got this shot while we were moving. I love it because it shows so much…a tangle of power lines…a line up of public phones (do those even exist in Canada anymore??) and a 7-11….Thailand is a neat place!

We found a tiny little restaurant (we weren’t even sure if it was a restaurant at first!) before too long, and the woman who greeted us quickly set off to cook us something we hadn’t yet ordered.  This was probably for the best, as we know basically none of the Thai language and wouldn’t have known what to ask for anyway.  What she brought us was delicious 🙂

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Pickled peppers and spices on the table
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Dave, chillaxing at our table
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Lunch 🙂 Seafood fried rice 🙂 You can’t go wrong with that!!

Next we set off to find us some ruins…

We found 3 different sites, and each was unique in its own way.  Three happens to be the perfect number of items to have on a list such as this, so I shall continue this post in list form.  Also, I can’t remember the actual name for each site, so I’ve dubbed them by their defining features instead.

Sight #1:  Wat Maheyong

I saw the very first elephant I’ve seen in my life as we drove up to this site.  It was being ridden, which wasn’t ideal, but it was still there…He was an enormous male, with long tusks.  He had 2 people in the chair and a mahout riding his neck.  Before long we saw many more elephants, all being ridden around a beautiful scene of burnt stone and open fields.

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His mahout stopped for a moment so that I could take a picture…I think he was hoping I’d go pay for a ride if he did. The elephant’s eyes looked sad to me…or at the very least, he looked distant…not present at all, like the elephants we saw at ENP.
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A neat scene

We didn’t know it at the time, but these were actually the most plain ruins that we saw the whole day…we were still impressed!!

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Before long, we decided to see what else Ayutthaya had to offer, so we began to head back to the scooter.  That’s when the rain started…

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You know what they say though…February shows, allow Marie to make new friends???  We ran inside where there was shelter.  Nobody likes scooting in the rain!!!   That’s where I met this lovely lady.

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This is the first elephant I ever really ‘connected’ with. She seemed much happier than the one we’d met on the trail…probably because she didn’t have hundreds of pounds of weight on her back. One of the staff told us that she is 90 years old, and that that’s why she wasn’t being ridden anymore. From what I learned about elephants at Elephant Nature Park though, I can tell that she’s quite young. She’s also quite small, as elephants go, so I think that THAT’S why she wasn’t being ridden…not because she’s too old.

I didn’t want to ride the elephants, but I had no problem feeding her so that’s where we spent our Bhat instead.  Elephants are SUCH cool eaters!!!  Their trunks are absolutely amazing!!!

When we ran out of bananas, we bid the sweet girl farewell and wandered over through the market for a while.  There wasn’t much to see, but we did run into some tigers that were quite obviously drugged for picture taking purposes. I won’t go into too much detail here (I’m planning a whole post on how to be an Eco-conscious tourist in the near future), but neither of us  were disappointed when we couldn’t get pictures of the sleepy animal.  Instead, we went and visited some more elephants, who weren’t drugged.  They were mostly just curious of us (and hoping we had bananas for them!!)

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Perfectly timed photo! He thought my scooter helmet was a basket of fruit, I think!
This funny boy kept throwing grass on top of his head.  Elephants do this with dirt (it's a natural sun screen for them), so maybe that's why he was doing it?  Elephants also tend to get a little nutty at trekking camps, which could have had something to do with it.  One of the mahouts came over and took the grass off his head and the elephant immediately (and kinda definatly) threw more back on top of his head.  He was a funny guy...
This funny boy kept throwing grass on top of his head. Elephants do this with dirt (it’s a natural sun screen for them), so maybe that’s why he was doing it? Elephants also tend to get a little nutty at trekking camps, which could have had something to do with it. One of the mahouts came over and took the grass off his head and the elephant immediately (and kinda defiantly) threw more back on top of his head. He was a funny guy…

After a run in with some sales people claiming to sell ivory jewellery (see my post: Thailand an Overview Part 1 for more details on that little adventure…), the rain cleared and we left in search of some more ruins.  What we found…was more elephants!! (and some INCREDIBLE ruins!!)

Sight #2 – Wat Phra Kam

It wasn’t long after we left Wat Maheyong that we started spotting more elephants.  We figured there were probably ruins nearby, so we turned in and found a place to park the scooter.

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We watched this poor elephant sit down for a photo op. I thought she was going to fall over during the transition from standing to sitting.
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We walked through a lovely park on our way to the ruins

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There was an entrance fee to this set of ruins, but it was well worth the 50bhat ($1.91) we paid to get in.  I’ll let the photos do the explaining…

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The entrance into the ruins. I had no idea it would get so much better from here!
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There are burn marks on a lot of the stone but so much of the structures are still intact. I went so camera happy that I managed to kill our battery before making it out of this park! We had to charge the camera at a little shop so that we could take pictures of the 3rd set of ruins!
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One of my favorite pictures of this sight. It was such a beautiful day, and the green trees and the red stones were just beautiful together!
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The blue sky made an excellent backdrop!
I am the coolest :)
I am the coolest 🙂

 

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Looking at ruins through the ruins 🙂
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If this is all that’s left of this place, I would have LOVED to see it in all its glory.
This is the main building amongst many smaller ones.  It was huge!
This is the main building among many smaller ones. It was huge!
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A couple offered to take a picture for us up near the top of the structure. We had to climb many stairs but it was worth the photo!!

 

The remains of a religious artifact
The remains of a religious artifact

When the Burmese invaded Ayutthaya, they didn’t just burn the city to the ground.  The plan was to annihilate the population; nothing was safe.  Their buildings were burnt and their culture was destroyed.  Not even their sacred places were spared.  When I was in Inner Mongolia, years ago, I witnessed the same sort of defilement.   When the Japanese army had invaded China during WW2, they destroyed many temples.  One particular temple stood out to me…the temple itself is still in Baotou, but every single Buddha that had been carved into the stone (there were hundreds!) had had its nose chipped off.  Desecration of religious space is common in times of war.

Sight #3: Wat Barom Buddha Ram

There are so many sights to see in Ayutthaya.  Although I’d read online that it was a cool place to visit, I hadn’t realized just HOW cool, so we’d only scheduled a half day to see it all.  As a result, we missed out on many of the neat things there were to see.  With our tight schedule, we had to pick and choose where we would stop, so after visiting Wat Phra Ram, we quickly zipped over to the most famous sight in Ayutthaya:  Wat Barom Buddha Ram.  You’ll see why it’s famous in the pictures below.

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The setting sun also made for gorgeous pictures!  Dave kept trying to move me along, but this Buddha was too gorgeous to leave!!

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Dave is the 2nd coolest :p
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There were dozens of headless and broken Buddhas here.
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His lips are still gold!
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My camera isn’t tilted on this one…the building is!
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Some of the plaster is still visible on this one. We think they might be restoring it

 

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This is why Wat Barom Buddha Ram is so famous. This fallen Buddha head had a tree grow around it 🙂

So that was Ayutthaya!  If you’re ever out near Bangkok, I HIGHLY recommend taking the day trip!  Especially if you’re a history nut, like me!  It’s a neat city and we didn’t even see half of what there was to see!  I guess that just means we’ll have to go back…

I’ll be away until next week (I won’t be popular this weekend…it’s test time!!!), but when I return, I’ll be blogging about The Grand Palace in Bangkok, Thailand!

Hope to see you back soon!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hong by Starlight – Our Phuket Highlight

Spring has officially arrived in Guiyang!  The trees are all in full bloom, the sun is out and the weather is gorgeous!  After 3 long months of rain and feeling like my very bones were cold, I am warm, wearing a skirt and am not bundled in 3 layers of clothing!  I couldn’t be happier!!!!

Everything is becoming greener again!
Everything is becoming greener again!
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The tree I posted last week has completely opened up and started shedding its flowers. I get to walk by this at least twice a day 🙂

The warm weather has inspired me to write about the highlight of our time in Phuket.  Our incredible Hong By Starlight Tour had it all: breathtaking views, adorable animals and fantastic food!  The trip TO the Hongs alone was impressive in of itself, but it all went uphill from here.

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The karst landscape reminded us both of our Li River Cruise in Guilin.
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There were gorgeous cliffs and plenty of islands to see.

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Now I suppose I should explain what a Hong actually is.  We passed many islands during the hour and a half boat ride to the islands we’d be exploring.

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Cute little islands like this 🙂

A small number of islands near Phuket are hollow inside, and those are called Hongs.  They are only accessible by caves and those caves are only accessible at certain points in the day, dependent on tides.  Our tour involved seeing three of these Hongs by  Sea Canoe…an inflatable canoe, designed specifically to go through caves.  They are very tough and can be deflated if the tide is too high and the squeeze is too tight getting in or out of a cave.  They are also unflippable…which is always nice 🙂

Hongs are lagoons, located within an island.  The only way to get into one is by going in through a natural cave.  These caves can only be accessed when the tide is low.
Hongs are lagoons, located within an island. The only way to get into one is by going in through a natural cave. These caves can only be accessed when the tide is low.

Though there are several companies who do these tours, we booked ours through John Gray’s Sea Canoe, which has won many awards for eco-tourism and has rave reviews on Trip Advisor, as well as on their website.  Of course, we had to experience the tour ourselves to really understand why they’d won these awards.

This is John Gray.  He is a very interesting guy who has spent his life trying to save the earth by educating people about the damage we do on a daily basis
This is John Gray. He is a very interesting guy who has spent his life trying to save the earth by educating people about the damage we do to it on a daily basis

Talk about a top notch tour!  Every aspect of our day exceeded our expectations.  The food was fantastic.  Not only was it delicious, but because John Gray is all about environmentalism, the fish was net caught (not farmed) and the chicken was free range.  This means that everything you are served on this tour is cruelty free and chemical free.  A nice touch.

Did I mention it was also delicious???
Did I mention it was also delicious???

The staff were also incredible.  Not only were they knowledgeable and friendly, but they seemed to really care about the company they work for.  They asked us to speak quietly while in the Hongs, to not disturb the wildlife.  No garbage was left behind and I actually saw our guide, Ole, pick up garbage that had been left behind by other groups.

Ole has worked for John Gray's Sea Canoe for 16 years.  He is fluent in English and is so incredibly informative!  I felt like we were on a wildlife education tour!!
Ole has worked for John Gray’s Sea Canoe for 16 years. He is fluent in English and is so incredibly informative! I felt like we were on a wildlife education tour!!

When you add up these elements of the tour, and add in a truly fascinating and beautiful tour destination, you’ve created quite the memorable day trip.  So here it goes…I’ll go one cave at a time 🙂

Cave #1 – Diamond Cave and Lagoon

As we approached first island, I could see the small entrance while still in the canoe, and it made me a little nervous.  I’m a tad claustrophobic, so the idea of going into that small opening made me quite scared.  I made sure to get it on video so you can see what it was like going into that dark space.

I didn’t have zoom on at all through that video and a moment after I stopped making the video, the ceiling was so close that I would have cracked my head on it if I’d even tried to sit up a little.  Quite the experience!!!

But then you make it to the end….

Suddenly there's sky above!
Suddenly there’s sky above!

Words fail me here…the inside of these islands is something I hope everyone in my life gets to experience at some point.  It was worth every bit of claustrophobia I felt!!  And although the scenery alone would have been enough to make my day, Ole had a lot to do with the way we experienced these 2 Hongs as well.  He spoke softly so that the wildlife didn’t run away.  He paddled softly and slowly so that we could enjoy the peaceful stillness of the Hong.  He taught us about the area in a quiet voice and paddled a little behind the other guides so that we didn’t have to be around all the other loud tourists.  These were perfect moments.

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My first Mangrove Tree 🙂 This is the only tree in the world that can grow in saltwater. They are essential to the ecosystem as they act as a nursery and hiding spot for many many types of fish.
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We saw this guy crushing a clam up against the rocks. Monkeys, unlike apes, are excellent swimmers, and they will swim from island to island to find food.
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The entrance to the second Hong
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Such beauty!!!

The way out of the island was a tight squeeze, as the tide had risen a little.  We were the last ones out of the Hong and at some points in the journey back to the boat, I thought we were going to get stuck in the cave and drown.  I could hear our canoe rubbing against sharp rocks and kept envisioning it deflating.  The cave ceiling was close to my nose even while I lay flat on my back, arms and legs tucked.  But we made it through!  I was happy to discover later one that our canoes are built with those rocks in mind and that it’s incredibly difficult to rupture one badly enough that it sinks.  Still…my mind was racing on our trip out of that island!!

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These are some of our fellow tour goers at the opening of the cave, where the ceiling was still high. It got much worse from here. Some of the other guides had actually had to deflate their canoes a little to get out of the cave!!!

Cave #2 – Mangrove Lagoon

After this first stop, I couldn’t wait to see my second Hong!  In spite of my excitement, however, I was able to enjoy the moment and take some pictures of our journey to the second island.

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This opening looks like a giant mouth 🙂
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Beautiful islands 🙂
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I miss the ocean already!!

Our second stop was in Mangrove Lagoon.  I managed to get a video of our entrance into the Hong, although it is a little distracted as Dave was as excited as I was and wanted me to take videos of everything at once!! haha!!!!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VU-oyWmxOWM

This particular Hong didn’t have as much wildlife in it, but what it lacked in primates it made up for in foliage.   There were over a dozen mangroves in the Hong, all different sizes and different shapes.

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I officially love Mangroves!

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And we did see SOME wild life!

Ole spotted a mudskipper :)
Ole spotted a mudskipper 🙂  Can you find it??

The mangroves weren’t the only beauty this lagoon provided.  The rocks were jacked and beautiful and as the afternoon turned to evening, the light in the lagoon made for some beautiful pictures.

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The red rocks were a beautiful contrast to the blue water
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One of my favorite pictures of the entire trip

Our second island was as gorgeous as the first, and Ole proved to be consistent with his tours.  He was wonderful yet again.

We were given a break at this point to swim in the ocean, paddle around in the canoes and take some pictures.  We took advantage of all 3 options 🙂

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Some neat rock formations coming out of the island
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We weren’t the only group there, but there was hardly a crowd. Much fewer people than in any of our other tours!!
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We enjoyed some swimming beside our boat 🙂 I left the water when a gigantic jelly fish decided to join us!!! Being stung by the little ones is bad enough!!!

Supper Break

Supper break gets it’s own section because it was that good.  And no, for once I am not solely referring to the food!  John Grey’s Sea Canoe aims to educate its customers and educate they did!  Not only did we learn about the wildlife in the Hongs and see for ourselves what sort of habitats these lagoons provide, but we were also taught about Thai Culture.

The Thai Kratong:  Proof that it isn't just Thailand's landscape that is beautiful
The Thai Krathong: Proof that it isn’t just Thailand’s landscape that is beautiful

The Loi Krathong festival typically takes place in May.  Buddists build these offerings and set them out to sea, both in gratitude for all that the sea provides and in remorse for the pollution they have caused it.  Each Krathong is different from the next, but they all share commonalities.  For examples, most Krathongs will have marigolds, which represent prosperity.  The 3 sticks of incense represent the 3 major parts of Buddhism: The Buddha, The Monk and Scripture.  Ole explains:

Ole told us that he has been making Krathongs every year since he was a child, so for him, this creation was no big deal.  I was amazed at how so little could look so elaborate!!  I took pictures as he worked.

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The Thai use every part of the Banana Tree. The round part in the middle is Banana tree trunk. The green things surrounding the trunk are made of banana leaves
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He let us help with this part 🙂 The sharper the corners, the nicer the Krathong. My OCD was thrilled at the challenge!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, he placed orchids all around the trunk.  Traditionally, they use toothpicks or pieces or wood to fasten them on, but because they take these Krathongs back every night, and don't leave them out to sea, for our purposes, metal nails were used.
Next, he placed orchids all around the trunk. Traditionally, they use toothpicks or pieces or wood to fasten them on, but because they take these Krathongs back every night, and don’t leave them out to sea, for our purposes, metal nails were used.
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Next came the marigolds and candles. We lit the candles once in the third Hong…but I’ll get to that!
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Every time I thought Ole had finished, he added more embellishments.
A close up of the birds he made using prebloomed orchids.  I got to keep one.  I've pressed it and should be able to scrapbook it later!
A close up of the birds he made using prebloomed orchids. I got to keep one. I’ve pressed it and should be able to scrapbook it later!

Sending Krathongs afloat also has another purpose.  As you let go, you are suppose to make a wish.  As it floats away, the Krathong takes your bad luck with it.  Within a few hours it becomes waterlogged and sinks into the ocean, where it provides food for fish and other sea life.  I’d love to see this festival take place in November!!  It was such a lovely addition to our already lovely day!!

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Dave and I with our completed Krathong. I tried to get Ole to take a picture with it, seeing as how he did most of the work, but he was more concerned with our happiness than with taking credit for his work.

Once done making our Krathong, we had some free time before supper.  During  break, we had plenty of time for photo ops, which worked out well because this break was during sun set.  Have you ever been on the ocean for sunset?  I hadn’t until our Starlight tour, and wow is it an experience!!!

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All the colours changed as the sun set. It was quite beautiful!!
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This boat was docked the whole evening. It made both Dave and I jealous of its owners. We’d love to retire on a boat and dock somewhere like this overnight!!
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The skies were clearing so we knew we’d have a nice view of the stars once the sun slipped away completely
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Talk about a photo op!!

After eating, it was time to head into our last cave and our last hong.

Cave #3 – The Bat Cave!!

Unlike in China, where things are given names that make no sense, this cave was named perfectly.  Yup!  It was full of bats!  I didn’t get many pictures because at this point our camera was dying, but some of these bats were as big as birds!  We saw hundreds of them once in the cave, but don’t worry, they were sleeping!!

As the last bits of light disappeared with the setting sun, we head into the bat cave…

By the time we made it through the cave and reached the Hong, it was almost completely dark outside.  We could see stars above and we were the only tour group left so it was quiet and peaceful moving slowly through the water in the dark.

On the canoe.  Ready to set out Krathong into the water
On the canoe. Ready to set out Krathong into the water

Ole lit the candles of our Krathong and we set it in to the water where it floated calmly.  The rest of our group were setting theirs into the water as well and when we looked around, we could see fire floating on water all around us.  It was quite the scene.

Ole told us to make a wish as we let go of his piece of art, and we had a hard time thinking of anything more we could want in that moment.  So we wished for a happy life for all 3 of us.  What more could we want?

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The tour was nearly over and it was time to make our way back out through the cave.  It was completely dark now and the stars were shining above us brightly.  We were able to stay sitting up while we slowly paddled through the Bat Cave; it has high ceilings and the tide was low.  Ole had one more surprise for us, but it couldn’t be caught on camera so I’ll have to tell you about it instead.

For anyone who has seen Life of Pi...we got to see the real thing.
For anyone who has seen Life of Pi…we got to see the real thing.

He told us to reach into the water and move our hands, and as we did, little specks in the water lit up.  We were surrounded by Bio-luminescent Plankton, that light up when the water is disturbed.  We put our feet and hands in the water and watched it light up!  Then we splashed water onto the walls of the cave and watched THEM light up!  This plankton can only be seen in the dark and I think it was so cool that we got to experience it while in Thailand!!!

Only special cameras can catch these creatures on camera.  Here's something I found on Google.  It doesn't come close to showing how cool it was, but you get the idea!
Only special cameras can catch these creatures on camera. Here’s something I found on Google. It doesn’t come close to showing how cool it was, but you get the idea!

Before long we were back on the boat, on our back to Phuket.  I felt sad that our Starlight Tour was done, but I comforted myself with the hope that some friends might come visit us next year, and we can all go see this together!!  It’s an open invitation, so if you’ve been thinking of meeting us in Thailand…read this post again if you need more convincing!!!

I’ve only got one more post to write for Phuket, and that will be arriving on my page some time next week.  Thanks for reading!!

Spring Festival 2015: An Overview (Part 2)

Starbucks has become an integral part of of our lives here in Guiyang.  We sometimes go to other cafes, because they are closer to home or because they have cats to keep us company, but nothing really compares to the atmosphere at Starbucks.  The Baristas now all know us by name and we’re always welcomed warmly when we visit.  It’s nice being somewhere that not only has indoor heating, but where the customer service is good and the coffee is always fresh.  Signs like these are an added bonus:

This sign is posted in the bathroom.  Many Chinese people don't like western toilets because they are 'dirty', so they hop up ONTO the toilet and squat over that instead.  The result is a very dirty toilet seat.
This sign is posted in the bathroom. Many Chinese people don’t like western toilets because they are ‘dirty’, so they hop up ONTO the toilet and squat over that instead. The result is a very dirty toilet seat.

But Starbucks isn’t just a place to relax.  I do most of my blogging and journaling here as of late, and Dave has been working hard to complete is TEFL certification, so that he can do some teaching if he so desires.  Teaching is an excellent way to meet people, after all, and the extra income means we can take more trips, so there are really no downsides 🙂

It's like they understand coffee here!  Also...it's nice to get away from the smokey haze that seems to be everywhere in Guiyang
It’s like they understand coffee here! Also…it’s nice to get away from the smokey haze that seems to be everywhere in Guiyang

Onto Bangkok, Ayutthya and Chiang Mai!!

The Best of Bangkok First, I must state how much I LOVED Bangkok!  There was something about that city that I can’t exactly explain.  It’s modernity, liveliness and history all combine to provide the experience of a lifetime.  It’s actually very difficult for me to summarize the best things quickly, but I will do my best to try.

Bangkok is located in the center of the country.  It's further north than Phuket but it's actually quite a bit hotter there.
Bangkok is located in the center of the country. It’s further north than Phuket but it’s actually quite a bit hotter there.

As is often the case, the food was a highlight for us.  Our first dinner in Bangkok was an incredible array of seafood that was about half the price of the cheapest food we’d eaten in Phuket (where we never actually had a seafood dinner because the prices were so high!).  The best meal we had though was at a western style bakery near our hostel.  I was actually able to order a smoked salmon sandwich (with capers, REAL mayonnaise and everything!!!) on a toasted EVERYTHING bagel!!  They also had cream of broccoli soup, which I hadn’t even dared to hope for in Asia.  Once more, this may not be exciting for all of you back home…but good bread is enough to get me excited…never mind a proper smoked salmon bagel!!!  And as though the food wasn’t enough, I also found A&W root beer at 7-11!  I sipped it and savored every drop!!

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This dish was made of crab and finely ground egg. It is honestly one of the best dishes I’ve ever had, and I’ve had some incredible food in my time!!

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I don't know if I have EVER enjoyed a sandwich this much!!!
I don’t know if I have EVER enjoyed a sandwich this much!!!

But there is so much more to Bangkok than good food!  There is a great deal of culture there, and in the markets you can find everything from clothing and souvenirs, to flower offerings and seafood.

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Some cooked fish for sale
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Hearts, Stomachs, Livers and Kidneys for sale
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We saw this cool little cat walking along the canopy above the night market as we were crossing the pedestrian street bridge. He’s so stealthy 🙂
Flower offerings like this are everywhere in Bangkok.  They are bought and put on Buddhist shrines as well as shrines dedicated to the royal family
Flower offerings like this are everywhere in Bangkok. They are bought and put on Buddhist shrines as well as shrines dedicated to the royal family
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I actually felt very overwhelmed when we first got to the night market. I hadn’t felt that way since our first days in China. It’s an odd feeling when everything around you (the smells, sights, sounds…) are all foreign.

The most adventurous thing we did in Bangkok happened our last night there, on Kao San Road (it’s the backpacker’s party road).  Although culturally irrelevant, Bangkok has become known for it’s ‘deep fried bugs’.  Just as Cuba is known for their wooden carvings (although they are not popular within the culture itself…just among tourists), people flock to Kao San Road to try deep fried scorpion, tarantula, cockroach and grasshopper.  The Thais we met thought it was quite funny that tourists will pay to try to these things, but we figured we may as well give the fried critters a try!

We tried the silk worms (the small ones near the top of the plate) and the bamboo worms (the fat ones).  Both were alright...not anything I`d go out of my way to order, but they definitely weren`t as appalling as some may assume!
We tried the silk worms (the small ones near the top of the plate) and the bamboo worms (the fat ones). Both were alright…not anything I`d go out of my way to order, but they definitely weren’t as appalling as some may assume!
They also had centipede, tarantula and cockroaches, but I didn`t care to try any of them haha!
They also had centipede, tarantula and cockroaches, but I didn`t care to try any of them haha!

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The Worst of Bangkok

I actually had to ask Dave what the worst of Bangkok was, because I couldn’t really think of anything myself.  In Phuket our options for getting around were to use the shuttle bus (which stopped running at 8pm every day), hop in a tuk tuk, or hop in a taxi.  The taxis and tuk tuks there all refused to use meters, and instead just charged a flat rate that they’d all agreed on at some point, so you couldn’t get a better deal from using one over the other.  But in Bangkok, taxi drivers are far more honest.  They will sometimes try to use a flat rate, but if you request that they use the meter, they do.  As a result, the tuk tuk drivers can’t get away with being as greedy, so the prices are generally a lot better.

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The tuk tuks in Bangkok only have 3 wheels and run on propane. They’re a cool little vehicle to be driven around in!

The only exception is at the Grand Palace.  There, the tuk tuk drivers run several scams that involve getting tourists to go with them to jewelry stores and clothing shops, where they are given a cut of your purchase by the shop owners.  They’re quite sneaky with this scheme as well…they tell tourists that the grand palace is closed until *x*pm, but that they (the generous tuk tuk driver) will drive you around the city for a nominal fee until the palace is open again.  It’s gotten so bad that there are actually announcements played outside the palace, warning tourists of the scams.  We had one guy try it with us, but I’d read about it ahead of time so we just walked right by him, but one of the teachers I work with, who also visited Bangkok, did not get off so lucky.  He was taken to several stores before he caught on and nearly had to get into a fight with the driver before he finally agreed to drive them back to the palace.

These signs are posted at hostels and around the palace as well.  It's quite the problem!!
Scams in Thailand These signs are posted at hostels and around the palace as well. It’s quite the problem!!

The Grand Palace was also a bit of a downer.  Although it’s incredibly beautiful and unbelievable ornate, the crowds are ridiculous, and in the heat of Bangkok in February, it was a little too much for me to handle.  Add on the fact that you have to be wearing a long skirt or pants and that your arms can’t be showing, and I was ready to pass out from the heat.  We didn’t spend much time there, but I did get quite a few amazing pictures that I’ll be sharing in a future post 🙂

The crowds at The Grand Palace were a little crazy!  It was like being back in China!!
The crowds at The Grand Palace were a little crazy! It was like being back in China!!

The Best of Ayutthya

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The train ride to Ayutthya is a trip worth taking in of itself. Seeing Thai countryside is an interesting glimpse into ‘real’ Thailand

Although we only spent 1 short day in Ayutthya, it gets a spot in my ‘overview’ post due to its sheer awesomeness.  I encourage anyone who visits Bangkok to take the 1 hour train ride (that only costs 40bhat round trip!!!) to the old city to see the sights. We loved our day there and I wish we’d been able to spend the night.   The best part of the city was definitely its ruins.  It was once Thailand’s capital city, before the Burmese burnt it to the ground, and has since become a UNESCO World Heritage Sight.  We got so many beautiful pictures there!!  Plus, we rented a motorbike, so we had a lot of freedom, going where we wanted when we wanted, which was a nice change after all the tours we’d done in Phuket.

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A sneak peak into some of the beautiful ruins we saw in Ayutthya
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Blue skies make the most beautiful backdrop
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A vacation isn’t a vacation if Dave and I don’t rent a scooter at some point!

The Worst of Ayutthya

I never thought I’d consider seeing elephants and tigers as being the worst thing about a city, but in this case it was.  The elephants weren’t terribly abused (from what we saw), but the Mahoots did have long hooks out, ready to hit the elephants in the head with them if they misbehaved.  The little shops there also sold toy Mahoot hooks for children, which, to me at least, is horrifying.  Teaching children from a young age that it’s appropriate to hit an animal in the face with a sharp hook is not something I think should be done.  But it is…

That metal hook above the elephant's head is called a 'Mahout Hook'.  They use to to stab the elephant in the face if it misbahaves.  Many elephants have had their eyes gouged out by these hooks.  They are commonplace in trekking camps.
That metal hook above the elephant’s head is called a ‘Mahout Hook’. They use to to stab the elephant in the face if it misbehaves. Many elephants have had their eyes gouged out by these hooks. They are commonplace in trekking camps.

Worse yet, we saw several jewelry shops that were selling curious white rings and necklaces.  I went over at one point and tried to look interested.  A woman approached me and said ‘Elephant bone.  Very beautiful’.  I asked ‘oh, they aren’t ivory?’.  She replied ‘no, but THESE are ivory!!!’.  Dave pulled me away before I could tear her apart too badly, but she did get an earful, and at the very least, she knew that I was NOT impressed.  I have a feeling that they weren’t legit ivory, because if they were, they wouldn’t be sold out in the open that way, but just the advertisement that they ARE ivory, perpetuates the trade, and that is not something I can stomach or tolerate.

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I’ve always been against the ivory trade, but if you want a real eye opener, this is the edition of National Geographic that made me become more vocal about it. Too many elephants die every year so that rich people can wear pretty jewelry and religious fanatics can carve religious symbols into something that costs an animal it’s life…just for the sake of decoration.

The Best of Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai is located in the north of Thailand.
Chiang Mai is located in the north of Thailand.

Anyone who knows me at all, knows where this is going!  We probably wouldn’t have visited Thailand’s second largest city if it hadn’t been for Elephant Nature Park.  When we decided to go to Thailand for Spring Festival, Dave knew that it would kill me if we went and I didn’t get to spend some time with elephants, so we started doing some research.  We are both very against cruelty against animals, and consider the use of animals for human entertainment to be a form of cruelty (I’ll be discussing why I feel this way in an upcoming post), so we were very picky on where we would be spending our money in Thailand (the best thing an individual can do to stop injustice is to vote with their dollar.  It’s also why I don’t support companies like Apple and Nike, who have been proven to use child labor in their factories).  After a great deal of reading, we found Elephant Nature Park.  Instead of riding the elephants and watching them paint pictures (which may seem harmless, but the training they are given to do such things is unspeakably cruel), you get to watch them BE ELEPHANTS.  We signed up to stay the night and had the experience of a lifetime.  Please believe me when I say I have pictures and stories to share that will be worth reading!!

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Two young elephants cuddling in the river
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Some of the first elephants we met. I don’t know any of their names, but the middle one was not fond of pumpkin, and every time I tried to give it to her, she’d spit it out and look for more watermelon! haha!!
Me and one of my favorite elephants (the one to my right).  The elephant to my left helps take care of Jokia...she's blind.
Me and one of my favorite elephants (the one to my right), Jokia. The elephant to my left helps take care of Jokia, as she was blinded by a mahout years ago.

But the elephants weren’t the only perk to staying at Elephant Nature Park.  We were surrounded by animals our whole stay there!  We even had a ‘pet’ dog who stayed at our cabin.  When we came back in the evening to grab some bug repellent, he ran down the road to greet us…thoroughly happy to see us back!  ENP truly cares about animals.  They’ve rescued over 40 elephants, 400 dogs, 100 cats and even 70 water buffalo!  It was so nice to see animals that were well cared for and who are being given good homes and learning that not all humans are cruel.

This is the sweet boy who hangs out outside the cabin where we stayed.
This is the sweet boy who hangs out outside the cabin where we stayed.
A cat stuck up in a tree.  I got the picture at the exact right moment lol!
A cat stuck up in a tree. I got the picture at the exact right moment lol!
They have signs like this up all around ENP
They have signs like this up all around ENP

The Worst Of Chiang Mai

Like Bangkok, I had do some thinking to think of a bad part of our time in Chiang Mai.  We both enjoyed ourselves so much during our stay at ENP, as well as during our time IN Chiang Mai, that it’s hard to think of a negative thing to say.  We did have one rather irritating experience though…

Banana Plantation
Banana Plantation
Scooting down some back roads near Chiang Mai
Scooting down some back roads near Chiang Mai

 

The old city walls still stands around the ancient part of the city, where we were staying at a hostel called Gong Kew Home
The old city walls still stands around the ancient part of the city, where we were staying at a hostel called Gong Kew Home

We rented a scooter so that we could visit a waterfall near Chiang Mai.  About 20 minutes into a trip, we were pulled over by a police officer who asked to see our licenses.  We were both wearing helmets and in China, you don’ t need a license to drive these scooters (nor do you in Thailand…we saw many many foreigners riding them and I can’t imagine any of them having international drivers licences).  We told him that we had Canadian drivers licenses, but that they were at the hotel (we make a point of never traveling with all our ID in the same place.  We had our passports with us, so we left our drivers licenses at home, thinking they wouldn’t be needed).

The falls where we'd been heading.  They are nicknamed the 'Sticky Falls' because there is a type of algae on them that is so sticky that you can actually climb the falls.
The falls where we’d been heading. They are nicknamed the ‘Sticky Falls’ because there is a type of algae on them that is so sticky that you can actually climb the falls.

It turns out the cop only wanted a bribe.  He told us we’d have to leave my passport with him, go to the police station and pay a 1000bhat fee for a license.  I was not about to leave my passport with anyone I didn’t know (I learned my lesson in China.  All of a sudden they don’t know which passport you’re talking about, but if you give them some money, it might help them remember…), so instead we offered to pay him.  We knew that’s what he was getting at anyway.

For any new travelers reading this:  You will never realize how important your passport is, until someone else has it and won't give it back.
For any new travelers reading this: You will never realize how important your passport is, until someone else has it and won’t give it back.

We didn’t have a whole lot of cash left, as it was the last day of our holiday, and he made fun of us for being ‘broke foreigners’.  It took everything in me not to tell him off for taking advantage of his position as cop.  I wanted to tell him that he should be ashamed for robbing people and leaving us with such a bad impression of a country we’d otherwise really loved.  But instead, I shut my mouth and we went on our way.  I’ve learned through  my travels that lipping off to authority is almost never in your best interest…

This seems very appropriate to describe how I was feeling in that moment
This seems very appropriate to describe how I was feeling in that moment

So that concludes my overview of our stay in Thailand.  There will be much more detailed posts to come, with stories about our Snorkeling Tours (the bad…), our time in Ayutthya (the good) and our day in the James Bond Hongs and at Elephant Nature Park (THE AWESOME!!)

My apologies for the delay in this post.  I’ve actually had it done for days, but haven’t had the internet to post it (or to add the last couple of pictures).  I had originally planned on posting a lot more this week…but fate seems to be working against me.  Or at least the Chinese internet companies seem to be working against me…

Until next time!