Sunday, January 31, 2010

Down the Mekong River

We have traveled to the north of Thailand, through Chaing Mai and into Chang Rai. Get your atlas out if you are unsure. From here we wanted to take a trip into Loas as we were told it was a place not to be missed. So we signed up for the slow boat to Luang Pra Bang down the Mekong River. We left Chiang Rai early in the morning to travel to the Loas border. We arrived around 11 and started a long process of getting into Loas across the Mekong which divides the two countries. This was a two hour process, involving at least 6 people and paying the highest visa fee of any country in the world! After we visited the royal palace in Luang Pra Bang we figured out why. There were displays of treasures that countries had given as gifts to the King of Loas. Most countries had given shelves of interesting things, from Canada, a single gift plate, no wonder they charge us so much!

We finally boarded the slow boat in the early afternoon. It was a little mad trying to find a seat. The seats were just two seat wooden benches that were made for Thai bottoms, the start of our worries. The trip for the first day was awful, and I only complain a little. The boat seemed over crowded and there were a few people that thought the best way to make this trip was to be completely intoxicated. About ten people thought that the top of the boat was the best way to see things but this made the boat very unstable. The captain asked them several times to keep off the roof but they were determined to be there and snuck back up each time. About 4 hours into the trip it all came undone. We made a hard turn in strong current and the boat came over too far. Water rushed over the side almost capsizing the boat, people began screaming and everything on the roof, including the people, toppled into the river. The boat righted itself but our semi quiet cruise had to be turned into a rescue operation as 6 people went drifting down the river. Another boat joined us and all 6 were finally rescued with no death or serious injury, except to some peoples laptops. We shook for a while afterward but managed to make it to our first stop. The test was getting on the boat the next day to complete or trip. We managed to talk it over with a few people and build the courage to make the second part of the journey.

I don't want to leave a bad taste in your mouth about this trip. The scenery was breath taking, the people on the boat and who we met along the way, were amazing and the final destination was worth all the effort. We put the whole near tragedy down to a life experience. Lets just hope the clowns on the roof learned something! Wes

Monday, January 25, 2010

Thailand with family

We arrived from Australia 45 minutes before the kids landed in Bangkok. It was so great to see them. While here, we have really learned to love the city. There are street markets everywhere night and day, sometimes they fully construct huge rows of make shift buildings down alleyways for the night market. The prices at street vendors are crazy, a full meal for 2 at 100B ($3). Fantastic food but a couple of times flaming hot. In the markets you bargained for everything. A few Thai merchants greeted us with big smiles when we frequented their shops.

Buddism is part of everyday life here, with ornate temples everywhere, small shrines in most businesses, people laying flowers, food, drinks and incense and putting gold leaf on the feet of budda. We went to the kings palace, seeing magnificent temples, government buildings, the royal museum with a collection of all kinds of royal paraphernalia and the famous Emerald Buddha. Aaron and I saw the amazing Reclining Buddha; he is about 3/4 of a football field long and 3 stories high.

The kids shopped alot here, both at the malls and the markets. Lily was an absolute gem. We dragged her everywhere with us and she was so cheerful. She took her first steps for us the day they left. She started waving bye bye and started understanding some instructions like "sit down". She didn't like the cold water at the hotel when they arrived but absolutely loved it when we were in Kho Phi Phi and even swam in the ocean. The Thai people absolutely loved Lily. When ever they could they would hold her and take a picture with their cell phone. They always wanted to touch her soft, white skin.

After Bangkok, we stayed at a small resort on Kho Phi Phi island in the south of Thailand. The island was devastated by the tsunami and is still rebuilding. It is a small island with very congested street markets everywhere and a beach. There were lots of bars and activity really picked up at night. Aaron made some friends and the kids went dancing a couple of times. We did lots of swimming in the resort pool and in the Indian Ocean. We went on a cruise of the Krabi islands and saw the gorgeous scenery of the huge rocks, caves and cliffs. We snorkeled, seeing coral and beautiful fish and went for a short kayak to a beach from the boat. We all (except Lily) had a Thai massage. They use their whole body; arms, elbows, feet, knees ands hands. I'm sure they would have massaged Lily for free.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Adventures in Crossing the Street

Thailand makes the third country for Terry and I with right hand drive. The driving part of things has not been too much of a challenge for us to date. In the past two and almost a half months, ye we are nearing the half way point, we have only chosen to 'hire' cars abut five times. Those five times have been in Australia exclusively as the bus and train systems were not adequate enough for us to get to many of the sights we wanted to see. I think the big advantage of starting late with driving was walking in a world of right hand drive for a period before driving. the walking was what we had to work at adjusting to the most.

Growing up in a country with left hand drive causes you to develop certain patterns of crossing the street. Think about this for a moment as you don't really think about crossing the street you just do it. When you cross the street at home which way do you look first? Yes, that's right, you look left first and step off the curb. Looking left first, seeing no cars and stepping off can get you killed in a right hand drive world. So for the past two months we have been re[eating the mantra, :look right first," then comes Thailand. Now Thailand is not that different from most right hand drive countries it just adds a new dimension, the motorcycle.

We had already learned that most countries give the driver the right of way over the pedestrian, so being cautious and patient is key. But the motorcycle of Thailand is a whole different game. Even when you have been patient and cautious and look to the right first you can still encounter the motorcycle from an unexpected dimension, yes dimension. The motorcycle could be coming inside two lanes of traffic. It could have been on the inside lane when you first looked but switched to the outside lane. It could be coming from the left instead of the right, it could make a uturn right after it passed you. Just because all the traffic is completely stopped is no indication that there will be no motorcycle coming towards you. And, yes ladies and gentlemen, even when there is complete gridlock you can encounter the motorcycle, as we have several times, on the sidewalk! Here´s looking all directions in Thailand. Wes