Category Archives: Thailand

A NEW But OLD Animal Made The Short List

Saddle up your benches boys and girls and go ride an elephant!

Elephant rides are pretty common here in Asia.  However, many of the elephants are not treated well and/or don’t live in very favorable conditions.  So even though we have had many opportunities, we have not visited with the elephants until recently.

I found and read rave reviews about an elephant conversation park in the Krabi area (Nosey Parker’s Elephant Camp).

First we visited a pregnant elephant.  Did you know they are pregnant for 2 years?  Did you know their babies weigh around 260 lbs when they are born?  (120kg)

Even though she is due in 3 months, I could not even tell she was pregnant!  I talked to the owner of the elephant camp and he said he did not think she looked pregnant either.  However, he said the veterinarian came this week and assured him she was very pregnant and due in about 12 weeks.  I guess it wasn’t hard for him to miss a 200 pound baby elephant…

The mom was such a sweetie!  Greg was delighted with her, but he kept a little distance, he’s usually (except for ducks and geese) a little more cautious with animals at first. Can you see her about to poke him in the chest? “Give me your bananas!!!”I immediately snuggled right up to her!We had so much fun feeding her bananas (she didn’t seem to mind the peel and she was happy to eat 3 or 4 at a time.)  Did you know in Thailand elephants eat $500 USD per month of food!  (An wild adult elephant consumes 300-600 lbs (140–270 kg) of food in a day (less than that if they are in captivity)!  That’s a lot of food!  They also live 50-70 years!Of course I had fun checking out her mouth and teeth.  (My mouth/teeth interest isn’t just limited to humans!) Also notice she has hair! (Look at the brown fuzz around her head.)

While we fed the pregnant elephant the handlers lounged around.  Look at how comfortable they are on top of an elephant!Next, we went over to a stairway and climbed up onto a platform where we were at equal height and able to climb onto the elephants back where a bench was waiting!

Then off we went out into the jungle.  Nope, no seatbelts here…

First we crossed a stream.

It was so different than I expected.  Each step covered so much ground and therefore even though we were just walking we moved much faster than I thought we would!  (It felt like about 10 feet or just over 3 meters per step.)  Also, on the uneven terrain it was not a very smooth ride.  Every step made us lean far one direction and then the next step we’d lean far the other direction.  Downhill just felt jerky, jarring and scary!  Any second we were thought we could slide right off the bench and fall 20 feet (6-7 meters) to the ground below!

Which is why downhill was my favorite!

After 10 minutes or so, Greg got to climb off the bench and ride on the elephants head/neck area.He didn’t feel very stable (he blamed his shoes, I was barefoot).  He almost always had a tight grip with one hand on the bench behind him (which made him lean in a weird way and made me nervous for him too).Then Greg climbed back up on the bench and it was my turn!  It felt 100% natural for me!  (Thanks mom for giving me horse back riding lessons as a kid).  I loved it!  No death grip on the bench was necessary.  I spent most of my time hugging and petting the elephant!  I instantly felt “this is how you are supposed to ride an elephant—not on a bench!”I got to spend a lot of time on the elephant’s neck.

The best part was going down hills.  It must have been obvious by my ear to ear grin that I was having a blast so the guide started taking us off the trails that all the other people were on and just randomly going thru the jungle.  I think he could also tell I was especially enjoying the hills, (did my squeals of delight and giddy giggles give me away?) because he found quite a few hills for us to go down!

I also loved going down a hill into a stream!  Are you nervous for me?  Don’t be, I was SO HAPPY and smiling so much my cheeks hurt!With the elephants sway and how much ground they cover, they don’t feel sure footed especially when my mind was telling me, “that’s a super slippery smooth wet rock we are about to step on” but each step was firmly planted!We loved our elephant guide for taking us off trail, for his funny jokes, for taking our photos and for almost always using vocal commands (instead of the metal poker on a stick).  We really didn’t even like seeing the metal poker on the stick…  It reminded me of what my dad used to use to turn the wood in our fireplace when I was a kid.  Those type of tools should only be used on inanimate objects.

After our ride, we got to feed our elephant pineapple (no problem with skin here either).Feeding our elephant a thank you treat was as much fun as the ride!  I was AMAZED by his amazing and dexterous trunk.  The way he grabbed food from me was incredible.  I never knew their trunk has opposing thumb like ability.  He had an incredible sense of smell and could follow and find fruit easily and bend and curl his trunk in multiple directions.  Then he could close the end of his trunk around fruit it and grab it.  HOW DOES HE DO THAT?  Wikipedia says, “the elephant’s trunk is sensitive enough to pick up a single blade of grass, yet strong enough to rip the branches off a tree.”  When I watched the monkeys I wanted a tail…now I want an elephant trunk too!After his tasty treat, we stayed for two elephants who needed baths.  This park dammed the stream so there was a large, deep pool for the elephants to walk into.  They were having so much fun, it was hard for me to resist jumping in to join them! The handler would stand on the elephant and then tap him when he wanted to go down….Then he’d come back up…It was an elephant elevator.  Except wet elephants must be a little slippery, because he almost fell off twice…  Or perhaps this elephant has a sense of humor and this was intentional? Maybe with his much better than human sense of smell he thought, “You think I need a bath? You do too, you smell worse than I do! Afterall, you have been riding around on me all day.”When the elephants started taking a shower the handler stood on the nearby log.  Do you wonder how they take a shower?  Why they use their own spout of course!  At nearly 4 gallons (14 litres) per spray it’s pretty efficient.  In the wild after a shower they follow up with muddy water because it is a natural sunscreen!My advice, don’t get into a water fight with an elephant unless you are prepared to LOSE!  Even if they clean you well with water, they might start spraying you with mud after.  With the best of intentions of course! You can’t be too careful with the hot Thai sunshine!

I can’t wait to go back with my sister & niece this summer!  Especially since we’ll get to see the baby elephant!

When I used to see elephant stuff everywhere in Asia I always thought, “no thanks”.  Now I see it everywhere and I love it!  I have joined the elephant obsessed!  What amazing creatures!

That’s Not REAL Thai Food…

Thai food has been our favorite type of food for at least 10 years. We absolutely love it! (Yes, Portland actually has fantastic Thai restaurants!)

I took my first Thai cooking class a few years ago (SO FUN with my friends Ashley and Mara) in Portland!

Since then Greg and I have taken two other classes in Thailand (one with our friends Mona & Derek).

And we’ve been to Thailand on vacation 4 times in the last 1 ½ years.

We are pretty confident that we know Thai food.

Except when we talk to Thai people…

They constantly remind us, we don’t eat REAL Thai food, and indeed we have never had REAL Thai food, even when we’re in Thailand!

At first we were just puzzled and didn’t let all the comments bother us. We would discuss, “We’re in Thailand and Thai people are cooking our food. How could we NOT be eating Thai food?”

Later, we started asking questions, “What do you mean we’re not eating Thai food.” The answer was always the same… They aren’t serving us Thai food like the locals eat because; we couldn’t HANDLE real Thai food!

If we were smart, we would just believe the local people. Especially since we heard the same comments from them over and over. Up north, “this isn’t REAL Thai food”. On the far eastern islands, “you don’t want REAL Thai food.” On the far western islands, “REAL Thai food Not for YOU.”

They all had a similar theme and guarantee. You won’t like real Thai food, not food prepared the way the Thai’s like it.

I’m not sure why, but the more people told us we wouldn’t like “real” Thai food. The more we wanted to try it!

So, at the end of my second dive day, Greg asked his snorkel guide who has lived in Ao Nang for years where to get a great local dinner.

She answered, Luck Yim, just down the street from the dive shop.We had many fabulous meals during our 9 days in the Krabi province. Many were fancy. But this was our clear favorite and the most memorable. Luck Yim was right next to the limestone cliffs in Ao Nang.  It had a dirt floor, makeshift roof, grass woven walls, 8 wobbly bamboo tables with benches, light bulbs hanging from electrical cords and if the wind blew the wrong way there was a distinctly unpleasant odor. But, it didn’t matter, we loved it! After finding a table furthest from the outdoor toilets…we settled in and our waitress/cook/fish arranger brought us a menu in English/Thai.

First, I ordered my fish. My fish was straight from the sea, caught that day. The fish I ate was the same fish I saw arrive in a large bucket moments before we sat down. I watched her arrange them with care and dump ice over them. She told me to follow her to the display, and pick which one I wanted. When they were that fresh, I didn’t think it mattered so I told her, “cooks choice”.  (Side note, it’s always a little weird for me to swim with the fish during the day then eat them that night.  Is it possible that I was swimming with the fish I’m eating? I have stopped asking Greg this question, because his reply is always the same. You are probably not eating THE fish you swam with, you are probably just eating his cousin.)Then we flipped thru the menu and selected a few other dishes. I asked her about a certain curry on one page compared to a different curry on a different page. Her answer was, “Oh, you don’t want THAT curry (referring to the one on the second page) that one is for THAI people. In fact, that whole page is just for Thai people. You don’t want to order anything on it. This area (she flipped thru several pages) is the part of the menu you want to order from. It has food YOU’LL like.”

After 14 years with Greg, we can occasionally, if needed, have entire conversations with one look. We exchanged one of those looks. It said…

We are sick and tired of people telling us that we can’t handle real Thai food! We LOVE Thai food. Bring it on! It’s our FAVORITE! How does SHE know we can’t handle real Thai food! She just met us. She doesn’t know us. We can deal with it! We are READY!

I proceeded to order the “Thai” curry.

She clearly thought I had misunderstood her fantastic English. (It really was good.) She told me that one was WAY too spicy for us. And WAY too sour! We will not like it. It will taste BAD! That curry is just for Thais.

I replied, “We like spicy, especially Greg. We like sour too. We would like to try it the way the Thai’s like it.”

She told me that when they cook food for Thai’s they add 10 times the spice and fish sauce that they add for people like us.

Of course we’re not idiots, we were both starting to question our decision. But we exchanged another look, and although we are not stupid, we sure are stubborn! So, I nonchalantly replied, “We’ve heard that before. We’d like to try it.”

She assured me we wouldn’t like it.

I agreed with her that we might not like it, but we’d still like her to make it for us.

She walked away shaking her head.

My fish came first, it was AMAZING! Steamed snapper with limes, Thai chilies and ginger, it melted in my mouth! If you notice the sign, it was 200 Baht for the entire fish. That’s less than 6 USD.Then Greg got his curry.It wasn’t just spicy. It was fire in the hole…DUCK…take cover and run to the market to buy ALL their antacid. It was, watch out, don’t spill that on the table because it might burn thru it hot. It was crazy. Do people really eat this? Surely she’s playing a trick on us because we were being so ornery. Despite Greg’s conservative ratio of one part curry, 4 parts rice he was instantly crying and his nose was runny.

I managed one small bite and then happily went back to my spicy fish to cool down my mouth! Greg REALLY tried to eat as much as he could. But he barely made a dent in the bowl.

After a few minutes our waitress came to check on us. She noted the mostly full bowl of curry with a twinkle in her eye. She folded her arms, and even though she was shorter standing than Greg was sitting, she managed to look down on him in the smuggest of fashion and ask him how he liked the curry.

Of course she couldn’t feel the fire on Greg’s lips, tongue and throat. But she certainly could hear the sniffles and it was hard to blame his bright red face on the evening’s heat. He managed to mumble that it tasted great but it was pretty spicy…

She seemed…happy!

Later when we were finished, after an obvious second and third round of drinks, she smiled and nearly chuckled when she saw the almost full “Thai” curry. I knew something else was going on. She had her own private joke.

So I asked her if she indeed made it “Thai” spicy like we had asked…

Her look of surprise that I had guessed her secret totally gave her away. And she just started to laugh. She confessed that my suspicions were correct; she didn’t even make it half as hot as the Thai’s like it! WHAT????

We all had a good laugh! I asked her if they even feed their spicy food to babies. She answered that they don’t feed them as hot of food as adults, but definitely hotter than what she gave us! It was really funny to think of kids eating up our crazy spicy curry and considering it mild and boring!

So, were we ready to try REAL Thai food? Absolutely! Will we ever order “Thai” spicy food again? Highly unlikely! Lastly, in case you’re inexperienced in the spicy food department, there’s one more thing you need to know. Spicy food comes out the other end hotter, even more concentrated and uncomfortable than it goes in, Poor Greg! (She warned us of that too. She said his rear end would be on fire later. She wasn’t wrong.)Thanks for the laughs Luck Yim! We’ll be back!

I Haven’t Seen the Movie

Since I strongly dislike Leonardo DiCaprio, I’ve avoided the movie “The Beach” successfully for the last 10 years. However, spending a day in a boat around the islands where it was filmed has made me reconsider the movie.The islands are so beautiful.So next time I’m missing Thailand I might go and rent it.Just to catch another view of the stunning cliffs next to the turquoise shallow and sapphire blue deep water. Notice how small the boat is in comparison to the soaring limestone cliffs above?We both saw turtles around here too!  In general, Greg and I just loved hanging out around these islands, especially since we avoided the crowded and touristy beaches.  We enjoyed it enough, it is possible we will survive a Leonardo performance.  But we have been back nearly a month, and I have not rented it yet.  So maybe not.

Spirit Lanterns

If you are in Thailand, and you are feeling worried or you need some luck, find a spirit or sky lantern.Light itHold it down until it’s full of hot airIf you let it go early you might have to chase it (or maybe the person you bought if from will chase it for you because it is an open flame…).Then watch your luck soar, with occasional twists and turns from the wind. We were amazed at the both the height and length of time our lantern spent in the sky.And if you believe, like the Thai do, then your worries and troubles will float away and your wish will come true!P.S.  Try not to feel bad about littering like we did!?!?

Best Diving In Asia So Far

My recent two days of diving were easily the best diving I’ve had so far in Asia for many reasons.  I got to see my first seahorse, and it was worth the wait because it was even cuter than I imagined!my first Octopus…my first cuttlefish, and we saw 2 or 3.  Do they look a little alien, and front heavy to you like they do to me?and a few of one of the most venomous creatures in the world.  Banded sea kraits.  When I wasn’t in the water, I loved hanging out on the huge dive boat.  The first day we shared it with just 6 other people (the second day there were about 25 people but everyone still had lots of room).  It had a nice open area in the back that had a roof for shade from the intense Thai sunshine.  It had tables on the main level with bench seats.  They were super organized with equipment and each person had a number assigned area.  We also had warm fresh water showers off the back of the boat and a delicious hot Thai lunch.And it was so much better than the boats we saw like this coming from Phuket that were overloaded with people. Here’s the long tail boat we used to shuttle to the big boat from beach and back.Here’s the beach! What a view!  There were always many long tail boats here.Here’s the sweet underwater housing and lens the videographer used. (That’s my dive instructor from Finland on the right of the lens).Our very Thai style shuttle from the shop to the beach.My favorite seat on the boat was up front either leaning against this…Or even better, standing next to the Thai flag with the wind in my hair and an unblocked view of the passing islands.And of course I loved the fabulous weather, the smooth sea conditions, the dolphins we saw throughout the day, the incredible visibility, the warm water and spending the last 40 minutes of each trip watching the days highlights on our dive movie!  I’ll be back!

I Have Proof

I’ve been scuba diving since 1998.  Over the years I’ve learned a few things.  I can usually tell when it will be a good dive versus a really good dive.   Of course, rarely there are those moments where you think, this is going to be one of the BEST dives in my lifetime. 

Feb 12th I had one of those “this is going to be spectacular” moments, just before I did a giant stride off our fabulous dive boat. 

My biggest clue and the best sign for an amazing dive day is when the dive masters/instructors are chatty and excited.  Because every dive instructors or dive master I’ve ever met has been low drama.  In fact, having someone who can stay calm in a tense situation is ideal if you’re 80 feet under water and something goes wrong.  So by nature, it should take a lot to get a dive instructor worked up.  And headed out to the King Cruiser Wreck on that Friday morning I noticed everyone was a little keyed up! 

Another clue happens when you get to the dive site.  I watch the dive staff carefully for their reaction.  They always give away if it’s better than average or worse than normal conditions.  The look is usually quick and fleeting, because it’s important to stay positive for their clients to have the best possible experience.

So, by the time we stopped at the dive site, I was already excited from all the buzz on the boat, and I was watching my dive instructor extra close as he looked down at the wreck.  He openly exclaimed, yelled really, in sailor mouthed fashion a string of obscenities that might still be echoing somewhere off the limestone cliffs on the islands nearby.  We clearly had unheard of visibility and fabulous conditions for diving.  He was so excited in fact, that I momentarily considered grabbing a few extra tanks of air so we could stay down there longer!

So down we went, and it was extraordinary!  Even better because I had this incredibly talented videographer (really he was more than that…he was a short film maker) catching every moment of it.  These weren’t youtube quality movies.  I left Krabi with two 40 minute high definition films, one from each day including video of before the dive and a bonus DVD of his best footage of the local dive sites.  Amazing, and worth every penny spent…or Baht.

Ao Nang Divers has a fabulous boat and staff, great equipment, talented and friendly dive instructors/masters, and good food.  However, the number one reason I have been recommending them to people is because of Stewart at Krabi Imaging.  I wish I could upload all 40 minutes of both my videos so you could be as happy and amazed as I am.  However, Stu puts a weekly condensed video up on his website so you can see what the diving conditions are like, right now.  And last week he put up a short video from my wreck dive (I’m in the background of a few shots)!  So with his permission, here is 3 minutes of my dive…

Vodpod videos no longer available.

 

more about “King Cruiser Wreck“, posted with vodpod

I never want to dive without a videographer again. But I’m not sure if any other videographers will compare. I highly recommend flying to Krabi RIGHT NOW and going diving with this team (because the visibility is fantastic…so why wait?). Don’t worry if you don’t know how to dive, they will teach you. And you’ll have proof from Stu, of all the best yellow boxfish, turtles, shaded batfish, moorish idol, banded sea snakes, durban shrimp, ghost pipe fish, octopus, cuttlefish, eels, lionfish, scorpionfish and all your best moves so you can re-live every moment anytime you want! You’ll have proof.

I Finally Did It

A full day long pool dayAnd it was a beautiful poolAnd besides NOT soaking up the sunI did things I’ve seen pool go-ers do for years..like cool off with delivered cold scented towelsand read a bookI loaded up with sunscreen every hour or twoI ordered pool side drinks from the comfort of my lounger that was strategically placed in the shade under trees AND an umbrella.we ate our lunch from our poolside loungers too…a delicious calzone.And I really was starting to think that I like pool daysSince I was literally in the shade the entire dayI even found shade in the pool. 

I thought I was pulling the pool day off successfully

  Until that night when I started to feel really hot, and then I remembered why pool days don’t work for meBecause despite every precaution, I ALWAYS get burned!

 I finally did the full pool day…and it will be a long time until I do it again!  OUCH!  And yes, it’s march 7th, nearly a month later, and I’m still peeling, itching and scratching…