Tag Archives: Chiang Mai

Indochina Tour: T’s Favorite Day!

Heideehoo, friends!

In this post I am going to tell you about my favorite day, day five of the tour in Chiang Mai. By the time in this post, we had already seen 10 different temples and climbed what felt like THOUSANDS of steps to see temples, so we really needed something not temple-like.

The day before, our guide had mentioned the possibility that we could go see tigers! Mom and Dad decided to try and I was really excited! The next day I woke up at like 5 o’clock in anticipation. The car ride took forever, but it was totally worth it! When we got there, the place was still half closed. When they fully opened, they made us sign a billion waivers, saying basically if we got bit or eaten, we wouldn’t sue anybody. Dad found this scary, but we finally got our tickets and waited AGAIN! When we first started waiting we just chilled out in the front, but then we heard some roars! I saw there was a path to the bathrooms that went near some cages, and I got my first glimpse of a FULLY GROWN TIGER! We took some pictures from there, and then I noticed a sign that said, “Please do not use flash, light may harm THE EYE OF THE TIGER! For the rest of the day that sign became a joke because of the song The Eye of the Tiger!

 

“And he’s watching us all with the eye…”
 
Our number was finally called after that, and we descended into the land of the cages. We thought that they would have us follow a bunch of instructions, but we only followed the directions on the signs, and then we finally entered the cage! The photographer told us that we had to be firm with it, otherwise it might swipe at us. This, for some reason made me even more excited because the tiger was about the size of my torso! Since I was the least afraid in the family, I went first to chill with the tiger. The man had me put a hand on him and pet him, and the lay my head on him! Its heartbeat and breath speed was very fast, and it was super awesome! Next, we went to the slightly smaller and younger tigers, who were more awake than their brethren. They were scampering around there cage and generally just having fun. While we were taking a family photo with one another came up from behind and tackled the GoPro, since it was taking a video and there was a flashing light! It was hilarious! When we said goodbye to the Tigers, I was a bit sad that I couldn’t stay with them longer, but I had the elephants to look forward to!
 
Cat nap

After the Tigers I think I may have had the same or even more anticipation because we were going to an elephant camp! Thankfully, this time the camp was already open, so we bought our tickets at the front, and walked inside! First we just walked around a bit to see things like how big elephant dung is, and how big their foot is! They are both really huge! I think my foot was like a fifth of the size of the elephants! Then, since the tickets showed that a show was nearby and close time-wise, so we hurried to this awesome amphitheater type thing, and got some AWESOME seats! We were in the first row! When the elephants first came out they were carrying a cool sign that said “The Elephant Show!” in English and a few other languages that I’m pretty sure that said the same thing. Following the first two elephants that were carrying the sign were about 12 other elephants, all of them being directed by another trainer! They started doing stuff that you see on TV, like trumpeting and the like, but there was one really funny elephant that didn’t really listen to his master, because he kept stealing his hat and waving it around like a trophy while running around the arena with his trainer chasing him! Then they started PAINTING!!! They made pictures like elephants, trees, and lots of other stuff that was really well done! And they were all made by elephants! They started playing darts after that, and they pulled two random people from the crowd to be this elephant’s opponents! The people from the crowd won, but barely! But while everybody’s attention was on the people that were playing darts, other trainers had wheeled out a SOCCER NET!!! They were going to have elephants play soccer! Two elephants were strikers, while one was the goalie. The two strikers were taking turns shooting at the goal, but the elephant playing goalie was SUPER at his job! He may have blocked 80% of all the shots that were taken!

Then when the show ended, we hurriedly walked through the camp with much excitement, because we were now going TO RIDE ON THE ELEPHANTS!!!!! There was this really cool wooden platform, and even though there wasn’t really a line, there was certainly the ability to make a HUGE line! Dad and I went first onto our elephant, and we rode in this really cool box thing that was on the elephants back, while the trainer, driver, or steerer sits on the elephants neck. Our elephant was the hungry one, since it was always eating! Since it was hungry, it kept going wherever there were plants, and it was scary because it sometimes brought us to the edge of HUGE cliffs, for a snack!

 

Snack break for our elephant
 
The girls had an elephant that must have just had a large meal, because it was going to the bathroom for the entire hour long ride๐Ÿ’ฉ! We travelled along this really cool mountain path that had amazing views of everything in the mountain valley! From one spot, you could see the entire camp! Even though the ride gave me thirty bruises (the ride is REALLY bumpy), it was one of the best experiences of my life so far! My favorite part was when we crossed a river. WE CROSSED A FREAKING RIVER!!!!!!

This was my favorite day out of the entire tour, because since it was such a unique experience, and I’m glad I was able to make this post for all of you. See Ya!!!

Indochina Tour: Guided Access

Go and visit. Stay and connect. This is one of the tag lines (or themes) which we’ve used as a family to help guide our journey from the moment we first decided to embark upon our Family Sabbatical. However, going into our recent Indochina Peninsula Tour, we knew that the jam-packed schedue (4 countries, 15 cities in 25 days) would make connecting with locals challenging.

One of the unexpected joys of the tour turned out to be the local guides whom served as our Hosts in their respective cities/regions. They were our Teachers, providing cultural and historical context to the many sights, sounds, and experiences. They were our Guardians, giving expert local advice on how to avoid shady people, places, or situations. Some even let down their guards enough to become Friends whom we look forward to someday hosting in Seattle.

Gai was our guide in Bangkok and Ayutthaya, Thailand. She was energetic, she smiled with her eyes (you could even tell through her sunglasses), and her manner reminded me of some of my Aunts in the Bunda Clan. Gai was a proud Thai–she even mentioned that she wished the country were still called “Siam” like it once was. She lived in the U.S. (Virginia) a few years ago, but decided to come back after 3 years because she missed her country and “her people.” Gai was a devout Buddhist. Her knowledge in that arena came in handy as we visited more temples during our time with her than at any other time on the tour. Gai quickly gravitated towards Kamaile took extra care to ensure that she understood what she was seeing.

Gai and Kamaile outside the Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Kay was our guide in Chiang Mai, Thailand. At first, I assumed that she was an introvert, but I realize now that any guide would seem that way to us right after Gai. Kay actually had the same laid-back demeanor that many of the people in Chiang Mai seem to possess. Like many guides, she herself is an avid traveler. Kay took particular interest in Trey–commenting a number of times on his height, as well as the fact that “many Chiang Mai girls will be interested in him when he comes back in a few years.” Too funny. Kay was paricularly good at helping us get unique experiences (Tigers!) despite the fact that we were in a number of tourist-infested places. 

Bidding farewell to Kay at the Chiang Mai Airport

Sengphone was our guide in Luang Prabang, Laos. He lives with his wife and kids in Luang Prabang, but is originally from a mountain village near the Chinese border. When we first met Sengphone, I remember thinking that he had the calm, gentle disposition of a monk. Shortly thereafter, we learned that he, like many poor boys from the countryside, joined a monastery when he was 13. Sengphone went on to explain that his primary motivation for joining was Education (there were no schools in his village), followed by bringing prestige to his family, and finally for religious purposes (his own). One thing I really appreciated about him was the way he actively partipated and/or taught when we visited local craftspeople in their villages. Sengphone came across as someone who could actually make the mulberry paper or silk cloth himself, not just talk about it. Finally, being a father himself, Sengphone was also very good about reading the kids’ moods and energy levels–suggesting modifications to our time in Luang Prabang to better suit our needs. 

Note: Sengphone was part of a previous post “Laos: I Gotta Get, I Got-Got Ta Get It.

Saying goodbye to Sengphone at the airport in Laos

Jay was our guide in Hanoi, Vietnam. We arrived pretty late in the evening prior to our Hanoi Bike Tour, but he still took it upon himself to greet us and try to gauge our excitement about the next day. His given name is Giang, but he introduced himself as “Jay, like Jay Z.” Needless to say, I had a good feeling about him. Our bike tour itself was tough. We nearly quit after Kamaile crashed within the first 20 meters of our ride out of the Old Quarter. The fact that we were already exhausted, fighting crazy heat and humidity, and in a very hectic, new place was not a good combination. After about an hour of riding, I was about to call it a day. Jay suggested that we just sit and chat under a tree to cool off a bit. In the next 40 minutes, we engaged in an amazing conversation about Jay’s hopes and dreams for the future, his struggle to keep up with his peers (the Rat Race is alive and well in Hanoi, too), and the role of faith (or lack thereof) in his life, which he initiated 100%. He then invited us to ride to a neighborhood well off the beaten path to see how he and “most people in the city live.” I believe the only reason he felt comfortable enough to to bring us there was the very unscripted conversation that we’d had just before. What a privilege! 

Muggin’ with Jay after our crazy bike tour

Thuy was our guide in the mountain city of Sapa, Vietnam. She was easily the most reserved, even close-vested, of all our guides on the tour. Thuy fascinated me for a number of reasons: 1) She was from the Red Dzao tribe and dressed in traditional clothing every day, whether or not she was working; 2) She talked openly about her views on the courtship (previously non-existent, now Facebook vetting is acceptable) and marriage practices for the Dzao, as well as the many Hmong tribes in the area (still arranged, but at least kidnapping your potential bride from another village/tribe is no longer common); and, 3) She shared less about herself than any of the other guides on the tour despite our best attempts. During our last 30 minutes together, she finally spoke a little about her husband and son. 
 

Thuy saw us off at the train station before our overnight journey back to Hanoi

Toan was our guide for our day trip to Ky Son Village (outside of Hanoi, Vietnam). He was a humble man whose parents met in another village while his father was part of the Viet Cong. As the story goes, once the Vietnam War (or “American War” as they call it there) was over in 1975, his parents chose to move to this farming village to start their new life. Toan grew up as a farmer as well, but when a businessman from the city bought up property in his village to create a museum/resort for visitors, he jumped at the opportunity to earn money in a different, less physically strenuous manner. His English was good, as is, but even more impressive to me when we found out that he learned primarily by talking to visitors (as opposed to the formal training that each of the other guides received). Toan was proud of his village and that pride was only surpassed by that which he felt for his 15 and 10 year-old daughters, Ngoc an Linh. He even brought us over to his house for a few minutes so we could meet them and share tea together. 
 

Toan, Linh (10), and Ngoc (15) in their beautiiful home

Ty was our guide in Hoi An, Da Nang, and Hue, Vietnam. He was a nice guy that was very proud of Central Vietnam–especially his hometown of Hue. More so than any of the other guides on the tour, Ty took a long time to grasp that we were not the type of people to passively just go wherever the itinerary said (or, worse, wherever he wanted). Ty also had a couple quirks which were sometimes irritating, and at other times funny.  He did not seem to prefer talking and walking at the same time. Coupled with his habit for repeating a concept 2-3 times at minimum, this meant we spent long stretches of time standing in the hot sun listening to him lecture through a thick Vietnamese accent. The poor kids really struggled to pay attention. I think he finally got the picture on the 2nd day, when I would put my arms around the kids and just start walking off in a direction as soon as he started repeating himself. To Ty’s credit, things started to go much more smoothly after I took him aside a couple times to specifically explain that we had limited attention spans and only enough energy to see the specific things which interested us.     

One would think that capturing a good pic of Ty would be easy with all the standing around we did

Lot was our guide in Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon), Vietnam. The amount of fun we had with Lot may have even surpassed our experience with Jay. She was quirky, funny, and a bit of a jokester. At the end of our first day, she said flat out that we’d be seeing another guide on the second day. When I tried to give her a tip, she quickly ducked away with an awkward goodbye. Lot then returned the next morning but introduced herself as Lot’s sister and tried to keep it up for a few minutes. What?! LOL Lot also treated Kamaile and Trey as if they were her niece and nephew–with that familial mix of fun, protectiveness, and even some correction when warranted. I know that she made the kids’ experience that much better.   

Goofing around with Lot and Ut, our day guide in Ben Tre (Mekong Delta). BTW, I’m not supposed to say anything, but I’m pretty sure Lot is waiting for Ut to ask her on a date.

Proney was our guide in Siem Reap. Heat have been the most compelling of all of our guides. Like Sengphone, Proney spent time during his teenage and early adult years as a Buddhist monk. Like Toan, war was a part of Proney’s history–just much more recently. When the Khmer Rouge was in power, nearly 1/4 of Cambodia’s population was killed. Most of those people were the well-educated (doctors, lawyers, businessman, and civic leaders); and, in the eyes of Pol Pot, capable of organizing resistance against the Khmer Rouge. As time went on, young boys (especially those from poorer families) were often forced to fight for the Khmer Rouge. For a short time, until he escaped, Proney was one of those soldiers. Risking great peril, he eventually snuck away and joined the relative safety of a monastery where he learned about Buddhism, as well as the English and Japanese languages. Proney mentioned that many of his immediate family members were not so “fortunate.” His father was shot by soldiers one day while farming–apparently mistaken from a distance as a resistance fighter. Proney also lost 2 siblings to some of the many land mines which still plague parts of the country. Unbelievably, he lost 2 more siblings to starvation. With very little outward emotion, Proney told me that his story was not special; that “everybody lost family.” Proney now treats his profession as a calling to help bring prosperity (via tourism) and stability (via educating others) to Cambodia. Stunning. Heartbreaking. Inspiring. 

Proney (far right) had us dropped off at the Blue Pumpkin in the middle of Siem Reap and then quietly bid us adieu

Thank you to ALL of our guides for your part in making our Indochina Tour a life-changing experience. Thank for giving us glimpses into your lives and teaching us about your cultures. We are forever grateful!