Wednesday, April 29, 2015

thailand: taking it easy at the beach

Saturday was our last full day in Thailand and after a very busy first two days, we decided it would be a great day for relaxing and enjoying the beach. Ao Nang beach was only about a five minute walk away. We heard it wasn't the greatest beach, nothing like what we experienced on the islands but it was certainly convenient. Plus, Tatum had barfed all over our bed right after breakfast (not sure what it was about her and that breakfast) and she was adamant that she did not want to get on a boat again so it seemed like the safest option. Brennan was probably the only one really disappointed with staying. I got a perfect mix of relaxing on the beaching, playing with my kids in the sand, and playing in the water. It was great! The beach was covered in purple shells and Tatum had a hay day collecting them. And Declan, well he isn't much of a beach lover but he seemed happy enough. 

I'm sure it doesn't look like it but Declan actually loves floating on his back with the puddle jumper on. And he always sticks his feet in the air and crosses them. It is one of my favorite things.
Ahhhh. Doesn't that look nice?
Tatum and Brennan buried my legs while Declan took a long, and much needed, nap in the stroller. Brennan was really only helping Tatum so he could dig a hole to bury her in later. :)

She was happy about that for about five seconds. ha!
After awhile even that beach and water lover was feeling tired of it all and wrapped herself up in this towel and talked and sang to herself.

We got another Thai pancake (I ate a disgusting amount of these) on our way back to the hotel and then decided to catch the hotel shuttle to their private beach club just to see what it was all about. It could be quite nice but man alive the bugs were everywhere. And it was the one and only time we didn't have our bug spray with us. We didn't notice any bugs at Ao Nang so I just didn't even think of it. I got eaten alive. At least 20 bug bites have been driving me crazy ever since. But it was quite peaceful and nice.
The hammock was strangely narrow, however.

Our cozy little area on the private beach.
So beautiful!

A storm blew in again cutting our time there short. Because of the bugs, I was totally okay with that. And thankfully they called and had the hotel shuttle come back early so we didn't have to sit around twiddling our thumbs for an extra hour.

Brennan went out in the water with the kids at the beginning but spotted three of these bad boys. Needless to say the kids and I didn't get back in the water. Brennan seemed to enjoy walking around trying to find them and take pictures though. Eek!
Declan hates the shower but he is totally fine playing in the rain. Weirdo.

It really was a cute little club. They had a sand volleyball area, sand toys for kids, games, a restaurant, a private longtail boat you could book, kayaks for rent, just remember your bug spray!
After we got back to the hotel we got cleaned up and headed out for some food and some souvenirs. We were hoping to go to a nice, real restaurant but Declan had other plans. He was far too grumpy so I headed back early with him. Brennan and Tatum bought some street food and brought it back for us. It was delicious! Kind of made me glad Declan was a pill.

We also discovered these mango shakes that last night. And definitely wished we had discovered them our first night. Holy smokes they were good!

Miraculously there was no barfing after breakfast on Sunday. The hotel provided a ride back to the airport (entirely too early) and we made it home safe and sound. Declan even slept for the entire flight! It was probably the best vacation we have ever had. Thank you Thailand!

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Thailand: elephant trekking and tiger temple cave

Day 2 in Thailand was a big day for us. While island hopping was Brennan's favorite, I think this day would definitely be my top day. It was a little iffy here and there but it really all turned out for the best. When I was looking into elephant trekking in Krabi there looked to be two options, Nosey Parker Elephant camp and Huay Tho Waterfall Safari. From the reviews I found it seemed like the latter would be a better choice both for their treatment of the elephants and for the actual "trekiness" of the trekking.  So we booked through them and decided to go with a full day tour. True to my nature I felt unsure if that was the right choice as the day began but I am so so glad we did it. I think it was totally worth it. We were the only ones to book the full day tour which meant we had to pay half a child fee for Tatum, who normally would have been free, but still completely worth it. 

We were picked up at our hotel in a real (and very nice) car this time. Later on in the day when we were so hot it was so nice to be in a car and have some AC. Turns out our guide (who is not the main guide, he was busy with the half day groups) didn't really speak much English. I think he spoke more than he understood though. He literally said nothing more than hello to us and then drove us to the river and had us get on a boat. We had no idea what was going on. In the itinerary we were sent the longtail boat tour through the mangroves was supposed to be in the afternoon. We spent much of the day a little confused, never knowing what was coming next or how much time we had at any given place. That is really my only complaint about the whole experience.

So we started with a tour through the mangroves.

 The guide was nice enough to take a picture of our whole family, it seems like a rare occurrence. And yes, I'm wearing a knee brace (I've gotten several questions on this from my instagram photo of the elephant trek). It's nothing serious, My right knee has given me trouble for quite some time and I always have to wear a brace when I run. A few days before we left I tweaked it while playing tennis and I was having a hard time with stairs or any bending movement. Knowing we would be climbing a lot of stairs at the Tiger Temple Cave I figured the brace would be a good choice.

 There were monkeys on the pathway to this cave. They seemed quite...outgoing and followed us for a bit.

 This cave was a bit of surprise to us but it was a really fun stop.

 I love this next sequence of pictures.

 Are you kidding me right now? Does it get sweeter than this?
 I really really love this last one. The best thing is that it was a super lucky shot. I was shutting the camera off when Tatum put her arms around Declan. I stopped turning it off and quickly snapped a shot while moving the camera. I knew I would be lucky to even have them both in the frame, but there would be no chance of a non-blurry picture. But not so! It might just be my favorite picture of these two ever!

 A guide we couldn't communicate with and a sign that looked like this. We definitely didn't have any idea where we were.
 Back in the boat, headed for a fish farm (unbeknownst to us, of course).


 You will probably have to blow up all these shots to really be able to see the monkeys. But there were a couple holding little dark brown babies. They were adorable!

 The fish farm wasn't my favorite part of the day. But the kids loved it so that certainly counts for something.

So gross.

The next stop was the Tiger Temple cave. This was a big factor in our deciding to book the full day tour. We wanted to do this anyway and seemed like we might as well do it while we already had a driver. 

Apparently the villagers used to hear a tiger roar from up in these caves. Then a Buddhist monk came and made a temple here and while the tiger has never been seen and hasn't been heard since the Buddhist monk came, that's how it got its name.

 Finally found the steps we were supposed to hike. Again, with no direction from our guide it took us awhile to figure things out. Unfortunately this time it cost us, because we only had an hour and a half here and once we finally started hiking we just didn't have enough time to make it to the top.

As you can see I started with Declan strapped to me. That didn't last terribly long. Maybe two or three hundred steps. It was SO HOT! And some of the steps were at least a foot tall. Others were very shallow. It just really wasn't ideal. Especially for a family with two young kids. What were we thinking? haha. We got several comments on the way up from people making their way back down about both our bravery and our craziness. Probably more crazy than brave. :)
 When we switched Declan to Brennan no one was happy. Tatum was sad that she had to hike we boring old mom and Declan was screaming because he was taken away from mom. We couldn't please anyone!

 Someone's dad spoils her and let her hike with him from time to time anyway.
 I tried to capture one of the steeper sections but it just doesn't quite illustrate the task before us.
 948. Out of 1,237. That was all we could muster. We were hot, tired, dying for more water, and more than out of time.

 The Tiger Temple Cave could definitely have more time dedicated to it. We weren't really able to explore all the buildings or history there. But it was a fun adventure and challenge.
 The next stop was lunch, which was provided through the tour, and we were all quite happy to be sitting, drinking water and having a fan blow on us. :)

 I was expecting a lunch similar to what we got on the island hopping tour but this time they took us to a little restaurant owned and run by the people who lived right behind it. And the food was amazing. Easily the best meal we had on our trip. So yummy!
 I took a picture of the sign in case anyone wants to try it out. :) The owners were so nice and the food was so good.
 After lunch we met up with the afternoon tour group for the waterfall and elephant trekking part of our day. This is when we finally met the guide we booked with, who spoke English and gave us a taste of what our day would have been like if he had been able to be with us the whole day.  He was really a nice and funny guy.
 Brennan captured this moment of more people wanting their picture taken with Tatum. She stood there nicely, even smiling, next to another little kid for many pictures. Then this lady decided she needed to pick her up, she wasn't about to give them a smile after that. haha.
 Everyone was leaving the waterfall as we got there. Apparently they realized rain was coming even though we were all clueless. We got DUMPED on. Brennan and Tatum went swimming in the waterfall as I tried to seek out a little bit of shelter for me and Declan under a tree. And I thought is this really me? Is this my life? I was in the middle of the jungle, in Thailand, during a downpour and thunder and lightening. It was kind of amazing.

Our new guide was nice enough to go out with Brennan and Tatum and even snapped some photos for us on his phone.

We were SO WET! We pretty much look like drowned rats in the pictures from the rest of the day. But it was totally worth it. Memories of a lifetime.

Of course, it stopped raining as soon as we hiked back out. It seemed like the worst luck but ended up being the best. If it was going to rain during any of the day's activities the waterfall was probably the best option. Plus it cooled things off for the elephant trek so the air was pleasant and bug free for our ride.

 Finally it was time for the elephant trek, what Tatum (and really all of us) had been waiting for all day.
  Our seat on the elephant was a little lopsided at the beginning. We fixed it temporarily but it kept shifting back to Brennan's side. It didn't help my nerves!

 Our mahout riding in front of us on the elephant.

 I was pretty nervous on the elephant. More nervous than I thought I would be. I think what was the most nerve wracking was not knowing what the mahout was saying to the elephant. It was impossible to know if he was frantically trying to get it to stop doing whatever it was doing or if he was actually telling it to do it. For instance, we were riding through a little stream and the elephant went over to the bank and lifted its head, that alone would have made me nervous. It was a steep bank and I was afraid he was going to try to climb it! But to make matters worse the mahout starting yelling at him and kind of hitting him and climbing down his head. Then he scrambled off and turned around and motioned toward us. For a split second we both thought he was telling us to hurry and get off! I thought for sure he had lost control and wanted us to get off. Turns out he was just motioning for us to give him our camera so he could take some pictures for us. :) Haha, kind of ridiculous but it was a scary moment for sure.

 Getting himself a snack.
So beautiful.
 They had pineapple you could buy after the ride to feed your elephant. The lighting was quite horrible for good pictures but oh well.
 Declan was fine on the elephant (well until the last 15 minutes or so at which point I had to be singing to him constantly or he was freaking out). But he was quite nervous around the elephant afterward.
 So cool! I hope she will remember this for a long time.
Haha, my face. I am such a dork and a chicken. Every time I came near the elephant he came right for my face with his trunk. I was the only one he did it too and it sent me shrieking and running away every time.

 So there are five elephants at this camp. They are owned by five different families in the village. The families came together to form a co-op. So the elephants come to the camp every morning, work all day and then go back to their families at night. I have to wonder, how does a family come to own an elephant? I have no idea.
Such a great day! It was a long, busy and exhausting day but so awesome. We got back to the hotel around 5:30. We went for a quick swim, got cleaned up, and Brennan went out and brought us back some dinner. I think we will be talking about these adventures for a long time to come.