Monday, April 30, 2012

Phi Phi Islands, Thailand

Maya Bay ~ The Beach


We were really hopeful that the rain clouds would break upon our arrival to the Marina, where we were about to board our speedboat for a full day of water activities.  To our luck, the sun broke through as we departed the van and continued to board our one-hour speedboat to the Phi Phi Islands.  The islands are located between the large island of Phuket and the western Andaman Sea coast of the mainland.

I had seen so many pictures trying to capture the magnificent limestone rocks and mountains emerging from the turquoise waters, but could never have imagined just, how, absolutely brilliant the colors actually are.  Looking around, it felt like I was in a postcard.  Part of a scene that was painted around me, with the sea salt breeze trying to cool the hot, humid air.

Yes, okay...the Phi Phi islands are full of tourists alike, just trying to get the perfect picture.  Speedboats line the shores bringing people around to all the different beaches, but with all the tourists, typically come the tourist trap of little huts selling t-shirts and other souvenir's - I did not see the merchants here at all.  Making the beach feel less like a tourist trap and more like an actual beach.  No begging shoeless children or hawkers trying to sell some little trinket that breaks before walking away.

Just the beach and one small Snack Shop.  Keeping the area pristine and as natural as it can be.



Maya Bay

Relaxing at Maya Bay.

Swimming in the Pi Leh Cove

Colorful fish while snorkeling.

Monkey beach ~ please keep the children in the boat.

Kevin and Riley snorkeling and feeding the colorful fish with bread.

Megan and Makayla snorkeling


Wanting to feed some more fish, but they aren't coming. :-(

Wanting nothing more than to play in the sand with his shovel and bucket ~ the simple things in life.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Thai Water Festival - Songkran 2012

All smiles and laughter on the streets the morning of the Water Festival 2012 in Bangkok.

Scooter rollin' by.


By chance, we were in Bangkok April 13th, 2012 and caught their Thai New Year - Songkran celebration.  We were warned that we should wear our full-body raincoats on the streets starting first thing in the morning, but we weren't certain what exactly that meant.  After a few days battling the heat, I couldn't imagine anyone zipping up in a long sleeve, non-breathable jacket.

The moment the first bucket of   i-c-e   c-o-l-d  water hit me, I knew what they meant.  Still, it felt refreshing, cooling me down instantly from the steamy sidewalks.  The garden hoses were out, along with water balloons, beach buckets, kitchen bowls to help the happy, relaxed people on a Friday off from work, drench each other.

I can't imagine anyone not looking forward to this day every year, with an exception to the taxi car owners that have to clean the powder and paint from the car when it is all over.  Everyone on the street was laughing, carrying a watergun and ready to get wet.

The kids line up on the side of the road to prepare for the next victim to cruise by on their scooter or by tuk-tuk. Then. fire. Some are prepared and aim back, but all smile and keep cruising along.





These kids loved waiting for the scooters to roll by.


Traditionally, the Thai New Year was the beginning of the year in Thailand.  Which followed the lunar calendar; thereafter April 1st was used until 1940. January 1st is now the beginning of the year. The traditional Thai New Year has been a national holiday since. (Wikipedia).

Songkran was traditionally a time to visit and pay respects to elders, including family members, friends, neighbors, and monks.  It is now celebrated as the Water Festival.  We were told that before you go out and celebrate with the water, you are to visit the Temple to pray and give food to monks.

Ice cold pails of water for refilling.

9:30 A.M.



(video)



Guy on the bike rode right through the hose spray and buckets of ice cold water without even flinching.

The aftermath - soaking wet with powder and painted faces dripping down our bodies.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Bangkok

Floating market outside of the city.

Stumbling down the long busy corridors of the Bangkok airport, trying to rein the kids in and keep them as close as possible after a long nap in the air, I felt confident that our traveling business man would have a car waiting to deliver us to the hotel.  Exactly what hotel that is, I'm not sure.  I didn't pay attention to what he may or may not have told me, prior to his departure earlier in the day, because I was that confident there would be a driver waiting on the other side of immigration.

We fly through immigration with the help of our 2 wild card children that most officers don't want screaming in line and glance around.  Half expecting our driver to jump out in front of us, half expecting to walk through the airport briefly, before we find him.

I see no sign with my name, or what I vaguely recall him staying at during his previous trips to the city ~ Sheraton.  Keep walking, nothing.  Other companies are hawking us now, giving us numbers, telling us about their luxury air-conditioned cars running outside, waiting for us.  Still, I don't see our sign.  Turn around, keep walking.  Children are getting even more restless.

We get to the end of the corridor, where people are scarce.  Dig out my cell phone, that luckily seems to work and try ringing our reliable other half.  He tells me to look for a sign that reads, "Sheraton".  Yes, we did and there is not one. 

He gets a hold of the concierge and puts me through to him, as we slowly make our way back to the chaos.  Turns out, we are at the correct gate, correct door and correct corral that our Sheraton sign should be standing and still, I do not see it. 

From the back of a crowded corral of sign holders I see a small lady, eyes shut, leaning against the back gate holding a clipboard.  Something startles her and she jumps, as I spot on the backside of the clipboard "Sheraton". 

Her phone was ringing.  The hotel must have been calling her to inform her we were searching for her.  Turns out, the hotel cancelled our car, because our traveling business man had already checked-in.  Figures. 

Welcome to Bangkok ~ the city of angels!

Rama VIII Bridge over the Chao Phraya River.

It can only get better...if only our fill-in driver knew where to drop guests at the correct hotel.  We walk into the hotel and still do not see our other half.  Dig out my mobile phone yet again racking up the international roaming charges, and he says he is standing in the main lobby.  Hmmmm...I have no idea what that means, when suddenly he emerges down a staircase from the main lobby to the Tour Group basement lobby, where we are standing ~ lost.

Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew (Temple of the Emerald Buddha)

So far, I hate Bangkok and it's monstrous billboards engulfing the freeway.  I am excited that it is dinner time and I am in Thailand, where I can find the most incredible food the world has to offer.  The hotel restaurant doesn't let me down and I am suddenly feeling optimistic about what tomorrow will bring.

We got off to a slow, late start, but we did get signed up for some hotel tours for the following couple days.  They will bring us to most of the places on our list.  I typically don't like to do too many of the hotel tours, because the days tend to be very long for the kids.  In this case, we only have a few days to get it all in and it is the hottest/driest time of the year here, so an air-conditioned car will be nice to have waiting.


Wat Arun (Temple of Dawn)

Elephant rides at Wat Na Phra Mane.

We decide on the floating markets, a few temples, the palace, a river boat cruise and whatever else came with the random stops the tour made. The Dragon Boat ride through the floating market was one of the highlights.  It was only about 20-minutes of cruising around the canals, peeking in on everyday life of the local homes on stilts, but it was unique.

The local Thai people selling their goods from motorless dragon boats, as the sun gets higher in the sky.  Like us, all hoping to be done before it gets too hot to breathe.

Riding the canals in a dragon boat.

This face sums up the long day and exhaustion from the heat. At the Bang Pa-In Palace (Royal Summer Palace).

City view from our room at the Sheraton Sukhumvit

One evening, we attempted to drag the kids out into the Patpong Night Market.  By the tenth, "mommy I'm going to spit up!" We found a tuk-tuk to get us home, before we could even feel the market atmosphere of Bangkok.  The next night, the traveling business man and our guest traveler, Brody, went back with a list of things for me, as I stayed behind with the kids in our air-conditioned hotel room, ready for sleep.

They did good finding treasures for us to take home.  They even stopped into the Tailor and had a couple suits made-up for themselves.  Impressive! but, don't get too used to doing the shopping...that's my job! :-)
Ayutthaya buddha head.

Bangkok, truly is an incredible place.  It has so much to offer from temples and historical stories, to fabulous, affordable shopping.  I left really enjoying the city and wanting to take in more...later in the year maybe. When it isn't so hot.

Ayutthaya ruins.

Ayutthaya ruins - a World Heritage Site.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Easter on Bintan, Indonesia



This was our second year to spend a relaxing, sun-filled Easter weekend at the beach in Bintan, Indonesia.  I would really love to say this is a new tradition, but I highly doubt that we will ever spend another Easter at Club Med Bintan.  Our 2-year stint here, in Singapore, is scheduled to be finished at the end of the year.  Leaving next Easter TBD.

This year, we were lucky enough to have family visiting from America. What better place to spend the weekend then at the beach? With 3 teenage boys, an all-inclusive resort was a must. Along, with the Petite Club for the toddlers, all the water sports, kayaks, catamarans, snorkeling and golf to name a few of the activities avail, Club Med was a great choice.

Getting there is easy enough ~ Once we realized the sign posted is the current ferry boarding, our 50-minute ferry ride to the small Indonesian island was fast and effortless.  :-0  I am not a fan of the boarding process at the Tanah Merah Ferry Terminal, but we did manage to push our way onto the ferry and get 9 seats together - with no injuries.  Off to a good start!

Brody, Zac, Matt and Kevin

After enjoying the buffet lunch, the boys teed off at the Ria Bintan Golf course, while Tam and I made spa appointments.  I'm not sure what happened, but they lost a few balls in the water.  We will blame it on the long Minnesota winter, cutting off access to golf courses, instead of the difficulty of one of the Best rated courses in Asia.

It was wonderful to have the choice of dropping Riley in at the Petite Club for nap time this year!  Last year, he wasn't old enough to use the club, so we took full advantage of it this year.  He had a good, undisturbed nap, while we enjoyed a couple drinks...okay a few, on the beach ~ Perfection!



The kids club put together a parade for Easter Sunday, complete with a local Marching Band.  The elephant and live baby bunnies were also a hit for all.

Marching band parade (video)



Easter Elephant rides.

Our morning visitor on our balcony.  Of course, Kevin threw it a banana and attracted 10 more.

Tammy and M were chased off their balcony too.


And of course, the Easter Bunny found us!  I was a little confused as to how the bunny made it to the island, but Little Miss M told me that the bunny took a "really, really fast ferry boat!"  Ha! Who knew?
The bunny hid eggs with candy in them!  I can't believe it!



Loads of beach play!
Dave can't believe how much energy these little people have at all hours. :-)


Zac and Matt digging themselves a hole.




HAPPY EASTER 2012!!!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Forest Adventures and Ziplining

Zip line across the Bedok Reservoir ~ 1 of 4 zips on the course.

I have been eying this challenge for several months, waiting for the right team to conquer it with.  Finally, the team arrived from the States and we helped each other buckle into the harnesses and balance the rope ladder into the trees. This treetop rope course was challenging mentally and physically for us all.  By the end, I was exhausted.  Two days later, the sore muscles had a chance to let me know they hadn't been exercised for far too long.

Relatives in town from Minnesota getting into their safety gear.

Starting off big on the Expert course, proved to be more challenging then expected.


I have never been afraid of heights, but once I climbed up the rope ladder and clipped into the safety ties, I was a little nervous looking down.  I knew I couldn't actually fall, because I was clipped in at all times, but the small walkways and sagging ropes we had to balance across gave me an entertaining false sense of danger.


Zac mastering the ropes.



We all had some good laughs getting beat up by the sandpit landing at the end of the zip lines and getting thrown into the Tarzan ropes.  Lets just say I'm not as graceful as an eagle landing out of the blue sky :-) 


Matt taking the Expert Challenge to finish his adventure off with the Tarzan Swing.



The Team

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