Friday, December 4, 2009

More Gifts that Give Back

If you are like me you're probably having a mini-panic attack that it's already December 4th and you have no idea what to get anyone if anything for Christmas. With money being tight all around it's enough to just call the whole gift giving thing off and celebrate just being with friends and family. I've decided however, that if I am going to get someone something it's going to be a damn good present that actually means something not just a mass produced P-O-S that is going to break or be forgotten about a month from now. I'm talking about a fabulous gift too and not something that just donates $1 to charity...because it's Christmas damnit and I want to make a difference! (isn't that the point after all?)

So after a little research I found these fabulous causes. The first is the gift of.....

bees?

This is actually a beehive kit from mercycorps.org and it costs $65 and it benefits indigenous families in Guatemala and Honduras. Most of the families here live in isolated rural areas and subsist mostly on the meager crops they grow. Raising bees is one way Mercy Corps helps indigenous families in these two Central American countries increase their household income so their children can enjoy better healthcare and more educational opportunities. Chad and I had a bee theme going on through our wedding so for some reason this particular kit really "speaks" to me. I just love the idea of raising bees which not only helps the environment but also helps the people who raise them. Brilliant! If you are too cheap to spring for the bee kit you can always go for the $18 Emergency Food kit which provides non-perishable food items like pasta, rice, beans, and cooking oil to families recovering from crisis involving conflict or natural disasters. The website also has a drinking water kit for $20 or a rice kit for $29 among many others. Once you purchase your kit the person you are sending it too will get a card (like the bees pictured above) telling them all about what a fabulous thing you did for them in their name!

Of course, there are some people (Ok I'm guilty as well) who like to give but also like to get say, more than a greeting card in return. And being the holiday season who couldn't use a little bit of this:
Who doesn't like a nice bottle of wine? Now what if this bottle of wine was helping your favorite cause? No guilty drinking here! I found this at Onehopewine.com. For each bottle of wine purchased half of all the proceeds go to the charity YOU select based on the wine you buy. So as you can see here I am featuring the Support our Troops Zinfandel because my brother-in-law is fighting overseas right now and I felt that this would just make an awesome gift for my sister. They also have wine that supports AIDS, breast cancer, autism and saving the planet. You can buy each individually for $18.99 or buy a gift pack of all of them for $120. The best part is if you buy 12 bottles or more you get 1 cent shipping. Now honestly I've paid a lot more for some not so great wine in my life and here you can buy one of these bottles, that's not even that expensive and feel good about donating to a worthy cause. Everyone wines (I mean wins...right?)
And if you aren't a wine lover or a fan of bees and rice patties you can certainly appreciate a good pair of shoes. (who doesn't love a new pair right?) Well at Tomsshoes.com they have made doing good very simple for you, for every pair of their shoes you buy they donate one pair to a child in need. You can even go on their website and see all these adorable kids in these rocking shoes and if that doesn't make you feel happy about yourself nothing will. Compared to what we normally spend on shoes (ladies I'm talking to you) these really aren't expensive at all. I saw a few cute pairs for $44 and I just spent about $10 less than that at Old Navy and I didn't help anyone with that purchase. (the guilt is setting in)

You don't have to look very hard to find some extremely worthwild causes out there and my philosphy is if you are going to help yourself, why not go a little bit further and help someone else in return. And if you are wondering what to tell grandma who keeps nagging you what you want for christmas...well I hope you found some great inspiration here...

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

North Korea, The Middle East, Antarctica, Darfur

So what do the above places I've listed above have in common?
?
?
?
Give up? These are all places in the world I know I will never visit in my life. The rest of the world, however, is up for grabs in my opinion. Being a flight attendant, travel is not only my job it's also my passion and I like to visit at least one new country a year. I have found over the years that traveling is what truly makes a person interesting. I enjoy stepping outside of my comfort zone and seeing how other people live and trying new foods and hearing different languages. The older I grow, the more I realize that it's not material things that make me happy or even last through the years, it's the experiences that I carry with me. After all I can still remember the meals I've had in Paris, or what the ocean is like in Costa Rica but have no idea what shoes I owned in college.

Chad and I agreed realistically we could take about 2 International trips a year and be satisfied. So we are in the midst of planning our next great escape to take place at the end of February. It hasn't been easy to decide and we still aren't 100% sure yet but it looks like we are going to venture to....
The Giant boot known as Italy! Of course just looking at the map I have no idea where we should go. I mean there's just no way to see the whole country in a week and a half so we will have to narrow it down to what we want to see most and go from there. I think the plan is now to book a place for the first few nights then stay in hostels so we won't be limited in what we want to see. I'm really wanting to go to Venice and Florence and possibly Milan. But while planning I've posted some pictures for inspiration:

















What a beautiful country I can hardly wait to see it in person. And if it's not in February, rest assured it will be within my lifetime....

Just in case you weren't convinced enough

How can you not want to help these kids? Buy a bag from feedprojects.com and you can feed one of these precious school children for a year!

I've already been thinking about many uses this fabulous bag has. Ever since Chad's mom bought me a reusable bag from Anthropologie last year for Christmas I have been obsessed with making sure I always use it when grocery shopping. It's a lot more durable than a plastic bag and can hold a lot more plus most stores give you a discount when you use them. I've even been known to make Chad run back out to the car and get it when I forget. Hey I can't save the world but it's the little things that count right?

In the Spirit of Giving - because who needs more "stuff"?

A few years ago, after my grandmother died, my family started this tradition of traveling for the holidays. We decided we all really didn't need any more "stuff" and it would be better to vacation somewhere and be together rather than spend a bunch of money on presents. Now that the economy is really down and people are losing jobs, I find it even harder to justify buying things just to have things. I'm sure Chad and I will exchange presents based on what we want, but as far as everyone else goes if I'm going to get them something I want it to be meaningful. My parents and Chad's family are coming out for Christmas and we will probably play some version of "dirty santa" where we buy a bunch of crazy wacky things and wrap them up and make the present opening more of a game than an obligatory "OOOH thanks so much I never knew I needed this." Because really I've always thought it was awkward to open gifts with a crowd watching me and having the expectation of saying just the right thing to convey my happiness at the said gift.

In the spirit of giving however, I have been on the lookout for presents that make me feel good to give and hopefully do good themselves. Enter this fabulous bag:

I love love love it. I love it so much in fact that I want it for myself (*hint*hint*) It's from feedprojects.org and the profits from selling this bag will go to feed one child in Kenya for a year. AN ENTIRE YEAR people! And you'd think to feed a child for a year it would cost over $200 or something but no this bag only costs $60. The site also has this stylish bracelet (pictured below) which feeds 5 children a year and it's only $15. They also have a cute bear that feeds 5 and some other bag styles. You can also go to stores such as Whole Foods and buy the Feed 100 bag which feeds 100 kids in Rwanda and the Feed 3 Read 3 which they sell at Barnes and Noble which feeds three children and donates 3 books to children in the developing world. I love this program and can't think of a better way to spend my money. I honestly hate donating money to places where I don't know how it will be spent but when you go to buy these bags on the website you can actually see pictures of these kids you are helping and how many bags have been sold and meals provided. I know times are tight and $60 can be a lot so I did a little research and found they sell these on amazon too for $35.

Of course I still want my jellyfish aquarium but when it comes to a gift that really will last the whole year and makes you feel good about yourself, I think this is it. And if you are my friend and wondering what on earth to buy me, well you don't even have to buy one for me just buy one for yourself and inspire others to do the same. :)

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Thanks to the Giving

For as long as I've been in Denver I have flown home for Thanksgiving. Every year I brave the airport on one of the most busy travel days and fight for a seat. The first year I was living in Denver it was just myself flying home as I hadn't met Chad yet so it wasn't too bad. My company, however, use to "black out" certain days meaning that if you were scheduled to work that day there was no way to get out of it except to call in sick. But, if you call in sick the day before or after a holiday you don't get your holiday pay. So my first year back home I had to fly back to Denver on Thanksgiving day which was a breeze because as you can imagine no one wants to travel this day.

Since that first year of work I've been lucky enough to have Thanksgiving and the subsequent days off before and after. Chad and I have always made it to Birmingham and back although one year we did have to fly into Huntsville, rent a car, and drive to Birmingham. Last year we took the red eye to Atlanta which resulted in not nearly enough sleep, too much alcohol on my part and a few tears shed in the airport. Traveling is always stressful but add in hoping for an empty seat on one of the craziest flying days plus visiting family....well it's a lot to take in.

This year I made the journey home by myself. Chad had opted not to travel because he has a new job and he couldn't get off until Wednesday and did not want to risk missing his flight back home. I also had my high school ten year reunion the saturday after which was added incentive for me to go and more reason he didn't want too. Because truly who wants to go to an obligatory function if they really don't have too?

Coming home is always bittersweet for me. I hate to leave Denver and yet when I leave Birmingham I dread saying goodbye as well. Things have changed over the years and the Birmingham I come home to now is not what it use to be. When I was in college, the Wednesday night before Thanksgiving was one of the biggest days to go out and sub sequentially run into nearly everyone we had gone to high school with. As you can imagine, Birmingham is not that big of a town and there are certain places everyone congregates at over the holidays especially. But as I grew older the faces changed and gradually it's gotten to the point where I don't recognize anyone anymore. It makes coming home a bit sad because most of my friends and even family aren't there to see anymore as everyone has moved states and created new lives for themselves.

This year, however I was guaranteed to see more people than I ever knew I cared too because of my ten year high school reunion. My sister, brother and best friend made the journey home, as well as my mom's oldest friend and her daughter and son and their cousin. So there was actually plenty to keep me occupied and glad I had returned. My dad cooked 45 lbs of meat for Thanksgiving dinner (too much as always) in typical fashion but it was fabulous having leftovers to eat for days. There were a few ventures out to bars to meet up and catch up and of course time shopping with mom.
I was skeptical of going to my reunion, especially without my husband, but I was able to meet up with my best friend from high school which eased my anxiety. Walking into my reunion was like walking into prom 10 years ago, except now I'm much more confident and sure of myself. The whole experience was exactly what I thought it would be only better. The girls either looked the same or worse and most of the guys had gained weight or had lost some hair. Having a few cocktails before our arrival, I was pretty comfortable talking to most anyone who came my way. Of course I've been working two jobs, over the past 5 years where I am forced to deal with people on a day to day basis. My promotions job forces me to walk into a bar full of complete strangers and say hi to everyone and convince them to buy my product. Every week I fly with a different crew so I'm forced to be outgoing or I'd be miserable. As it turns out I was actually glad my husband didn't come. It spared us both the awkwardness of me having to introduce him to people I barely even knew anymore. Most of the dates looked miserable in fact, although truth be told, a few were more talkative than their spouses or friends I had graduated with. The most amazing aspect to me was how few people even knew who I was. I had several people that I remembered well, introduce themselves to me before sneaking a look at my name tag with my picture on it.

At the end of the night there were awards which people had voted on for various things and I received the "Most Changed Since High School." If there was one award I could have possibly won, this above all others makes me the most happy. Although I'm definitely better looking now than I was then, what it means to me is that I'm not the same shy person who graduated 10 years ago. Many of those people were still the same, in looks and in attitude. The girls who were bitchy then are still bitchy now. The guys who were arrogant then are still walking around thinking they are better than everyone else. But apparently I'm not the same, and to me that's a good thing. As you grow up and older you should become more comfortable in your skin. To be able to talk to anyone and make people laugh, to let your own light shine through so people can see the side you always knew was there within yourself. WhenIgraduated my goal was always to become something more than what I was. And even though I don't have the highest paying job or live in the fanciest city, I'm glad to have moved on and created such a happy life for myself that others can recognize just spending a couple of hours with me even though it's been years. Of course, the bleach blond hair helps :)

In my every day life I feel I have so much to be thankful for. I'm glad I have two families now and two sets of friends. I'm thankful to have two places, both Denver and Birmingham to call home. I'm thankful that my past isn't the ghost I make it out to be and that I have am able to fly in and out whenever I choose. Birmingham will always be such a special place to me and so will my friends and family who are still there. It may have been my job who took me away from it all, but I always know, it's the job I do that enables me to return whenever I want...

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cash Cabs


When I was living in Alabama my friends and I hardly ever took taxis. It really is a wonder I never got pulled over after a few drinks in my college or post-college years and for that I am grateful. After all a cab costs maybe $10 while a DUI costs $10,000+. Moving to a bigger city and traveling has changed the way I view taxis as well as the frequency of which I use them. I've learned that different cities have different taxi standards which probably coincides with how much they are used.
In Birmingham there are taxis outside of the bars at 2am but no one really takes them because most people drive to the bar in the first place (bad idea). In Denver you can call a cab to your house to come and pick you up but depending on the night it can take 15 minutes or an hour and sometimes they never show. St. Patrick's day, halloween, new years, opening day for baseball, you can forget trying to get a taxi to show up at your house when you need one. Of course when you are out and about you can find plenty but most of the time you can't leave your car anywhere overnight in the downtown area. Which means if you drive to the bar you are probably driving home (again a terrible idea if you've been drinking!) because they will boot your car if you leave it parked.
Washington, DC has plenty of cabs but you can't call one to come to your place you have to walk out on the street and find them. I think this is a bit of a hassle especially if you are trying to go to the airport and don't want to walk all over the streets with your suitcase. Unlike Denver, none of them take credit cards which is also a bit of a pain, requiring a possible ATM stop if you never carry cash like I do. Of course with the exception of the airport, you can always take their metro anyplace you need to go. New York is probably the best city I've visited for taxis as they outnumber the amount of cars on the streets. However, they are also the most expensive I've found and a bit shady. They will have credit card machines in the back but the driver will tell you it's broken and then when you insist you have no cash they will finally relent and let you pay with your card.
Traveling internationally I have found presents a whole new challenge where taxis are concerned because if you don't speak the language your biggest worry is getting ripped off and getting where you actually want to go.

(pictured: a taxi in Thailand) Besides the tuk tuks in Thailand there are standard taxis and you have two types, metered and non-metered. Although I'm pretty sure all of them actually do have a meter installed, only some of the drivers use them. So if you get in a metered taxi, you pay by the mile. In any other case you bargain with the driver how much it will cost. At the airport we were told before we got in exactly how much it would be and same for our ride to the patong hospital in Phuket. Of course, when you aren't from that country you have no idea how much a taxi ride SHOULD cost so you are pretty much at the mercy of the driver. While they are a little more pricey than the tuk tuks, they at least take you to your location and do not stop at five gem stores along the way. The worst part is traffic can get pretty bad in Bangkok so you must time your taxi trips accordingly if you don't want to pay to sit in traffic.
(picture: motortaxi driver) Thailand also has motorbike taxis which are cheaper than the metered car taxis. You simply flag one down, negotiate a price then hop on the back of this motorbike and away you go. Given the traffic in Bangkok and how dangerous motorbikes are, I would never recommend this way to anyone. I am sure it is the fastest way to get around but definitely not for the faint of heart. We only saw locals riding on the back of these taxi bikes so I'm pretty sure either most tourists don't know about them or wouldn't dare the risk either. Of course being that only one person can ride on the back it's not the most convenient way to travel for large groups anyhow.


(picture on right: typical costa rican taxi)


Costa Rica was by far the easiest country I have traveled to navigate. Generally there aren't any cars in th beach towns and everyone gets from place to place on 4 wheelers. San Jose and Liberia are the only major cities where you are likely to even see taxi cab like the one pictured. When we went, a few summers ago we flew into San Jose then took a van which we had booked prior down to Santa Theresa which took about five hours. It wasn't a bad drive, but on our way back to the airport our van didn't have air conditioning and in the hot rainy season this made for some unpleasant conditions. The seats were also bench seats facing one another so the person riding backwards had to have a strong stomach to avoid car sickness. I did read that the taxis in Costa Rica can rip you off if you aren't watching and you must tell them "ponta la meter" or "put on the meter" so they will turn it on and you'll get a decent fare. In Thailand the same rule applied and you had to watch and make sure they wouldn't turn the meter off and tell you it was broken to rip you off. Usually threatening to get out did the trick to get the meter to magically work again.

If it's anything I have learned in life it's that a taxi is a taxi no matter where you travel in the world. The drivers are always looking to earn an extra buck or two by going the long way or charging you extra fees for passengers or bags, etc. Some have air conditioning and others don't and nearly all are awkward to ride in. But despite everything sometimes they are the easiest and cheapest way to get around and the one way to assure you don't get a DUI if you have been out drinking. I expect I'll take many more cabs in years to come and while I may never arrive in luxury or style, it's good enough I suppose to just get where I'm going....in sort of a timely fashion.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

In a perfect world my husband and I would be able to travel to an exotic location every month. Unfortunately, even though we fly for practically pennies, you still have to spend money on hotels, lodging etc. which gets expensive especially if you'd perhaps like to own a home someday. So when we can't fly out of the country or even out of the state, my husband and I have taken to traveling the state we live in Colorado.
Neither of us is originally from the state so it seems there is always some place new to explore. Last fall was when we got engaged so we spent a lot of time in the mountains driving all to different spots looking for a place to hold our wedding. Ultimately we decided not to get married in Colorado but we did experience the Aspens in the fall when we went to take our engagement photos:
These pictures were taken up near Evergreen in early October of last year. Aspens are my favorite tree and each fall they go from green to this brilliant yellow color. Because Aspens are all on the same root system, they always appear in clusters mixed in with the spruces and evergreen trees. So driving through the mountains you will see this amazing mix of yellow and green and even some reds on the slopes. The downside to Aspens is the leaves fall off really easily so one big storm and all the yellow is gone. We didn't get to make it up there before the snow hit this year and took all the yellow from the mountains.

When we actually got engaged it was on a hike of Hanging Lake trail which is a few hours away from Denver. It's a fairly short hike, under 2 miles but it's very steep and so full of rocks that you almost need leeky poles to maintain your balance. What's unique about the trail is that it's right off the highway and if you weren't looking for it you probably wouldn't know it was there, although it always seems to attract the tourists to and from Glenwood Springs. Dogs also aren't allowed either which is a shame because I love taking my dog hiking but also a blessing because animals don't tend to stay on the trail and mess up the foliage. Once you reach the top of the climb you are greeted by this:

It's probably not a climb worth doing in the winter, but in the summer it was fantastic. The water is crystal green and blue and so special you can't even stick a toe in there or you will damage the ecosystem that makes it this way. The waterfalls weren't really running at full force this day due to lack of rain, but if you climb around them there are actually a few smaller waterfalls that feed into them at the top. A great day trip from the city especially since there aren't too many natural bodies of water like this in Colorado.

Ever since my mom and I went to Paris for my 26th Birthday, I have made it a tradition to leave town to celebrate. I prefer to spend several days celebrating the occasion so what could be more perfect than a vacation? Well last year we went to Costa Rica (a separate blog post altogether) but this year we had to choose a place a little closer to home since we were on a wedding budget. Being that the flight loads were looking horrible to all the Caribbean destinations we decided to google Colorado and see where we could go for a weekend getaway. What we found was this:
In the picture I'm actually standing in the Uti pool, one of 26 at the hot sulfur springs in hot sulfur springs Colorado. I never knew such a place existed before this and I've lived in Colorado almost 5 years now! Of course we have been to the Indian sulfur springs in Idaho Falls (a great place to stop on your way home from skiing but a little hokey) and Glenwood Springs after we hiked hanging lake (it's an Olympic sized swimming pool fed by a natural hot springs underground) but never a place like this. What makes this place so wonderful is that kids aren't allowed, it's quiet, there's a huge range in pools temperature wise (from 98 to over 108) and it's open late into the night. At the Indian hot springs you have to rent a private cave pool otherwise men and women are separated because you have to be butt naked. At Glenwood it's more like a theme park, but at these hot springs you can choose whatever pool you want for as long as you want and you can even leave and come back anytime when you buy a day pass. The downfall is, you smell like sulfur and so does your bathing suit and the smell never really comes out of your swimsuit or towel. The waters are full of minerals so they are excellent for your skin though so you leave feeling relaxed and rejuvenated. I also got a sea salt and lemon oil massage when I was there which was a total body exfoliation although it's a little harsh on the skin (not quite so relaxing as it is beneficial). Hot Sulfur Springs, Colorado is a tiny town located outside of winter park so I'm hoping we can go back in the winter after a day of skiing. Nothing is more fantasatic than soaking in a hot spring after a full day of skiing. It's also great for hiking and seeing wildlife (we saw a bear running through town and a moose on the side of the road) and though I don't fish I saw several people doing so.

I love living in a state that affords me the opportunity to experience something completely out of my element without me having to go through airport security or worry about who can babysit my dog. I know with the economy being what it is, a lot of people are looking towards "stay-cations" to save money but still get out of the house. I can definitely attest to the fact that it's well worth googling your city for things to do next time you are bored and want to get away.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Happy Halloween!

(picture: the Hindu Goddess Kali)
When I'm not traveling the world one of my hobbies is yoga. I find it not only challenging but also a great workout and way to rejuvenate. On Halloween this past Saturday I went to a yoga fusion class which mixes some flow as well as meditation and inversions, basically whatever the teacher is feeling like that day. Well my teacher was a really cool girl who incorporated the Hindu Goddess Kali into our practice. She described Kali to us as this wild spirit who is a very fearsome goddess who has few devoted worshipers because she is so benevolent. She is also described as a slayer of demons and identified as the supreme mistress of the universe, associated with the five elements. Well after finding a few pictures of her on the internet, she definitely is scary in the looks department and more than appropriate for Halloween. The basic mindset we were to be in during this yoga practice was to think of Kali and to tap into our own side that we keep locked up on a day to day basis. To let something out and let something go. To go, in our minds, to another place. Yoga incorporates meditation and breathing, which if you've never done yoga before, you might find it a little difficult to free your mind and shut off the chatter. But that's why they call it "yoga practice."
Halloween is the perfect time, I believe to let your inner Kali goddess out. To dress up and be someone else for a night. I always wondered though, if other countries celebrated this "holiday" as well. I knew Mexico celebrates a day of the dead, but as I found out through a little research the United States isn't the only country with a day of ghouls and goblins. Whereas we carve pumpkins and give out candy, China has a Ghost Festival where they put out water and food in front of pictures of deceased loved ones. In Italy on November 1st, children wake up to candies which they believe are left by the dead on All Saints Day. The Germans put away all their knives so as not to harm the spirits on their return. Even Thailand has a festival called Phi Ta Khon but it's celebrated in May, June or July. While we may not all have exactly the same traditions, it seems that other cultures certainly do come closer to recognizing the dead than just hanging a skeleton on their door.
While my husband and I dressed up as ghostbusters, I can't help to wish I could have heard about Kali sooner because it would have made a great costume. Heidi Klum apparently thought so too:
I think she makes a fabulous Kali, even if she did offend the Hindus and apparently now they want her to apologize. I say if Kali has a problem with it, let her deal with Heidi herself.
Happy Halloween to all, in whatever way you chose to celebrate. Now I know what to expect should I ever decide to spend this ghostly holiday abroad!

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dressing Conserva-THAI

So on a pretty a-typical night out among my friends here in Denver, you might catch us wearing something like this:
:

But if you travel to Thailand you are more likely to see this:
Ok so that's probably a little formal on the Thai end for what you might really find but I'm trying to make a point...which is that in Thailand the women are very conservative in your dress.
Forget what you may see when you google image Thai women (I know, I did this and wow, what links people won't go to when trying to be a good mail order bride) for the most part every woman I say was covered up from arms to legs no matter how hot the temp. I worried about what to bring and what to wear while in Thailand and while I usually feel I can fit in most anywhere, I definitely never felt this way there. You know the feeling that no matter what outfit you put on it just isn't quite the right one? Well that was what happened to me every day. Which I accepted and got over quickly too I might add.
Right away I knew my blond hair was going to make me stand out and scream "tourist" louder than anything else. So I bought a hat and wore my hair up most of the time. It's not like I knew I would stand out any less I just didn't want to draw any unnecessiary attention. I read up a lot about the Thai culture and what is acceptable over there and it seemed like the temples were the most strict. I told Chad he needed to probably buy a pair of long pants because shorts weren't acceptable but I thought I'd be ok in a long dress. Needless to say my spaghetti straps were a no go when I got to the temple gates, even with a wrap so I was forced to head back to the main enterance and "rent" a t-shirt. The good news is I got to pick the color and I modified it so it didn't look too terrible:

Women who weren't wearing long enough dresses (or were wearing short skirts or shorts) had to rent sarongs and men had to rent these scrub looking pants if they were wearing shorts. So I wasn't completely alone in my mistake although Chad did get a good laugh that I was dressed inappropriately. Interestingly enough the Grand Palace was the only place that really cared enough to enforce this rule as the other small out of the way temples we saw didn't say anything. Flip Flops were ok most everywhere as this is what most Thai people wear (only about 2 sizes too small I noticed) because you are constantly taking your shoes off to enter stores and palaces. I just followed the rule that if I saw shoes piled up outside a door I followed suit. Don't want to offend anyone!
The beaches of Thailand are where you might think you would have a little more leeway but down south there is a great deal more Muslim's than up north so the women are covered up head to toe. No one expects tourists to do the same but you still have to show your respect obviously. The basic principal is that if you aren't on the beach, and I mean directly laying on the beach, you better cover up. In Costa Rica we would walk around in our bathing suits with maybe shorts on and the guys would go shirtless. Well you'll feel like an idiot if you do this in Phuket or Ko Phi Phi because you would pretty much be the only one. Sunbathing topless is actually a crime over there although we did see one *brave* girl doing so on a semi-deserted beach. To each her own I guess!
So again at the beach I had the same problem of not feeling like I was dressed well enough for my surroundings. I had brought a couple of tank tops and skirts but it was just so hot walking around town with your bathing suit on plus top and bottoms. My solution became this:


Introducing the sarong aka the best invention ever. Unfortunately I didn't buy one until Phuket round 2 because they were too expensive on Ko Phi Phi. There happened to be a guy selling them on the beach in Phuket and I bargained with him for a really nice blue one with elephants on it in silver glitter which you can kind of see in this picture. For those of you who have never used one they can be tied in several different ways and worn as a skirt or dress or even as a pashmina like scarf/cover up. They are made out of a really fine material so they are light weight and dry quickly when wet. Best of all EVERYONE wears them -Tourists AND locals which means sticking out just a little bit less. Not to say I didn't feel like a total fool wearing mine in the emergency room when chad had his little head injury but what could I do?
After a few days I did own up to the fact that yes, I was American and blond and no matter how much I tried or how many people mistook us for Australians, we'd never quite fit in. The key is to observing the customs of another country and not intentionally offending anyone. I also learned that conservative doesn't necessiarly mean frumpy as the Thai women were far from it. They were all beautiful and confident without showing any skin but their faces in most cases. If only we could follow suit in America and have some more clothing options that were just as elegant and tasteful.
Of course, I would miss out on wearing shorts if it became socially taboo...and of course my blond hair!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Thai food

(picture: a restaurant with a FABULOUS name in Phuket...there were actually two and they were awesome!)

One of my favorite restaurants in Denver is a place called Swing Thai. They have amazing yellow chicken curry which I always order and so I was pretty sure I would love the food in Thailand. One of the most asked questions I get about our travel was, "what was the food like?" well it wasn't anything what I expected to say the least.
The food varied from place to place throughout the country. In Bangkok there were a lot of street vendors. Especially when you got off the beaten path. They had little carts and these metal bowls cooking on hot plates that were full of noodles and God knows what else. In fact walking around the streets, Chad and I were overwhelmed with smells. The sidewalks are pretty narrow and it was hot and humid so you can imagine having cart after cart lined up full of people selling food what it smelled like. When we went to the weekend market is when I would say was where we saw the biggest variety of food vendors displaying various items like in this picture:
There was a sign for squid eggs too which I can't even begin to imagine what those tasted like. I had read through lonely planet books that these street food vendors were actually the cheapest and most enjoyable way to eat in Bangkok. Unfortunately, Chad and I were not brave enough to eat any of it. Not only did we not know what was what but you have no idea how much it costs and most of these vendors spoke little english. Plus we were just getting our bearings in the country so all of this was just too overwhelming. I saw a few people washing their bowls etc out in faucets hooked to buildings too which made me question how sanitary any of this was. So we passed on the street food. Until Phuket that is. We tried the meat from the street carts there and it was delicious and cheap. But we made sure to ask before trying....and at least the meat is cooked on the grill so hopefully any germs were eliminated!

In Bangkok we also saw quite a few people on the street (locals mostly) drinking from plastic bags with ice and some kind of liquid in them. Naturally I wanted one. Coconut water is quite popular over there and I had seen quite a few carts with fresh coconuts but none with these plastic bags of liquid. Well one afternoon after our temple excursion, Chad and I were making our way back to the hotel when I saw a cart on the side selling cokes and fantas in glass bottles. Given the heat and the long walk I decided I would purchase one. I pointed to the pepsi in a glass bottle and asked for one and paid the girl. She popped the top as I expected then took out a plastic bag, which I thought, "Maybe she's putting it in a bag for me to carry home?" But she proceeds to fill the bag with ice then tips the bottle upside down and pours it in the bag and sticks a straw in it and hands it to me. I was speechless! "Oh so this is what's in the bags!" I thought. I guess they keep the bottles to recycle. The worst part about this is I found out, that you cannot set your drink down.
Since we were in Thailand for about 2 weeks we were eating every meal out (except breakfast because it was free at the hotels we stayed at) and thus experienced a variety of dishes. And one thing I can say is...well the food really isn't that much different from what we have over here. I realized in all of our eating out that you NEVER see Thais eating in restaurants. They work there but they don't eat there. In fact, walking around one night I saw a group of Thais eating outside their houses and it looked like they were eating rice and noodle dishes. I think the thing is most restaurants, though cheap for the tourist are still not affordable at all for Thais. Either that or they don't like the food. In other countries you see the locals eating at local restaurants but not here. The other thing we realized quickly is that all the menus are pretty much the same...in that they offer everything. With the exception of Ko Phi Phi which had a lot of seafood restaurants where you could pick your seafood fresh and have it cooked anyway you wanted, most places offered anything under the sun you could want. The menu usually had three or four categories: There was American food section with pizza and hamburgers, BLT's, french fries and other sandwiches, then a Chinese section with chinese dishes and a Thai section with noodles bowls and some things that weren't even described in English (probably because no one but a Thai would want them) and then sometimes seafood or pasta. The desserts were usually ice cream. The drink section would always feature fresh fruit shakes and then alcohol ranging from beer to fruity liquor drinks like Mai Tai's and Pina Coladas. As I said before alcohol, except beer was usually expensive so we either stuck to beer or indulged in a fruity drink or two if we were drinking liquor. All the water you drink over there is bottled so if you ordered water with dinner you'd get a bottle and being that they don't drink water ice was a pretty rare find in your drink.
I wish now that Chad and I had tried more of the "authentic" Thai food but now that we know what some of it is maybe we will be more inclined to try it next time. The restaurants really do have a great concept though with offering so much on the menu because you realize no matter where you go you'll have a good meal. Sometimes we ate for as little as $5 for both of us and maybe our most expensive meal was about $15 for two. My favorite place had to be on Ko Phi Phi where you got a free fruit shake with your meal and they had kabobs which they grilled fresh for you and you got a free salad bar which included fresh off the grill corn and baked potatoes and rolls and lots of veggies and lettuce. If you were a vegetarian (which I know many of my friends are) you really wouldn't have a hard time finding good food because most thai food is vegetarian and all the noodle and rice dishes you could have with or without meat.
One of the hardest parts of coming back to the United States was realizing how much we pay for food and for food that isn't even good and fresh. Every morning our breakfast buffet offered fresh fruit and made to order eggs (among other things) with the most yellow yolks I have ever seen. Yes there are a few mcdonalds over there but overall let's just say you'll never see an overweight thai....

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Standardized Health Care




I know in the United States lately there has been a LOT of talk about standardizing healthcare and what the government should or shouldn't do etc. Well Chad and I had an experience with healthcare of our own on the other side of the world when we least expected it. Chad had decided one morning towards the end of our stay in Phuket to rent a surf board. We had rented surf boards in Costa Rica year before last and even though no one but Chad and our friend Casey even made it past the break, let alone had enough energy to actually surf, Chad wanted to try again. I decided to stay on the beach and read and ignore the dozens of Thai people trying to sell me stuff as they walked by. I blame these people for me actually missing the one time Chad actually made it on the surf board because I had my nose buried in a book. But he had the board rented for a few hours so he decided after trying it once why not try again. Now anyone who surfs will know there are certain conditions to which a beginner should surf in. Namely not red flag rip tides and preferrably early in the morning when the waves and tide are better. But this didn't stop chad from wanting to try. On his second try he got up on the board for a minute right before hitting the shore and then promptly fell off the board. Well the board ended up washing over him because of the way he fell and all I saw was chad fall, the surf board wash over him and then him emerge from the water. I thought, "oh good it didn't hit him!" but then I saw him reach behind his head and then blood just came pouring down his shoulders. Well I run over with a towel and see blood all over his back. I couldn't see the actual cut on his head just the blood. Well Chad was kind of in a daze and said he thought the fin caught him in the back of the head. You can just imagine how this attracted people running over to see what happened. A nice guy on the beach took the board for us and told us there was a doctor in the hotel on the beach directly behind us so I gathered all our stuff and took chad inside.
It's really never an ideal situation to get hurt on vacation but imagine being on an island on the other side of the world where you can't speak the language and the people can't speak yours. I was a little scared for what we were going to do to say the least. Unfortunately there wasn't a doctor in the hotel so we ended up paying a taxi to take us to the closest hospital which was in Patong. For 800baht he said he'd stay and wait for us until we were through so we agreed. The good part about going to the hospital was we got to see Patong which ended up being about 20 minutes away.
I always bring my insurance card when I travel but Chad doesn't and he wasn't on my insurance yet. Fortunately though I made sure we went to the hotel and got our passports and credit cards before heading to the ER because I had no idea what anything would cost or what they would need. The hopsital itself was nice enough. It was pretty large and fairly empty compared to the ER's I've been in here in the states. We went to the check in desk and they couldn't understand what we wanted so I pointed to chad's bloody head and that seemed to work. Most of the nurses spoke enough broken english to understand us and chad was immediately escorted to a hospital bed where they took his blood pressure then proceeded to shave his head to stich him up. He ended up with three stitches and it only took about 15 minutes. Then we we waited in the pharmacy area for him to get some anitbiotics and pain medicine which took no more than about 5 minutes. When it was time to pay, the bill ended up being $54. $54 for stitches and meds and everything!
All I can say is that I was very grateful for the standardized healthcare in Thailand. Not only did we get in and out of the hospital very fast, but we filled out virtually no paperwork and didn't have to present an insurance card or anything. Not only that but we were escorted right in and taken care of in less than an hour. That NEVER happens in the united states. Not even if you are bleeding. I don't know what we would have done if we had been anywhere else and this would have happened. I guess we were just really lucky as well that there was in fact a hospital nearby.
The bummer of the whole situation was that after that Chad couldn't go back in the water. Luckily we only had a few days left in Phuket and I had signed up for the elephant trek the next day and it rained so he didn't feel like he missed out on any swimming. If this had happened at the beginning of our trip it would have been a huge downer. I always travel with neosporin and bandaids too which ended up being a good thing since we needed those for Chad's head. Also I had brought some dry shampoo which he had to use since he couldn't wash his hair.
While I wouldn't want stitches on my face by just any random nurse at a hospital on the other side of the world, for chad's head it turned out they didn't do such a bad job and he didn't get an infection or anything else. I only wish people could come to our country and have the same treatment as we had over there in the "3rd world country." I know we are a long way from socializing health care but from our experience in Thailand it wasn't such a bad thing!
Hopefully our next vacation does not require surfing!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Stand-by me

I have a love hate relationship with flying standby. The worst part about it is the fact that you simply do not know if you will make it to your destination and home or not. However, international flights are a whole different animal because most people generally do not buy a last minute ticket on those flights. So you can guestimate pretty well in advance how great your shot is of getting on the flight or not. Since the longest leg of our trip was from LA to Tokyo I decided a little bribery was in order for the gate agents and flight attendants. I put together bags of halloween candy and magazines and made sure to pass one along to the gate agent 'for all your hard work'. Not only did they love it but since there were seats open they put Chad and I together in our own row in business class. Hey we may have gotten those seats anyways but a little kindness goes a long way...and ensures your flight attendants keep refilling that wine glass all flight long.
If you have never flown first or business class on an international flight, all I can say is, what goes on behind that curtain up there is amazing. Definitely not pay full fare for a ticket amazing, but well worth all the crap I put up with on a daily basis to be able to sit there on a flight like that. In short, all you do is eat. You have menus with everything from shrimp and sea bass to filet mignon as well as salads, rolls, chocolates, ice cream sundaes, fruit plates, champagne, port wine and even (to and from japan only) personal bottles of sake. On the way to tokyo and to bangkok we had business class and although it was nice on the first flight we were only on a 777. On the next leg we were on a 747 so we had lay flat seats with huge personal tv's and remote controls and another dinner and snacks. Chad was seated upstairs and I was downstairs. The lay flat seats are so nice because you are so tired from the flight and it's awesome to put on the sleeping eye masks they give you and your warm socks, put the head phones on and listen to some smooth jazz and sleep. In first class they give you these whole kits full of things like toothbrushes, face wash, socks, lotion, even hand sanitizer and if that weren't enough you have slippers and full size pillows and heavy blankets. We only got first class on the way home from tokyo to la but that's probably just as well. I can fly free in business or coach but first class comes with a mileage fee that you don't know about until you get an email a few months later telling you how much your journey cost.But let's just say a couple hundred dollars is nothing compared to 10k which is how much a full fare first class ticket cost.
One of the best things about being in business or first is simply how relaxing it is. It's amazing that you cut back on half the seats and half the people and the mood is instantly more peaceful. Everyone just does their own thing from sleeping to reading the paper and eating and as far as I could tell no one is outrageous or rude to the flight attendants or eachother. Something about the back of the plane just brings out the worst in people....but I guess when you have a five year old kicking your seat for 12 hours you're bound to be mad.
I really enjoyed flying UAL and unlike their domestic service I was highly impressed. I've taken Delta business class to Paris and didn't think it could get much better but UAL was pretty close (except they didn't bake warm cookies) Delta only has business class not first (at least on their 757s) so you can expect the quality of their business is almost as good as UAL's first since that is all they have. Obviously I never flew back when flying was considered glamorous, but let me tell you, behind that curtain up there that you can barely glimpse through in the back, well that's as close as you'll come nowadays to truly luxurious. It's basically what life would be like if you sat in your favorite chair watching movies all day and having someone bring you anything you wanted. Who could not love that?

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Phuket

(picture: low tide on kata beach in phuket)

After spending a few nights on the Phi Phi Islands we returned to the island of Phuket. The island itself of course is much larger than ko Phi phi but all the beaches sprawl along the coast from north to south and it's pretty easy to get around just by walking. We were actually00 going to rent a motorbike to explore on our last day here because they have them all over for about 2oo baht for the day but it ended up raining so we didn't. I would never recommend renting a car or bike in bangkok but Phuket is much smaller so it's easier to get around and there's less traffic. There are two main places to stay there, either in Patong or near the Kata and Karon beaches and we chose to stay on Kata beach because even though it's more developed than some of the other beaches on the coast it isn't as developed in Patong. We stayed at the sugar palm resort which was across the street from the beach so it was a little less expensive, but judging by what I saw there aren't too many resorts actually on the beach anyway. There are beach chairs all along that you can rent for about 100 baht a day as well as surf boards and boogie boards and there are of course food stands and massage tents on the beach so once you are out there you have all you need. Since we went during the rainy season it did rain quite a bit on and off so we were always prepared with our umbrellas. The tide was always rough too and everyday they had a red flag out but we are both strong swimmers so undertoe and riptides don't affect us too much. The one bad thing about Phuket on the beach is that there are a lot of people constantly walking by trying to sell you sarongs, bull horns, purses, belts, pretty much any little knick knack you can think of. I did end up buying a sarong because I wanted one but I learned pretty quickly if you aren't in the water you better be asleep or have your nose buried in a book or these sellers will bother you constantly.
(picture: with a 2 year old elephant we got to play with on our Siam Safari adventure)
One of the things I really wanted to do when I went to Thailand was to see and ride the elephants. Elephants were once used (and still are in some parts) to haul lumber around. They are very smart and easily trained and there are plenty of them in the jungles out there so they were used a lot as working animals. Whenever an elephant is born in captivity they are assigned a manhout who is responsible for the elephant and takes care of them and trains them and lives with the elephant for their whole life (or whoever goes first I suppose). Apparently Chiang Mai is the best place to see elephants as they have a lot of training camps where you can learn to do what the manhouts do and how to ride the elephants yourself. Chian Mai however, is north of bangkok and we simply didn't have the time to go there. So I did some research and found the Siam Safari group (siamsafari.com) and decided to book their elephant jungle trek. You have to be careful in phuket because there are a lot of tourist agencies down there that have really hokey elephant tours which are not only expensive but the elephr ants aren't well cared for. In fact I saw some where you don't even really spend much time with the elephants but do other ridiculous things like watch monkey shows and ride in an ox pulled cart. It was really important to us the elephants were well respected and taken care of and not just some circus act so that's why I chose Siam.
The jungle trek, while the most expensive activity we did in Thailand (about $50 a person) was also the most memorable. We were picked up at our hotel then taken to the camp where we were split into groups based on what we had booked (we chose the cheaper 45 minute elephant trek). Then we all piled into these rustic jeeps that had bench seats in the back and no back door and were taken up into the jungle where the elephants were. For the first 15 minutes we were treated to an elephant show by three baby elephants and their manhouts. They obviously aren't big enough to ride yet so they show us the tricks they have learned like blowing into harmonicas and painting and kicking soccer balls and even dancing. Then you had the option to buy fruit and feed it to them which the absolutely loved. Afterwards they brought around the larger elephants which were guided by their manhouts and we learned about them and how they were taken care of, what they ate, etc. These are asian elephants so they are a lot smaller than african elephants and the older they get the more pink their skin turns. We sat on these baskets strapped to their backs and the manhout sat on the head of the elephant and guided it through the jungle. It was really peaceful and we got to see a great lookout point during our trek. The elephant ride was surprisingly smooth (much more so than horesback riding) so it was definitely something I could have done for more than just 45 minutes.
(picture: us on our elephant trek)
While Phuket may not be as laid back or as small as Ko Phi Phi, we certainly enjoyed our time on the island. There are an abundance of restaurants to dine at, a lot on the beach, and it's the best place to go for shopping if you want rip off designer labels. We learned quickly once again the more you buy the better deal you get so we stocked up on shirts. Phuket is also a much better deal as far as massages are concerned (about 200baht each) and we treated ourselves to foot and back massages. You will find massage places are every other store front so you can be picky when choosing the cheapest one because they all offer the same thing and you won't find much variation in technique either. This is the one thing I miss most about thailand is how cheap the massages and facials are (well and the food as well but really where else can you get a massage under $20?) and how great the service is. One trick I learned is that it's best to go to a massage shop or restaurant by your hotel because once you've been in once the people won't bother you again every time you walk by. Really all the restaurants and stores were struggling for business down there so they would do anything to get us in, even lower drink prices or give you some other special deal.
Phuket also has these meat carts that come out at night which are really inexpensive and they cook whatever kabob you want right there for you for about $2 a piece.
This is what we ate a few nights for dinner and offers an even cheaper option for food which is great when you are staying for 2 weeks and want to conserve your money! There was also this guy with a banana pancake cart (what we call crepes in the US) who made the most delicious fresh banana and chocolate crepe I have ever had. I was only sorry he didn't come out during the day!
Although we didn't explore as much as we could have in Phuket I feel we saw enough for me to want to visit a different island the next time around. Unfortunately you can't get to Ko Phi Phi from Koi Samui and I definitely want to visit there again so that may weigh on my decision as of where to go next time. It's such a short flight from bangkok that it really makes it worth it to get out of the city and head down there.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Koi Phi Phi

When planning our trip to Thailand I knew I wanted to go to the beaches which could be either accessed by another plane ride from bangkok or a bus ride (to Phuket, Koi Samui is not accessible by bus). Seeing as a bus ride would have taken 13 hours and upon researching, sounded a little sketchy I decided to buy plane tickets. I had basically two choices for islands either Phuket or Koi Samui. I chose Phuket because Koi Samui is more well known it seemed and I thought Phuket would be less discovered. WhenIstarted telling a few people where we were going those that had been to Phuket said that the Phi Phi Islands were a must to see. I started researching and found out they are only about an hour and a half ferry ride away and there were plenty of hotels on the island to stay at. This meant we would be staying on the Adaman Sea side which apparently has bigger waves and is "colder" water than the Gulf of Thailand but I honestly thought it was perfect.
We flew into Phuket on Tuesday afternoon and had plans to go straight to the Phi Phi Islands but when I booked our hotel on Phi Phi the booking agent told me that the last ferry left at 2 and seeing as our flight got in at 1:40 it wouldn't be possible to make it. I booked the Bay View Resort which had a sister hotel in Phuket called the Tropical Resort so they let us stay there for the night and it ended up being the nicest hotel we stayed in the whole trip. Originally when booking with Bay View they told me they could arrange all our transportation for us and it would cost about 1950 baht per person or about $45. I had checked my email in bangkok at the Bangkok airways lounge computers and found out that our transportation wasn't confirmed because the hotel wanted credit card info. I had no way to email them back in time so I was just going to hope for the best in Phuket. When you arrive in phuket you are bombarded with taxi drivers and tourist travel companies wanting you to book tickets with them. I decided to book our ferry to the phi phi islands on a whim because the agent was right there and I didn't know if we had our original transportation or not since I hadn't paid for it yet. As it turns out there was a guy from the hotel waiting for us but after telling him we only needed the ride to and from the hotel and the ferry dock he didn't want to do it so we were left to take a taxi. This really made the hotel mad (they tried to get me to pay them anyway which I refused to do) BUT the good news is we saved about $60 total taking transportation separately. So Lesson learned if you go to phuket just book all your transportation when you get there because you will get a better deal at a more competitive rate.
I am glad we spent most of our time on the Phi Phi Island because the island itself is very easy to get around and it's more rustic and less urban than Phuket. There are no cars on the island so you can either walk where you are going or hire a long boat to take you wherever you want to go surrounding the island. There were actually some bungalows on private beaches that we saw that I think you can only take a long boat to and from but this alienates you from the main part of the island where all the shops and restaurants are. There are two Islands that make up Ko Phi Phi which are Phi Phi Leh and Phi Phi Don. Phi Phi Leh isn't inhabitable but for the people who live in the viking cave from where there is a thriving bird's nest soup industry. If you take a snorkling tour (about $15) you will visit viking cave, and Maya Bay which is where the 1995 movie "The Beach" was filmed.
(picture: us at maya bay) And another snorkling site in a cove off Phi Phi Leh. If you take the long boat tour however, it's not easy to get to Maya bay. The boat parks in the water and you have to swim to a ladder which has ropes tied to it to hold on to so you don't get pummeled into the rocks as the waves crash about. Then you have to climb up this wooden ladder and down another (one at a time) where you will be in a shallow lagoon which is filled with sharp rocks that really hurt your bare feet. Then you have to walk to the other side of the island (which isn't far) to Maya Bay. I noticed there were lots of speed boats on this side but no long boats. Also the beach itself was filled with tourists as the boat tours just keep pulling in. It's gorgeous but I don't know how it would be in the on season because we went during the low season and it was just insane.
(picture: on monkey beach) The last leg of our snorkling tour took us to monkey beach which is another popular tourist site which is actually on a beach off of Phi Phi Don that is only accessible by boat. All that live on the beach are monkeys and there are hundreds of banana peels and fruit rinds from tourists visiting and feeding them. We didn't have any food for them so they weren't interested in us but I did notice they really liked peanuts and dried fruit people had. So if you visit and want to have a lot of monkeys eating from your hand be sure to bring those items for them! It was so surreal being so close to the monkeys (I even stepped on one's tail!) and they are totally un-phased by humans.
The reason we didn't spend as much time at Ko Phi Phi as we would have liked (only 3 nights) was because of all the places this is the most expensive to stay. The Bay View was pretty rustic (the shower water smelled like sewage) but had free breakfast every morning and a great view of the ocean from our 4th level bungalow (quite a hike though up and down the hill everyday!) I think if you stay here you are in for spending a little more money than anywhere else because there simply aren't tons of places to stay. The whole island was pretty much wiped clean by the tsunami so they are still rebuilding and adding new hotels etc. The great thing about the island is they have the freshest seafood you can get and pretty great prices if you don't want lobster, and all the beach bars have fire shows at night. Beer is cheap but liquor is expensive unless you buy their famous buckets of alcohol (the best deal for your money but still about 500baht) and wine is about $30 a bottle so don't even bother. Going during the low season meant plenty of great deals as everyplace wants your money so bars and restaurants always have specials. You could get a pizza for 2 for about 250 baht or about $5. Fruit shakes are really cheap, about a dollar and very refreshing. Also note no place takes credit cards so you'll have to pay with baht the whole time. You can't drink the water but every place serves bottled and our hotel stocked the fridge with liters of free water every day for us so you really don't have to buy any when you are out.
(picture: at the viewpoint) On our last night we climbed to the viewpoint we had heard about and followed signs too. we were warned to go at sunrise or sunset because it's a tough uphill climb and it's simply too hot during the day to make the trek. So we went at sunset and caught the tail end of the sun by the time we reached the top dripping in sweat. There is a little snack bar on top and some toilets you can pay to use but that's about it which makes it really nice and peaceful (besides everyone else who hiked there) Probably the most interesting part is the hike itself because it winds you through houses where the locals live and up steep staircases and through the jungle. It's not lit up at all so make sure you leave before the sun actually goes down unless you have a flash light. From the view point you can see both bays and the town in the middle. It's really quite an amazing sight and I'm glad we didn't leave before seeing it because it's not well advertised how to get there. (we used a free map then followed signs)
One thing we learned quick about island life during the rainy season is that, well it rains every day nearly and at random times for random periods of time. The hotel had free umbrellas to use (I'm pretty sure they all do in the rooms because both our hotels in phuket had them as well) so even if you feel stupid carrying it during the day you will probably use it at some point. Everyone on the island was very friendly and eager to give you a good deal whether it be on sunglasses or food. I only wish we could have spent more time there.
Oh and make sure and take plenty of dramamine with you because the ferry ride is a bit rough, and be prepared to watch people be sick from the sea. Not a pleasant sight!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

One night in Bangkok and the World's your oyster




For our honeymoon I chose Thailand. Why Thailand people ask? Well first of all it's far away...a 12 hour plane ride to tokyo then a 5 hour flight to bangkok. Second it's exotic and completely out of our comfort zone. What could be more romantic than spending two weeks with your new husband where no one can speak your language? And Third I knew it would be the perfect way to show Chad just how much of a benefit free flights are. Especially when he was getting waited on hand and foot in business class watching his own personal tv and enjoying lay flat seats.

The majority of our vacation took place at the beaches which will be a separate post. First we had to discover Bangkok.
Since we were flying standby into Bangkok and had confirmed tickets traveling to Phuket I decided to give us a few days cushion in the city just in case something happened and we didn't get on the initial flight. As it turns out, a few days is all you need in the big city.

(picture: street food in bangkok)

We arrived in the city on a Saturday night which meant we had all day sunday and monday to explore the city. Since we were there on a weekend we decided to spend sunday at the Chatuchak weekend market. If you ever get a chance to go to bangkok and you find yourself there on a weekend I recommend going here. It's full of stall after stall of anything you could imagine. Tiny buddha statues, elephant carvings, yards and yards of silk, scarves, jeans, jackets, puppies, birds, furniture, and lots and lots of weird food. At first the smells were overwhelming. It's pretty much hot year round in Thailand but we came at the end of the rainy season so it was humid and hot and all the vendors cooking food everywhere just added to the heat hanging in the air. Of course nothing except the food really has a price on it so this is where we learned to haggle. Most vendors have calculators and they will show you a price in baht on there and then if you disagree you type in what you think you should pay. The general rule is the more you buy the better deal you get. I had luckily downloaded an app on my iphone that was a currency converter (highly recommend this) so I could know how much things were actually costing us. Something about foreign currency you spend it faster because it just seems like monopoly money. We had our confidence up at the end of the day so we took the public transportation sky train back to the station near our hotel on Silom road. This allowed us plenty of street walking time where we learned two things, don't make eye contact with anyone or they will try to sell you something and don't talk to the taxi drivers or tuk tuk's because they stop constantly for you trying to give you a ride. Pull out a map on the street and you are an instant target (nevermind being white with blond hair).

The next day we ventured to the Grand Palace which is pretty much the main attraction in bangkok and one of the few reasons I can think of to spend time in the city (unless you like big crowded cities).
(picture: detailing of one of the palaces)
In general Thais are very modest in their dress but this holds especially true at the Grand Palace. You must cover your legs and arms and if you don't they will make you wear a sarong, tshirt or pants over what you are wearing before you come in which you can borrow for free. The tshirts resemble painting smocks you'd wear as a kid and the pants are like hospital scrubs. Chad was fine but I had to borrow a shirt to wear over my dress because I had spaghetti straps and even though I had a wrap it wasn't enough. This is probably one of the most busy tourist areas (and we went in the "off" season) especially outside the palace which is lined with street vendors and taxis and tuk tuks. This is also the time to wear slip on shoes because you must take your shoes off when you go inside the rooms with the buddhas. Also there's no photography and you have to sit on your legs (feet are dirty and you can't point them at the buddha out of respect). The grounds of the grand palace are huge and it takes a few hours just to see everything. We ended up taking a tuk tuk from this palace to some smaller temples that were off the beaten path. We discovered that while tuk tuk's are cheap (about 2 dollars to take you around town) and a great experience they are also con artists. Our tuk tuk driver took us to the two temples we wanted to see and to a silk shop but then he took us to a travel agency and two gem places. The thing about the tuk tuks is they want you to buy something at these stores so they can get free gas. You end up in a high pressure sales environment where people basically follow you around these gem galleries trying to get you to buy something. We ended up buying some CZs (fake diamonds) for about $5 just to get out of the store which then funneled you into another store.
Since we didn't buy a tour package or anything at the first gem store and not a lot at the second gem place the tuk tuk driver was done with us and basically dropped us off in the middle of nowhere. We probably walked 5miles if not more back to the skytrain just to get back to our hotel.
Our last night we went to Khao San Road which is basically a hangout for all the backpackers and tourists in the area. I'm glad I didn't book our hotel there as I originally planned because with all the bars and restaurants and street vendors it is a bit loud but it was also a great experience. We got fish pedicures at this place that had giant fish tanks and you put your feet in and let the fish eat all the dead skin off your feet. They have a place like this in DC that costs probably $60 and we paid about $5 to do it. fish nibbling on your feet for beauty felt very strange but worth trying if you ever get the chance.

Overall Bangkok was an amazing place but I definitely wouldn't spend much time there again after already being there once. It's hot and crowded and you just get bothered by people trying to sell you things way too much. Of course we found the beaches to have the same type of sales people (they even come in the restaurants and shove bracelets and hats in your face wanting you to buy) but at least you have the beach to relax on. I was impressed with the amount of food and drinks readily available on the streets and how cheap everything was. The restaurants were a bit more pricey but there are plenty of bars and malls with air conditioning. Also the hotels here cost a little more but the taxis are usually metered so you know you aren't getting ripped off. Traffic is a nightmare here so taking a taxi usually costs a little more than budgeted because of this. One night we ended up getting out and walking back to our hotel because all the roads were blocked off by our hotel for the indian festival. There are plenty of street festivals to enjoy which means you won't get bored no matter how many days you are in town for.

Marry me and Fly for Free

This is where my story begins, on my wedding day, July 18th, 2009. The day I officially became a Magee. For the past 28 years of my life I was an Allen. It's a pretty awesome last name to have...you're at the start of the alphabet so I always got to sit in the first row in class which meant going first in oral presentations, getting tests firsts, having the best locker. It's also the last name I had when I started my job as a flight attendant. At the time I was living in Alabama where I was from and I had just gotten fired from my job as a copywriter. I needed rent money so of course I wasn't too picky when it came to finding my next job as long as it paid the bills. Scouring over the newspaper classified section I found an ad for an airline looking for flight attendants...and I thought, "why not this?" What really convinced me to take the job in the end was when my older brother told me, "if you become a flight attendant you'll get to travel all over the world and see things even people with the most money never see..."
Of course the flight benefits are why I decided to stay with the company after completing training so I packed my bags and moved to Colorado which is where I met my now husband.
They say you never really know someone until you travel with them and this is true. Since dating Chad and I have flown many flights together to Michigan (where he's from), Alabama, Florida, California, New York and our first big trip internationally together to Costa Rica. Not only do we have the stress of flying together but we are doing it on standby....yes we are traveling the world one open seat at a time. Standby means that you list for a flight and if there are seats open you get on...for free or a small mileage fee. Sometimes it's fabulous and sometimes you end up spending the night
in the airport. Before we were married Chad traveled on a buddy pass which basically meant he wasn't my equal in seniority status flying. So sometimes there would be a seat for one of us but not the other. True to everything we face in life, we never split up...we stay by each other until we can both get on. Half the time we don't even get to sit together but that's ok, we know we are both there heading to the same destination.
This is a blog that begins...not at the beginning of my traveling life, but the beginning of life as a traveling wife for me. I always said I'd do the job for 5 years and get out...but it's been 4 so far and I have no clue when this journey might end for me. I know it's not a career so I'm enjoying being a traveling wife as long as possible and the challenges it brings. I hope you find humor in this blog. It's not my first but hopefully it can be my main one from here on out....

here are a few pictures from our beautiful day that started it all: