For the past week Katy’s parents, Dave and Jeanette, and Katy’s sister and brother-in-law, Jen and Pat, have been “in town.” We like it when folks come “to town”. It mixes things up. I asked each of them to write 2 paragraphs for our blog. They wrote a page. I guess they’re just having that much fun.
I love my family. We have had such a great time when Clayton’s family has come to visit so I’ve been excited to share this experience with my family too. Back in August I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to because my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was a difficult time and being far away only made it harder. Throughout the past six months I debated going home to support and help my mom, but every time I asked her or my dad about it they both insisted I should stay out here. Fast forward six months and my mom is post radiation, in remission, and sitting with me on a beach in Thailand. They have been beyond excited about this trip and I probably should apologize to their friends who have heard quite a bit about our adventures 🙂 I have always been very close to my family and this trip has been the longest I have been away so needless to say, I’m happy they’re here.
A few snippets:
After meeting at the airport we headed for the Bangkok Airlink Tram. We approached the ticket window. 35 Baht ($1) a person. Clayton walks up to pay and my dad whips out his new wad of Thai cash and hands Clayton a 20 thinking it was like a $20 bill back home. Clayton and I just start laughing. Clayton letting everyone in on the joke says, “Good of you to pay for 2/3rds of your ticket Dave, but I got this.”
Walking through the Sunday Street market Jen saw a row of chairs and a bunch of Thai women standing around. Her eyes lit up like Christmas morning when she realized these ladies are willing to take $2 in exchange for a foot massage. “If only I had this on my street back home…” She muttered before dozing off during massage #2.
At the Elephant Nature Park we walked along a river. Four of the five elephants were ahead of us and out of nowhere Marigold, a wily and spry elephant, comes trotting up next to Pat. She practically wrapped her trunk around his upper body and coyly tried to push him in the river. Pat started laughing and ran to get out of the way but Marigold kept playing all day. There aren’t many things that can bully Pat, but Marigold is one of them.
I’m on elephant writing duty, cause I’m the elephant lover. Katy heard about an elephant park where you get a lot of face to face time with the elephants. After some research we booked a tour with the Elephant Nature Park. Lek, the owner, has made it her mission to rescue elephants from being abused, begging on the streets, illegal logging, etc. She currently has 30+ elephants and offers tours where you can see the elephants be themselves – wild and free.
We had an hour ride up into the mountains where we met up with our tour guide “Mine”. After a safety briefing and getting food bags the elephants came walking up. There were 2 groups. The first had the 2 older elephants that didn’t like anyone else. Once they were off, the group of 5 came by. We got to go out and start feeding them watermelon and pumpkin. There was a 4 year old baby in the group named “Boy”. He had quite the personality and was very rambunctious. We walked with them to a field where we fed them sugar cane, bananas and wheat bread. They would toss the sugar cane aside in favor of the bananas until the bananas were all gone. Then the sugar cane was okay. Here we also learned about the history of some of our elephants. Marigold lived in an illegal logging camp. The owner of the park bought her for $3,000, her hips were dislocated and she had a broken leg. They showed us pictures of her malnourished and you could see her ribs all the way down her back. She had been here for 9 months and was happy to be free again.
From the field we took a walk with our elephants across the river to a trail through the jungle. It went around the back of the Elephant Nature Park. We hiked up the mountain to a tree house for a lunch of vegetarian dishes, fried foods, and fruit. From the tree house we looked over the park and could see the 30 other elephants there. It was so cool to be sitting, eating and then hear the elephants talk to each other. We hiked back down and walked with our group to the river. The elephants know that when you have a feed bag there is food for them. The will speed up and start using their trunks to feel around you and get you to give them a banana or ten. Their trunks are so powerful they can really push you around. All the elephants would follow you until you had no more bananas. It was funny to watch all the guys – Pat especially – get pushed around by these animals that just wanted a banana. It was surprising to learn elephants eat for 18 hours a day then sleep the rest of it. If they have tusks they will learn to sleep standing up to keep their tusks in perfect condition.
We got back to the river and we gave the elephants a bath. Basically you take a bucket, fill it up and splash them with water. Sounds crazy but was really fun and the elephants seemed to really enjoy it. The baby elephant then knew it was his turn to play in the river. He got down and rolled around and splashed all over. He looked so happy. We said goodbye to the elephants and headed out for white water rafting. It was more like pinball down the river. Most of the time the river was knee deep. And a lot of times they told us to “shake, shake!!” meaning jump up and down to dislodge the raft from some rock. We ended back up at the elephant nature park and met a few more elephants. It really was a very cool day. Being up close with these amazing creatures really was something that was unforgettable.
Throughout our travels here in Thailand I have been really intrigued by the driving and traffic. At first it seems chaotic and out of control, people dart between and around each other. Some vehicles move slowly, some way too fast. We experienced this first hand when we rented some scooters and scooted up the mountain into Doi Suthep National Park. It was amazing. After some initial nerves we soon fell into the flow of traffic, moving, dodging, and weaving through cars, buses, and fellow scooter riders. We had so much fun.
As I thought about it, I found it interesting how chaotic traffic with limited rules worked itself out. It’s commonplace on the roads here in SE Asia, but it’s also a great metaphor for life. Know where you want to end up, have a general idea what direction to take and although it might look crazy from the outset, once you’re in the thick of it things will be fine and everything will work out.
What a great idea!!! Let’s go to Thailand to meet up with Katy & Clayton!!
I was a little hesitant at first because I have traveled to foreign lands before and let’s just say – the local cuisine and I have not gotten along very well – I lose every time. Not Europe or the Caribbean but places like Mexico and Egypt – what some may call third world. So, what to expect in Thailand? I had been reading all about K&C traveling through the first 26 countries and eating their way through warm shower hosts, markets, family gatherings where they suddenly become part of the family, and of course the vendors along the way eking out a living by turning fresh fruits and vegetables into pure deliciousness.
We landed in Bangkok after 24 hours of flying and were delighted to see K&C waiting at the airport for us!! They led us to the subway and we took a 15 minute ride to the stop nearest to our hotel. “It’s just .8 miles away” one of them said so we set off with our “carry-ons” in tow and walked and walked to reach our destination. Along the way we passed dozens – maybe hundreds – of street vendors cooking up the most delicious smelling delights you can imagine. Spices you have never seen or smelled before being cooked as we walked by. Because it was so late and were fed on every flight, we got to the hotel and just collapsed.
The next morning the plan was to head to the Temple of the Emerald Buddah – Wat Phra Kaew and after visiting the temple we headed along the Chao Phraya River and found a street vendor making Thai Soup along with BBQ Chicken. We all dove right in and kept ordering more and more until I was watching a young Thai woman filling plastic bags with ice, dumping in different ingredients and closing them with a rubber band. Well, we had to have one of those – no maybe two or three. It was a delicious fruit punch. Then, the grazing started in a way I haven’t seen …. ever. Fried dough with pork something inside, fried chichen, spring rolls, coconut milk soups, sticky rice with mango, crepes like fried bananas with sweetened condensed milk, pad thai, pork skewers, corn on the cob, rice and beans cooked in bamboo stock and of course the smoothie drinks – banana, strawberry, pineapple, papaya, watermelon and of course mango – at least one mango smoothie for every one of the other types. And, you just keep ordering more because they are so delicious and, they are only 30 Baht which is the equivalent of $1. The food is sooo good and it is sooo cheap. We stopped at a roadside “restaurant” in Chiang Mai and we delicious dinner including several additional plates to try because “they’re only $2”. The six of us rolled out of that place stuffed to the gills for a total of $30 – unbelievable.
We also hit the night market in Chiang Mai and it was an unbelievable sight – miles of street vendors hawking their wares and others making delicious food. We started at one end and criss-crossed our way throught the sea of humanity buying things, eating more things (wow, those banana/Orieo sundays were amazing), getting foot massages, eating more things and then we looked up an Patrick was gone. We were pretty sure he hadn’t been abducted but we set off on a full court press of a search and came up empty-handed. I figured he had gotten diestracted by some of the amazing and beautiful crafts and wares but I offered to head back to the hotel in search of him. Before I left I took a video from the center of a crossroads of the market showing a 360 degree view of the escitement / hysteria happening in every direction. When I found him his story – and he’s sticking to it – was that we had ditched him while he was watching a Thai gentleman crafting a motorcycle helmet fashioned after the alien in Predator – complete with the face plate and dreadlocks coming out the back.
If it’s not the night market it’s the floating market or the flower market or the underground market or….. you get the picture… a market for every time of the day and week with millions of people eagar to sell you whatever it is you need – or don’t. Bangkok and Chiang Mai have been an amazing adventure and we’re sure to have more as the week comes to a close in the beautiful area of Phuket.
It’s a long way from eating in shifts, one child (who shall remain nameless) having thrown a fit because her food didn’t come first, won’t be consoled. Even when her food comes, she’s still too insulted to stop howling. So out to the car goes one parent while the other wolfs down food sitting with the other two model children only to switch so the other parent can eat. Oh and did I mention? Food is plain, not touching, mac and cheese cuisine usually half on the floor when the meal is over. Fast forward 25 years to Thailand to a modern kitchen complete with knives (whoa) with your kids trying to decide whether to make minced pork with holy basil or prawns in tamarind sauce. Who knew the payoff would be priceless?
Our Thai cooking school started off at the local market. We learned about Thai cooking staples: shrimp paste, oyster sauce, cane paste, fish sauce, palm oil, coconut cream (soup 25%, curry 50%, dessert 100% cream respectively), red and green chilies and the most amazing varieties of herbs and vegetables. Dave carries the fresh cracked coconuts and raw eggs tied in the customary plastic bag with rubber band. Apple, our instructor, jokes: 20 baht each broken egg!
After removing our shoes and donning aprons, we start with pad thai and drunken noodle. We speculate: how long before we actually get to eat? Food prep hasn’t been a factor at the street vendors. Chop, chop, smash, smash, how hot you like it? Apple doles out the appropriate number of “mouse shit” peppers (very small….apparently when they dry….you get the visual). They are hot little suckers! The pad thai is the big winner.
Then it’s on to chicken coconut milk soup and hot and sour roasted chicken soup. Then appetizers of green papaya salad with peanuts and savory minced chicken lap and spring rolls. Yum! All clear winners. The second and third round is dead even.
We prep dessert next. Oh wow. We each take 1 minute turns milking the coconut in a cheesecloth to produce the tasty milk/cream used in everything. Apple says its not eaten by its self, only used as an ingredient. Sampling the leftover milk, we concur. Clayton and Patrick each spend 5 minutes at the wok toasting coconut all for the garnish on the black sticky rice pudding. Dave and Jen carefully fold tiny bananas sliced lengthwise in a savory batter, easily broken while sliding into the hot palm oil. Katy and I prep sticky rice with mango, pretty easy once you get the special rice, soak it 6 hours and cook it in a bamboo steamer. We make sweetened condensed coconut cream and fold in the rice. Now the hardest part. The curries, red, green and Penang, require a mortar and pestle and a great deal of muscle. The smells are heavenly. Once the spices are made into a paste, it’s over to the wok. Oil is added to the paste and cooked. Then a little coconut cream. Stir, stir, stir over high heat, slowly adding more coconut cream between stirring constantly. Then reduce heat and simmer. The stir-fry was straight forward with the secret in the sauces. The minced pork with holy basil was the clear winner.
We sat down to dine on our last two entrees and dessert family style some of us using chopsticks, passing plates and judgement. When did these babies become adventurous, spicy-loving foodies? It’s one of those life moments that you know you will remember forever. We start to slow down and Apples offers to pack up the leftovers. She doesn’t realize Clayton’s just waiting to see what is left over. Then it’s gone.
In the course of five hours, these are our takeaways: 1. You have time to work up an appetite between courses with all the chopping, smashing, grinding, milking and cooking. 2. We are glad we didn’t have to do dishes, there were a billion. 3. Next time we get Thai takeout, we will appreciate it more.
All those years ago the only Thai things in my vision were bows and shoelaces and it was priceless then too. You never know when life is going to throw you a curve ball and I’ve had a doozy this past year with breast cancer. My takeaway is this: most of life is hard work, routine, keep your nose to the grindstone, dirty diapers kind of stuff. It’s not fun or glamorous but it affords us the most amazing, moments of euphoric joy. The amazing taste of Thailand with my family was one of those moments of pure joy!