Sunday, November 30, 2008

Trip in Review: Part 2A- Southeast Asia

After one night in Bangkok, literally, we headed off to Chaing Mai, where Nong, our new best friend, met us at the airport. Nong is the wife of Seth, our HFH team leader. Nong currently lives in Lampang, Thailand but she's gearing up for a move to the US. Kris and I were so lucky to not only have the best tour guide we could ask for, but meet someone as kind and funny as Nong.

Chaing Mai is full of beautiful mountains, ornate temples and friendly people. Nong took us into the mountains to see some Hmong villages.

The Chaing Mai night market was full of excitement. Kris and I got caught up in a shopping/bargaining frenzy, then were introduced to Rotee the delicious pancake/funnel cake dessert, and we all rounded out the evening with a run-in with an elephant.

One of the many great things about traveling with Nong in Thailand, was her interest and knowledge of Buddhism. We went to a slew of Temples and Nong was able to tell us about the details and symbolism behind everything. At one Temple, there were slates that, for a small donation, you could write a message on, and then make a wish for one of the families that attend that Temple. Here's Kris and I making our wishes.

The highlight of our time with Nong, was the visit to her family's house. Nong's parents don't speak much English but it didn't really matter. We had a great time visiting with them, sharing in the delicious meal they cooked up, and getting to know each other without all that pesky language stuff. Here I am with Nong, her sister Mai, and her parents.

After Nong's whole family sent us off at the bus station, Kris and I headed back to Bangkok. We did an afternoon of touristy stuff in Bangkok and it because of gentlemen like this one, that I rank people watching among my favorite activities.

Just when I felt out of my element and overwhelmed with cultural differences, I'd spot a 7-11 and remember that the world is sometimes smaller than I think. It was at the Bangkok bus station (which is bigger and brighter than I could have ever imagined a bus station to be) that we spotted the one and only Dunkin Donuts of the trip. Kris and I have great friends, Andrew and Danny, who once drove overnight from San Francisco to Eugene, Oregon just to get some Dunkin Donuts for their staff meeting. This one's for you, guys!

And in the "it's impossible to resist taking a picture of this" category...

From Bangkok, we took the overnight bus to Khao Lak (we got good at those overnight buses. Not too shabby an experience especially when they didn't blast Chinese movies with Thai subtitles). Khao Lak is home of the Tsumani Volunteer Center, and what quickly turned into one of the best towns I've ever visited. There's more details on our experiences in Khao Lak in earlier posts but I'll just summarize by saying it was a magical two weeks. We met such amazing people, both locals and volunteers, and really felt like part of the community. Plus, it's a beach town and I can't emphasis enough how beautiful the beaches in Thailand are.

Some highlights of Khao Lak...

Kids from the English Camp we taught:

The Volunteer party where we all dressed in traditional Thai clothes:

John, Goi and Ken at the Volunteer party. Ken now runs Volunteer Teacher Thailand, an off shoot of the Tsunami Volunteer Center. If you have even the slightest hankering to travel to Thailand and help out a great cause, contact Ken. He's a great guy and is doing excellent work. You will not regret it.

Kris coloring with the kids at Home and Life orphanage:

David and I attempting to teach the kids animals in English. THIS IS A BEAR! (I recommend checking out the Home and Life blog. It's a really well-run, homey atmosphere, and Root and Rasa who run Home and Life are a great inspiration. There's a wish list on their blog if you're in the mood to send holiday packages overseas!)

And here's Kris and I with some of our volunteer pals, taking part in one of John's photo shoots. John, also a volunteer, works on a number of websites in Khao Lak. John is yet another amazing guy we were so lucky to get to know. His art knows no bounds. In order to take this picture, he stook on a chair in the middle of the street.

While in Khao Lak, John took Sophie, David, Kris and I on an outing to Phangna Bay, home of "James Bond Island." Apparently they filmed a scene there for one of those old Bond movies (I'm clueless on the Bond front). Here's John and Kris with Bao, our boat driver.

On the way back, we stopped at a Muslim fishing village. These folks have an entire village on stilts. Fascinating stuff.

Another outing involved a stop at a Temple that was built out of a boat.

After our volunteer stint in Khao Lak finished, Kris, Sophie (a fantastic gal from England who also volunteered in Khao Lak) and I spent a weird and fun night in Panang (Ladyboy central).

From there, we headed out to Railey, where we watched the best sunset ever. That's right. Ever.

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