Volunteering at the Elephant Nature Park

We spent our last day in Chiang Mai feeding, walking, bathing and playing with six elephants at the Elephant Nature Park.

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It was a bit like a dream. I kept looking at the elephants, especially the larger ones, in awe half expecting to wake up or find the fence that was separating us. But I wasn’t sleeping and there was no fence. I was placing cucumbers and bananas in their trunks, petting the spiky hair on their heads and walking next to their enormous feet.

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Our herd included six elephants, two mamas, two younger elephants including a 5-year-old “nanny” who was adopted by one of the families when her mother died and two babies, a 1-year-old and a 9-month-old. The 5-year-old was hilarious and protective of the babies. She was probably my favorite.

This is how an elephant gets down a steep hill.
This is how an elephant gets down a steep hill.

The main park was booked up by the time we got around to reserving our spot so we booked their newest program called Elephant Freedom. The organization took over this camp where the elephants were previously being abused and broken in order to provide shows and rides to tourists. Now, the camp is rehabilitating the elephants here and educating the locals about why they shouldn’t be treating the elephants so poorly. We even saw a nearby camp riding elephants, which our guide said the park is hoping to purchase as well. From what I saw, this organization is doing a great thing and I had so much fun with these amazing creatures.

James and I tend to spend more time talking to our guides than most and it paid off big time at the park. Goy took us to see the site’s 2-week-old elephant, Play, who is secluded with her mother until she’s big enough to join the herd. She’s precious. I wanted to stick her in my suitcase and bring her home. At the main park there are too many people to do things like this and we had her all to ourselves for about 10-15 minutes.

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There were about 20 other tourists with us that day, which felt a bit crowded at first. I only fed the animals a couple of times that morning but because of that I took the time to step back and take some of my favorite photos of the day, which I probably would have missed if I had stayed at the feeding.

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The highlight of the day was a 15 minute stint when the elephants were just roaming in the jungle and the other tourists were sort of over it, sitting on a hillside nearby talking to one another. I stood alone and then with James watching them in peace and taking photos. It was magical. Patience does pay off, as it turns out.

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This is absolutely one of my favorite days in Thailand and possibly of our trip so far.

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Happy coincidence in Chiang mai

Thailand has gone nothing like we thought it would, yet exactly how we should have expected – completely different than we imagined it would be. That seems to be the never ending, repeating theme of our year so far.

Our first 7 days in Koh Samui we weren’t able to do as much exploring as we would have liked due to poor weather, however, between dodging rain storms we were still able to visit several markets, enjoy the beach for an afternoon and explore a few of the temples the island had to offer.

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Afterwards we made our way further north to Koh Phangan. This was exactly what we were wanting when we decided to visit Thailand and go to the islands – pristine beaches, clear blue water and most importantly sunshine. We had plans to hike, kayak, snorkel and possibly even scuba dive…then Whitney got sick and plans got thwarted again. Although once again didn’t get to follow through with plans as anticipated, the trip was not a bust by any means as Whit spent several days laying on the beach and I enjoyed some time swimming, reading and laying around as well.

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On the most recent portion of our trip we headed further north inland to Chiang Mai. This city has come highly recommended by multiple people. Coincidentally our first weekend here couldn’t have been at a better time as we arrived to discover their annual Flower Festival was kicking off. As Chiang Mai is called the Rose of the North, they hold a flower festival every year. This one appeared to be more special as Thailand is currently in a state of mourning for their recently deceased King and the floats were almost entirely dedicated to his memory. We had grand plans to take a cooking class, go hiking, visit an Elephant Sanctuary and that was just for starters. Then wouldn’t you know it, I got sick the morning we were on our way to the cooking class. Whitney was able to continue as I caught an Uber back to our apartment. Her pictures and description of the class made me jealous not to have gone, but I was out of commission for the next two and a half days.

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Finally, we are both feeling well and ready to enjoy our remaining 8 days in Thailand. We have scheduled the day at the Elephant Sanctuary and are hoping to hire a driver for a day to explore Chiang Rai and the surrounding area before we head to Bangkok for our last few days.

Even though things haven’t gone as anticipated, Thailand has still been quite the adventure.

The sweeter side of Thai food

Despite a little bump in the edible road last week, Thailand’s food is changing my perspective for the better.

I like Thai dishes. I like pad thai, fried rice, curry, coconut milk soup, mango sticky rice, banana fritters, thai ice cream and bananas in coconut milk just to name a few. I like them all, but what I love is watching locals prep, cook and stage these dishes.

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I love meandering street markets and watching the locals slave meticulously over each dish as if it were a piece of art — and often it is. I’ve been memorized by markets and vendors for weeks and Monday I got a hands on lesson in the culture behind this incredible food.

At an all-day cooking class on a farm outside of Chiang Mai, a kind, passionate, joyous, energetic and hilarious Thai woman taught me about the art behind these scrumptious dishes. (Shout out to Garnet at Thai Farm Cooking School. I paid full price for my class today so this is a truly honest and unbias commentary.)

Thank you Garnet for a magical day!

I felt connected to my food, to the food I’ve been eating in Asia and to the lovely people making it. It was refreshing to smash fresh garlic chive in my hands before smelling and tasting an incredible herb I’d just picked out of the ground. I can’t wait to get home and attempt to recreate some of my favorite recipes for friends and family. But as a little teaser I’ll leave a few delectable photos likely to leave you drooling for your own Thai cooking experience.

Fresh ingredients for a spicy papaya salad.
Fresh ingredients for a spicy papaya salad.
Garnet shows us the oil oozing from coconut at the morning market.
Garnet shows us the oil oozing from coconut at the morning market.
Coconut milk soup with chicken, my personal favorite dish of the day.
My coconut milk soup with chicken, my personal favorite dish of the day.
Garnet shows us how to properly roll a spring roll.
Garnet shows us how to properly roll a spring roll.
My cutting board with fresh basil leaves.
My cutting board with fresh basil leaves.
Thank you Garnet for an awesome experience.
Garnet working on some spring roll stuffing.
Up close and personal with my green curry.
Up close and personal with my green curry.
My meal: cashew chicken with white rice and green curry.
My meal: cashew chicken with white rice and green curry.

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Our beautifully staged prep trays.
Our beautifully staged prep trays.
Pea eggplant from the morning market.
Pea eggplant from the morning market.
Papaya salad.
Papaya salad.
My spring rolls.
My spring rolls and dipping sauce.
Garnet showing off her skills.
Garnet showing off her skills.
Green curry made and plated by me.
Green curry made and plated by me.
Blue coconut milk dyed with a flower picked at the farm mixed with palm sugar to mix with the mango sticky rice.
Blue coconut milk with palm sugar dyed with a flowers from the farm to coat the sticky rice.
Garnet strains the blue syrup while we all try to get the shot.
Garnet strains the blue syrup while we all try to get the shot.
Mango with blue sticky rice and coconut cream.
And the final product, mango with blue sticky rice and coconut cream.

Travel amnesia

Less than two weeks into our Thailand adventure, I’m starting to recuperate from my latest case of travel amnesia.

Besides a mean dose of Montezuma’s revenge that has knocked me down a few pegs this week, what’s worse is the familiar realization that travel is uncomfortable.

Stomach problems related to foreign food is nothing new — though Thailand is vying for the worst travel bug of my life just behind an excruciating 3-day bus ride from Mexico to Oklahoma in high school. I learned in my early travel days that my body prefers routine and will retaliate when I detour from my normal habits. As it turns out, a year of traveling doesn’t exactly lend itself to routine.

I’m sunburnt, not sleeping well on thin springy mattresses, slightly grossed out by constantly wet bathroom floors, limping slightly from blisters on my feet and weak from the latest attack on my digestive system. So why do I keep doing this? Travel amnesia.

All it takes is one daydream of an exotic location, jagged mountains, a foreign culture, a perfect sunset, historical sites that send chills up my spine or white-sand beaches with crystal clear water to send me into a deep spiral that ends with me dragging my overloaded luggage into the unknown.

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The pain, discomfort and exhaustion quickly fades at the thought of new adventures.

This is definitely not the year of least resistance so far, but there must be something to this if I keep drawing the same conclusion — it’s worth it.

What is your least favorite part of traveling? Leave your comment below. 

Thailand or bust

We have recently taken our first adventure to Asia and decided to come to Thailand. This was a last minute, spur of the moment decision and so far has not been a disappointment.

After our 55-hour adventure getting to the island of Ko Samui we have been welcomed with mostly gloomy weather. However, that hasn’t stopped us from exploring the island and all that it has to offer.

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One of our favorite things to do is checking out the different night markets around the island. Think of this as a cross between the state fair and a flea market. Trinkets are cheap and food is cheaper.

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If you are wanting to visit somewhere out of your comfort zone and on a budget, I highly recommend checking out Thailand. We are currently posted up in an Airbnb on the beach for $20/night. We are living like kings eating and drinking our way around the island, renting motorbikes and indulging in all the ice cream and desserts we could want and on our worst day we have spent $53 USD and that included buying sunglasses and getting stuck in a restaurant all afternoon in the rain. Most days we are spending in the mid $20s. If you really tried, I think it would be possible to live on $20-$30/day (including hotel) and be pretty comfortable with a full belly.

Have you been to Thailand and if so what are your favorite hot spots?

First impressions

It took us about 55 hours via plane, train, bus, taxi and ferry but we finally arrived at our first destination in Thailand, Koh Samui.

We’ve been on the island for about three days now and from the moment I stepped foot off the boat everything has been dripping with vivid color.

It’s like Disneyland for the senses.

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Temples, food, people, the sea… everything is colorful.

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The texture of the sand changes from one beach to the next, from rough brown sugar littered with chunks of broken shells to smooth tiny particles massaging your toes. The scent of freshly made Thai food wafts through the air at the Chaweng night market. And the tastes may be my favorite so far.

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We’re living well on about $45 U.S. dollars a day (Go Thailand!) and have eaten four pad thais, two spring rolls, two fried rice dishes and bananas soaked in coconut milk, which I’ll be having again soon. Yum.

Most of our days are spent moseying around on foot gawking at delicious foods, scenic views and people watching.

Yesterday, we rented a moped so we could explore some of the beaches and markets across the island. Stay tuned for more on that.

For now, I’ll let the colorful island speak for itself. Here are a few of my favorites from our first few days. Enjoy.

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One way ticket

This week I will cross off two more items on my bucket list and add another continent to the notches on my travel belt.

We are about to board a plane to Thailand with two carryons and two one-way tickets. We don’t know when we’ll be back or even where we’re going while we’re gone.

Why? Why not.

This impromptu trip definitely tops the list of the craziest things I’ve done.

I’ve been to so many places already and had countless life-changing experiences, but preparing for a new continent has given me a fresh perspective on travel. Nearly nine years ago I took my first trip overseas and today as we drive to the airport — where 21 hours of flying, a 10-hour train ride and a ferry boat await us — the butterflies returned. I’m anxious and excited and nervous and invigorated. In some ways I feel like I’m leaving the country for the first time even though Thailand will be my 11th country outside of the U.S.  I have no idea what to expect, but I’m certain this experience will be life-altering.

Have you been to Asia? We’d love some recommendations. Comment below with your favorite spots. 

 

 

Our vintage camper journey comes to an end

In October, we told you about our new camper and why we had to let go of the Tin Can, despite my completely irrational love for that aluminum headache.

This week we said goodbye to the Silver Streak forever. Stefan and Wendy from New York are giving her a new home and new life, which is what we hoped would happen to the camper when we sold it.

In honor of the Tin Can, here is a look back at our 6 months together, courtesy a piece I wrote for Rvwest.com.

Beaming with pride, I smiled and gestured to the couple waving at us as they drove by on Highway 288 outside of Richmond, Virginia.

Obviously, they were admiring the vintage camper my husband and I had been toting across the United States for the past two weeks.

It wasn’t until a second car approached honking and filled with flailing passengers that I glanced in the side mirror to see smoke billowing from our aluminum beauty.

Read the rest here.

And stay tuned for a big announcement on our next adventure. We’ve had a slight change in plans…