Sunday, November 30, 2008


Massages for me have always been a luxury. I like them. They make me feel special. Sometimes I feel so relaxed I fall asleep. Once, back in Cincinnati, I had one where steam was pumped into a special covered bed so my body was all warm before the masseuse started to work on me.


When I got to Asia (starting with India), I knew they would be affordable. lisa's research mentioned they would be affordable enough to do daily. The following are my massages:

Tibetan Massage in McLeod Ganj – A practitioner of Tibetan Massage “beat” me up. My back was worked on for about forty forty minutes of the hour. He went deep. Later I heard this is good but don't get it done daily because it can cause injury to muscle tissue. Felt good. He used two bowls placed on my chest and lower abdomen which were tapped to cause a vibration to go through my muscles – this was supposed to center me. The cleanliness of the place was a concern, however, as I laid my head on the table (no massage tables with head rests so far in Asia. My mouth and nose were against a blanket that probably carried the germs of the last person here. All in all a good experience. Cost: 450 rupees or $9.00 US

Ayurvedic Oil Massage in Jaipur – not hard on the body at all. Much nicer studio than up north. The person who picked me up at the hotel also gave the massage; multi tasker! A light fast massage using ayurvedic oils heated in a pan at the side of the bed. His hands went really fast from my chest to my feet sometimes making a figure eight on my stomach to switch hands. His clean off at the end consisted of placing a towel in boiling water, wringing it out and draping it over me before cleaning the oil off. Different but nice and very relaxing. Not to be outdone, he was good at honking his horn on the drive back to the hotel. Cost: 500 rupees or $9.00 US

Thai Massage in Chiang Mai – a recommendation from Eric at our hotel led me to Saaji, a parlor where I met Kom Kom. She twisted me every way my body did NOT want to go. In stretching my legs, I thought my knee caps would pop out. I was in a room with other people so it wasn't private. (Thai massage is done with clothing on) No problem. When I would grimace and go OW!, she would simply giggle and say “relax”. She crawled up on the platform, used her knees, elbows and forearms to provide pressure to certain muscles. At the end, she delivered me a cup of tea and sat there smiling, not able to say anything in English and me knowing no Thai except: “Kop Kun Krop” (Thank you). Very nice. I recovered a day later. Cost: 160 Baht or $4.75 US

I will continue to get more in Laos and China. It's too bad that we can't afford to continue this when we get home. The girls had Thai massages and foot massages. What will I say when they want a massage in Cincinnati? The answer will be “Do you want it for your birthday”.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


Most of the people following this blog know that lisa and I like to cook...and we like to eat! Thai food is one of our favorites and we visit our local Thai establishments on a regular basis. lisa also likes to bake, often with the girls, and they enjoy the process as well as the result. So we can be considered a family that LOVES food. We could be called “foodies,” but that would be sooooo pretentious.

We attempted to take an Italian cooking class when we arrived in Tuscany, but the prices were at least $150 for each of us. Hello!!!!! I would like to make a cannoli but I don't want to buy the factory. Needless to say, we passed. C'est la vie (oops French vs. Italian).

When we arrived in Thailand we started to look for a cooking class. Pamphlets abounded at our Chiang Mai hotel's “tourist information” rack. The “City Life” magazine of Chiang Mai had dozens of cooking schools listed as well; it is one of the things people do when they visit Southeast Asia. We picked Baan Thai because it was recommended by Lonely Planet and TripAdvisor. We joined two other gentlemen, Ulu and Panno from Maui. We (the collective Ohio-Hawaii connection) got to choose the four dishes that we were to make from the cookbook collection presented to us. We chose:

Pad Thai – Standard Thai noodle dish. Most of the ingredients were arranged for us and we finished off the chopping of the ingredients. Si and Av had surprisingly good knife skills especially since their knives were full size, not kiddy size. They also weren't intimidated by the tall flames coming out of the cooking stations.

Prawns in Red Curry Sauce – We prepared the red curry paste. I don't mind chopping, but asking of teacher Nuk “is this fine enough” five times and each answer was “no, chop some more” got a bit old. The ingredients were then placed in a large stone mortar and pestle and ground some more. We found out later that the better the prep the better the dish. Like life.

Chicken in Coconut Milk Soup – We made the coconut milk fresh vs. coming out of a can. Very nice consistency. This is a recipe where the vegetables are cut a bit and mostly left whole. I had this dish two nights before in a nice restaurant and wondered why they had not cooked some of the items as I couldn't chew them. These inedibles turned out to be kafir lime leaves, galong (looked to be in the ginger family) and lemon grass. You're not supposed to eat these. Duh!! They forgot to give this big dumb Westerner lessons on how to eat Thai food.

Sticky Rice with Mango– The girls favorite. Sticky rice is a type of rice. It isn't sticky because of the cooking process. To the cooked rice we added concentrated coconut milk and palm sugar and later VERY fresh mangoes. Very nice sweet spice rice.

When you take a cooking class you don't need to make dinner reservations afterwards. Why??? Because you get to eat the food you prepare. Avocet did her best to eat some of each of the dishes including her “Tofu in Coconut Sauce” (red curry sauce w/o the curry). Siena had a bit of the prawn dish and more of the coconut milk soup. I enjoyed everything including the prawns. We were allowed to “dial back” the spiciness by reducing the amount of curry paste. All recipes were enjoyed by lisa except she was full after the first dish (Pad Thai). We tasted the efforts of Av and Si and found them equal in taste to the parental units. We left four hours later, happy with the learning and quite stuffed.

Oh, and the whole evening cost 700 Thai baht each or a total of $80.00 for all of us. Take that you Italians!!

Thursday, November 27, 2008


It's about 6:15 AM in the US and hopefully you are all still asleep. Here in Laos it's 6:15 PM and we will soon be sitting down to our non-turkey dinner. We won't miss the turkey, the sweet potatoes or even the pumpkin pie (which we can actually get here) but we will miss you, our friends. Please know that we are thinking of you today as you gather around the table with your family and friends and we wish you all a very Happy Thanksgiving.

With the recent bombings in India, and the violence and take over of the airport in Bangkok, we have received many inquiries into our safety. Thank you all for thinking of us. Fortunately we are safe and have had no problems at all. We were out of India before the bombings and never even near Mumbai and out of Thailand before things got bad there as well. We will be going back to Thailand in several weeks but hopefully by then, things will have settled down. If not, we will find an alternative way to move on to China.

On this Thanksgiving, we are thankful for our safety, our health and for our friends and family who have supported us during this journey.

love, lisa, Marty, Siena and Avocet

Sunday, November 23, 2008


I am not an adventurous person. Since I have taken a year of my life off to travel the world with my husband and two children, many of you may beg to differ. But when it comes to physical adventure, I have a pretty low threshold. So when Siena picked up a brochure for Flight of the Gibbon, A Rainforest Adventure, I did not put this activity high on my list of things I wanted to do while in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The problem is, we have a pretty democratic family. A vote of 3 to 1 meant I was going to have to don my helmet and harness and get up in the trees or else find a 7 hour spa package for myself. Now where did I put that list of spa telephone numbers?

"This treetop canopy ecotour offers an exhilarating opportunity to soar through a 1500 year old rain forest high above the forest floor." What a crock! This is nothing more than an excuse for thrill seekers to stretch their limits just one more time! You start off on a wood platform and then work your way through the rainforest on a system of treehouses, sky bridges, platforms and 2 km. of cables suspended over the rainforest basin. When the day is through, you have experienced 11 zip lines, 2 sky bridges and 3 repels down a tree. And you do this all in the company of 9 other people from all over the world and your two Thai guides.

I am pleased to report that we all made it safely to the ground in one piece and had a GREAT TIME!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Birthday Blog Part 2- The Elephant Nature Park

Two or three days after the spectacular birthday celebration at our hotel, we enjoyed our last big birthday present: The Elephant Nature Park. We had decided (even before we went to Thailand) that for our birthday we would go to an elephant camp. When we got to Chiang Mai, we started looking at which elephant camp to go to. At first, we were going to go to an elephant camp that was not the Elephant Nature Park. But then we discovered that they "cheated" us - that things we had been informed of by our travel agent were not true, so we decided to go to the Elephant Nature Park.

The Elephant Nature Park is an elephant camp, but you don't ride the elephants. Riding on a elephant can damage their spine or at least hurt them, and the Elephant Nature Park is totally against that. It is a place that rescues elephants that have been mistreated either by forced performing or working for a village. Elephants are considered livestock in Thailand and are often treated terribly when working. The elephants at the Elephant Nature Park are encouraged to live a normal life and forget their working traumas. It's a great place to interact with and learn about elephants and to know that you went somewhere where the elephants are treated well!!!

the incredible

It was a long ride out there but the time was passed by watching a movie on the dwindling elephant population of Thailand. We stopped once to load 2 truck fulls of Bananas for the elephants. Boy are those bananas heavy!!! 1 small innocent bag of bananas was about 15 pounds!!! At least we didn't have to unload the bananas once we got there!!! The first activity was feeding time. You pick up the bananas/corn and give it to the trunk of the elephant. Then the elephant eats it. Many of the elephants will eat both foods given to them except one; the leader of the babies army. When she is given corn, she will reluctantly eat it. When she sees bananas, she will drop the corn on the feeding platform. Then she will never set her trunk on corn again. It's amazing how picky they can be!!!

The next activity was bathing. The elephants love to be bathed but when you are done, they will cover themselves with dust again. They might as well be Chinchillas and take only dust baths. When it is bathing time, the elephants will run into the water to be bathed. Then you can splash water on them with your bucket or give them Thai massage!!! Or a regular massage with oil (water). The elephants will tend to lie down and have a hard time getting up again.

After this we watched a documentary on where some of the rescued elephants came from and what happens to them when they are trained to be docile. Since it was a little "scary", Siena and I retreated from the room on various occasions. Then, once again, feeding time. And then bathing time.

The Brilliant
The Best

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Chiang Mai is our Northern Thailand home for a two week stay. Though we arrived in Bangkok directly from Delhi, India, we stayed only long enough to catch our overnight train to Chiang Mai. We will later return to Bangkok in Mid-December to visit before moving on to China.

Chiang Mai, which means New City is anything but "new" as it is over 700 years old. It is Thailand's second largest city and while it doesn't have the glitz of Bangkok, it still has plenty to do and has all of the modern conveniences that Bangkok has to offer. We had a slow start to exploring Chiang Mai since we spent our first several days planning and then executing Avocet and Siena's 10th birthday party. We have been playing catch up ever since.

Thailand is know as the Land of Smiles. This could be because there is a dental clinic on every street. Since it's been about 7 months since we all had our 6 month dental check up, we took advantage of the Land of Smiles to have our teeth cleaned and polished. You can do this for 1/4 of the cost of what you would pay in the United States. If you need any extensive dental work done, the cost savings is HUGE!

Personal care services in Thailand don't start or stop at your teeth. We have all had manicures and pedicures at 90 Baht each ($2.70 US) and hour long foot massages for 200 Baht ($6.00 US). You can have an hour long Thai massage for only 160 Baht ($4.80 US) or if you're a traditionalist, you can have an oil massage for 230 Baht ($6.90 US). They have spa packages around here that can have you serviced from head to toe at 1/10 of what you have to pay in the US.

If shopping is your thing then you can shop till you drop at one of the many markets and night bazaars. Chiang Mai's night bazaar which goes on every night from 6:00 PM till midnight is famous world wide. If you don't find what you want there, try the Saturday Walking Street or the Sunday Walking Street where they close off streets to traffic and set up mile long bazaars where you can shop and eat till the early hours of the morning. These are not just for the tourists - we saw plenty of Thai people spending their Saturday night hanging out on the Walking Street.

We have visited some of Chiang Mai's many Wats (Buddhist Temples) but you need to be careful as you can easily get "Watted" out. Many of the Wats also offer a "Monk Chat" which gives you the opportunity to sit down with a Monk and learn about Buddhism while they practice their English. Getting past their heavy accent was challenging but we did have the opportunity to be "Enlightened"! We also visited a site where we could observe several of the Hill Tribes that live in the area.

If animals are your thing, you can go to Tiger Kingdom where you can interact with tigers up close and personal. Monkey School shows how they train monkeys to be coconut pickers as they are much more adept at climbing up coconut trees than humans. You also have your choice of many different Elephant Camps to visit (more about that later).

Thai is a very challenging language. We have mastered thank you (Kop Kun Ka for women and Kop Kun Krop for men) and that's about it. We have down the bowing thing with your hands in praying position except we haven't figured out what you do when your hands are full. Thais remove their shoes upon entering a home which we have also managed to get the hang of but it did seem a little weird having my teeth cleaned barefooted.

And of course Chiang Mai was where we were during Thailand's Loy Krathong Festival (see previous blog). I think this will always be one our highlights of this lovely country.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Loy Krathong Festival

Here in Thailand during the later part of October or the earlier part of November, they hold a large festival nation wide. The Loy Krathong (pronounced Loy Katong) festival marks the end of the monsoon season and is kinda like a festival of light. People light so many fire balloons and fireworks so that the sky looks like it's really on fire!!!

Okay, first of all, we didn't know when the festival was going to occur this year. So when we got here and we saw a large poster for it in Bangkok, we realized that we would be in Chiang Mai for the festival. We asked the lady at the front desk to tell us more about it and she told us that it was a three day celebration from November 11-13. She also told us a little bit about a certain ritual, the ritual of the floating lanterns (Kom Loy). We had seen them the first night here but we didn't know what they were. They are fire balloons that people light and send it into the sky. They wish for something while the balloon is going up. It's the same concept as a hot air balloon just smaller. The next day we found out about the boats. People make little boats called Krathong out of banana stalk, banana leaf and flowers such as marigolds, daisies and orchids. Then, during the festival they set it afloat (Loy) down the Mae Ping River with candles and incense lit. Some of the boats have their candles go out from being pushed out to the water so hard that they just get a dip into the water and lose their flame. People also make wishes for their Krathong. In Thai, Loy means "to float" and Krathong are the little boats set into the river. Through the whole festival, people light lanterns and small cookie-like candles in front of their homes. Fireworks and crackers also play a large part in the festivities.

Now, our festival itinerary.

On the first day of the festival, we had our Krathongs and matches and were heading to the river to light our boats and then watch a parade that was to go by. We delayed in putting our boats into the river and instead decided to light a Kom Loy first. They are truly huge!!! Many people get fireworks on their Kom Loy but we decided not to. The fire balloons are amazing!!! The Kom Loy we lit was a little scary but they are truly fun. I wish we could have lit more than just 2. Then our boats. We all set our boats into the water successfully and then watched the non-lit boats come down from further up the river. After that, we got some street food (safe to eat) and headed out. We then stumbled across a night market and then a Thai Dance contest so we watched that. Then we wanted to go down by the river again so we did and well, we never made it to the parade. But someone else told us that the parade the next night was even larger so we decided to head back and go to the parade the next day. The next day we headed out and we went directly to the parade. It was amazing!!! There were a lot of floats ornately decorated with lights and lotus flowers and people in amazingly beautiful costumes. There were also many fireworks and Kom Loy that night but we later discovered that there were more balloons in the sky the previous night. After the parade was over, we decided to walk down to the river to see the festivities. We got sidetracked in another night market and delayed ourselves. We finally made it to the river but only with enough time to light one last Kom Loy!!!

We keep saying that the Kom Loy would go over great in Clifton. The only thing that keeps us from buying some and starting a new fad at the lantern festival is that the fire department would call it a fire hazard!!!

Pictures (in order of appearance):
1. Many people lighting Kom Loy (fire balloons)
2. Our first Kom Loy!!! Up up and away!!!
3. Firework show!!!
4. All four of our Krathongs
5. My Krathong, the best of them all!!!
6. All the pretty Krathongs going down the river
7. A beautiful parade float
8. Another beautiful parade float
9. An example of the beautiful ladies of Thailand
10. Another parade float
11. And yet another parade float!!!

Sunday, November 16, 2008


What would you do if your 10th birthday were in Chiang Mai, Thailand where you are staying in a hotel, with no things to make a cake out of, and no friends to invite to your party? GO TO MOMMY AND DADDY!!!! They'll make it better won't they? Yes. Avocet and I both agree that we had a spectacular b-day when Mom and Dad planned it.

Two days before our birthday, we went out to a shopping area so that we could point out things that we liked to Mom and Dad and they would take it into consideration. We had no idea of what they were going to do for our tenth birthday.

The day of our birthday, Mom came into our room to take us downstairs to the lobby of the hotel. There we talked to our friends in Chile, Amy and Andrea and our friend in Cincinnati, Rachel. Surprise number one! Then Mom took us up to her room and we had a candlelight fancy breakfast banquet!!!! Surprise number two!

After breakfast we got dressed and ready to go out - to a spa!!! we later found out. Avocet and I got a manicure, pedicure, and a foot massage. Our tummies then ached for gelato so we got some at the nearest Italian restaurant. Sooner than later we went home to rest up for our next surprise!!!

Hours went by and soon we were back in Mom and Dad's room for dinner!!! We had a fancy dinner and then, surprise!!!! Mom and Dad brought out a birthday cake with ten candles!!! The cake was vanilla with strawberries and icing. It tasted home made!!! Mom and Dad said we had to close our eyes for the next surprise because it was presents!!

WOW!!!! We got BOMBARDED with presents. I got a fuzzy shawl with little puff balls on it, a Thai outfit, a elephant stuffed with tea leaves, a snake made out of rope, and money from my grandma!! Avocet also got an elephant tea pillow and fuzzy shawl but she also got a set of five tiny dolls and a shirt from Thailand. Our evening was topped off with another birthday call from Kristina, another good friend!!!!!

Well, as you can see we had a great birthday whether or not we were at home even though we wished that we had our friends with us. Our tenth birthday celebration is one that we will remember.

Saturday, November 15, 2008


When we are at home, I do the laundry for the household - maybe 2-3 loads per week. For me, that's 2-3 loads per week too many. In other words, I really don't like doing laundry. On the road we carry a lot less clothes so therefore there should be less laundry right? Not necessarily. You just have to wash the small amount of clothes that you have more frequently. Also, European washing machines are much smaller so you have to do 2 loads of laundry to equal what in the US was one load of laundry.

All through Europe, when we had apartments, we also had washing machines and were able to do laundry in our own apartments. But once we left Europe, washing machines were no longer available to us. I don't just mean that we didn't have a washing machine on the premises, I mean that we had no access to a washing machine at all. In Tanzania, India and now here in Thailand, you are in the lands where someone else does your laundry. Finally, I don't have to do laundry!

It sounds like heaven,no? It does until you have to face the fact - that your laundry is no longer in your control!!!! Will someone else wash your delicates as delicately as you do? What about that grease stain - will someone else take care to pretreat the clothes in order to get the stain out? Will my reds run all over my whites? And will they know what to wash inside out? And finally, will I get everything back that I turn in? As sick and tired as we may be of our several sets of clothes, they are the only clothes that we have!

Good news is, so far everything that we have turned in has come back. It's always nicely ironed, even the clothes that shouldn't be ironed (like our decaled One World One Trip T-shirts) and neatly packaged. Some stains come out, others are now part of our wardrobe. And I've discovered that as much as I don't like doing laundry, having someone else do it isn't perfect either.

Thursday, November 13, 2008


We surveyed the four participants of the One World One Trip team for their Top 10(plus two) of India and the results are in:

12. The Breakfast Banquet and Halloween Party (hosted by Avocet and Siena)
11. Shopping for souvenirs
10. The Tibetan Children's Village celebration and performances
9. Taj Mahal
8. All of the Temples we visited
7. Roadside safari: Elephants, camels, monkeys, goats & pigs on the streets
6. The food and drink of India and Tibet
5. Hiking in the Himalayan mountains and to Bhagsu Falls
4. All the sarees, punjabis and colorful fabrics
3. The Town of McLeod Ganj and it's people
2. Hotel Pearl Palace in Jaipur and it's staff


1. Leaving Delhi both the first and second time

Note: Results for this country's survey were tabulated by Siena

Wednesday, November 12, 2008


The Taj Mahal --- Could be the most beautiful building in the world --- built as a love memorial by a Mughal lord for his lovely Indian wife. It doesn't fail to impress regardless of seeing it in hundreds of pictures before. We got up early, around 6:00 AM, in order to see it in the early hours. After dressing, I went to the rooftop terrace where you were suppose to be able to see it. Too misty. Oh no, what if it's too yucky today? And we got the kids up at the crack of dawn for nothing!! We walked to the East Gate, bought our tickets (about $15.00 US each for lisa and I and free for the kids --- good deal compared to US and European site prices) and walked in. The first anticipated sight came into view – WOW!!!! It's big, it's white (white marble in its entirety), it's symmetrical, and has beautiful grounds. It's also shrouded in a mist until the sun burns it off and afterwards has the ever present Agra pollution as a background. As an architectural buff, this was a real treat. The use of curves, straight lines, minarets as “soldiers” guarding the queen, colorful jewels and the always present symmetry makes it great.

If there is one issue, it is that the white marble made it difficult to photograph with the mist as a background. In the post cards and books you see it with a blue sky. Those photos were made by professional photographers with special lenses and filters. What you see are our best “shots”.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Monkey Temple

We had heard about a temple called The Monkey Temple. When we got here to Jaipur, we made a priority to see it. The Monkey Temple's real name is Galat, a temple built for the Hindu Sun God, but since there are loads of monkeys there at dusk, it got the silly nickname of The Monkey Temple. We got a tuk-tuk out there and it was the most horrible ride we had ever had. We had an older driver, calm, gentle, a less crazy driver we thought, we guessed wrong. Zoom Zoom Zoom, he was the craziest driver we ever had!!! But back to the Monkey Temple. If you go, it is the most bizarre site in the world. Okay, first there are the animals. There are monkeys and cows which are everywhere. And then there is food. Animals + food = animal poop. And that's exactly what there is. Monkey poop pellets and cow pies are not the kind of thing you want to see at a holy site. Then, the women in their Saree's and Punjabi's and the men in typical western clothing. But they are all barefoot!!! Now remember those excretions I was telling you about? Bare feet + poop = a large mess. And they don't even try to not step in it!!! Now the garbage. There is garbage EVERYWHERE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! And the cows eat the garbage too!! Cows + Garbage = a germ breeding ground. I don't even want to know what those poor cows are picking up!!! And now, the site itself. The bare foot people that have walked in the poop and garbage in their pretty Saree's and Punjabi's now start to finish the unsanitary process by going to a large green-watered pool, also filled with monkey poop and garbage. The women go up to the pool, light a candle and set it afloat on a little raft with the candle aboard. Then you go up further and there is another pool, less garbage (but sill green) and the people were swimming in it!!! The ladies and men, fully dressed, would get into the pool, stand up and dunk their heads into the water!!! The younger girls would just dump buckets of the filthy stuff onto their heads. Green water + people in it = germs. And then you go up even further and there is another pool and that one has even less garbage in it but the monkeys drink out of that pool. It looks like a mosquito breeding ground to me.

So overall:

There are tons of pretty people but they walk through lots of garbage and poop of the monkeys and cows that hang around and the people feed the monkeys and the cows eat the garbage and the people take off their shoes and they swim in the pools that are "ever so clean" and then they set candles afloat, and this is all on a holy site of the Sun God in Hinduism? Do you now understand why the Monkey Temple is the most bizarre site you will ever see or hear about? If you don't, then you have to read this blog, again.

**If read quickly, the last paragraph can be quite amusing.**