Celebrating Songkran in Chiang Mai

Chiang Mai was a lot of fun during Songkran. We did the whole supersoaker-waterfest in the old city for a day, and decided after that we would fill our trip with some sightseeing. Having lived in Thailand for almost two years, we knew it would be pretty easy to find a driver with a minivan who could take us around to the typical tourist destinations for pretty cheap. I just asked a few friends who had been there over the past year, and they were all glad to share the contact information for their drivers. So, the next day we piled into "Mr. Su"s van, and set of for Doi Inthanon and Wat Inthanon, perched at the top of the highest peak in northern Thailand. The weather was gorgeous, and the drive was pretty exciting thanks to the people on the side of the road still throwing water at cars, but when we got to the top you couldn't see far. I guess they burn brush and clear property by fire, so the smoke spreads from afar and gives the sky a pretty thick haze.

It didn't matter, except we all became a little congested. Wat Inthanon has gorgeous gardens to ramble around, and afterwards little Nate strolled quietly into the temple on his own, kneeled down, and prayed to Buddha very respectfully. He still doesn't understand what he's doing. Or does he?

We stopped by a waterfall for a lunch break, and later stopped by a roadside stand for some fresh fruit- it was an easy, rambling day. We also stopped by the "long-neck village" which wasn't what I wanted at all, but oh well-I think Mr. Su was just trying to make us happy. Unfortunately, the karen tribe tourist stop isn't really our thing. I actually had a village that I had asked him to take us to: one which didn't have any souvenir shops or an entry fee, just villagers going about their farming, weaving, cooking, etc. Our driver must have thought his idea was better for us. Oh well...

We also spent an few hours the next day on a shopping trip, so I could pick up a few baubles, some hand-painted umbrellas, and some real Thai silk. The silk shop was our favorite, because they boys could actually see the life cycle of the silk worm up close, all the way to seeing them boil the cocoons and spin the thread out of them. 

Then we followed the advice of a fellow employee and headed over to the Chiangmai Night Safari. What an adventure! We first stopped for a quick bite to eat outside the gate at the restaurant, where you could watch the tigers, giraffes and zebras right next to your table! In the park you could go on two rides through the animal exhibits, buy carrots and bananas to toss to them, and sometimes even feed them directly from your hand! Once or twice Nate snuggled close, when we passed the more ferocious creatures, but most of the ride was a lot of fun. After zooming through the park in the dark, feeding animals, and watching a phenominal water fountain/light show, we had to return to the giraffes and say some heartfelt goodbyes:

It was also fantastic staying at the Centara, as always. Their boutique hotel on the outskirts of Chiangmai was gorgeous, well-kept, and had great staff there to help us. Our villa was incredible, with room for both the boys and a canopy bed for us, and of course the GIANT jacuzzi tub outside, that we used every day to scrub the dust and dirt off after our treks. I'm just at that point right now where if we must travel, its worth spending a little extra to not be cramped, but instead be just a teensy bit pampered. And have enough room to stash our purchases....

Living the Life, and Loving It

Dear friends, have you missed me? It has been so long since I've shared our adventures, and the past two months have been full of them: events, holidays, trips and parties. There have been so many times where I wanted to write about our life in Bangkok, talk about the nights on the town, and the great people we meet, but it felt too much like bragging. Would you even believe me anyways? Or would you grow disgusted and think me an image-crafter with my "look at our marvelous life" posts? I don't like to sulk, wallow, or depress you with the bad days, but if you don't know me very well perhaps you would misunderstand. So, maybe we have had some bad days, some mysterious fevers and anxious visits to the med unit. There have been fights and squabbling, grownup and children alike. And there are the day to day things you know we all have: the bills to be paid, the car breaking down, the trials and tribulations of an ordinary family.
Its all there, no need to waste your time. We've been through some challenges lately, but all that matters is we are just fine. No need to drive you crazy with any "look at my marvelous life" posts as well. This post is nothing like that. Let me take you somewhere in the middle, just a step above an ordinary day. "A step above" I say simply because if it were ordinary, we would be back in Plymouth, or perhaps watching the swan boats in Boston, instead of speeding boats on the khlong. That was little P a few weeks ago, on our way back from jiu-jitsu. I'm never sure what is more amusing; the look on his face as he waves to the passengers, or the look on theirs when they see a cute little boy trying to get their attention. People here are just. so. nice. to kids. So, for me, that still feels unusual sometimes.
And then there's my honey, striking a pose with one of our best friends here. She helped him throw me a 50's-themed birthday party. It was adorable. Is it normal to have such great friends? I don't know, but we've met people I love so much its going to be hard to let them go. So, I suppose that is a step above the ordinary. I guess I didn't think enough upon that fact that we would say goodbye to the friends we make every 2-3 years. It sure does make you appreciate them so much more.

A few weeks later we celebrated Easter at the Embassy, with a big party and egg hunt. I'm extremely grateful that both boys are well past the "mortally terrified of Santa and the Easter Bunny" stage. No, Nate wanted to go home and come back in his Nemo fish getup, just to keep Mr. Bunny company. He's cool like that. I should have mentioned earlier that he underwent several costume changes at my birthday as well. Nemo-dragon-and back to Nemo. The kid has style.

Definitely not normal for us is the annual Songkran holiday they have in Thailand every year. Its the Thai New Year, and the tradition started with people washing the hands of their elders and buddha statues out of respect, and snowballed into an all-out, no-holds-barred, with blocks of ice waterfight. This year we went to Chiang Mai to see how they celebrate, and it was insane. The roads were like a guantlet, with people packed onto the backs of pickup trucks, armed with supersoakers and buckets of ice water, and the sidewalks lined with people too. Philip totally got into it. Nate, not so much.

So we escaped for a day to Doi Inthanon National Park, hiked, saw waterfalls, and tried to stay cool.  

What Does The Bear Say?

The bear says "Happy Birthday, P" of course. And then our happy campers tie-dyed shirts, shot arrows at a target, ate trail mix, and did all those things that little campers do. That is how we celebrated a 7th birthday. We kept it small this time too. A mom could go crazy thrying to throw monstrous birthday bashes every year, so I asked myself what would make my little man happy and felt that he would love just a day of fun with some close friends.

The snacks: a make-your-own trail mix bar
We threw in a man in a bear costume, just because.

I'll nap right here mom.
He read a story by the "campfire."

Party favors.

The boys played in temporary tents that we made for the occasion. Which we later dismantled, much to their disappointment. There may be a teepee in our future.

That bear didn't stand a chance.

My kids have the most fantastic dad ever.

This Is Not Singapore

This is not the best of Singapore, but its the best I could do. In December we spent almost two weeks driving through New Zealand, then left behind our lovely RV and headed to Singapore.

It was Christmas Eve.
We wore our Santa hats on the plane. We checked into a lovely hotel close to Orchard Road and prepared our stockings for Santa.

I wish I had better pictures to share, but we had to switch gears and enjoy modern spectacles and man-made wonders after two weeks of majestic and unspoilt nature. The city was so dazzling, clean, and uncrowded I didn't know where to look. The Marina Bay Sands Hotel, the Garden on the Bay, the "Merlion!"

The Universal Studios amusement park.

The boys rode terrifying rides (with some reassurance from us at first) and then asked for more. We went to EVERY show. Philip even volunteered to stand in front of a hundred or so people and chat with Donkey at the comedy show. Nate followed immediately behind, and Donkey exclaimed "I thought I was seeing double!"

We spent an entire day roaming the botanical gardens, where we visited the Orchid Garden and finlly stumbled our way onto the Jacob Ballas Children's Garden. I SO wish Bangkok had a place like this. There was a playground, a maze, a sensory garden, treehouse, exhibits and more. It reminded me of the Heritage Gardens we used to frequent back on Cape Cod.

Our time in Singapore was brief, but so eye opening. And it would be so different from the places we are sent to live someday: the wealth was so apparent that the boys could count the high-end sports cars racing by them every minute. But my favorite trait of Singapore was the amount of green space within the city. It was a city for walking and roaming on foot, for lunching on the grass and stopping to smell the flowers. I would absolutely love an assignment here someday.

But our adventures weren't over yet. One more stop before landing back in Bangkok:


The Best Gift of All

Last night I was browsing a thumbdrive full of over a year's photos, documenting our best times on the town. It was a Christmas gift from a most beautiful, thoughtful friend. All the galas, the plays, the celebrations and silliness. The costumes we wore, the times we danced like no one was watching, the way us together became a "thing" without us ever trying. But that is the way with some friends. (Holly & Dave, I'm thinking of you too.) Sometimes you are lucky enough to have a charmed year or two with a set of people who just make you feel like no matter where you are, you have come home. So the funny thing is that the drive was not the gift; it was like looking at a picture of the gift. It had already been given.

On My Mind Today

1. Fun. I've been thinking about our life together, and one of the greatest things we share is our sense of fun. I suppose we might miss a thing or two by not being good planners. We might miss a little by not being more thorough. And I suppose paying closer attention to details might benefit us, but we aren't good at that. What we are good at would be playing games together, taking chances, not being afraid of looking a little silly. Like wearing Santa hats on a hike. Or waving to strangers and dancing on the sidewalk and dressing in costume for non-halloween events. 

Leaping. And the Franz Joseph Glacier, of course.
2. Trouble. We are living in a bit of a hotbed of politics and culture right now. Its nothing too scary, but its constantly changing, and unpredictable, but at the time exciting. Its also our first time living in such a situation, and probably will not be the last.

 3. My loves. They are growing so fast. One is reading big chapter books and devouring The Hobbit and LOTR movies. The other is coasting on a bike without training wheels already. They adore each other, and their personalities compliment each other. They're also mirror-images of our personalities, so we understand them on such an intimate level. I know when Nate is fighting off tears and I know when Philip's attention will flag. And I know that every time I give them a big smile it helps build their confidence. When I think about it now, I realize there is more wordless communication in our home than spoken.
 4. This dang bird. Its a Kia. And it wanted in our camper. When it didn't get its way it scrambled across our roof and tried to nibble at the kids through the skylight. They found that hilarious. The Kia didn't. It invited a friend over later and the two of them squalked their loud appeals above our heads around 11 o'clock that night. And again a few hours later.
New Zealand wine and impromptu game of tic-tac-toe with river stones.
5. Date night. Its an added benefit of the expat life. We used to enjoy a date night every few months, if we were lucky that bumped up to once a month. In Bangkok it happens whenever we feel like it. Our nanny appreciates the extra income. We have lots of things we can do in this city, whether it involves getting dressed up for a charity ball, or just going out for some delicious grilled seafood at a sidewalk vendor and splitting a few beers. Tonight is one of those nights. I think. I haven't decided yet, but I'm certainly looking forward to some time with my sweetheart.

6. This kid. He's turning seven soon. He's the coolest kid. Loves his brother. Is up for anything. Gives the best snuggles. Has the most amazing shimmering gold hair. Did a yoga class with me yesterday and was so well behaved! Represented us well at the opening of the kids' art exhibit and was charming and well-behaved while chatting with our "boss." Is smart and clever and imaginative, but has the most ATROCIOUS handwriting.

Te Anua and Milford Sound

 Right now as I'm typing, a grand-scale protest is happening a few blocks away. We are chilling at home for the day, watching the news, entertaining the kids, and hoping for the best. My mind still wanders back to New Zealand and all our adventures there. Our fourth day in NZ was the day we left Queenstown, and the lovely 12 Mile Delta Campground, and headed for a one-in-a-lifetime experience at Milford Sound.

The journey from Queenstown to the lodge at Milford Sound was the most amazing drive ever. It began with a long road that skirted the lake and led you back into farmland. Gradually, there were fewer and fewer sheep, and in the distance you could see the tallest snow-capped peaks.

We stopped the RV whenever we felt like it, and would get out and stretch our legs. Sometimes we lept. We stopped at a trail called the Mt. Earl Tracks, and the boys thrilled us by eagerly hiking over mud and hills and narrow log bridges. We took turns crossing this wire bridge, even though the thought of my boys slipping made my heart race. It really wasn't that dangerously high, though, so it was a lot of fun and an all-natural thrill.

Incredibly, we didn't bump into another soul on our little hike. So it was just us and the beautiful almost-untouched New Zealand forest. I would love to go back in a few years and do some longer treks. I mean, lets not forget my little guy is only 3. He didn't make us carry him or anything, but we always keep our expectations reasonable enough for him. We gave up the strollers and carriers last year, so wherever we go, he's on his own little legs!

Little P enjoyed the trip too, particularly the amazing tunnel to Milford Sound, where you have to drive through the heart of a mountain down a steep slope! Out the other side you have to navigate a series of hooking curves down a wild incline. Meanwhile, on either side of you are sharp mountains with cascading waterfalls and mounds of snow. It was unreal.

After hours of one gorgeous sight after another, we arrived at the Milford Sound Lodge, and scooted into our little spot for the night. Luckily, we had enough food in the fridge, because we discovered there is very little at Milford Sound at all-just a hotel/campground, a bar and visitors center, and a small airport. While we settled in, our neighbors returned to their car to find a kia had made itself at home with their food, and had tipped over their beer bottles and raided their snacks. With some good humor, they shooed it away. So the warnings were true.

The next morning we hopped the first cruise in the Sound, excited to see the waterfalls and sights I had only seen on TV. It was spectacular- We enjoyed a morning of seals, fresh air, waterfalls, and the most gorgeous fjord to be ever carved out by a glacer. At one point the boat took us practically under a waterfall, and the boys squealed and were nearly soaked.

 We had planned on spending a second night, but as the excursion companies refused to let us kayak with small children, we decided to head out that afternoon. In order to get to the glaciers, we would have to loop back up the Queenstown and around, so we set off again slowly, savoring all the sights along the way.

After a night of rest at Lake Hawea, we were ready to see some glaciers!

Somewhere Along the Way

Somewhere along the way we started really enjoying the solitude. We enjoyed just being together.
In the beginning, it might have been after a meal or two, we decided to pack away the "devices." You know. The iPads, Nintendos, handhelds, etc. It was far too beautiful a trip to be spent staring at your lap. The company was far too good. And the amazing thing? We didn't miss the iAnythings at all. We talked to each other.
 When the kids asked questions, we simply answered. And discussed. It was the best ever.

Somewhere along the way we loved just being together.
People did survive without those things, you know.
We camped on the water outside Queenstown, and rode the gondola to get a birds-eye view. The boys bought silly trinkets for their treasure boxes back home. They went crazy over stones and sticks, like boys should. We played on the banks of a creek, and then collected ourselves (and our clothes) to go have dinner back in the RV.

We woke and drove on, through fields of sheep, giant dams, and majestic hills. The roads were never direct. They were never crowded either.
Sometimes we pulled off the road to a riverbank, and the boys would throw stones while I heated soup and made sandwiches for lunch. And after, we would eat an apple or nectarine from the carton we had bought at a roadside stand. Doesn't that just sound like heaven?

If you spend 99% of the year in downtown Bangkok, it sure does.