Honeymoon Recap, Part I
My wife and I aren’t like most newlywed couples. Most pairs celebrate marital bliss with a week or more in a tropical locale at an all-expenses-included resort on a pristine beach. Us? We went to the other side of the world for a 16-day trek across Thailand, including whitewater rafting, ziplining, rappelling, a day at an elephant rescue and breeding farm, shopping in local markets…and some awesome beaches! Full-throttle honeymoon!
Instead of a narrative play-by-play, which will be boring for me to write and for you to read, how about I share fun stories, photos, videos and more in no particular order?
(Note: I’m writing this at Tokyo’s Narita Airport. I have no idea what time it is, or if I should be sleeping or eating lunch. All I know is that we had not one, but TWO screaming babies on our red-eye out of Bangkok last night. Neither of us got much sleep. Note #2: We had another screaming baby on the Tokyo-DC flight, in addition to a little girl who kept kicking the back of the seat.)
- Thailand is FAR! We spent nearly 30 hours getting there, when you add in getting to Dulles Airport, a 15-hour
flight to Tokyo, a 3-hour layover and a 7-hour flight to Bangkok! My best jet-lag fighting tip: when traveling, be like Bill and Ted: no matter how far you travel in the past or the future, the clock is still running in San Dimas! (Can I toss in shout-outs to “Bob Genghis Khan,” “So-crates Johnson” and “Missy…I mean…Mom?”). In this instance, set your watch to your destination’s timezone as soon as you can.
- It’s good to be the King (bonus points for getting the reference!) – We were in Thailand for the King’s 82nd birthday, which was a MAJOR nationwide event. You see, the King functions very much like England’s Queen, as a ceremonial head of state. However, the King is immensely popular (think Hulk Hogan, circa 1987…huge, brother!) and is a touchstone for people across the Kingdom. His word carries heavy weight. He is completely beloved by his people, as we saw tributes to him everywhere from the biggest of public areas to tiny village residences in the mountains. And from what we were able to surmise, he seems to be a noble, charitable man. We spent his actual birthday on the remote island of Koh Tao, and even there, with just a few thousand residents, there was a huge celebration, complete with fireworks!
- Massages – We set out to average one massage a day throughout our trip. We didn’t quite make it there, but we had no complaints! Let me be clear, though, that we went to reputable parlors. No funny business, even though Marisa got rubbed in some unexpected places. In the United States, a massage is looked at as a luxury, one you spend lots of money on and only get at fine spas. That is not the case in Thailand, as there is LITERALLY a good massage parlor on every corner, with a one-hour treatment costing less than $10. Also, the expectations of what service you get are entirely different. A “Thai massage” is a physical experience, as the masseuse uses all parts of their body to rub, stretch, bend, pull and crack you. It is actually somewhat painful compared to the traditional American rubdown.
- MAJOR TIP #1: Gentlemen, no matter how much your inner thighs may by aching from hours of riding an elephant (see below), don’t tell a therapist to focus on them!!! Awkward for everyone involved.
- MAJOR TIP #2: Foot scrubs are DANGEROUS! I got one after the Full Moon Party (see below), since we spent all night on our feet, and, hey, it only cost $6, so why not? With the sun setting over the water at Koh Pha-Ngan, we laid out in a shack overlooking the scenery. I was so relaxed that it took me time to register the fact that the chemicals being put on my feet actually hurt a lot. At first, I dismissed the pain as part of the cleansing process, but as it continued to burn, I asked the therapist to stop. I was too late, as the bottom of my left foot was scorched with nearly two-dozen holes! The pain was nauseating and walking was nearly impossible. Even with a week of treatment, it still isn’t back to normal yet!
- Elephants!!!! We desperately wanted an elephant experience, and boy, did we get one! We chose our elephant
experience very carefully, making sure to avoid the typical tourist pitfalls. We didn’t want to spend the day with a large anxious group of tourists fighting for a few precious minutes with each elephant. We didn’t want to spend the day watching elephants perform circus tricks or ride the elephants like amusement park rides from atop big wooden thrones attached like saddles on their massive frames. We wanted the real deal. We found an amazing organization called Patara which is an elephant rescue and breeding facility run by a lovely husband and wife team, Pat and Dao, and their loyal staff of elephant trainers. They work closely with the elephant hospital and offer a small group of people (no more than 10 people per day) the opportunity to spend a day as a full-fledged elephant trainer with your own personal elephant. Needless to say, by the time we pulled up to the beautiful Patara preserve, we were almost giddy.
Pat explained the history and importance of elephants to Thailand and its people. From transportation to tourism, the animal has been a major part of the Kingdom’s culture for over 800 years. To this day, they are governed by the transportation department, NOT the wildlife department! That means elephants are street-legal! Imagine a couple elephants clogging DC rush-hour traffic on the Beltway! Over the past 40 years, there have been major parallel elephant repopulation and reforestation efforts in Thailand, as the number of elephants has dwindled and the percent of forest land has diminished – both to frightening levels.
The rest of our day was spent taking care of our elephants! We fed them breakfast, did a regular health exam (which caused us alarm later in our trip when we saw an elephant on a beach resort who failed it miserably!), bathed them in a river, learned how to ride them in the traditional style (knees behind the ears), took a 90-minute ride on one of Thailand’s roughest terrains to one of the most amazing waterfalls in the world, swam with our elephants (YES…SWAM!!!), and went for a trek along rice farmland. It was an incredible day that we will never forget.
- What’s Buzzing in Thailand – There are several things that are HUGE in Thailand right now that shocked us:
- 7-11 – There are nearly 4,000 of them in the country!
- Ed Hardy – No valid reason for this exists. But the fashion line is EVERYWHERE!
- Lady GaGa – She’s a global superstar now, for sure.
- MTV Asia – They play MUSIC!!
- Rafting – I’ll let the pictures tell the story here:
- Phuket – We were underwhelmed by Phuket, one of the main beach islands. After a full week of adventure, we
wanted some down time and stayed at a resort too far away from the action, making us fairly miserable. We avoided the reportedly organized crime-controlled taxis positioned at our resort that grossly inflated rates by sneaking out a back alley off the beach and finding a guy who would drive us into town. Yeesh…that doesn’t sound as safe as it seemed at the time…
Anyway, we headed into Patong Beach, the hub of the crazy. Oh. My. Goodness. Gracious. It was Mardi Gras 365 days a year! We saw a…ummm…a….show….one I never need to see again. Seriously, we left there permanently scarred. Once you see things, you can NEVER un-see them, no matter how bad you desperately want to. What was so heinous, you may ask? I’ll just say this: it involved two 40-something women, darts, ping pong balls and a live frog.
- We spent Thanksgiving night staying in a cold mountain village. Our hostess, a lovely woman named Penh, spoke no English; we spoke no Thai. You can imagine the captivating dinner conversation, as we all kept pointing to words in our Thai-English and English-Thai dictionaries. She asked us if we had any kids, so we showed her a picture of Balki Our “room” was a tiny, windowless dungeon and we huddled on a single small mattress as temperatures dropped near freezing! The quaint town was lovely, the people were awesome, but it was too frickin’ cold for a honeymoon!
- Full Moon Party – Every month on the island of Koh Pha-Ngan, there is a massive beach party, celebrating the Full Moon. Nearly 20,000 people from ALL over the world (we encountered Americans, Canadians, Dutch, French, Brazilians, Israelis, Brits, Aussies…nearly every nation on the planet was represented!) came to the beach at Haad Rin to celebrate life! It truly felt like the happiest place in the world. We got there around 8pm and left at 4am…and the mile-long party was still going strong. Yes, the party took place on a JAM-PACKED one-mile stretch of beach. Again, words don’t do this event justice, so let’s go to the videotape!
And a pic – make sure you notice the full moon that we were celebrating!:
- We’re Canadian, eh? – We know that Americans don’t have a sterling reputation in the global community. So when people trying to sell us something asked where we were from, we said we were from Canada! Our backstory developed to us living in Winnipeg, but my company is based out of Washington, DC. Of course, Marisa and I are both proud Americans, but we thought this would help us in negotiations for goods and services. It only became better when we shared a ferry ride with a lovely couple actually from Winnipeg! We told them our story and they got a real kick out of it. After a few weeks away, it was nice to be able to talk hockey with someone!
- Flight of the Gibbon – We found a funky adventure called Flight of the Gibbon, which took us ziplining, skywalking and rappelling across the northern Thailand jungle! No matter that we’re both scared of heights and almost dirtied our pants during the THREE HOURS in the air, it was a fantastic experience!
- And don’t worry, I have many more stories to tell…including: LIVE Muay Thai Boxing, a Lizard in our Villa, and…we survived a Japanese airport!
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