Friday, August 31, 2012

Stylish in Seminyak

In Bali, we stayed in an area called Seminyak. Kuta is the party place, kind of like Patong in Phuket, Thailand, and we were told that we wouldn't want to stay there. I'm glad we followed that advice. Seminyak was a beautiful area with a nice, clean beach, great restaurants, and amazing shopping. Zack especially had fun exploring the international designer brand stores. Here he is sporting his new hat, shirt, and swimming trunks. He's also sporting a mustache; I'm not sure what that's about!
We had an amazing two weeks in Thailand and Bali. We celebrated our final night with a fancy dinner at a place in Seminyak called The Living Room. Here we are looking tanned and relaxed. Zack also bought this shirt and the white linen pants on his Bali shopping spree, as well as a necklace and bracelet for me (you can't see the bracelet in the picture). Though it's nice to be "home," (whatever that means as an expat!) we sure do miss the warm weather and the beautiful beaches. Summer in Melbourne can't come quickly enough!
Bye bye beautiful Bali!
Here's a map of our travels:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Canang Sari in Bali

In Bali, you see these little offering baskets front of restaurants, on sidewalks, on the beach, along the street...everywhere! They are called coconut leaf trays called "canang sari," and they hold rice, flowers, incense, and small food items. The Balinese offer them every morning to their gods in thankfulness and gratitude. They are quite beautiful; the effort required to make one adds to the meaning of the sacrifice.
I must admit that when we first arrived in Bali and went to the money changer, I accidentally stepped on one when we got out of the car and headed toward the counter. I felt so bad! I have since read that it's not a huge deal if you step on one by accident, but I still felt terrible for committing such a cultural blunder within hours of arriving in Indonesia!
Remember how I said there are lots of stray dogs in Bali? Well, apparently they like to get into the food part of the canang sari left on the beach!

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Beautiful Bali Beaches

We didn't do much in Bali for the three days we were there. Hanging out on the beach, shopping, and eating were the main activities of choice. Once we learned to ignore the people selling every item imaginable on the beach, we fit in lots of great relaxation time there. Compared to Thailand, Bali was sunnier and less humid and had darker-colored sand and chillier water.

"You want massage? Fresh coconut? Pretty necklace? How about watch? Good deal for you!"

We spent one afternoon boogie boarding. The waves were pretty fun. The next day, we rented surfboards. Bali is known for its awesome surfing, and it didn't disappoint. Even as beginners, we had a blast trying to conquer the waves!

This wave got the better of Zack and his boogie board!
I like the colors in this picture. Notice the stray dogs-they are everywhere on Bali's beaches!
One evening, we had a (very expensive) drink at the trendy Ku De Ta bar on the beach. It was a great place to watch the sunset, though I'm not sure we were cool enough to hang out there! I'll have a couple more entries about Bali over the next few days, but I'll leave you with a sunset picture including a stray dog!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Things We Learned in Thailand

In no particular order, here are some things we learned on our travels through Thailand...

My papaya fruit shake waits while I play the piano at a breakfast place.
1. You can never have too many fruit shakes in one day. I recommend trying all flavors. I also recommend getting a banana Nutella roti pancake dessert from a street cart every night.

2. Prices are cheap. There is no need to pay over $50 per night for a hotel (even $20 gets you something decent), and you can get an awesome meal for under $5.

Stray dogs in Phuket hang out in front of a crepe stand.
3. You are expected to bargain for almost everything you buy. We heard to start at about 30% of the original asking price. Walking away sometimes gets them to lower their prices even when it seems they won't budge. I also learned to play vendors against one another ("that guy said he'd give it to me for 150 Baht").

4. The currency is Baht, and it's about $3 for every 100 Baht. It's cheaper to change your money over there rather than here.

5. In some areas of Thailand, stray dogs run around everywhere. In other areas (Koh Phi Phi), there are stray cats. Go figure.

Pad thai with a Chang beer-Zack's perfect Thai meal!
6. Thai food is delicious, and we learned the difference between red, green, Panang, and massaman curries.

7. It is hot in July, and you sweat constantly. The water is nice and warm. Rain might come through for a bit, but it doesn't last long, and it usually feels good.

Just a small sampling of the scooters near Patong Beach.

8. Lane lines on the street mean nothing. Everyone seems to own a scooter or motorcycle, and I don't know how more people don't get killed on the roads every day.

Oh, how I wish I hadn't lost my other market pictures!
9. There is always some sort of market going on, including food, clothing, trinkets, etc. for sale.

10. Because tourism is a huge industry, learning English seems to be the biggest asset to Thai people looking to earn higher paying jobs. Most Thais know a few key phrases, but the ones who are more fluent seem to work in fancy hotels and resorts.

11. We learned to say "thank you," which is "kob kun krab" for men and "kob kun kaa" for women and "hello/goodbye" which is "sa wat dee khrap" (men) and "sa wat dee kha" (women).

Fire dancers outside a bar in Chiang Mai.
12. There are tons of temples (especially in Chiang Mai), and after seeing a bunch of them, you can get "templed out." Stray dogs tend to hang out here.

13. The drinks of choice are a Chang beer or a bucket of mixed alcohol. These are best accompanied with watching fire dancers along the beach at night.

See the sand crab?
14. Thai massages are incredibly cheap and not necessarily relaxing (they kind of hurt at times). You can get a one hour massage for the equivalent of about $4. You will get stretched out in every which way, and sometimes the little Thai lady will even walk on you!

15. There are little clear/white sand crabs on the beach if you look closely. They tend to scurry away from you quickly though, so they aren't a bother.

Durians for sale along the streets of Phuket.
16. The durian is a popular fruit in Thailand. Apparently it is an acquired taste. The smell alone is enough to make me never want to acquire it!

17. Thailand is a land that has been devastated by tsunamis. While lots of rebuilding has occurred, you find evacuation route signs posted everywhere.

A nice greeting in Railay Beach, Krabi!
18. The check-in procedure at Thailand hotels is so nice! Upon arrival, they usually ask you to be seated. Then they bring you a cold towel to wash up, along with a fresh fruit drink and sometimes even a flower lei while you fill out the paperwork. Such service!

Zack looks so big in this picture!
19. Tuk tuks are a great way to get around if you're just going a short distance. The larger red "taxis" are used by the locals, and they work well too.

20. Thailand is a photographer's dream, as long as your camera's memory card doesn't get destroyed. (No, I will never get over losing some of my pictures, but I promise to finally stop talking about it now!)

Goodbye Thailand; we hope to be back some day!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Charming Chiang Mai

Flying in or out of Chiang Mai, you notice lots of rice paddies. You also see lush, green mountains and the clear, blue water.
This city is a mix of old and new. Around every corner, you find another wat, or temple (over 300 total!). There are remnants of the wall that once surrounded the city, along with the moat. But you also find some American staples (like Starbucks!) and several bars and clubs. There are several nice restaurants along the river. My pictures are lost, but the ones Zack took with his iPad might give you an idea of some of what we saw.

The most impressive wat is actually located a bit outside of the city up in the hills, and it's called Doi Suthep. Here's a picture of me taking a picture (that was later lost), and below are a few other ones Zack captured.

And here's a video Zack got of the main area of Doi Suthep...

While in Chiang Mai, we didn't just visit temples. Of course we had our day with the elephants, and we visited the huge night market, tried different restaurants, got lots of cheap massages, and hung out at bars and watched fire shows in the evening.

We also took an evening cooking class with Thai Cookery School. It was so much fun (I wish I had the pictures!). After a stop at a local market, we made fried rice, a few types of curry, fried bananas, and more. I'm not sure I actually learned anything about cooking, but I did get some useful information about Thai ingredients. We definitely didn't go home hungry, but we did go home with a recipe book so we can recreate some Thai deliciousness in Melbourne!

One evening, we went to a muay Thai boxing match. There were actually several bouts, including ones with little kids, girls, and one where a Swedish guy went against a Thai guy (the Swede won, but we think it was rigged). Some of the matches were pretty hardcore; Thai people were calling out bets and cheering for their fighters who delivered some pretty swift kicks and punches. Other matches were just for fun, including one where they blindfolded a bunch of guys and set them loose in the ring (hilarious!). I'm so sorry the pictures are lost!

A funny sign outside our hotel.
Anyway, I would definitely put Chiang Mai on my must-do list when visiting Thailand. It's a completely different experience than life on the beaches near Phuket, but it's amazing in its own unique way. The temples are varied and incredible, the elephant day was something I'll never forget, the cooking class and muay Thai boxing match were much more fun than expected, and the price of massages, food, drinks, and souvenirs is unbelievably cheap. There's something for everyone, and we loved our three days in Chiang Mai!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Barely in Bangkok

I will try to avoid complaining too much about my lost pictures in this post, but it won't be easy!

We had one night in Bangkok on our layover between Melbourne and Chiang Mai. We got in pretty late, but we stayed at the beautiful Hilton on the Chao Phraya River using Zack's points and enjoyed some room service and the view. This picture is from the plane, but the view from our hotel window was about the same.

In the morning (before our flight), we went to the Chatuchak Weekend Market, which is one of the world's largest markets. It covers 27 acres, and it includes everything from food to pets to clothing to furniture to basically anything else you can imagine! We only got to see a small portion of the market, but it was fun to explore. The only picture we have of it is me sitting with the luggage (since we had to go straight to the airport).

The signs in the cab rides entertained us. Check out these symbols on the window. Can you figure out what each one means? Does the first one mean you're not allowed to bring a goat inside the cab?! I don't even want to know about the third one.
I purposely booked another long layover from Chiang Mai to Phuket a few days later so that we would have a full day in Bangkok to explore more of the city. We went to the Grand Palace, which is an absolutely incredible complex of buildings and temples with intricate designs. It absolutely breaks my heart that I lost my pictures from this day, because I spent hours walking around the grounds getting hundreds of amazing photos. Zack's phone pictures will have to do. The Temple of the Emerald Buddha, or Wat Phra Kaew, is located here, but you weren't allowed to take pictures inside the building. It's considered the most sacred temple in Thailand. The little green Buddha (about 26 inches tall) that sits atop mounds of golden decorations is said to be carved from one piece of jade stone, and there are many legends surrounding it. 
At temples in Thailand, you have to remove your shoes before entering. Also, you're not supposed to point your feet toward the Buddha image, so you tuck them behind you when you sit/kneel. It's also a requirement to wear long pants and shirts that cover your shoulders. At the Grand Palace, they make you rent/borrow clothes if you don't have appropriate attire.

After exploring the Grand Palace, we walked to the Temple of the Reclining Buddha, or Wat Pho. A well-known massage school is located here, and we each got a massage to see how good it was compared to the cheaper ones we had received in Chiang Mai (yes, this was better!). The main attraction is the huge reclining Buddha; it's 160 feet long!

We took a boat ride down the river in the late afternoon before catching our flight to Phuket, which was a nice way to see the city and a few more temples from afar. We didn't have much time in Bangkok, but we made the most of it!

Though my pictures are lost, I highly suggest you click on these links and scroll through the visitor photos. There are some that are similar to the ones that I took, and it's worth checking them out to get a feel for the amazing sights we were privileged to see in Bangkok.

Grand Palace

Temple of the Reclining Buddha

Friday, August 24, 2012

What the Hail!

We had a glimpse of spring earlier this week with warmer temperatures, but yesterday a big hailstorm came through Melbourne. I was waiting at a tram stop on my way home from teaching when the dark clouds rolled in. Then the thunder started. Then the rain began, which was fine because I was under an overhang. It got harder and turned into hail-big chunks of it. It almost looked like it was snowing. The trouble began when the wind picked up, making the hail blow sideways directly into the shelter. All of us who were huddled there yelped; it hurt! I took out my umbrella and used it as a shield to protect myself (and the girl next to me) from injury. Luckily, my tram came soon after, and I made it home alive. Zack got this picture of our back porch. Is winter over yet?!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Phuket Luxury

We had an early morning flight out of Phuket to head to Bali, so we needed to leave Krabi the day beforehand. This involved a longtail boat ride followed by a long ride in a minibus. To get to the longtail boat, we had to wade through the water on Railay Beach with our luggage. See if you can spot Zack with the suitcase on his head in the picture to the left. We were jealous of the backpackers!

After a long day of travel, we finally got to our place near the airport. I booked a deal on Agoda for the Imperial Adamas Beach Resort in the Nai Yang area for less than $100. It was the most amazing hotel I've ever stayed at, and because it was low season, we basically had the resort to ourselves! It was right on the beach, and they upgraded us to a luxury suite (which consisted of a bedroom, incredible bathroom, and living room). I think it was bigger than our place in South Melbourne!

We felt (and looked) a little bit ridiculous in the satin trimmed robes and slippers, but we enjoyed the luxurious surroundings and spoiled ourselves with one last Thai massage (for Zack) and a facial (for me).

Before and after our time in the spa, we hung out in the pool, sipping on fruity drinks, playing basketball, and soaking up the sun. A fun employee who spoke really good English talked to us for awhile. We had Connect Four tournaments (she always won), and she taught us the differences in Thai greetings (your hands go in different places when you bow depending on who you are addressing). We finished the evening with some delicious Thai food and one last serving of mango sticky rice (yum).
I still haven't gone back and talked about the other things we did in Chiang Mai (besides the elephant ride) or the amazing temples we saw in Bangkok. I'm going to have to round up the few phone pictures we have and find some other online ones to share since ours are lost. Then I can finally get to the Bali posts and catch up on this blog! Lots more to come...