Friday, March 4, 2011

Thailand part two

Dinner at Cinnamon Restaurant at our resort. We noticed a fresh seafood buffet and a large grill and were delighted to find we could select our fresh catch of the day and have it grilled to order with garlic and herb butter along with a grilled potato with all the trimmings and grilled corn. It was the best! Above is my dinner grilled scallops and prawn.

Above Ben had THE most fabulous piece of fish we've EVER tasted. 

While we awaited our taxi ride to head off to our elephant trekking adventure I got some shots of the front of the resort. My mouth dropped open when we arrived because it looked just as advertised and even better.

Ever good business in Thailand has these alters if you will where they put fresh fruit and other food offerings out for Buddha. It is sign of respect and honor and than their business will flourish because they have honored Buddha. They were different everywhere we went and I was always curious to see what was being offered.

Reception hut - the service was impeccable, they take your bags than seat you and serve you cool thai tea while they check you in which takes all of 30 seconds, no waiting to start enjoying paradise here!

Than we were off to meet the elephants! This was my first glimpse of an elephant so close! It was absolutely incredible. They were just everywhere. There was a rather cold Swedish family who came with us in our taxi. The taxi took us out into the jungle and than we turned onto a dirt road and before we knew it we were surrounded by elephants! At first I was a bit frightened being around such a monstrous creature but when you see how gentle and sweet spirited they are its impossible to not want to hug them!

I love that this place was rustic and so natural. The people than run this elephant sanctuary live on the premises in a homemade building. They use the elephants to help them clear the land for farming and they use the money they make from elephant trekking and selling a few trinkets to live off of as well as care for the elephants. We chose this camp because they don't force the elephants to put on a show or nor are they treated inhumanly. That was very important to us to support a wonderful place like this if we were going to experience elephants. Here is the website and more info about the place.

I highly recommend doing the 1/2 day trek as opposed to the 35minute one. The 1/2 day includes this amazing time of swimming/bathing the elephants. That was the first thing we participated in. It was just incredible to see these sweet gentle beasts move through the water which they loved.

So they tell us ok get in the water and I was like really!?! now!?!?! here!?! so being the brave out going little soul I am I was the first one on the elephant! It was a bit scary I wasn't sure if he would jump or flinch. He knelt down in the water left the tip of his trunk up for air and let me climb right on with out a second thought. It was so weird to feel elephant skin, it looks so soft and wrinkly but in reality its VERY tough with short course hair.

What it looks like to sit on an elephants head in a river! Check out his course hair!

Next it was Ben's turn. We were on the elephant and enjoying ourselves before the other family even got in the water. They were quite strange and not very friendly but nothing could in the way of us enjoying some one on one elephant time.

The mahout (elephant trainer) would tell the elephant to bend lower into the water and try and knock us off but we managed to stay on. The was another assistant mahout who was happy to take pictures galore for us so we could just enjoy our time. Thanks to our waterproof camera case it was a breeze taking pics with water splashing about.

Next it was off for an hour and a half trek through the jungle. Since we were easily able to get on the elephant the mahout told us to just stay there and we could ride the elephant back to camp where they would put the seat on for the trek. The other family had to walk : ) we felt special. Actually we felt like Tarzan and Jungle Jane riding an elephant bare back in our swimsuits through the woods.

It was quite the experience to say the least. Me sitting on his head practically and my legs tucked behind his ears just like the mahouts do. He walked so carefully and swayed and flapped his ears it was an incredible short ride that the others didn't get to experience so we were rather giddy about that.

Our photographer enjoyed taking massive amounts of pictures for us almost all being great so it was hard to choose which to share. I also think they liked seeing me in my swim suit : / hmmm awkward! hahaha!

follow the leader 

There is nothing quite like elephant trekking through the jungle in Thailand!

river crossing = drink break time


this is the tower where you load into the eat for the trek

have you hugged an elephant today? I have!

we got to feed them bananas after the trek they were quite eager to gently snatch them right out of your hands 

Our very entertaining and wonderful mahout and the elephant we rode, I can't remember her name sadly because it was quite difficult to pronounce. All the elephants were females, the males are too aggressive and tusks make it a little bit to dangerous. 

Over all it was one of the most amazing things I've ever done in my life. Definitely a once in a life time experience that you never forget. To experience these creatures in the wild like we did was just utterly amazing. I was awe struck and so thankful I was able to have this experience. WE HIGHLY RECOMMEND BAN KWAN CHANG ELEPHANT CAMP!

After a morning of elephant trekking it was time to head back from lunch at Cinnamon. I loved how the used old coconut shells as planters for orchids everywhere, so natural so pretty!

and than off to an afternoon at he beach.... does it get any better!??!

hammock on the beach for naps

This was the first night we decided to change it up and try a new place. We had read outstanding reviews of this little Italian place just down the road so we had to try it. Sounds odd, an Italian restaurant on a little island in Thailand. What can we say we can't get good stuff like this in Korea so we had to take advantage of it.

We sat outdoors under the stars and at a candle lite table and drooled over the menu as one of the Italian owners/chefs Marco brought out our drinks and some home made Italian bread! These guys do it all. Just the two of them and they make the bread from scratch (which was out of this world amazing) they make the pasta, the sauces the pizzas. It was a some of THE best Italian food I've ever had. 

Ben of course couldn't resist a pizza and I had spaghetti al tonno (with capers, tuna, and tomatoes).

If you ever visit Koh Chang you MUST check them out! They are so nice and make incredible food! We also HAD to have their homemade vanilla gelato (sinfully delicious!).

Another wonderful day on Koh Chang!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

catching up/ Thailand part one

So as my childhood besty Carrie so kindly pointed out I haven't posted in a VERY long time. So Carrie this is for you (and everyone else) who though we dropped off the other side of the world : )

December was a crazy month to say the least it usually is being in the middle of holiday season and all. For us it was filled with work, Ben's birthday, and getting ready for our trip to Thailand for Christmas.

Ben's birthday (Dec 6th) we went to Seoul for the day. Its just the easiest place to go that has everything. It just easy to go there and eat all day and which is what he wanted to do. Literally. I kid you not. We got there by lunch and headed for our first culinary spot a great burger hole in the wall. It was THE best burger I've in a years! They also served ribs smothered in REAL barbecue sauce which looked amazing too. I can't remember the name of the place but it was in Itaewon not far from Starbucks.

A mere 10 days after Ben's birthday we packed our bag (yes we packed ONE bag for the TWO of us) and left snowy, bitter cold, wintery Jecheon for the hot sunny beaches of Thailand.

It was one heck of a journey just getting there. There were several unexpected bumps in the road the most ominous being that I was sick before we left. I had had a nagging cold for about a month and travel never bodes well being sick. I came as armed as I could with meds but it just didn't cut it.

We flew out of Incheon on Dec 17th and had 5 hours layover in Beijing, China. We thoroughly did not enjoy our 5 hours in China, the people were pushy, rude, and annoying and the food options were minimal, expensive, and awful. 

Than it was off to Bangkok.  Ben made online bus reservations for us to get to Koh Chang. But we arrived in Bangkok the night before so we had several hours to pass before we attempted the next leg of the trip. It was the perfect time to meet a college friend for coffee at the airport. Katie is teaching at a school in Bangkok and she kindly met us at the airport and we had a wonderful talking as she has just been to Koh Chang the weekend before. It was just lovely seeing her and catch up a bit and to be able to hand deliver her Christmas card. 

tea place in Beijing airport
teapots and tea 

Beijing, China airport

worst airline ever! there is a reason tickets are super cheap!
couldn't resist, we were bored and I was anxious to take vacay pics
Beijing airport - boooring
Welcome to Beijing! China, check., next...

this was the sign posted above a drinking fountain

 filtered water machine next to the tap water drinking fountain hmmm
After Katie left the time just crawled.  By the time Katie had left the airport it was around 1 am and our bus didn't leave till 7:30am so we found a place to land with our bags. We were exhausted  and in desperate need of sleep. I tried to sleep on Ben's lap as he read on the Nook but it was useless on the metal airport seats. It was a long chilly miserable night in the airport. 

We headed downstairs to try and find where we were suppose to catch the bus and it was quite difficult to find as the signage was very confusing sending us here and there. We were afraid of missing it because we knew we'd have to wait for another day to get the next bus and also because you have to make the ferry to get to the island. While we waited we met a really nice couple from Sweden also heading to Koh Chang. They too were nervous about making the bus as the reservations seemed to never be 100% confirmed. We struck up a conversation and had a nice time chatting the night away till it was time to board the bus.

Let the bad times begin... Due to the lack of sleep, food, and a general lack of mental awareness I made the fatal decision to not take my Dramamine until I got on the bus thinking I'll be fine for at least an hour which is how long it takes for the drug to kick in. Before I could even get my seat belt on we were off and the bust began to sway like a boat in a storm, I was feeling sick in record time. 

I began to panic thinking I am in BIG trouble now. I haven't eaten anything in several hours, I'm coughing my brains out worse than before, and now I HAVE to take Dramamine. So I took the pill and it all got worse before it got better. Thankfully the bus had a bathroom at the back and some how I made it there before my stomach got the best of me. It was a nightmare of a 7 hour bus ride for me to say the least. I was exhausted, sick in more than one way, and just desperate to get off the bus. I recall telling Ben several times " I don't think I'm going to make it, I just can't do this." Thankfully before I threw up, enough to the Dramamine must have gotten into my system because I soon drifted off to sleep which provided some relief.

In the end I survived the bus ride (barely) and couldn't imagine doing it again on the way home in 10 days. 

We took an hour ferry ride across to the island of Koh Chang and that it itself breathed new life into me. Fresh air, warmth, sunshine, and the fact that I was no longer sitting in a cramped bus swaying back and forth gave me hope to continue. After the ferry it was back on the bus for a short ride to the bus station where we grabbed a taxi to head to our hotel.  

just got off the bus of nightmares
we sat on the 2nd level of the ferry
the old rusty ferry to Koh Chang
almost made it to Koh Chang!

I was a bit surprised to find that an island taxi was nothing more than a modified pick up truck with a metal cage with bench seats. They grabbed your bags and put them on the roof and off you go. We packed at least a dozen people in.
island taxi
our nice Swedish travel buddies took this pic for us, regrettably we never exchanged info 
the bus of nightmares
Finally after windy ride around the island we arrived at our destination, Aana Resort and Spa. It was like heaven when we arrived, just like the pictures. It was an immediate sigh of relief knowing we'd made it and it was going to be as we'd hoped. They front desk staff was just delightful. So kind and accommodating. Right away they gave us Thai iced tea to sip on as they pulled up our reservation. A guy picked up our bags and we were off to our thatched roof bungalow room.

The resort was better than we had anticipated. It was just beautiful. It felt so jungly and natural. The entire resort was designed and built to be kind to the environment around it. They did not destroy it but rather incorporated the natural beauty into everything. Our little bungalow had a river and beach view. It was simple and comfortable.

they had the nicest shampoo, body wash, lotion I've ever had in hotel,

our sundeck and spa which was freezing cold
our view of the river below and lots of palms
infinity spa/pool
everything was simple and natural
ceiling fan and AC!

useful room amenities
Hilltop bar

our room from the outside
We headed to Cinnamon, the resorts restaurant, for lunch. It was our first taste of Thailand. After lunch we headed to the pool for a swim to relax and cool off. After a swim it was time to go back to Cinnamon for dinner, relaxing makes you very hungry.

dark pic but the orchids grew out of coconut shells

view from the restaurant
Cinnamon Restaurant was ready for Christmas!

happiness = green coconut water
mmmm lunch! thats a club sandy and green coconut
DAY ONE: Aana began with an AMAZING inclusive breakfast buffet. That was such a treat to have breakfast and to have so much selection was delightfully overwhelming. That was the perfect way to start the day with a plateful of super fresh tropical fruit (banana, pineapple, papaya, mango, watermelon, cantelope). Not to mention bacon, eggs, an omelet station, bread and pastries of all kinds, cereal including granola and yogurt it was just fantastic! 

mmmm breakfast
Amazing coconut milk, green onion, and glutinous rice sweet, savory, crunchy, and soft; traditional Thai street food served for breakfast, delicious!!!
We headed to the beach immediately following breakfast. Since the resort is located at an interesting junction of a river meeting the ocean we had to take kayaks or be taken by a motorized wooden boat to the beach. It was actually really cool. The beach itself was just as advertised maybe even better. There was plenty of room for everyone to have a lounger and plenty of shaded and sunny spots. There was also a nice little beach bar where you could order food and drinks. It was divine! The water was warm the sand white and the palm trees endlessly abundant.

A few pics exploring the resort:

family pool

the walkways throughout the resort where all like this

these little guys where everywhere, not bothersome just chirpy

Sunset Beach @ Aana Beach and Resort

check out the swing!

 hello paradise!

the hut for the massages on the beach

We got lunch at the beach bar, Ben got a burger (+Coke) that was absolutely amazing and I got a spicy green papaya and shrimp salad and watermelon juice... YUM! We just ate and ate and ate everyday but a few were planned around eating as much as possible and swimming in the pools or at the beach. It was the kind of vacation I've always dreamed of.

beach bar
lunch on the beach mmmm!
DAY TWO Aana Resort: We had scheduled ahead of time several spa treatments as they were incredibly affordable and that is one of my favorite ways to spoil myself. Sunday we had reservations for our Thai massages on the beach. It was like a dream. There was a beautiful little raised pagoda/gazebo kind of thing with billowy white fabric blowing in the breeze and the two massage beds covered in white sheets. It was THE most amazing (and a bit painful) massage I've ever had. The only bummer was that my the cough I had was getting worse. Massage + asthma coughing = not a good idea. The lady was so kind though, she was using eucalyptus and lemon grass oils and it was actually very helpful in calming/soothing my cough along with a cough drop they gave me to get me through the massage. 

It was very different than any massage I've had. It involved yoga stretches and some deep painful tissue movements but it was soooo relaxing. It is of note that this was Ben's first EVER massage. He is now spoiled for life. He thoroughly enjoyed it. He was quite taken off guard when this cute but strong little Thai woman climbed on the massage bed and just started working on him. In the US they would never do that but thats why a Thai massage is a while other level. I highly recommend it! 

The rest of the day was spent at the beach; swinging on the palm tree swings, swimming, eating/drinking, and napping. It was a really tough day.  

Part of our daily routine was to heade to the Hilltop pool and bar for happy hour where we were able to get a free drink and snack as apart of the package/room. It was an infinity pool with views of the river and mountains around. The water was crystal clear and much cooler than the beach but so refreshing when its 90 degrees. For the first few days I ordered a green coconut water any and everywhere possible. Pretty much every day I got my green coconut water but sometimes they ran out so I got watermelon juice or a glass of wine. I had a few versions of coconut water, sometimes it was room temperature, sometimes cold, and one time the bar tender used a hand blender to make a green coconut water slushee with crushed ice, that was by far my favorite sooo refreshing and uber healthy.

We bought water-proof case for our camera for when we go snorkeling and decided to test it out in the pool.

I love Thailand!

Ben the mer-man

Thats enough for one blog. I'll continue in the next blog for the next few days. Stay tuned! This is just the beginning.