Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Vacationing MO

Robin and I seem to have found our vacation grove. We’ve done this once before last summer in Alaska when we discovered our favorite method of going someplace new: doing all the stuff you absolutely want to see first (even if it means long days) then fill your additional days with bonus material at your own pace (once you’ve felt that you’ve already seen everything you want to see). This is what we did in Bangkok…and we’re doing it again in Chiang Mai. It makes for a crazy first day, but then we can relax and not feel like we’re missing something.

Today we spent the day at the Doi Inthanon National Park, which is about an hour from where we are staying. We were met this morning (after a FANTASTIC Thai breakfast with rice soup, overlooking the river) by our guide, Jaime, and our driver, John. They introduced themselves, gave us a rundown of the day to come, and we were off to the park.

Doi Inthanon

They started by taking us to the top of Thailand’s highest peak, Doi Inthanon mountain at a height of 2565 meters. The mountain is at the eastern edge of the Himalayas. The trails were amazing, although not very long. There were clouds swirling around us and through the trees, and the atmosphere was WET WET WET. The vegetation there is as lush as you can image. Every surface was covered in thick moss and ferns, including the tree trunks and branches. Robin was afraid if she stopped moving she’d be buried in moss and never be found again. It felt like walking through a dark primordial forest. You can drive all the way to the top because there is a government installation up there.. We tried to do some bird spotting, and saw some very beautiful ones, but the little buggars are tough to photograph, so Robin stuck to shooting plants. The first trail we went on included a shrine to King Inthanon, the park’s namesake. The second trail was called Ang Ka and was along a boardwalk.

Twin Chedis

The next stop down the mountain was to see the Twin Chedis, which are shrines, one built for the king’s 60 birthday, and the other built for the queen. The king’s was under renovation at the time, so we checked out the queen’s shrine. It was a beautiful purple color, which made for some great views against the cloudy (or in the case of being on a mountaintop, “foggy”) backdrop. There was also a garden around the shrine where we spotted some cows on an adjoining ridge.

Royal Government Project

One of the interesting things about the national park is that it features some of the results of the work done by the king to improve the country’s agriculture. There are farmers in the hills who now grow their own flowers and vegetables. Jaime said this was to move them away from growing opium. Today, you can see the results of the people’s work, and the king’s leadership…you can taste it too…goods are for sale. We got some dried fruit and tea.

Yet another amazing lunch followed. This time Jaime took us to a building with open sides and rows of tables where we were brought a mini feast. There was also a large group of students there from an English-speaking school.

During the course of the meal, Robin and I decided we are moving to Thailand.

Wachirathan Falls

We closed out the tour with a visit to some waterfalls. Wachirathan was the first. It was raining a bit when we got there, so our driver got us some umbrellas to go up to the waterfall. By the time we got up there, we weren’t sure if it was still raining, or if the mist from the waterfall was what was drenching us and our cameras (a nice cool activity like this was a welcome break from the heat of Bangkok). Our guide let us wander around some of the nearby trails. Robin and I found a sign at the bottom of the waterfall that read “no swimming”. We were amused. It was tough moving around at the bottom of the waterfall because the mist was so heavy; all the walking surfaces were slick.

Nae Klang Falls

At the final stop, we found Nae Klang waterfall. Just as spectacular as the first, we again enjoyed subjecting the falling water to our photo shoot.

Robin spotted a trail to the right of the waterfall, and Jaime was happy to let us venture off. We got to the top of the waterfall, which was cool, but the trail didn’t end. We pressed on for awhile longer before it was clear that the end was not coming anytime soon. I encouraged a reluctant Robin to turn back before Jaime called out the rescue squad.

During the course of the day, Jaime was a wealth of information on a lot of things, but some of the most interesting things we discovered were regarding plants. First, we spotted a banana tree and he told us once it bears fruit, you have to cut it down, otherwise it won’t bear fruit again. Second, he pointed out teak, which we always knew existed, but had never actually seen the tree before. Very cool. We also just enjoyed chatting with Jamie. He was young and a lot of fun to hang out with for the day. The kind of guy you’d like to have a few beers with.

Satisfied with all we saw, Jaime and John dropped us off ahead of schedule, which gave us the perfect chance to do some things we were hoping to do back at the resort. We wanted to go swimming in the infinity pool, but it was being worked on. We were promised it would be back in shape in 10 minutes. This was the perfect chance to kayak on the Ping River. We hauled a tandem kayak down to the water and took off upstream. It’s a pretty lazy river, so there was little work involved. Some of the locals spotted us on the water and gave us a wave. They seemed pretty amused. Perhaps because the water is very BROWN? We showered directly after the paddle.

So, if we wanted to make our day sound REALLY cool, in a very technical way, we hiked the Himalayas and kayaked the Ping River today.

Having worked up a bit of a sweat on the river, we were now primed for a swim. Neither of us had been in an infinity pool before. It was pretty cool. We also discovered that neither of us had really done much swimming for at least 8 years. We enjoyed it thoroughly. It felt great.

We ended the day with a meal cooked up right here at the resort. Perhaps it would be easier for me to just take note of the meals we eat that are NOT awesome. This one, once again, wowed us. Further, we were impressed with the portion size…satisfying, but not filling. It was a wonderful outdoor setting, with music playing and a thunderstorm rolling in across the river. We just drank up the evening.

One observation before I wrap up. The Thai people really get the concept of customer service. It’s a notion that’s mostly dead in America, but the Thais understand that treating customers with respect and kindness brings good things. Even though they know the chance of repeat business from someone in America is remote, they do what they can to keep you satisfied. I know it’s an outdated idea, but it’s working for the Thai people. Don’t think we and other tourists aren’t taking note.

And you know, I don’t think it would even be fair to say they’re looking for repeat business. I think many of them know how good it feels to get good service, and so that’s what they provide to others. Nice, huh?

Oh – and have I mentioned we meet T on Sunday? We’re a bit excited.



Farrah and Jed said...

WOW what an amazing time you guys are having in Thailand....And the most exciting part it looks as though you are there on Vacation in when reality hits you are there to become parents....How freakin amazing is that!!!

B said...

Clint and I are excited for you. We read your blog religiously and feel like we are there with you. You are always in our thoughts. We cannot wait to meet the new addition to our family (as I can imagine you feeling the same way x1000).

Brienne and Clint

Hannah said...

I think you've both found new careers as travel writers. Just grab Thanu and travel the world blogging about your adventures :) I can't wait to see all the beautiful pictures you must have taken!

Danielle said...

You are doing a GREAT job of documenting your trip. I feel like I'm there -- which is such a gift.

You're not even at the best part yet -- how great is that?

Have fun--


Gator said...

Wow. It sounds like you are having an absolutely fantastic trip. Bring me lots of pictures!

Anonymous said...

Agreed Customer Service is awesome and the food is simply AMAZING!!! And besides you will repeat the visit - I know you will!!!


It has been fun reading about your trip!


Melissa May said...

I'm glad you are enjoying every minute of your last trip without a child tagging along! (Other than the ones when you intentionally leave him/them behind so you can enjoy time together alone... but I doubt you will be doing that any time too soon!!!) Travelling with children is definitely a different experience!!! : ) Are you counting the hours?????

Nichole said...

I can't wait until Sunday.