Mr Ek and Mr Od picked us up for our private tour. We stopped by a local fruit market to pick up a few things for our trip and then another stop at Orchid restaurant to look at butterflies and orchids. From there, we drove to Wangnumyard resort – to visit the Karen Longneck tribe. Considering it is called a resort, I don’t know how well the people are treated and unfortunately it feels a little exploitive. We gave out little treats to the children (our guide purchased them and gave them to us to give to his “little friends”). I fully respect different cultures and traditions but it looked like we were just going from station to station to take photos with these women. Mind you, each one was in their own hut where they were selling products – some of which they made and some you can purchase in any market. Nonetheless, very interesting experience to say the least and beautiful tradition that is a sacred ritual which has been modernized. Mothers can choose for their daughters to either undergo the process at age 5 with a starter necklace that is 2 piece that can be taken off and on with ease OR if they decide that they don’t want their daughters to continue that tradition and go pursue academics and whatnot. Mr Ek was very knowledgable and sassy but told us that it’s not impossible for them to reconsider late in life they don’t want to continue wearing the necklaces but that there will be leftover scarring and their necks may feel uncomfortable and weak. The village itself is pretty but once you get to the bottom, its is ‘all catered to the visitors. Ethical or not, its a beautiful tradition and there were so many people still continuing it. But don’t be “that” tourist who doesn’t acknowledge the women as humans and treat them like animals – acknowledge the person and ask permission to take a photo with them.
We drove a bit more into the mountain area so we were at a higher elevation of the Mae Tang River for our white water rafting. The rapids weren’t too bad and easy to sail through. My whitewater tubing experience was more intense even in low tide season. When we arrived at the bottom, we got out and climbed up to a buffet lunch – tasty food – the fried chicken was so tasty! We changed into our mahout blue elephant outfits (XL) with our swim suits under. We had to wait a bit as there was a backlog with people and the elephants so we played ping pong on a cement table with a deflated ball. When it was our turn, we hopped back into the van and off we went to Makha Elephant Village. We arrived and Mr Ek was teaching us the basic words we should know to ride the elephants.
Pai – forward
Sai – left
Qua – right
how – stop
yea – don’t do that
bonbon – treats!
dede- good boy/girl
We all got a chance to get familiar with the proper way of getting on an elephant and riding an elephant – either bend your knees and tuck them on the ears or straight legged behind the ears with both hands on the top of the head. That way you can balance and after saying a command you can pat the elephant on the head and say dede – good boy/girl. It is also good to call them by their name so they get familiar with your voice. We made sure to choose a place where the elephants are treated well and are ethically riden (as ethical as it can be for riding an elephant) which this place showed signs of both. We had to wait until 2 people on one elephant to come back because we needed one more elephant for us. We rode individually on each elephant but the group before us had 2 women on one but at least no harness/seat apparatus like we saw earlier with 4 grown men a top of a elephant in a seat. Also, getting on a elephant when they are bowing puts strain on their knees when they get up so you should technically climb on from a higher height. My elephant is the oldest elephant in this sanctuary and her name is Mec-Ham. They add “Mec” in front of the female’s names which means mother to show respect. For a bit she would stop listening but for the most part, very chill, very hungry pulling at vines but listened. The ride was fun and the mahouts are great with them. Elephants don’t like cars and get frightened by them as we found out on our hike with a car passing through. Once we arrived back from our little hike in the jungle with them, we got to feed them bananas then Mec-Ham went back out immediately with another group. Luckily, Mec-Ham didn’t throw mud on herself when I was riding her but she did with this new girl and she was basically given a mud bath. We got to bathe them as well and it was really sweet. Mr Ek prepared some food for us and so we ate and talked a bit before our adventure back home in rush hour.
We all showered and then decided on dinner options. Andrew had looked up a place with a food market – Chang Phueak (ช้างเผือก) that had 30 baht pad thai and we literally walked on Salmon all the way north gate of the old city. We got there and couldn’t read all the menus but we settled on one place and I got myself chicken khao soy – 60 baht and it was so delicious but that spice hits the back of your throat and lingers. I also grabbed a passionfruit shake – 30 baht. Along the way there, there was one stall we passed that sold fried ice cream for 20 baht; we returned and I got the lemon with the strawberry sauce, whipped cream and sprinkles, it reminded me of a donut.
I asked Stella if there were any places around we could play some volleyball and she said there wasn’t any. The schools have volleyball courts but I doubt we can use them especially seeing some of them we saw yesterday with armed soldiers at the gate. So sad.
I couldn’t go the rest of the trip without a DSLR so I decided I need to purchase a new one here. Denchai is the #1 camera store here in Chiang Mai although, they do not stock all camera models. They do however do repairs. I called them and unfortunately they don’t stock the Nikon D610 and only the D600. Instead, we walked over to Central Plaza – Chiangmai Airport mall. The mall opens at 11AM. It took about 20-25 minute walking south of our hostel. When we got in, I went to information and got a tourist discount card which I applied for earlier in the morning online. This mall is 4 floors and has a Uniqlo. I purchased the new DSLR camera at Photobug but had to wait 30 minutes as they had to deliver it from their other location so we all wandered the mall to met back up at Uniqlo.
I feel better knowing I have a DSLR in my hand. We ended up going down to the Northern Village side of the mall where there is a food court that is indoors, clean with tons of stalls selling food cheap like the night market stalls. I ended up at one place where I got a fried egg on rice with chicken thigh in oyster sauce which was 50baht and delicious. There was also a ice cream stall called Paton Ice Cream which serves you 3 scoops for only 20baht – they also add coconut jelly to the bottom and any toppings you want.
We ended up sharing a tuktuk back to our hostel with a family visiting from Malaysia and one guy actually lived in Toronto back in the day near Dundas Station. Amy & Adam were so wiped and in a food coma that they napped for a bit. After their nap, we went to Akha Ama Coffee (Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District, Chiang Mai) so I could pick up coffee beans. I’ve read online about it and I love the story behind it and all the effort it is in sourcing locally. The name comesfrom the Akha village of Maejantai. Ama means mother in Akha language and it is that face that graces the logo as she convinced her village to combine strengths and produce, process and market their own coffee. The beans are grown in Northern Thailand and the proceeds of the coffee beans sold here go back to that community. I grabbed a small bag of italian roast for only 180baht and a green tea latte 50 baht.
We then proceeded to do a temple run today starting off with วัดพระสิงห์วรมหาวิหาร Si Phum, Mueang Chiang Mai District then continuing on to Phonon Rachadamnoen Alley stopping by some smaller ones and watching sunset at Wat Chedi Luang before making our way to Wat Phantao (which was closed until 730PM) so we continued and made our way to the 3 Kings Monument Si Phum which was once city hall but is now serves as a cultural centre. The city is getting decorated for the festival as the bigger ceremonies and festivities are in full swing the 25th & 26th. We returned to the North Gate market on Manee Nopparat Road – Chang Phueak (ช้างเผือก). The cheapest and best pork is served here by the Thai cowgirl – she is known for her Khao Kha Moo – pork served with rice and a hard boiled egg for only 30baht! I got shrimp pad thai beside it for 50 baht as Amy and Andrew both got Khao Kha Moo. After dinner, we continued walking and made our way to the Ping river near the US Consulate where people were lighting floating krathong (boats made out of bamboo and flowers) and sending them down the river with their wishes and bad luck. It was pretty and tons of people were there. There was one man I thought was saving the drowning boats and re-lighting them but he was actually taking the money in them. We watched for a bit but the smoke got intense so we continued on down the river which brought us to Warorot Market then continued walking and made our way back to Wat Phantao and it was perfect timing. You enter to see a row of lanterns and people purchasing candles with wishes or blessings on them. They bring them to one of the larger monuments where they hand it off to monks to place higher up – that in itself is visually stunning. At the back corner you see giant trees with lanterns lit up and young monks sitting on the ground surrounded by candles as an elder reads off something in thai. There is a bridge made out of bamboo which we are not to suppose to stand on but of course chinese tourists “can’t read signs” and proceed to do so. The crowd got huge and somehow I got my way in front row to watch. The young monks got up and together lit paper lanterns and tied it to a string so they could make it float but not release them into the sky as they are saving that for tomorrow so they can do it all together. It was absolutely stunning.
Woke up early yet again but this morning woke up to rain which sucks. We packed up and went down to the second floor for breakfast buffet before getting picked up by Sun Legend Tour to take us on our journey to Ha Long Bay. We booked the 2 day and 1 night tour for $143.45USD/pp.
4 hour car ride. First van shuttle to have free WIFI. One other couple – Wendy & Vincent from Malaysia joined the sticky rice crew. Luckily the weather turned out to be spectacular outside of Hanoi. Our tour guide is Kien who also runs a Hanoi biking tour with Sun Legend and is the poster boy for it. Driving here is crazy but makes sense. Some highways are two lanes with 60km/hr but people float on the lanes and just honk when they want to pass to let them know. Gasoline is expensive over here for them at 84 cents per litre.
We arrived in Tuan Chau a little early so we had a stop at a pearl store. Then we began our adventures to the cruise ship. They had civet coffee (weasel poo coffee) but it was almost $100 USD. We gathered our belongings and took to the dingy which brought us aboard our ship. I being the odd one out got my own room with a double memory foam bed. We got settled in and off we sailed into the pinnacle of Ha Long Bay. These giant islands are made of limestone and look like they just separated and kind of remind me of the 12 Apostles or Loch Ard Gorge in Australia.
We had lunch then went on our way to kayak Luon cave. Once again odd number, I got my own two person kayak and I killed the kayaking on my own. Cool experience gliding through a tunnel into a safe haven surrounded by the limestone with monkeys everywhere; very serene. The next best thing was that on this pier, there were guys playing their version of volleyball on the pier! Asian volleyball at it’s finest which Amy and myself joined for a point or two before we had to go back to the ship.
Next event was Ti Top Island with a lookout point which was named after the Russian man who gave Vietnam their first airplane which was a great thing but no one in Vietnam knew how to fly it. It was about 500 steps to reach the top of this island and it was steep enough to make all of us breathe hard. We were all glistening by the time we reached the top but the view was definitely worth it. We rushed back down and practically jumped into the water at the beach and of course there was a volleyball net so we were obligated to play but that ball was heavy and the court not on even grounds. 4×4 with sort of shooting method of play but obviously Adam owned it. One of the guys was trying to block him but he kept OT-ing him so he switched spots with me. We got back to the boat just in time for sunset and had happy hour time then dinner and squid fishing and karaoke.
Some information about Hanoi from Kien:
–7 million in Hanoi.
-Oldest bridge was built in 1901 but had to rebuild part of it due to the war.
-People don’t move out of Hanoi but tons of people come for university and never leave. They expanded to the other side of the red river to accommodate more people. The north is definitely had more wealth than the south from what I’ve seen. The people seem friendly here and not as judgy just a little.
-The old buildings with green and yellow colouring are old French buildings. I really love the architecture here even when it’s dingy looking but also quite clean and I absolutely love the marble flooring in some of the homes I’ve seen.
-The king moved the capital to Hanoi with 36 items and wanted to make it easier for everyone to purchase products such as copper to one street called copper street.
-Lifestyle – very flexible in terms of life, way of working, way of driving, way of eating etc. I the people here especially in Hanoi are hard working folk who may take their time like I’m sure I would in this kind of climate but nonetheless, working hard at their craft especially agriculturally. People’s homes are a combination home and shop front which makes it very homie everywhere.
-For beer – International Bia Hoi corner. The tour guide likes to go there as local girls don’t drink beer at any other beer halls except there because it’s a mix of locals and foreigners there.
-People aren’t suppose to occupy the pavement as that breaks the law and only use it for walking so a coffee shop owner would need to goto the police officer and ask for space on the pavement and the police are flexible and bribe them with free coffee and money. They can bargain.
-54 ethnicities but 80% Vietnamese.
Some knowledge of coffee for Hanoi & Vietnam:
-Coffee here is very strong; stronger than the south.
-For different seasons in Hanoi. So they automatically offer you coffee with ice there but have options in Hanoi for hot coffee and coffee with ice. People drink coffee for new ideas. Coffee for the inspiration.
-Coffee with yogurt
-Coffee with egg
-Trung Nguyen is the most popular brands.
Awoke at 530AM to watch the sunrise which at 530 looked like nothing and it was cloudy. I returned to my room but then outside my window, I saw a gleam of light around 6-630AM which was primetime for beautiful morning light. Everyone skipped yoga and taichi. We had breakfast then went to Sung Sot cave which is one of the 7 wonders of nature as this island has limestone tunnels inside into another world practically. They used this cave during the American war to hide from invading soldiers and to hide weapons and it’s interior is massive. It somewhat looks like that secret new world they found in Vietnam that has it’s own ecosystem. Back to the boat where we packed and made spring rolls and had lunch before heading back to Hanoi.
We checked back into our original hotel but in a 5 person suite which is actually pretty nice minus the fact there is one bathroom with low water pressure. Since Adam, Amy and myself are going to be on the move from Luang Prabang straight to Pakse straight into a jungle then off to Siem Reap, we needed to wash our clothes so we used body gel and hand washed them in the sink. Luckily there was 18 hangers in the closet in the hotel room. There is a ledge where the ceiling lowers slightly which came in handy to hang the hangers to air dry all our clothing which reminds us of an open market selling clothing.
For dinner, we walked over to a Quan An Ngon – 18 Phan Dinh Phung – which was a slightly higher end version of street meats but better service. We ordered a bunch of items to share including: ben cha, pho, ben thang, seafood /springroll, mango salad, green onions with garlic, fresh spring rolls, some type of fish thing. Everything tasted great, service was great and the place was booming and clean that we got seated upstairs. From there, we walked back over toward the pond Ho Hoan Kiem and made our way to Highland Coffee to check out the view and buy coffee. Unfortunately the smallest bag of beans they had was a size of a baby so I opted to go outside just around the corner to Trung Nguyen (coffee chain) and purchased a bag of espresso beans for 140.000VND. We walked around looking for dessert so we ended up walking back into the direction of the dessert place we went to 2 nights previously and had more dessert there. 95 Hang Bac. We arrived home shortly after and said our final goodbyes to Emily and James.
Ate at Park Cafe then to land we went – Cozumel, Mexico. It’s so strange to see other cruise ships docked right beside our boat making all the rest look tiny in comparison. The port basically was a outlet shopping centre but you can also go out into the city. We made our way to the excursions area to line up. From there we were put into specific taxis to bring us to Uvas Resort (uvas means grapes) which has a spa, bar, pool and of course our excursions of clear kayak and snorkelling. Our guide Angel and Louis made the day really fun. My first time kayaking and with the guidance of Jo I think I got the hang of it. I had attached the go pro to the selfie stick and held it with the paddle to get some cool angles but I guess the paddle hit the release button and my go pro sunk into the water. Luckily, we had just gotten into the water so it wasn’t too deep so my hero for the day Louis dove down and retrieved it for me. We were only in the kayaks for a short period of time before we switched to snorkelling. It was a great experience as there are coral reefs which we went over.
Back in the port area, we did a little shopping then back onto the ship to make it in time for volleyball. After a few hours of playing we went for dinner in Windjammers (surprised? I think not). We had timed it perfectly so we could go straight from dinner to our show which was Come fly with me starring performers from Hairspray and the other productions – the performers are multi talented and I guess because they are on the ship on contract, they provide entertainment in a variety of ways. There was some pretty cool acts like the aerialists and gymnasts. Right after the show, we decided to line up for the comedy show and we are so glad we did because the acts were great. Simian was my favourite who actually knows Tokyo Disneyland theme song and dance by heart.
Final night on the cruise ship in cruising mode. We decided after that that we should try Flowrider. It’s actually more difficult than it looks. Jo and myself went in just our swim suits with no shirt to cover up on top and Jo was wearing a strapless. You can tell where I am going with this… NOTE: wear a t-shirt over your swim wear. Final session of volleyball then we quickly washed up and headed to Windjammers for dinner then straight to the comedy show where we bumped into our volleyball crew. On the final night, you pack your things and leave your large luggage in the hallway so the crew can relocate it to its proper section for when you depart and check-out from the ship. We attended farewell party at Blaze Club and met all sorts of people from around the world including a couple named Brooke and Christina who are both in the army and don’t get to much time with each other as they are deployed for 6-10 months away from one another. Christina turned 27 at midnight and they had been dating for 6 years and married for 2. It was a good night.
Final morning breakfast before disembarking the floating island of a ship. We ended the trip the way we started – in lines. Security checks, luggage pick-up, final ship check-out, airport security and waiting in a crowded airport only to have your flight be an hour delayed with you sitting in the plane for 30 minutes before even moving.
All in all, this was a great experience and for a person who was skeptic about cruises, I would most definitely do a cruise again. Although I would much rather do my own thing, for a short trip where not much thinking needs to be done except choosing what free shows to see, where to eat free food and whatnot, this type of travelling is perfect for it.