With over a month of wonderful memories made in New Zealand, we headed west to continue our international adventures. We had originally planned on tucking a three week visit to Australia in between New Zealand and Portugal. But, after watching the fires in Australia grow in area and intensity, we cancelled our Australia plans altogether.
However, after some reassurance from an old high school friend who lives near Brisbane, we decided to spend a few days on the Gold Coast. And boy, are we glad we did. Brisbane is a vibrant, clean, friendly, and toasty city! After the rain and cool temperatures of New Zealand, we were looking forward to the sunshine and heat.
Before we began our international travels, I did a fair amount of research on koalas–those wonderfully fuzzy, sleepy marsupials. My goal in going to Australia was to see one. Imagine my delight when I found out one of the most notable koala sanctuaries is in Brisbane!
I was like a kid in a candy store the day we took the bus to Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary. Lone Pine opened in 1927 as a sanctuary for injured, sick and orphaned koalas. They have since expanded to include kangaroos, wallabies, and other animals native to Australia. Their signature experience is for visitors to hold a koala. You betcha I signed up for that! After a bit of a wait in line with all the other koala cuddlers, I stepped up to hold my little buddy, a youngster named Chester. I can report koalas are as sleepy and soft as they look.
Having ready-made tour guides in Australia was certainly a bonus. My friend, Corey and his wife, Leanne, picked us up at our apartment and drove us into Brisbane for lunch at a sidewalk bistro in the downtown. It was great to meet Leanne and get caught up with Corey (has it really been more than 40 years!?) It also wasn’t lost on me that it was December and I was sitting outside in a sundress, drinking iced tea. That kind of December could grow on a girl who hates being cold!
The following day, Leanne and Corey invited us down to their neck of the woods on the Gold Coast for a New Year’s Eve day full of beaches, sunshine, and more great conversation. Packing a swimsuit with the expressed purpose of swimming in the ocean on December 31st felt like madness to this Oregon Coast native. However, I’m happy to report that the water was a refreshing break after walking along the coastline in the full Australian summer heat.
January 1, 2020 found us winging our way to Thailand! We hadn’t originally planned on visiting South East Asia, but we had two weeks to kill before heading to Portugal. Why not spend it somewhere even warmer than Australia?
We quickly threw together a plan to visit Chang Mai in northern Thailand and the southern island of Phuket, with a day or two in Bangkok. We figured that would be plenty of Big City for us, and we were right. It was everything you watch and read and hear about.
The mass of people, the wild traffic, and the constant assault by vendors just trying to eke out a subsistence living were overwhelming. Fortunately, we’d chosen to only spend one full day there. We toured a few different Buddhist temples (called Wats). There are temples everywhere in Thailand, ranging from huge complexes that take up multiple city blocks to little 1’ x 1’ shrines next to the sidewalk. A couple different times, locals took the time to explain what various elements and rituals meant. Very much appreciated…
Getting around the city included a tuk tuk ride, which was pretty much exactly as we’d heard it would be—dodging in and out of traffic; battling countless scooters, cars and trucks for space; passing cars via the parking lane (or the on-coming lane) whenever possible.
Check out this video we found on YouTube. This wasn’t our ride, but very similar. You’ll get a good feel for it.
The ride also included the requisite stops at the suit shops. The drivers have a deal with the shop owners and are compensated for dropping tourists off to listen to the sales pitch and peruse the wares. We listened to the hard sell, but didn’t walk away with any suits…
Next, it was a quick flight to the city of Chiang Mai, which was a lot less crazy and a little less smoggy. We stayed in the old city with its remnants of the centuries-old protective walls and moats. The city is made up of a few straight primary streets and umpteen narrow, winding, minor streets. Thankfully, Google Maps had them all figured out, otherwise we’d still be wandering around trying to find our hotel.
Beyond just exploring our way around, we sprang for some fun tours involving bikes, food, hiking, temples and elephants. Our first tour was an evening bicycle foodie tour around Chang Mai’s old town. We rode to several little “hole in wall” restaurants enjoying the traditional foods of northern Thailand such as grilled red tilapia, sticky rice, wrapped mince pork with red curry, Pickled Tea leaf salad, and, of course, Phad Thai. A quick stop at the night-market led to snacking on fried bamboo worms (yes, I ate one!), and finally a stop at the dessert shop for samples of just a few of over 40 different colorful, fruity toppings over shaved ice.
A few days after our culinary bike adventure we hired a hiking guide. As it turned out Mark and I were the only ones signed up for the day so we had our guide, “Mr. Bond,” as he preferred to be called, all to ourselves. Our goal was the summit of Doi Pui, with a stop along the way at Wat Doi Suthep. The temple was first established in the 1300s and the pagoda purportedly contains some of the Buddha’s remains.
Although not far from Chiang Mai, the hike would take all day as the temple is at the top of a very steep climb. Mark and Mr. Bond had no trouble on the hike. I, on the other hand, felt like I was coming down with stomach flu and took it much slower than hoped. Perhaps those fried worms were seeking revenge… Mr. Bond patched me up with some smelling salts (no joke) and I slowly felt better.
Once on the Wat Suthep grounds Mark and Mr. Bond did their stair climb for the day up to the site of the temple itself. After that stop, we continued to the summit and views of the extremely steep valleys dotted with tiny villages. We stopped at one at the end of the hike and Mr. Bond made us a delicious hot lunch. Yummy!
Our last, and most exotic tour, was to an elephant sanctuary. There are several organizations in the hill country around Chiang Mai that care for elephants who have been rescued from circuses and other performance venues. At these sanctuaries the elephants are allowed to roam the jungles without being whipped or being required to carry humans.
We rode a jeep filled with a few visitors from all over the globe up to a remote village an hour from Chiang Mai. We changed in to the tribe’s traditional tunics and set out to meet our elephant buddies. Our first task was to feed them big chunks of raw squash. They were eager and loved snatching the food from our hands. Or, they would open wide for the squash to be placed in their mouths. That was a bit intimidating!
Our next task was to walk with our buddies down to the river to bathe. This was a hoot! The adolescent female had a bit of a crush on Mark and wouldn’t leave his side. At least until the sack of squash he was carrying was empty… At the river, the elephants went in first and we joined them, splashing and “bathing” them.
After our swim with some BIG friends, we walked back to the village and were treated to the traditional foods of the area. The hill people of Thailand fed us well and provided a day we’ll cherish forever.
With lasting memories made in Chiang Mai, our next adventure was much more typical “touristy”. We flew south to Phuket Island (pronounced “Poo-ket”). We definitely enjoyed the sun and beaches, but were less than impressed by the tourist hordes. Yes, we realize we were counted among those hordes, but the focus was now less on Thai culture and more on making the foreigners happy at all times. Many of those foreigners from across the globe were self-absorbed and embarrassing. It confirmed to us that America doesn’t have the market cornered on entitled behavior. But, despite them, we had a blast doing mostly nothing but swimming and people watching on the beach.
We did manage a couple days of special activities. First, we took a boat tour to the iconic Phi Phi islands east of Phuket. While the clear, warm ocean water was wonderful, one major annoyance were the stinging jellyfish larvae. Whenever we got in the water, I couldn’t figure out what the occasional small zaps to my skin were. Our boat tour guide said it was “sea lice.” My Google search clarified that sea lice are actually microscopic jellyfish larvae. As a bonus, once you’ve been stung by them they leave an enzyme that makes you easier to find next time you’re in the water, thereby making you their favorite thing to sting. No more swimming laps from one end of the beach to the other for me.
Our time in Thailand was quickly coming to a close. We decided one way to take a piece of the yummy fun with us was to learn how to cook a few traditional dishes. We hired a chef for an evening of Thai cooking. She took us to the outdoor market to buy fresh ingredients for our 3 main courses and desert: Shrimp Phad Thai, cashew chicken, and green curry, and mango sticky rice. Back in her kitchen she walked us through each step of preparations and cooking. And then we ate, of course! We have copies of the recipes with us, but I’m not entirely sure we’ll be able to replicate the dishes. I’m looking forward to giving it my level best, though.
All-in-all Thailand was a fun side-trip on our way to Europe. We’d consider going back to northern Thailand to see a couple smaller cities. While the constant mosquito watch gets a little tiresome, the sun, people, beaches, elephants and temples made it a trip for the memory books.
Go With Me Kiddos….
Remember when going to a foreign country you are a visitor. You’ll find that at least some English is spoken by people throughout the world. But, you shouldn’t expect it. You should arrive prepared to speak a least a few simple phrases such as please, thank you, you are welcome, hello and goodbye are a good start.
When we visited New Zealand we knew we wouldn’t have a language barrier to be concerned with because their main language is English. Easy peasey, right? We quickly found out that there are a few differences. Try some of these out for yourself:
Car park–a parking lot
Trundler–shopping cart (also called a Trolley)
Takeaway–a “to go” order
Toilet–you don’t ask “May I go to the bathroom?” or “Where is your restroom?” You ask for the “toilet.” Which makes a bunch of sense since that’s what you’re likely going to use there. You’re not necessarily going to bathe or rest in that room. Right?
Cheers–goodbye and have a good day
Track–a trail that you hike (tramp) on
New Zealanders also use many words from the language of the first people who lived there, the Maori. A few Maori words and phrases:
Kia ora (Key-or-a)–Hello
Haere Ra (High-reh-reh)–Goodbye
Ka Pai (Kah pie)–Good work
The Thai language was VERY hard for us to learn. To begin, Thailand has their own alphabet that is completely different than what most western countiries use. Below is an example of Thai writing.
We basically kept our conversation to “Hello” and “Thank you.” But, there are two ways to say thank you. Males say, “Khob khun kob”. Females say, “Khob khun ka.”
Go online to find examples of the Thai language. What are your observations about their alphabet?
We’re headed to Portugal next. Come with me prepared to know how to say these words and phrases: Hello. Goodbye. Thank you. You’re welcome. Do you speak English?
Here’s a helpful hint when looking these up on the internet: there are two types of Portuguese, Brazilian and European. We will be in Portugal. Is Portugal in South America or Europe? Which type of Portuguese will we need to learn then?
Until next time…
Go With Me…