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Mountains, Festivals, and Elephants in Chiang Mai (Oh My!)

After a few days in the Big Mango, Chris and I headed north to Chiang Mai to add mountains, festivals, and elephants to our Thailand experience. We arrived to find the city decorated from end-to-end in preparation for the Loy Krathong and Yi Peng celebrations, which was the entire reason we planned this trip in November during the full moon when these festivals take place.

On our first full day, we took a road trip up into the mountains and split the morning at two sites: first, the Hmong tribe hillside village, followed by a visit to Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.

Hmong village sits high on a hill above Chiang Mai and offers a peek into the tribe culture via a small museum, lush gardens, and a long pathway of shops selling handmade wares. We enjoyed exploring there and found a lovely spot for a cup of locally grown coffee…as in, it was sourced right there in the mountains! The Hmong people that settled here previously farmed opium poppies until the Thai government intervened and encouraged the tribe to farm other wares such as coffee beans.

After our village visit we ascended upon the Wat Phra That Doi Suthep temple and I wondered if we should have switched the order of our itinerary that day. Not only was the famous wat overwhelmingly crowded, we missed out on the cooler morning temperatures and found ourselves rushing through the gold-covered pagodas and shrines just to escape the heat. Have I mentioned here before how I don’t do well in extreme heat and crowds? The temple is so beautiful though, and I would still include it on a Chiang Mai must-see list with the strong recommendation to go as soon as the doors open!

We returned to the city in time for lunch and decided to eat at a women’s prison, as you do. The Chiang Mai Women’s Correctional Institution Vocational Training Center rehabilitates inmates for reintegration back into society. The women learn skills in traditional Thai massage, as well as run the adjacent restaurant where Chris and I enjoyed two variations of Pad Thai – one is the more familiar style we see at home in the States, and the other is when the dish is enveloped in a thin, crepe-like egg wrap. Both delicious.

We also tried the signature dish of Chiang Mai, khao soi, but I (please don’t throw rocks at me) wasn’t a huuuge fan. We tried it again later in the week and I still couldn’t get on board, but I’m glad we at least tried it. Exploring new foods has become one of our very favorite parts of travel whether we actually like every dish or not!

And then as if our day wasn’t satisfying enough already, we finished with a truly magical private festival reception at our hotel resort (stay tuned for more about our Thailand accommodations in a future post). We got a little dolled up and dined under the stars accompanied by thousands of lanterns gently floating overhead. To partake in both the Loy Krathong and Yi Peng traditions, we each lit and launched our own krathongs and lanterns from the peaceful banks of the Mae Ping River.

I’m not sure what else could top that night, except I DO KNOW BECAUSE IT’S ELEPHANTS.

We spent the next day about an hour north of Chiang Mai at Elephant Nature Park! A whole park of elephants. So many elephants. And you get to interact with them and feed them and care for them and hear their stories and it’s amazing. In fact, here are a few of my favorite images from that day, but I think I’ll write a separate post solely about ENP (background info, logistics, what to expect, etc.) because we had such a fantastic experience and took one billion photos.

On our last full day in Chiang Mai, Chris and I spent our remaining time getting hour-long traditional Thai massages (for $6!), patronizing our favorite cafe one last time, shopping, and then scoping out the night markets for souvenirs and street food. As you scroll through the photos below, note that we chose to eat mango sticky rice rather than grasshoppers and crickets, and I’m thankful for that decision.

And that wraps up our time in the north! If Chris and I ever have the opportunity to return to Thailand, we will undoubtedly spend time in Chiang Mai again. I can easily understand now why it has become a backpacker favorite in the Southeast Asia region – we found a little bit of everything here, and the size of the city felt significantly more manageable compared to Bangkok. I would have loved to stay longer, but next up on our itinerary was a bit of island hopping around the Andaman Sea!

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Three Nights in Bangkok

…and the world’s your oyster.

Oh, wow. I am months behind on blogging our trip to Thailand and Cambodia! I blinked, and one quarter of 2019 flew by in an instant, so here we are in April and Chris and I are busier than ever. Before all of the trip details become a blissful blur, I should definitely get a post written even if it has to be a short and sweet photo essay of sorts.

I heard advice from many travelers that a trip to Thailand without at least some time in Bankgok is incomplete, so we spent the first three nights of our itinerary in the Big Mango. I don’t know what would have felt like enough time to really get to know the action-packed Thai capital, but three nights definitely wasn’t it. We successfully hit some big highlights though including several of the must-see temples, a food tour (my favorite way to get to know a city), the flower market, a floating market, and some Muay Thai boxing.

The frenetic feel of the city overcame us the minute we arrived and Bangkok kept the same intensity throughout our stay, day and night, but the calm oasis of our hotel helped soothe us weary travelers after each day of exploring. And they had such an amazing breakfast spread. If we ever have the opportunity to return someday, I’d stay there again in a heartbeat.

We managed to try just about every mode of transportation – tuk tuk, BTS skytrain, MRT subway, longtail boat, and Chao Phraya River Express Boat. Bangkok is about as sprawling as a large metropolitan area can get, but their public transport system is impressive and was fairly easy for us to navigate. I feel like we were able to cover quite a lot of ground during our short stay.

And now, because a slew of pictures is worth more than a few hundred words (and because I think this will be the quickest way for me to get caught up on posts), here are some of our favorite images from our favorite moments in Bangkok.

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2018 in Review

Exactly how late is too late to wish someone a Happy New Year? I feel like the first two weeks of January are fair game, but today might be at or past the point in time where we all just need to move on with it. In any case, I do hope your 2019 is going well and that your resolutions are holding strong, or that you have gleefully dismissed them altogether in favor of something more fun.

I’m looking back on 2018 with a fondness of mainly travel memories and items crossed off of the ol’ bucket list. Chris and I added three new countries to our tally and revisited a couple of favorites. We found ourselves in Honduras, St. John, Scotland, Thailand, Cambodia, and Colorado (plus day trips around the DC/MD/VA area and into West Virginia as well). We cheered as our beloved Washington Capitals skated their way through the playoffs and went on to win the Stanley Cup! Our love for live music was fulfilled by attending several concerts including The Killers, Matt & Kim, The Smashing Pumpkins, 311, and CHVRCHES. We celebrated with friends as they exchanged wedding vows on a beautiful day in August, we celebrated our own 11-year wedding anniversary picnic-style in one of our favorite parks, and we celebrated the holiday season with family (and breweries).

I’ve now sat here for five minutes trying to remember any major lowlights of 2018, but oddly enough I’m not coming up with any! I asked Chris, and he can’t recall anything either. Cheers to that, and I hope you and yours have a lowlight-free 2019!

 

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Photo Friday – Lantern Festival

I can’t wait to write more about our trip to Thailand (and Cambodia!), but just haven’t carved the time out to do so yet. In the meantime, here’s one of my favorite images of the trip. The Yee Peng (or Yi Peng) Festival is the reason we scheduled our travels in November, and it did not disappoint! More soon.

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Scotland 2018 Snapshot

And now it’s time for my Scotland snapshot post! I’ve rounded up some of the highlights (and one lowlight) and random moments from our trip to Glasgow and Speyside this past summer.

Trip Details

Chris and I flew Iceland air round-trip from IAD – GLA on July 3rd through the 9th. We stayed one night at the Radisson Blu Glasgow before taking a rental car up to Speyside for three nights. We stayed at The Station Hotel in Rothes, and then returned to Glasgow for one night (and stayed at the Radisson Blu again) to attend TRNSMT Fest.

Wish List

This is a new section of the snapshot posts! I usually make a little wish list before each trip of extra things I try to make sure we eat, see, or do outside of our main activities, and I thought it would be fun to share the list in this post.

  • photograph the Craigellachie bridge (drone photo)
  • eat shortbread & go to the Walkers shop
  • have afternoon tea
  • eat sticky toffee pudding
  • eat at The Mash Tun (haggis nachos!)
  • see Balvenie Castle
  • see/photograph highland cows
  • go to the top of the Lighthouse for views of Glasgow

We managed to do all of the Speyside items on my list except afternoon tea – it just didn’t end up fitting into our schedule. I also didn’t take a drone photo of the Craigellachie bridge since there were always people around and I didn’t want to disturb anyone, but we did take non-aerial photos of it. And then the one thing I wanted to do in Glasgow, go to the top of the Lighthouse, ended up being closed. Boo. But seeing highland cows again was really at the top of my list and I did get to do that, so yay!

Best Moment

Chris’s favorite moment was the Balvenie tasting. My favorite moment was a tie between playing with the highland cows and dancing to The Killers at TRNSMT Fest. But despite our wildly different highlights, we always manage to have a great time together. 🙂

Worst Moment

I’m a pretty big rule-follower and people-pleaser AND I really try hard to represent Americans well when we travel, so I felt pretty sheepish when I was chased away from Balvenie Castle for flying my drone there. I really didn’t think I was disturbing anyone since there were no visitors, but there is a private residence fairly close to the castle so I imagine they don’t want a drone overhead. I wasn’t filming the residence at all and didn’t even fly over it, but I understand. Womp womp. Hopefully my photo isn’t plastered anywhere with “Bad American” written on it. I did get a pretty photo at least (see Favorite Photos below).

Funniest Moment

There was a very enthusiastic (tipsy and/or high?) Scottish woman at TRNSMT Fest who put her arm around my waist a few times to dance with me during The Killers. She also kept grabbing our arms to joyfully pump them in the air to the music. Neither of us are used to a stranger entering our personal space like that! Chris was a little traumatized by it, but I found her fun and hilarious. And I thought I videoed a bit of us dancing, but my iPhone lens must have been switched to the wrong side. All I have is this blurry snapshot showing half of her face:

Best Meal

We loved our Mexican small plates dinner at Topolabamba in Glasgow (that was Chris’s favorite meal), but the best thing I ate was the sticky toffee pudding at The Station Hotel restaurant, Toots. We ended up eating it more than once and I don’t even feel bad about it. That little cup of toffee sauce is liquid joy.

Something We Learned

We learned all about the cooper’s job in the whisky making process. I had no idea that the bourbon and sherry casks used for the aging stage were disassembled, modified, and reassembled before using them to age the whisky. It was fascinating to watch them at work.

We’re Thankful We Packed

Light. We needed plenty of room in our suitcases on the way back to bring home several souvenir bottles of whisky, so it was good that we packed as few things as possible.

Pro tip: I always pack one of these packable totes in my suitcase in case I need the extra space for carrying souvenirs home. In this situation, I put some stuff from my suitcase into the tote as a carry-on so that we could put whisky bottles (liquids) in the suitcase as checked baggage.

We Didn’t Need To Bring

Rain gear! We had amazing weather the entire time and never needed our rain jackets.

Trip Regrets

I wish we could have squeezed in a few more days to see more of the Scottish countryside.

Reasons To Go Back

We always want to go back to Scotland! No specific reasons needed, but we do have Isle of Skye, Campbeltown, and the highlands on our short list.

Favorite Photos

 

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