Spray it with bug spray, tuck it in, and pray nothing gets in!
Mar 19th, 2010 by Tessa

“Who has the key?” Phoebe asked automatically as she stepped onto the wooden porch, that really didn’t deserve the right to be called a porch. It was really a bunch of wooden planks nailed to the underside of our cottage with a railing on the edge that would probably drag you down with it if you touched it. The house was on stilts and overlooked the sea. The builders must have been pressed for space because they had decided to build our cottage over the rocks leading into the water. We were IN the rocks to the point that one of our walls was half of the boulder that the right side of our cottage leaned on. Dad, leaned against the boulder and mom sat on the chair on the porch. We spilled into the room like a wave of water spills onto the sand. Dad quickly flicked on the fan and I climbed up into the loft that was serving as our room. I grabbed my book off the ladder on my way up.

My mattress was on the floor, so I took a special care in tucking in my mosquito net in to keep the cockroaches out. I stuffed the mosquito net farther under so that the mattress weighed the sides down. I was not tolerating any bugs tonight. I folded the mosquito net neatly behind me so that the entrance overlapped. I swung my legs under the covers. I paused just long enough for a seven inch brown rat to bolt out from under the blankets, run up my arm, over my shoulder and into the mosquito net behind me. I watched it flailing in the net from across the room.

“Wow,” Phoebe said from the top of the ladder, “You just FLEW across the room.”

The Chiang Mai Experience
Mar 11th, 2010 by Jeff

Chiang Mai is a wonderful city in the north of Thailand. We flew up there from Bangkok while we waited for Kate’s new veneers to be made. We had plans for a number of great adventures while we were in this town, including Thai cooking classes, visiting some of the 475+ Wats (or temples) and to have an another elephant encounter.

The first day spent in Chang Mai we used as what I call a utility or down day. This is one of those less glamorous sides of our extended travels Kate blogged about earlier. A number of things typically get done one these days. Usually this is when Kate and I realize that we’ve been slipping in our parental duties and haven’t forced the kids to do any homework in a couple of days, and they need to do some math and writing (much to their chagrin). Also on this particular day I spent two hours going to the train station to book our train back to Bangkok only to learn all the trains were booked for the next week. After making this discovery, I ended up coming back to the hotel to book a plane back via the internet instead. I then made arrangements for a hotel once we arrived back in Bangkok. Finally, I dropped of the dirty laundry for cleaning at the local laundry. By this time it was 3:00. We did make it out after this to the Chiang Mai Museum of Arts and Culture to learn a little about the area and the northern Thai peoples. It was a pretty good museum that had quite a bit of information in English (so I could count that towards the kids schooling – parental duty done for the day!).

The next day we spent a gluttonous day at the Thai Farm Cooking School. They picked us up from our hotel and took us to the local market. At the market our instructor taught us about the various ingredients we would use in our cooking that day. We then made our way out to the school were we walked through their garden to learn a little more about the various herbs and plants we would be added to our Thai dishes. We then proceeded to start cooking.

Kate and Tessa Cooking Phad Thai

Kate and Tessa Cooking Phad Thai

Phoeve and Jeff Pounding on the Curry - Making for quite an appetite!

Phoebe and Jeff Pounding on the Curry - Making for quite an appetite!

We actually used mortar and pestle to pound the ingredients into the various curries we were making. The curry could not have gotten any fresher! Tessa opted for a yellow curry, Phoebe and Kate made green curry and I went for red. Needless to say we all loved our entrees! We then continued with cooking a five course meal. In addition to the curry we made soups, spring rolls, a noodle dish, and desserts (mango and sticky rice!!! Yum!). We all rolled away from the table after the first four coursed and brought the noodle dishes back to the hotel for them to heat up for us as dinner. We are all looking forward to cooking Thai food at home when we get back to our kitchen in the Phoenix!

The following day we decided to explore the Chiang Mai. This included visiting the local Wats. The highlight of the day for us all was Monk Chat at the MCU Buddhist University at Wat Chedi Laung. This is a great program that has been put together to give tourist and foreigners an opportunity to interact directly with monks on a one to one basis. It is an open forum where the monks and the tourist sit around tables and the monks answer questions from the tourist about their lives and living in Thailand as a monk. The discussion was very interesting. We learned many interesting things about monk’s lives. For example a monk in Thailand can choose at any time to leave the monkhood and return to normal Thai life. If he then chooses to return to the monkhood he can, even if he has been married – as long as his wife grants him permission to return. Also of the three monks we met, each had a different objectives or goals for their future.

Chatting with the Monks.

Chatting with the Monks.

One had started as a novice at the age of 12 and was now working his way through college. He was very frank about wanting to leave the monkhood as soon as he obtained his degree. The second monk of the group had begun his time as a monk at nineteen. He was also working his way through the English program at the university, but he planned on continuing as a monk and hopefully traveling to the U.S. It was also very interesting to find out their take on technology and how it impacts their lives. For example they can use computers in their studies, as long as they don’t use them for listening to music, playing computer games or anything involving entertainment. They also are allowed to use cell phones for communication with their families and other monks. Overall this was an extremely enlightening discussion and we all walked away understanding each others culture that much better.

I think everyone in the family agrees that the best part of our time in Chiang Mai was our visit to the Baan Chang Elephant Park for their Mahout for a Day program. In this day long program we were given the opportunity to work directly with the elephants and their trainers (mahouts), and had direct contact with the animals. The day started with another trip to the market to buy bananas and sugar cane. Each elephant eats about 250 kg of food a day. We then came into the camp, changed clothes and were given the opportunity to feed each of the nine adult elephants and the two babies (eleven months and 2 years old). According to the camp owner, this gave the elephants a chance to meet us and to understand that we nice and that we came with food rewards. It seemed that the elephants were just as curious about us as we were about them. They reached out with the trunks to take the bananas and sugar cane.

Kate & Phoebe w elephant

 The also searched the pockets of our mahout clothes for goodies and gave us sloppy elephant kisses with the trunks. During this whole introduction phase we could get right up next to the elephants, pat their heads, stuff bananas in their mouths and scratch them behind their ears. It was quite an amazing experience in and of itself. After this introductory session, we were given instruction on how to mount, ride, and control the elephants. This was a little intimidating for us all. Phoebe was especially brave, and with a little help, she mounted a large female that was probably fifty times her size (3000 lbs) and rode her around in a circle with the help of a mahout on the ground beside her.

Phoebe the Mahout

Phoebe the Mahout

After all this excitement it was time for a break and we had lunch. After lunch we all got to get on an elephant to take a trek into the jungle. Each elephant carried two people. The person in command of the elephant rode on the elephant’s neck right behind the ears and the passenger rode on the elephant’s back.

Phoebe and Jeff - into the Jungle

Phoebe and Jeff - into the Jungle

It was great fun and the elephants seemed didn’t seem the least bit phase by having an extra 200-300 lbs on their backs. (Part of the reason we chose this elephant park is because of there treatment of the animals. They only do one group a day with one trek per day, they do not use seats – which some feel are at least uncomfortable for the elephants and in the worst scenarios are painful for them, and this park is located on a large private preserve area so the elephants can roam when not working.)

Kate and Tessa on Elephant Trek

Kate and Tessa on Elephant Trek

After our trek, it was time to cool down and clean up. To do this we rode our elephants into a large 30×70x5 ft deep mud water pool. We then proceeded to scrub the elephants down, and get completely soaked in the process. It was great fun. Phoebe even got the opportunity to hop on the 2 year old elephant to sneak around and spray us with his trunk.

The Baby Attacks!

The Baby Attacks!

Scrubbing the ride!  It's wierd to sit on them while you was them.

Scrubbing the ride! It's wierd to sit on them while you wash them.









This whole day was unforgettable and a wonderful experience that I know we will never forget. I highly recommend it to anyone making their way to Chiang Mai.

Up close

Everyone say "Cheese"

Smile – Bangkok loves you!
Mar 6th, 2010 by Kate

Bangkok is yet another massive Asian city full of frenetic sites, sounds, and smells.  We arrived late in the evening after three days of travel to find the driver from our hotel waiting for us with a blessed sign that said “Wells Family”.  Hallaluhah!  We were SO tired, and the thought of dealing with a taxi or big-city mass transit was worse than depressing – but Jeff saved the day and had booked us into a 4-star hotel using some of the points we’ve accured on our Visa – and a nice man in a giant Volvo was there to wisk us away with no haggling involved.  I was so happy.

Big beds, nice sheets, fluffy pillows, warm water WITH water pressure enough to actually rinse the shampoo out of my hair, a breakfast buffet, swimming pool and a real gym – yeah!  Our bathroom was marble and the free toiletries were highly stealable – The down side… our street was one of the better known hooker streets (they seem to congregate around the 4-star hotels rather than the 5-star hotels) and so before we had even spent 24 hours in Bangkok we had to have the less than comfortable discussion with Phoebe about what prostitution is… I was actually surprised we’d gotten this far in Asia without having to have the talk, and almost thought I sneak out of this part of the world without her having clued-in… but its Bangkok, and the discussion inevitable…

I think the biggest difference between our life on the road and our life at home is getting around the big cities.  All big cities have that hustle and bustle vibe, and the cracked sidewalks, funky (not good funky) smells, and tons of sensory input to take in.  However, in Asia so much of the input is SO different than the things we’d experience in even San Fran or Chicago –  I never get tired of walking around, peering into shops and alleys, listening to conversations even though I have no idea what they are saying, and trying to figure out the heck the food vendors are selling and if it looks okay to eat.

I am embarrassed to admit that I totally bought all the rumors about Bangkok and was secretly worried about rampant drugs, opium dens, Thai gangs, and of course the infamous fear of being kidnapped and sold into slavery (not me, the kids!).  And while unfortunately all of those things do exist in Bangkok, we didn’t see one lick of any of it.  The Bangkok we enjoyed was one of fascinating shops and markets, great food, super nice people, big parks, efficient mass transit (elevated train and subways) and medi-tourism galore.   Someday when I’m picked to be an ambassador, I will happily accept the post to Thailand and live in Bangkok!

So I know my mention of “medi-tourism” is going to prompt a bunch of people to email/comment and ask what the heck I’m talking about – its short for medical tourism, and it’s BIG business in Thailand.  I first heard about in on 60 Minutes a few years back, and have since seen a few articles in various mags.  When my crown broke back in China a number of people suggested that I go to Bangkok to get it fixed, and we heard lots of travelers around SE Asia & Australia talking about the great care they’d received in Thailand.  It got me to thinking…

Before we left I had inquired with my dentist about having my 20 year old veneers replaced on my six front teeth.  I broke three of them badly when I was a teenager and while the old veneers were holding up pretty well, I felt like they were looking pretty shabby.  That, along with the fact that they were only supposed to last 10-15 years made me think I should take some proactive steps before I found myself snaggle-toothed one day.  I got a quote from my dentist and almost croaked – $2500 PER TOOTH!  Since our big trip was coming up, and knowing we’ll have two kiddos in braces soon after our return, I decided that I’d wait and see how much mileage I could get out of the old ones (the sacrifices we mothers make!).

As we got closer to traveling to Thailand, I started doing some more in-depth research on clinics and doctors, safety records and patient comments.  The internet proved to be an amazing tool (I take back all the bad things I’ve said about you Mr. Internet, well, some of them, not all of them).  I  read dozens of review and blogs, and finally settled on three clinics that I thought looked best.  I made appointments with two, and the third had a walk-in consultation time so I set off on my first day in Bangkok with addresses and a list of questions in hand.  Ultimately, I decided that they were all good (two of the three were WAY nicer than my dentist at home), and that I would get good care whichever I chose. In the end I made my decision based on the fact that my doctor went to the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill, and he spoke great English, and he had really nice teeth himself (Silom Dental Clinic and Dr. Lee were the big winners).

I’m being long-winded here so I’ll wrap it up…

Day 1:  Full check-up with Xrays, consultation with the doctor, and the decision to first whiten my bottom teeth with home bleaching trays (rather than the brite smile or laser treatments which he said won’t work as well on my color teeth) so my new veneers would be a better, whiter color than my old ones = $175US (would have been $125 for the check up and $500 for the whitening at home).

Day 14:  Back to Bangkok for appointment #2.  They were shocked at how white my teeth got (I was a bit shocked too, as my bottoms were very white, especially next to the old veneers that were still on and YELLOW!).  They took off my old veneers and put on temporaries, and ordered the new veneers in a color that would match my newly whitened bottom teeth.

Day 21:  Back to Bangkok again (we traveled all over Thailand between appointments and came back each time for only a day or two) for my final visit.  They took off my temporaries and attached my new veneers – and they look AMAZING!  I love them!  They feel great, look great, and a week later I still have to look at them every time I pass a mirror.  Its like one of those things that you say to yourself “ I can’t believe I waited so long to get that done”.  And the price (drum roll please…) out the door – $1500 TOTAL!  Eleven THOUSAND dollars less than my dentist at home!

They do everything at this place – from silly cosmetic procedures like mine to total jaw bone reconstruction – and crowns and bridges in between.  Jeff and I both agree that if we ever need major dental work done, we will definitely consider coming back here.  Just wish they could do braces from across the ocean…

So the moral of my story is, don’t let Hollywood be your source of opinions on a place – had I not listened to friends and family about the wonders of Bangkok I probably would have skipped it… when you see my new smile you’ll be happy for me that I didn’t.

PS.  Sorry there aren’t any pics of my new smile, I’ll post some as soon as I can – we have lousy internet access at our current locale…

Three Days to Bangkok (sung to the tune of the “Twelve Days of Christmas”)
Feb 26th, 2010 by Kate

After 3 days of travel, my head was killing me…

60 kilos of backpacks

28 hours sitting in airports

18 hours on the airplanes

10 airport security lines

8 trips through customs and immigration

7 hour drive across New Zealand

6 more passport stamps

F-I-V-E overpriced airport meals (fa la la la la la)

4 shuttle buses

3 grungy hotel rooms

2 unhappy children

AND a 4-star hotel room waiting at the END (yeah Jeff!)

The Royal Palace of Thailand
Feb 18th, 2010 by Tessa
Skyline inside the Wat - the golden onion and it's friends

Skyline inside the Wat - the golden onion and it's friends

One would expect people to be flouncing around in fabulous, flowing silks and feathered hats with their dainty toes in fabric shoes as they gamble around the cobblestone entryway to the Grand Royal Palace of Thailand.  A white wall skirts the outside of the palace grounds.  Not even reaching 10 feet tall, I doubted that it would withstand an attack from even the olden times when the palace was in full swing.  If we hand not walked all this way to see this specific site, and if it had not been so vast an area (not to mention the fact that there was a golden- onion like thing in the middle of the grounds), I would probably have assumed it a simple Holiday Inn enclosed in white walls with a very well tended garden.

The giant, onion-like figure glowed like a light bulb to our left.  I only had enough time to glimpse intothe small shops lining the walkway on the way to the temple (golden onion?) before I fell down the stair in a mess of a skirt. Mom constantly adjusted her new polyester jacket (and by new I mean new to HER) as if it would somehow make it go away. I pulled up my skirt, not really caring if my ankles showing was disrespectful, and hopped down the stairs, mumbling about borrowing the “appropriate” (and very hot) clothes from the “room for people who had forgotten to wear clothes that covered their shoulders or passed their knees.”

Lonely Planet did me wrong!  I was not allowed to wear my stylin' capri pants into the Wat, and instead had to "borrow" this awesome skirt...

Lonely Planet did me wrong! I was not allowed to wear my stylin' capri pants into the Wat, and instead had to "borrow" this awesome skirt...

The throngs of people bustled about and we eventually found ourselves in a museum displaying amazing works of gold and silver, studded with diamonds and other rare gems. The carpet looked like it needed some major vacuuming and the wood was a scratched chocolaty brown. Our little troop of four was herded into a corridor, passed the room displaying the clothes that the Emerald Buddha wore at different times of the year, and were eventually deposited in front of what, from afar looked like the golden onion.

To my surprise, the giant structure wasn’t painted gold, but was covered by hundreds of thousands of little golden, reflective, glass tiles. And up close, it gave me the impression of a giant salt/pepper grinder instead of an onion. True, it had the bulbous shape of and onion at the base, but then its long neck shot up skywards to be topped by a little flourish. And behind it was another building, with patterns sewn onto it in the same sized, mirror like tiles. The building, sparkled, glimmered and rippled in the sun like the green tail-feather of a peacock. Purple and blue and yellow and green appeared to move and dart to and fro on the walls like tropical fish.

The hordes of people seemed to all converge on the building’s tall doorway and the basin of water and flowers in front of it.  With both hands, they would firmly hold the flower between their palms as if preying, would dunk the lotus head into the water, and quickly dab their head with the flower before the water ran off in small, cold trickles. The doors were white and painted elaborately with dragon and flower patterns, crossing and crawling and weaving their way up the door.

Bajillions of tiny gold tiles, yes bajillions!

Bajillions of tiny gold tiles, yes bajillions!

Teeny tiny tiles everywhere

Teeny tiny tiles everywhere

My bare feet pattered on the floor boards as I entered from the doorway that seemed most quiet. I knelt down, imitating the others all around me. In front of me was a large display of what looked like a mountain of stacked furniture (although, very symmetrical stacked furniture).   Every object that wasn’t a painting, the wall, or the floor was covered in golden paint.  The tables were covered in golden paint and sparkled as if they were really solid gold.  Giant six foot statues were painted gold down to their shiny bare toes.  The lampshade-like contraptions that “levitated” around all of the golden statue’s head were  gold and the wooden clouds were gold as well.  It didn’t take very long for my eyes to be drawn to the one non-golden object in the whole room (except for the donation box of course, which a monk rudely placed in front of me while I was looking at the statues).

The Emerald Buddha sat in the middle of the heap of golden furniture.  He himself wasn’t gold (he was obviously green) but the statue was cloaked in robe made of pure gold.

I suddenly felt very uneasy standing in the large, beautiful room with all the golden statues looking at the little crowd of people kneeling with their foreheads touching the wood, so I got up and quietly left the room to go find Phoebe, mom and dad.

Us with one of the Emerald Buddhas giant guards

Us with one of the Emerald Buddhas giant guards

Don't know what her job is, but we thought she was pretty

Don't know what her job is, but we thought she was pretty

Sitting buddha outside of the temple

Sitting buddha outside of the temple

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