Friday, May 2, 2014

The McClintocks Take on Thailand (Phuket)

We made the decision at the end of last summer to not return to the US for Christmas.  The girls and I had just spent 3 months in the US and we thought we would be moving back to the US this coming summer (2014).  So we made the choice to take advantage of our current location and remaining time in SE Asia to cross another destination off our must-see list and go to Thailand for Christmas break.  

Shortly after we booked tickets and made hotel reservations we found out that our time in China would be extended (not really a surprise and not unwelcome).  Then November 2013 rolled around and we lost our house in the US to a tornado.  We spent some time debating whether or not to change our plans, but ultimately there was nothing we could do to help with the clean-up during the middle of winter, our house lot would still be waiting for us, and temporarily escaping a bit of stress sounded really great (and maybe wise too?)

Jamie and I have always enjoyed seeing new places and experiencing new things.  Not only is it just plain fun, but we believe that it is an important part of our family.  It brings us together and we develop our planning, communication and conflict resolution skills.  We believe that having shared experiences are important for our girls.  And, nothing cements a marriage like handling two girls with the stomach flu on an international flight!  You take that girl, I’ll take this one and we’ll see each other when we land.

The day after Christmas we flew from Shanghai to Phuket, Thailand.  Phuket is on the western side of the peninsula.  Our flight landed in the middle of the night and we were so grateful that the hotel was not far away and we could crawl into our beds and sleep for a few hours.

The hotel was on the beach and the irony of Jamie and I on a beach vacation has not escaped me.  Before our time in SE Asia, we were not “beach people”.  Our fair skin does not handle sun well - it’s pretty obvious!  I joke that when I “tan” I go from white to ecru, or if the day didn’t go well, lobster red.  Now though, we can appreciate a good day at the pool and beach playing with our girls and enjoying the fresh air and breeze.

Our typical beach vacation follows the same routine…large breakfast buffet, morning at the pool or beach, lunch poolside if possible, afternoon naps for ChinaBean and one parent while the big sisters are at the hotel’s kids club staying out of the sun, then back into the water until dinner.  The routine usually ensures that everyone sleeps really, really well at night!

Our room included this nice alcove with
two Thai triangular pillows.
Painting at the kids club.
LBean also enjoyed painting a parasol.

Enjoying the beach.
This trip was no different, we enjoyed a lot of water time.  LBean has discovered the joy of being tossed around in the waves and loves to jump and splash.  EBean has been taking swimming lessons every Wednesday afternoon at school and has become much more confident in her swimming ability.  She had fun showing off her new skills.  And, ChinaBean was happily along for the ride!

Being the connoisseur of massage that I am, I was very excited to get a Thai massage on the beach for an extremely reasonable price.  As my friend pointed out to me, why pay more to go inside to the spa and listen to a recording of the ocean, when I could just stay outside and listen to my personal ocean soundtrack.  I also enjoyed listening to the Thai ladies speak to each other.  The Thai language is so melodic and gentle and very different from what I hear daily in China.  I imagine they were sharing stories about their children, poking fun at all the tourists and making plans for what they would cook for dinner, but it was music to my ears!

The massage "room" on the beach.  (I forgot to take
a picture during the day time.)
One of the days we left the resort and went to on an elephant park to take the family on an elephant trek.  To be very honest, I was very skeptical as to what we would see and the conditions of the elephants.  How do I put this…my past experiences traveling in some parts of SE Asia have made me very wary and we have seen some very poor living conditions for animals.  But, I was extremely glad to be wrong about my assumptions.  The facility was really nice and clean.  We were placed into a group and taken to different stations on the property where Thai women explained to us how all the parts of the coconut are used, showed how rice is harvest and prepared, explained the ingredients in traditional Thai green curry, served us Thai tea and coconut “pancakes”, and told us about how rubber trees came to Thailand. 
Preparing a coconut.
Passing around the outside of a coconut.
Cleaning out the meat of the coconut.
Making coconut oil.
A Thai curry presentation.
ChinaBean thoroughly enjoyed her Thai rice.
Explaining how Thai tea is prepared.
Enjoying some refreshments.
Water buffalo.

A Thai pancake.
After all of the demonstrations we were escorted up to a viewing ring.  Two of the elephants were brought into the ring while our guide explained the elephant training.  The elephant handlers are an ethnic group of people from the far boarder in western China.  They handlers live and work on the grounds, so they are constantly with the elephants.  We purchased a basket of fruit to feed to the elephants.  

Even for elephants, our family of five is too big!  We divided up and Jamie took LBean, who was a bit nervous and I took the two littles.  EBean looked as if she was sitting on a throne and was just as proud.  The view was idyllic, the breeze was gentle and warm, and the sway from the elephant was gentle.  Pretty much perfect.  At the end of the ride we were given the opportunity to take a picture with our elephant and its handler.  To this day, ChinaBean will tell you how her elephant gave her an “ouchie”.  What she means is that she felt the rough whiskers on the elephant’s trunk.

I'm on an elephant! 

EBean loved her ride and sat as tall & proud as a queen.
LBean was a little less excited about the adventure.
Our vacation put us in Thailand for New Year’s Eve.  Even though Jamie and I don't seek out extreme ways to celebrate NYE, we have done some pretty fun things…fireworks on the Vegas strip, the Rose Bowl, a concert in Chicago.  This year LBean & EBean jumped up and down and started begging when they heard that the Kids Club at the hotel was having a kids NYE party.  We agreed to let them do that, and Jamie, ChinaBean and I went to a Thai restaurant for dinner.  After our big girls had danced the early evening away and gotten some gifts at their party, we sat by the reflecting pool on one of the giant swings and tried to stay awake until midnight.  The girls didn’t make it, but Jamie and I did step out on the balcony to watch the fireworks on the beach.

This girl is ready to party! 
Mmmm, Thai food!

Our hotel
Happy New Year!
The next day we packed up our exhausted girls and headed back to the airport.  Next stop, Bangkok.  We had to fly through the city anyway, so I decided we might as well spend a few days there.  Bangkok has a bit of a reputation, as many people might have heard (cough, cough).  We managed to keep it family-friendly and have a memorable time.  I'll post more on Bangkok next time.

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