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Thailand 2009

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A trip to always remember

Nagarkot, Nepal

Our Nepali sister, Mini, had arranged for Brooke and I to have a complimentary stay at a hotel in a town called Nagarkot. It is perched on the top of a ridge right outside of the Kathmandu valley. Mini had been trying all week to arrange for cheap transportation for us, but was unsuccessful. In the end, we were rushed to the bus station in the middle of town after eating our breakfast as fast as we could.

Ok, so it wasn’t really a bus station, it was more of a muddy alley that old buses were crammed into. Mini starts running around asking which bus goes to Nagarkot and finally puts us on one that is going in the right direction, but we would have to switch to another bus at some point along the way. The bus ride started off nice. There were just a few of us on the bus and it was a nice relaxing ride. As we moved through town, we started picking up more people. The bus started getting crowed and soon there was no more seats… standing room only. Before long, we were crammed in as tight as we could go and Brooke and I had squeezed in our seat to allow an old lady to join us. The bus being crammed with people didn’t stop the attendant from recruiting more people and trying to fill every last nook on the bus. So, after an hour and a half of stop and go through the city, we finally reached the place to switch busses. A man from the bus overheard where we were going and helped us get to the right bus.

This bus was not any better. This time, we couldn’t get a seat and had to stand for the next hour crammed into a corner of the bus. In the part of the bus where we stood, I could not even stand up straight without hitting the ceiling. So, I slouched my way up the mountain to Nagarkot. As we climbed, the scenery started and changing and the air turned much cooler. Even the people changed to tribal mountain people, and the bus was packed with their rice and potatoes that were going to and from the market.

We finally got off the bus in the right place and stared walking through pine forests to our hotel. The whole town was dead. It was a tourist town turned into a ghost town. We felt like we were the only tourists there and all the locals were just waiting for us to arrive. Tourism has dropped sharply in Nepal due to the Maoist rebels and the trouble that they cause. We finally made it to our hotel, which was made to look like an old castle although it was only built 2 years ago. As soon as we walked in the door, we were assaulted by the 6 or 7 staff that had nothing to do since we were the only guests staying there. We had tea and then went up to our room. The room had a nice balcony that looked out over an amazing view of the Langtang range of the Himalayas and on a really clear day, you can even get a glimpse of Mt. Everest… Unfortunately, all we could see was white as we looked out into the middle of a cloud. Visibility was about 30 feet. All this was made worse by the amazing pictures all over the hotel of the spectacular view of the mountains.

We decided to leave the hotel and go get some Tibetan food that we had seen on the walk over. After eating, we walked around, trying to make sense of the area and get a better feel about it all. We eventually found a really cool restaurant that had tables outside overlooking the mountains below. By, this point, the clouds were starting to thin a bit and we could see all the foothills below. We decided to head back to the hotel, sit on our balcony, and have some tea.

The view was amazing. The clouds were moving in and out of the mountains below us exposing rivers and small villages. The temperature was perfect and the Nepali tea was amazing. I had been waiting all summer for the right time to ask her. This was it. I asked her to marry me, and gave her the ring that she had been waiting patiently for. It was a perfect moment. One that both of us will remember for the rest of our lives.

We celebrated by having a great dinner at the restaurant we had found earlier. We ordered Tibetan noodles and then found out that this particular dish was auspicious and helps to give you a long, healthy life. It was a perfect meal to celebrate our engagement and our future life together.

permalink written by  brookejason on August 23, 2009 from Nagarkot, Nepal
from the travel blog: Thailand 2009
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Tribal Trekking

Chiang Dao, Thailand

This was the trip I was waiting for all summer. It was a dream of mine ever since I came to Thailand to do a trip like this. I thought about the logistics of it often. I talked to students last year to get ideas of what they would like and what they could handle.

…And here it is. The plans have been made. The trips have been sold. I am finally getting to run the trip I always dreamed about.

This is a trip that aims to cross the entire northwest portion of Thailand by our own power. Vehicle transport will be kept to a minimum as we travel across the most remote parts of Thailand. These are parts that foreigners have not visited until now. When I scouted the trip, I was the first foreigner to stay in the village where we will teach at the school. This area was dangerous because of drug trafficking until only a few years ago. Luckily, it is safe now and we will be the first group to attempt such a journey through the region. Trekking is common around the areas where we will be going, but no one has made the full trek that we will be doing.

This trip starts off with riding bicycles from Chiang Mai north to Chiang Dao. We will do this over 2 days. While we are cycling, we will take ferries over lakes, stop at waterfalls, ride elephants and spend a night at an organic farm and sustainable building home stay. From Chiang Dao, we will begin our trek to Pai. Along the way, we will plant trees in community forests, trek through many different environments, spend the night in villages, and teach school children English. We will cover about 50 miles and do it in 6 days with one rest day in the middle. From Pai, we will rest and explore some of the caves and rivers in the area before heading out on a 2 day whitewater river trip down the Pai river to Mae Hong Son. This river canyon is one of the few areas of Thailand where animal life is still abundant and the jungles are untouched by humans.

Hill Tribe people inhabit most of the mountain areas of Thailand. They kill all the wildlife for food and cut down the jungle to grow crops. It is extremely rare to find untouched places in Thailand where wildlife can still be seen. Even if it still exists, they have learned to be very sneaky and stay out of sight of the humans because if they are seen, they will be killed.

This trip turned out to be an amazing journey and was everything I thought it would be. We used vehicle transports a little more than I would like, but it was necessary to make the trip safe and doable for the students. There is no better feeling than to have conquered a great distance by using your own power.

permalink written by  brookejason on August 21, 2009 from Chiang Dao, Thailand
from the travel blog: Thailand 2009
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And we're back...

Kathmandu, Nepal


Where to Begin…..

Just remembering to breathe has been a hard enough task this summer, much less write about all the crazy experiences Brooke and I have been living…

As I write this, I am sitting in the house in Kathmandu, Nepal where Brooke lived 6 years ago when she was studying over here. We arrived in the early afternoon and spent the rest of the day talking with the family and drinking Nepali tea (probably the best tea in the world). I smell the dal bhat cooking now and can’t wait to eat and head out to a local Hindu temple where festivities will be going all through the evening to celebrate the goddess of Love. Not a bad way to spend a day….

The summer has been a crazy blur and Brooke and I have experienced so many amazing things while traversing back and forth across Northwestern Thailand. It is finally time for you guys to experience these stories with us! I know that many of you have been checking the blog daily only to be disappointed by the lack of a new entry. Here is what you have been waiting for….

permalink written by  brookejason on August 14, 2009 from Kathmandu, Nepal
from the travel blog: Thailand 2009
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Ahka Wedding

Chiang Rai, Thailand

Our Come With Nothing, Go Home Rich Trip has entered its third and final week. Brooke was stuck in the hospital with a sick girl the entire first week, and both Brooke and I were sick most of the second week. We needed a change of pace.

For those of you that don’t know what the Come With Nothing, Go Home Rich trip is about, I will sum it up for you. The kids show up to Bangkok with hopefully just a small backpack holding the essentials. When they are settled up in Chiang Mai, we give them the equivalent of $50 and take them to a local market where they can buy everything they will need over the next 3 weeks. Most families in the villages we visit will live off of less than $50 a month. When the kids have everything they need, we head up into the mountains spending a week in 3 different villages in 3 different regions of Thailand. During this week in the village, we have a budget of $250 to use for some sort of community service project. The project is decided upon as we get to each village and talk with the village elders about what they need.

This year, the rain wasn’t falling as much as usual, so almost every village we went to wanted a water storage tank, a well, or water pipes to the houses around the village. Usually during the rainy season, villages can collect enough rainwater to meet their daily needs, but not this year.

Our third village of this trip was a small Ahka village in Chiang Rai province. Ahka people migrated to Thailand from Tibet many years ago and have a very distinct look and dress. One of my best friends, Bay, was our local guide for this trip. He is Ahka and the village we were working at, was only a 5 minute drive from his village. One night at dinner, Bay came over and pulled Brooke and me aside and said he had something exciting to tell us. His cousin was getting married in a few days, and they had invited our group to come to the wedding. Bay had also been chosen as the best man, so he had lots of functions to go to over the next couple of days.

The couple was very poor and couldn’t afford much of a ceremony, so we agreed to buy a cow to slaughter for the wedding feast. A few of our kids were really excited about this and woke up at 6 am on the morning of the wedding to be a part of the actual killing of the cow. One of the boys was given the knife and the villager hit the cow over the head while our student stabbed it in the heart. He was so excited to be a part of that.

The rest of the wedding day was great. It was a small ceremony as the village only has around 12 houses. The village is also Christian, so the ceremony wasn’t the traditional Ahka style. Bay told us that traditional weddings last several days and involve lots of ceremonies and dancing. For the wedding, all of the ladies were in their tradition Ahka dress that is extremely elaborate and takes years to sew by hand. Bay’s mom showed us the wedding clothes for Bay’s future wife and told us she has been working on them ever since he was born.

During the ceremony, many of the old people in the village stood up and gave a blessing and or advice to the newly married couple. As this was going on, Bay got up and insisted that I get up and give a blessing to the couple. I stood up, not knowing what to say at all and rambled on for a few minutes. I still have no idea what I said, but it seemed to be accepted well.

Then came the feast... The cow that we bought had been used to make many different kinds of traditional Ahka food including my favorite, Larb (raw beef mixed with lots of spices). After a day of eating, drinking tea, and eating again, the Ahka ladies brought out all of their instruments (cymbals, drums, and bamboo poles) and all of their extra traditional clothes for us to put on. Many hours of dancing and music ensued as we congratulated the newly married couple.

permalink written by  brookejason on August 14, 2009 from Chiang Rai, Thailand
from the travel blog: Thailand 2009
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A cycling guide’s worst nightmare…

Chiang Mai, Thailand

It’s day 2 of our Tribal Trekking group. We are much happier with this group than our last one as it only has 5 students compared to the 16 we had on the previous trip. We have just got our bikes and are ready to go out for a warm up ride. The next two days will be long, strenuous days and we wanted to make sure the students would be ready for it. We already knew that on our first day of cycling, we would start by going straight up a steep incline for several miles. This would be made worse by the fact that we had to take a boat across a lake with the bikes to even get to it. This means no support vehicle and no bailing for the first part of the ride. It also would be the hardest stretch of the whole ride.

Because of all of this, we took a warm up ride that climbed a steep road to the top of a mountain where a temple and an enormous Buddha sit. This is a very popular ride in Chiang Mai and it was packed with other cyclists. It started out great as we rode past rice patties towards the start of the climb. Slowly the road started getting steeper and one girl kept getting slower and slower. Soon, she could not power the bike up the incline anymore and just fell over.

She had not been on a bike much before and didn’t really know how to shift gears, balance at slow speeds, or how to wind up a hill well. This would all be fine except that Brooke and I knew what was in store the next day and what a disaster it could be. Every time the girl fell of the bike it was harder to get started again. The road was getting steeper and there was no way to build up momentum to start. I would hold up her bike and run behind her pushing the bike until she got enough speed. I would watch her ride off like a proud parent who has just taught their daughter how to ride a two-wheeler for the first time only to watch her fall again, and have to start the whole process over again.

Needless to say, this 15 year girl was quite embarrassed that both of her guides had to stay back with her and teach her how to ride her bike up the hill. Especially because she knew what she had to ride over the next couple of days.

That night, Brooke and I were both worried about what was going to happen the following day and were anxious to get out on the road. In addition to the girl that couldn’t ride the bike, we had a sick girl who really wanted to attempt riding even though she was feeling terrible and couldn’t keep any food or water down.

We took off over the lake, still anxious, with all five students and our bikes. The hill was tough coming off the water and heading straight up into the mountains. We dreaded what was to come, and started up the hill. Surprisingly, the girl who couldn’t ride her bike the day before was pushing through. She and the others were weaving up the hill like a snake and conquering the hill with high spirits. The sick girl was right in there with the group as well, pushing up the hill. It was an amazing turn around from the day before and was a great start to what would be an amazing journey by bicycle, foot and raft across the entire Northwest portion of Thailand.

permalink written by  brookejason on August 14, 2009 from Chiang Mai, Thailand
from the travel blog: Thailand 2009
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Ordinary Life

Khao Sok, Thailand

Some places just have that feel. The feel that can change everything. Surround you with contentment. "Smiley Bungalows" did just this. The setting, the people, smiling children, treehouse room, tubing in the rain.

Apparently the energy created was reciprocal. Pandao, the little girl, was usually shy. But not with us.....immediately, she attached to Jason and me and followed us right into the treehouse.

What was is about this place that made it so different? So much positive energy. Everyone in the group, just felt great. And I realized.....

Realized that often times these defining moments on a trip are the ones that look most like ordinary life.

Pandao, sitting behind me in the chair, brushing my hair, showing me how she could count to 10, playing Chase with Jason, riding on a bike seated in front of him.

Paiwan, her mother, asking for help with English, telling how nervous she is to start her new tour and bring foreigners into the nearby school, expressing that she was up all night worrying.

Just simple, honest connections between people. It could be anywhere. Nearby, faraway, in my own home. Kind of brings traveling full circle. You don't always need the crazy, exotic adventures to achieve what you can also find in your daily life......as long as you are open to those discoveries each day.

permalink written by  brookejason on July 6, 2009 from Khao Sok, Thailand
from the travel blog: Thailand 2009
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Come With Nothing Go Home Sick

Chiang Mai, Thailand

We are 5 days into our Come With Nothing trip, and things have not exactly gone according to plan. It started out well. We picked up 13 of our kids on Thursday........they are a crazy bunch. We spent the next day exploring Chiang Mai and getting them ready to head into the villages. We also picked up 3 more students who had flight difficulties due to the weather in the northeast. We spent Friday night shopping at the night market with the kids and finishing up last minute preparations before leaving for the villages. Jason and I were both exhausted by the end of it, but managed to get everything done. A group of 16 is a bit more of a production than 4.

On Saturday, we made our way to Mae Sariang, which is the town closest to the village we planned to stay at. Just before arriving, one of our girls told us she was feeling really sick and thought she needed to go to the hospital. That brings us to where we are now.......me spending the last 3 days in the hospital with her (2 different ones actually) and Jason off building bathrooms with 15 high schoolers. The best part is, neither of us really have any idea what is going on, because he has no cell phone reception. I'm pretty sure we both have everything under control. Who knew I would be learning all about the Thai medical system all while speaking a different language? I can't wait to find out what Jason has been up to!

As of now, I think I will be able to head to the village tomorrow.......can't wait! We will post again when we get back into civilization.

permalink written by  brookejason on July 6, 2009 from Chiang Mai, Thailand
from the travel blog: Thailand 2009
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Khao Sok, Thailand

We have left the islands behind for a night and made it to Khao Sok National Park. Brooke and I are staying in a tree house at Smiley's Bungalows! It is really amazing here. The islands have been fun, but I think the whole group was happy to leave them behind for a night and get up into the mountains. We were all feeling a little overrun by the tourist scene. The islands here are some of the most beautiful places in the world... unfortunately, everyone knows it and they come in large numbers. The Thai people and culture that I love don't really exist in these places. Here in the mountains however, we have spent time with some amazing people. Brooke and I have a little Thai girl that would like us to stay here forever... that may not be such a bad plan.

Koh Phi Phi is a beautiful island, but we spent too much time there. There is not really much to do aside from the diving and I have decided I am not much of a diver. I did get to see some cool stuff however. We dived in a wrecked ferry, swam with leopard sharks and learned some new diving skills. It was fun, but I was ready to be done with it, as was most of the group. We were all excited to get to Railey and start climbing. Obviously, that was the only reason Brooke and I wanted on this trip. It was amazing as expected. We spent a lot of time with the kids, but were able to sneak off to a few harder climbs nearby...

The highlight of Railey, may have been the coffee shop where we spent our nights drinking Thai tea with the Thai Rastafarian Barista. A very relaxing way to spend an evening after a hard day of climbing.

From here, we made our way to Phangnga bay to check out the National Park which consists of 100's of limestone karst islands. We explored these by boat all day and then spent the night in a small sea gypsy fishing village that was built entirely on stilts above the ocean. The village was pretty touristy, but we had a fun and relaxing time there anyway.

...and that brings us to where we are today, enjoying the mountains and the Thai people and culture that we love! Tomorrow, we are off to Koh Samui. This is one of the most touristed islands in all of Thailand and none of us are that excited to head back to that scene. I am sure we will find a fun way to enjoy the island for the last few days of our trip. I know that Brooke and I will be trying to relax a bit before heading up to the villages of the north.


permalink written by  brookejason on June 28, 2009 from Khao Sok, Thailand
from the travel blog: Thailand 2009
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Beach Life

Phuket, Thailand

I'm sitting at a bookstore right now on Koh Phi Phi, enjoying beach life. It's been pretty interesting here the last few days. Landscape wise, this is one of the most beautiful places I will probably ever see in my life. The scene, however, is totally different. The whole place is loaded with tourists, and it's not even high season. It's pretty much one giant beach party. We miss hill tribe life. We can't wait to get back out there and actually be surrounded by Thai culture again.

Most of the group has spent the last two days scuba diving. I decided diving might be a bad idea given my lovely migraine situation. I was pretty bummed about not being able to, but really didn't want to risk ruining the rest of the summer. Thai massages, however, are a great alternative.

The whole group went out on the boat yesterday......some went diving and others just snorkeled. Apparently this is one of the best dive locations in the world. Honestly, I prefer the Caribbean. While we saw some pretty cool stuff, reef sharks, lion fish, and sea turtles, the colors were not nearly as vibrant as I've seen in the past. Jason has decided he is not a diver, as he has spent most days wishing he were climbing up the rocks on the islands, rather than diving down to see what lives in them under the water. He came to the conclusion last night, that sports requiring him to use oxygen, are not for him.

Tomorrow, we plan to rent a longtail boat to take us cliff jumping and deep water-soloing. After that, we head to Krabi for two days of climbing! We are using a guide company to take the kids climbing. Jason plans to ditch the group and just head out on our own. We'll see........

Overall, this place has been really interesting.........gorgeous and laid back, but crazy and frustrating as well. It's wild witnessing what can happen to a place and its native culture when it is overrun by tourists.

Hopefully we will get some pictures up tonight.........

permalink written by  brookejason on June 21, 2009 from Phuket, Thailand
from the travel blog: Thailand 2009
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Come With Nothing Staff Training

Chiang Mai, Thailand

So, Brooke made it to Thailand and we have spent the last week together scouting villages to use for the Come With Nothing trip. We took off into the mountains with 10 American staff and 10 local staff to look for good villages to help this year. We also used the time to train the new staff on how to run the trip. We have some really great guides this year and I am really excited about the trips.

The villages that we found this year are going to be really good. It looks like we are going to be be building a lot of water tanks for villages this year. A lot of villages don't have enough water in the dry season and need big tanks to store water. We even went to one village that had water tanks, but they were lower on the mountain than most of the houses, so all the houses that were higher up didn't get running water. Hopefully we can help to give all of the houses in the villages we go to running water this year.

Tomorrow, I will make a plan about which villages to go to and make the final adjustments to the Come With Nothing trip, and then Brooke and I will head down to the south of Thailand. We are leading the Island Hopping and Diving trip with one of my best friends, Bay. We will be diving on Koh Phi Phi, rock climbing in Krabi and sea kayaking in Pha Nga bay and Koh Samui. More to come from those adventures soon....


permalink written by  brookejason on June 16, 2009 from Chiang Mai, Thailand
from the travel blog: Thailand 2009
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