After traveling most of the day, we arrived in Bangkok around 6:30 p.m. and found our way to the Royal Orchid Sheraton on the Chao Phyara River. The ride from the airport to the river area of the city is about 40 kilometers. A 30+ minute journey even without traffic.
The river is a main thoroughfare in Bangkok and many popular tourists sites are located on or near the river. Conveniently, the tourist ferry that goes up and down the river, making stops by the color of the boat line, is a very easy and inexpensive way to get around the city.
We only had one day in Bangkok, so to make the most of it we studied our map of sites along the river and tried to consolidate our stops. Our first stop was the Grand Palace, an enormous temple complex bustling with tourists.
|Looking into the Grand Palace|
|The Grand Palace|
Our next stop was the Temple of the Reclining Buddha or Wat Pho, an impressive golden Buddha, more than 40 feet tall and nearly 135 feet long. The Buddha is surrounded by a complex of temples and artifacts.
|Restoring artifacts at Wat Pho|
|These stairs are no joke!|
|But the views from the top make the hike worthwhile|
|Then came the difficult part--getting down!|
|Not all of the fish survive the constant thrashing|
|Enjoying fresh coconut water at the market|
|Ziv being eaten alive by the fish|
|Fish love Ziv!|
The next morning we were back at the airport boarding a Thai Airways flight to Chiang Rai in the northern part of the country. After DIY-ing our trip in every other country we visited, we were getting tired of planning and thought we might get more out of our experience with a local guide who knew the area. Our friendly guide, Joey, picked us up at the airport with a driver and we set out for the Karen Longneck tribe. Ziv had seen this tribe years ago on a National Geographic show. The images of women with gold rings around their necks stuck in his mind and for years he had wanted to see for himself.
|A Karen Longneck woman wearing her rings|
While their name implies that the golden rings the women of the tribe wear give them long necks, the weight of the rings pushes down their shoulders, giving the illusion of a longer neck. The rings were originally worn as protection from tigers while the men were out in the fields. They also became part of the culture and a right of passage. Girls and women would add rings to their collection as they grew older. When a woman married, she didn't have to wear the rings anymore. Although many married women we saw in the village were still wearing rings. Women and girls are no longer obligated to wear the rings, but many do because of cultural heritage and tourism.
|Trying out the longneck look|
|With our new friends|
|At the border of Burma|
|This is one way to get into Thailand|
|I don't recommend it|
|But it is effective|
|At the Golden Triangle|
|View of Laos & Burma|
|At the temple|
|Z on a break from swatting away the mosquitoes|
|View from our room at the Le Meridien Chiang Rai|
|Z in the tea fields|
|Workers harvesting the tea|
|Tea leaves we sampled|
About an hour before we got to Chiang Mai, we stopped at a local restaurant for some Thai food, delicious Thai iced tea and a visit to the White Temple. Pure white with intricate stone masonry, the temple is striking. We didn't see anything else like it in Thailand. It's modern; the architect who designed it started about 20 years ago and is still working on it. The interior temple area may be the most interesting part. It's four walls are a mural with an orange background and motifs of fictional and non-fiction villains and superheros. Think George W. Bush and Osama Bin Laden, Angry Bird, Michael Jackson.
|The White Temple|
|With Joey, our guide, walking into the White Temple|
The next day we were up early to play with wild animals. Our first stop was an elephant park. Trust me; we had conflicting emotions about our visit there, especially when we saw the animals perform in a show. Our guide and the park told us that these animals were born in captivity, so being at the park is all they know and their ability to survive in the wild is minimal. The presence of Western volunteers at the camp also made us feel a little better about the conditions for the animals and we saw no signs of abuse of neglect. The animals appeared well-fed, healthy and mothers and babies were kept together until the baby elephants were old enough to be independent. Still, elephants are beautiful, wild animals and seeing them in captivity just doesn't feel right.
|Asking for a tip|
|Our adventure begins!|
|A sugar cane snack|
|Into the water we go|
|At the elephant camp we also rode in a cart pulled by oxen|
|By far the most uncomfortable mode of transit we rode!|
|Our trip down the river on a bamboo raft was much smoother|
|Keeping the sun away|
|We each took a turn at guiding the boat|
|It's as easy as it looks|
Like all cats, tigers are nocturnal. By some accounts, they are six times more active at night than they are during the day. During the day, when they're already tired, they're surrounded by people. It makes sense that they would want a little snooze after being surrounded by people all day. But this was the most convincing piece of evidence for me: when one of the tiger attendants would attract a tiger's attention, his eyes would dilate immediately and he would perk up. A drugged animal can't do this.
|Standing at attention|
- Smallest = 6 weeks - 2 months, about 8-10 kilograms
- Small = 3-5 months, about 30 kilograms
- Medium = 12 months, 120 kilograms
- Large = 18 months, 170 kilograms
|Ziv's new kitty|
|A tiger-sized chew toy|
|Ziv makes a new friend|
At each of the cages, we had to wait for a guide to accompany us. The guides instructed us to approach the tigers from the rear, never touch them near their faces and always pet them with a firm pat. This way, they know a human is touching them and they are less likely to become startled. These tigers are born in captivity and have never known the jungle, but they're still wild animals with the same instincts as any other large cat. Scary.
|Just like Luna...|
|Do you think he'll fit in my suitcase??|
|Ziv got nervous whenever the tigers licked their paws|
|Our outdoor cooking school|
|Ingredients for curry paste|
|Green papaya salad|
|Preparing to chop|
Following our day of eating, we found more gluttony at the Chiang Mai Cultural Center where we feasted on an unlimited buffet of food while watching a dance show. Fortunately for us, the food wasn't great, so we didn't feel guilty about not eating much of it. The show featured a half-dozen or more dances from different regions, cultures and ethnicities in Thailand. It was a fitting way to end our stay in Chiang Mai. We flew to Koh Samui the next afternoon.
|Lounging at the show|
|The knife dance|
|Our second feast of the day|
|Music before the dancing began|
|One of the dances at the show|
|Hiking up to the temple|
|Hill tribe girls outside of the temple|
|At the temple|
|Beautiful gardens that the hill tribe maintains|
Our trip to Koh Samui was uneventful until just before our Bangkok Airways flight attempted to land. At the last second, the pilot aborted the landing and we circled the island again before making another attempt. The second attempt was successful. I have never been so ready to get off a plane!
In keeping with our Starwood theme, we camped out at the Le Meridien on Koh Samui. The property is tranquil and intimate with a lovely pool and beach access. Our room was small, but considering that we had booked it about 10 days before arrival, we couldn't complain.
|Z poolside--probably after a massage|
|One of the many pina coladas we drank poolside|
|The beach on Koh Samui|
|A honeymoon surprise in our room!|
Our visibility at Koh Tao was mixed. On our first dive--Shark Island--visibility was about five meters. This coupled with a diver in our group who must have been panicking she was sucking down air so quickly left us with a short dive and not much to show for it. Our second dive at Koh Tao was better--more visibility and the troubled diver on the first dive controlled her air a bit better.
One of the things I don't like about diving is the early start time. For our dive at Sail Rock we were on the dive company's shuttle just after 7 a.m. and for our Koh Tao dive we were on the bus around 6:50 a.m! Fortunately, we were able to take it easy on the other days. Ziv continued his daily massage habit while I indulged in many-a-pina colada at the pool. We caught up on our reading and hit the later half of the breakfast buffet. It was the perfect way to end the tropical portion of our honeymoon before heading back to Bangkok and catching a Royal Jordanian flight to Tel Aviv.
|At the Koh Samui airport|