Saturday, February 26, 2011

Travel through Laos

February 26, 2011—We checked into the New Daraphet Hotel and then went to enjoy dinner. The hotel was in the middle of the tourist area so we did not have any trouble finding some delicious Lao food. When we returned to our room for the night, we discovered that it was not really very clean, but since it was late, we stayed that night and then checked out the next morning. Luang Prabang is a popular tourist area, so rooms were not easy to come by, but we were able to get a lovely room at the Villa Nagara, which overlooks the Nam Khan River.

We left the Nagara on bicycles to find a good place for lunch. First we stopped at the All Lao Travel Agency to book our flight to Hanoi. Unfortunately, we could not get a direct flight to Hanoi, so we booked a flight to Vientiane, the capital of Laos, and from there we would fly to Hanoi. We then enjoyed a wonderful hamburger at the Restaurant Luang Prabang where we met a lovely couple from England.

After lunch we rode down the main street to get an idea of the area. We returned the bicycles later in the afternoon and then got ready to meet Gemma and Bennie for dinner. We met them on the street and decided to eat at the Coconut Garden Restaurant, where we enjoyed a wonderful meal of Lao food. After dinner we said goodbye to Gemma and Bennie as they would be heading back to Holland soon.

We spent the next day looking through the shops along the main street. We visited several wats, one of which was at the top of a hill and to get to the top we had to climb over three hundred steps that were quite steep. From the top of this hill we had a 360-degree view of Luang Prabang. We walked along the hilltop enjoying all the Buddhas. One site was of the footprint of Buddha, which was on the side of the walk and painted with gold paint. When we were done, we decided to enjoy a very good pizza.

After lunch we decided to stop at a silversmith’s shop to look at a necklace. We were able to watch the workmen hammering decorative silver bowls, and I found a very nice necklace that we purchased. It was quite warm so we returned to our room to relax and cool off. Later in the evening we returned to town to have a light dinner and then walked around a typical tourist night market. We could not believe the amount of “stuff” that was for sale.

Our last full day in town we got up at 5:40 in the morning so that we could witness the “giving of alms” to the monks from the temple. A young man from our hotel walked with us up one street to the temple and helped us buy two baskets of sticky rice for the monks. We crossed the street and stepped onto the sidewalk where mats had been laid out. We tied a sash diagonally from our left shoulders down and under our right arms, and then we waited. It was dark when we arrived at the street, but now the sun was coming up, and we finally saw the monks approaching. All along the street tourists and locals had lined up with their offerings for the monks. We knelt down, and when the monks passed in front of us, we put a spoonful of rice into their alms bowls, while other people gave fruit or something else. We were glad that we participated in this ceremony, but while it was once a traditional event, it has really just become a tourist attraction.

After the ceremony we returned to have a good breakfast and then got ready for the day. We went to the Post Office to drop off some post cards, and then we walked to the Luang Prabang National Museum and walked through the displays. The royal family was overthrown in 1975 when the Communists came into power and taken to a re-education camp where they died in 1980. The display consisted of the thrones, furniture, and clothing of the last three kings. The displays were sparse, but it was still very informative. We also viewed the king’s car collection from the fifties and sixties. There were three Lincoln Continentals that were gifts from the United States.

After the museum we walked through the royal wat that was built on the same grounds. It was the most beautiful one that we have seen. There was no Buddha inside, but once a year the Buddha is carried from the museum to the wat for a festival.

We decided to eat lunch at the Joma Bakery just down the road where we enjoyed a Reuben Sandwich and a Taco Salad, both of which were quite good and gave us a break from the local Lao food. We then worked our way back to the hotel to finish making reservations for the next few legs of our trip and to allow me to write the blog. That evening Steve went out and brought back a wonderful pizza--the best that we have had in a long time.

On Friday, January 25, we enjoyed another delicious breakfast and the packed up our bags. Our driver arrived at 11 o’clock to drive us to the airport. When we arrived and went to check in, the ticket agent told us that there was an earlier flight leaving in about 20 minutes, and there were seats available. We checked our bags, went through security, and the hurried to the boarding station. Soon after we boarded the plane and took off for Vientiane.

The 40-minute flight on Lao Airlines was uneventful. Steve purchased a taxi ticket, and after we picked up our bags, the driver took us to Hotel Win. The hotel was basic but clean and the owner was very helpful. She scheduled us for a guided tour the next day. We decided to eat lunch at the Swedish Bakery where we enjoyed delicious lasagna. We then took a walk around the downtown area. We passed the U.S. Embassy and found some interesting stores. Then it was back to the hotel to cool off and get ready for dinner.

For dinner we decided to walk back down to the area of a local food festival. There were many food stalls set up, but we decided on a grilled-food restaurant. We went inside and took a seat. The place looked brand new, and only later did we discover that it was their opening night. Unfortunately, things were not going smoothly. Steve ordered a filet, and I had fish. The food was delicious; however, the service was slow, and when we finished, it took me forever to pay for the meal.

The next morning we ate a quick breakfast and then met Va, our guide for the day. He drove us first to the Patuxai or Victory Gate, which included a lovely fountain. The concrete for the monument was donated by the U.S., although it was supposed to go towards a new airport instead. So now it is nicknamed “the Vertical Runway.”

From the monument we went to That Luang, which is the national symbol of Laos. There were two wats around That Luang so we walked around to look at them, but we were not allowed inside because they were under reconstruction.

Our next stop was Buddha Park. The park was built in 1958, and it has statues of just about every Buddhist or Hindu deity imaginable. It was Saturday so the park was filled with children in their school uniforms, which made it a bit hectic. We did, however, enjoy walking around all the statues.

By now we were hungry so Va stopped at a restaurant. The grounds had small, covered sitting areas around a pond. The atmosphere was quite nice, but, unfortunately, the food was lacking. The chicken was the toughest we have ever had.

Our last stop was at two more wats. The first one, Thanon Setthathirat held a replica of the Emerald Buddha, which is really quite small. The original somehow ended up in Thailand. Across the street was the oldest standing temple, Wat Si Saket. We are now completely watted out so don’t expect too many more wat reports.

By now we were pretty tired, and it was getting hot, so we asked Va to take back to the hotel. We had seen everything that we wanted to, and Va was a very good guide. We cooled off for awhile and then went out to buy some French bread and Gouda cheese for dinner. We spent the evening downloading our pictures and getting ready for our flight in the morning. Next stop Hanoi.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Mekong River Cruise

February 23, 2011—The morning of February 20, we ate a quick breakfast and then waited for our ride. Mr. Adisak arrived right on time and drove us to the Thai boat dock where we checked out of Thailand. We then boarded a small, narrow boat that took us across to Huay Xai on the Laos side of the Mekong. We had our paperwork prepared so it was just a matter of handing the officials our passports and papers. The problem was that there were about 100 people there at the same time trying to process their visas.

We had to wait a few minutes for the processing, so Steve took our bags across the street to a restaurant to wait while I stood with the hordes. I thought that the official would call out our name, but I quickly realized that she would just hold the passport out the window with the picture showing. I was lucky to spot Steve’s passport, so I elbowed my way through the crowd, collected our two passports, and paid our $72 fee. Then it was just a matter of waiting for the rest of our group of 15 people to finish.

We were driven to our boat on the river, where we loaded our bags and took a seat. The boat was approximately 100 feet long, quite narrow, and made of wood on an aluminum hull. The captain sat at the helm in the front, and then there were two sections of seats facing inboard with a sliding panel overhead to let in the sun. The middle section contained about eight rows of bus-like seats, two on each side, with a table in front of the seats. Further aft was a large table for buffet lunches and a small bar. After that came two toilets, and, finally, the engine compartment and the family’s living quarters in the rear.

We left the shore and headed down the Mekong River. There was quite a current, and the boat was moving right along at about eight knots of speed. We are at the end of the dry season, so the water level was low, but the current was still quite strong. At regular intervals we would be passed by the “high-speed” boats that also take passengers down river. The smart passengers wore helmets as there have been fatalities in these very fast boats.

As we moved along the river, we saw many women panning for gold along the shoreline while the men were fishing from the rocks at the edge of the water. We saw this scene all along the river. Also along the river were herds of water buffalo who were lounging in the shallow water in order to stay cool and some goats grazing on the grass near the river.

Phet, our guide, was very informative about the Lao people and how they live. Just before lunch we stopped at the Lao village Ban Huoy Phalam and were allowed to walk around. The people were a bit elusive but courteous. They went about washing clothes—one little girl washing her dress was about three years old—and cooking. Their homes were made of bamboo and wood with thatched roofs and were built on stilts. The usual roosters, ducks, pigs, and dogs were present. The government recently brought electricity to the village, and there was the ever surprising satellite dish. We made a contribution to the school fund in appreciation for their allowing us to visit their homes.

After our visit we enjoyed a delicious lunch that was prepared by the captain’s wife. The meal included fish, rice, sautéed eggplant with chicken, yellow curry with chicken, and fruit. There was always tea, coffee, and water for us to drink.

We continued down the river, at times going through some amazing rapids. We were both surprised by the geography of the river bed. Because it was low tide, there were many large rock formations that were quite jagged. Also, where the water flowed in a bend of the river, huge amounts of beautiful sand that had piled up after being carried down during the wet season when the river was full. Many times, the river channel became quite narrow, and that is where the rapids would develop. Steve and I gained a great deal of respect for the captain as we watched him navigate his 100-foot long boat through these narrow gaps. It was quite thrilling!

In the afternoon we passed the point of the Laos and Thailand border. The scenery down the river was really quite beautiful but not as lush as we had expected. We had to remind ourselves that it is the dry season so things are not as green. All along the way we saw teak trees that had been planted on the hillside. The locals also plant peanuts and other vegetables in the sand mounds during the dry season.

Around five o’clock the captain pulled the boat to the shore at the town of Pak Beng. We walked up the hill to the Villa Phathama, which was quite nice with floors and walls finished in teak. We put our things in the room and then left to have dinner with Phet, Gemma and Bennie from Holland, Arin and Simon from Australia, and Roy from New Zealand. We walked up the road to see the town, and then we enjoyed a nice dinner at the Bakery Café. After dinner Phet brought a bottle of Lao-Lao, which is Lao whiskey, to the table. We all had a taste, and I have to say that it was pretty bad. Lao beer, however, is quite good.

By now it was getting late, and I needed to download our pictures so we returned to our hotel with Bennie and Gemma. I spent the next hour working with our photos, and then we called it a night. Unfortunately, we did not sleep well, but we were ready to continue early the next morning. After breakfast, we packed up and walked down to the boat.

Our boat left at 8 o’clock, and we continued down the river. It was quite cool in the morning because of the fog in the canyon so we ended up using the blankets that had been placed on our table. The sides of the canyon now became steeper and the vegetation, greener.

Around 11 o’clock we stopped at a Hmong Village. The Hmong homes were different in that they were built on the ground. Only a few homes had electricity, but there was another satellite dish. As we approached the village, several girls came to meet us with souvenirs to buy. Most were items with embroidery on them that had been sewn by the women. We continued up to the village and walked around. Most of the women had laid out their goods to sell, and the children continued to follow us with their items. Unfortunately, it made it difficult to focus on the people and buildings, but we did enjoy the tour.

After the village we continued down the river and enjoyed another great lunch with fried chicken, rice, sautéed vegetables, and watermelon. As we moved along, we passed many fishermen casting nets from their boats or using a net from the rocks. There were also boats moving up and down the river carrying cargo. One boat had a cargo of brand new motor scooters. The Mekong really is a river of life for the Laotian people.

We went through more rapids, some of which were quite exciting. At the top of many of the rock ridges in the middle of the river were concrete depth markers, some of which had been hit by boats coming down the river at higher water. The rocks where quite jagged all the way down the river.

Our last stop was at the Pak Ou cave, which contains many Buddhas of different sizes brought by local people over the years. We left the main cave and climbed 187 steps to smaller cave higher up the hill, which gave us a great workout. Once we went inside, it was dark enough that we needed a flashlight in order to see. Inside there were more Buddha icons and trinkets grouped around a larger Buddha.

After leaving the cave we returned to the boat and made our way down the last section of the river to the main pier at Luang Prabang. Once the boat was tied up, we thanked the captain and walked up the hill to the main street. Phet had arranged for a tuk-tuk for us, and the driver was waiting for us when we arrived at the street so we climbed in and rode to the New Daraphet Hotel down the road.

Our trip down the Mekong River was very special, and we are so happy that we were able to experience it. It was the trip of a lifetime.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Future Plans of sv Linda

February 22, 2011--Well, things change frequently for those of us cruising the oceans of the world. That seems to apply to us so we will update you with our latest change of plans.

With the recent capture and murder of the crew of s/v QUEST (4 Americans aboard), the expanding range of the Somali pirates into the Indian Ocean, and the increasing instability of the Middle East, we think that the best course of action is for us to choose a different direction to point the bow of sv LINDA. The only other reasonable choice for us is to round the Cape of Good Hope around South Africa, head across the Southern Atlantic Ocean to Brazil, and then go through the Panama Canal to Mexico.

This change definitely has implications for our travel plans. Since the best travel time in the Southern Indian Ocean is in the Southern Ocean summer, we will begin heading back south towards Singapore in April/May. We will do some minor repairs and major provisioning and then head back south through Indonesia in July with the intention of reaching Jakarta, Indonesia, in the August time frame. Turning west we will sail the thousands of miles across the Southern Indian Ocean to Mauritius Island with possible stops at Rodriguez Island, Cocos Keeling Islands, and possibly Christmas Island. Hopefully, that will position us for the eleven hundred miles passage to South Africa sometime in mid-November. Working our way southwest to Cape Town against the southeast Agulhas Current will be our biggest weather challenge, but, hopefully, we will be in Cape Town by early December such that we can make a quick trip home for Christmas.

It will be a short trip home as we need to get back in order to leave South Africa by mid-February. The trip diagonally across the South Atlantic Ocean is 5,000 miles with stops at St. Helena (Napoleon's island of imprisonment), and then, with a little luck, after 30 to 40 days at sea we should arrive in Brazil. From there the trip is only a few thousand miles through the Panama Canal and up the west coast of Central America to San Carlos, Mexico.

We feel that, given the world's situation, this is the only reasonable decision we could make. This decision results in the addition of many miles to our voyage but will actually get us back to the US a bit sooner and, most importantly, will minimize the risk of being captured, or even killed, by pirates. When we look at the decision in this light, it is not a difficult decision to make.

From the Crew of s/v LINDA (Currently touring Laos), Steve & Linda

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Saturday, February 19, 2011

Chiang Rai and Chiang Khong

February 19, 2011—We woke up the morning of February 16 and found that we were still quite sore from riding the elephants plus we were a bit tired from our travels so we decided to spend an extra day in Chiang Rai. We enjoyed our breakfast and then returned to the room so that I could work on the blog, and Steve could write in his journal.

Around noon we walked to the main street looking for a place to have lunch. We ended up at da Vinci’s where we enjoyed a Hawaiian Pizza and beer. After lunch we again returned to our room, which was nice and cool because of the air-conditioning. I was able to finish the blog and catch up on my journal as well.

For dinner we walked to the Night Bazaar, which was only a block away. I ordered two shish-kabobs, and Steve ordered grilled prawns, which turned out to be overcooked. We also found some yummy looking fried insects—cockroaches, caterpillars, etc.

We then took our time walking around the bazaar looking at all the lovely things for sale. Steve bought a woven bracelet, and I found an elephant necklace. We then treated ourselves to a Swenson’s ice cream, and as we were on our way back to the hotel, we saw a barber shop that was still open. Steve went in and had a haircut and full shave for 120 baht or $4. The barber was quite a "ham" when I took the picture.

On Thursday, we walked to the post office to mail some postcards, and on the way we discovered the Wat Klang Wiang (more temples). Then we walked until we found the Central Market, which was very interesting. From there we went by the new Mosque, which was very impressive. Next we discovered the Golden Clock that was very ornate and beautiful. I wanted to have my hair cut so we returned to the same barber, and he cut my hair and gave me a shampoo for 120 baht or $4. I was very happy with the cut.

We enjoyed lunch at a local restaurant and made our next stop the Peak Spa where we scheduled massages for 4 p.m. We didn’t have time to make a trip up to a hill tribe, but we did visit a museum in town that had excellent displays and a video about the hill tribes. As we left the museum, we passed the remains of the prison so we walked around to have a look at it.

Now it was time to return to our room to change for our massage. We returned to the spa and enjoyed a head/neck/back massage, as well as a foot massage. An hour later, we were done and felt much better. Around 6:30 we walked to the Phu-Lae Restaurant for a spicy curry dinner.

The morning of February 18, we got up early and ate breakfast. We had packed our bags the night before so that we would be ready to leave at 9:15 to catch the bus to Chiang Kong. Luckily, the hotel was just two blocks from the bus station, so we loaded our backpacks and headed over there. A lady asked us where we were going, and when we told her Chiang Kong, she directed us to a bus; however, this bus did not leave until 10 a.m., but that was fine so we loaded our bags and picked a good seat by the door.

We left on time and enjoyed the ride on the third-class bus filled with locals. There was no AC, but the open door gave us plenty of air, and it even got a bit cool for me. We realized on the ride that these buses are privately owned so the woman had sent us to her bus that was driven by her husband and not the 9:30 bus. The ride took two hours and the scenery along the way was very pretty. It is the end of the dry season, so things are starting to become dryer, but when the rains begin in April or May, I am sure that things will become much greener.

We arrived in Chiang Kong at noon and hired a motorcycle tuk-tuk to take us to our hotel. When we put our bags in the back and climbed in, the cycle came up off the ground. We had to move our weight forward and when the driver got on the cycle, it came all the way back down. It was worth the fee because the hotel was further than we thought.

We checked into the Nam Kong Riverview Hotel, which is situated right on the Mekong River. Our room looks out over the Mekong and Laos on the other side. It is a nice facility with a restaurant. We enjoyed lunch there and then took a quick walk just north of town. When we returned, we enjoyed some time sitting on the deck overlooking the river.

At dinner time, we decided to have a light meal so we returned to the restaurant. Unfortunately, two buses of tourists had arrived and filled the hotel. We arrived at the restaurant before the hordes descended, but we received only our drink order. After an hour of waiting for our soup, we just got up, paid our bill, and left. We ended up at the Bamboo Mexican House where we enjoyed pumpkin soup and chicken quesadillas. The food was marvelous, and it was nice to have some good Mexican food for a change. When we returned to the hotel, the tourists were really enjoying themselves and were setting off fire crackers well into the evening so it was difficult to get any sleep.

In the morning we waited to eat breakfast until the large group was finished. Unfortunately, by the time we could get a table, the food was basically gone. We decided not to stay another night if another bus would be coming in. While the buses were being loaded, we walked up the street and found a lovely new hotel that had a room for us. Knowing that, we returned and asked to speak to the manager. We told him about the problems we had the night before and asked if another bus was coming in. He told us no, so we said that we would not check out but would stay another night. After that he offered to serve us a hot breakfast, and we agreed.

We walked through town after breakfast, but there is really very little to see here. It is a small town, and the only real reason people come here is to catch the boat ride down the Mekong to Luang Prabang, which is what we will do tomorrow morning. Therefore, we decided to buy some wonderful home-made bread at the Bamboo Mexican House and go back to the hotel so that I could write this blog, and Steve could check into our schedule for tomorrow.

In the late afternoon we walked down to the Mekong so that we could dip our feet in the water, and a little later we enjoyed a delicious dinner of green chicken curry, which would give green chili a run for its money. Tomorrow we leave to take a two-day boat trip down the Mekong River to Luang Prabang, Laos.

On another note, the news regarding the Somali pirates taking a U.S. flagged yacht, and the fact that the world governments are hesitant to deal with the situation, we are now rethinking our plans for continuing west through the Suez Canal. We are monitoring the news carefully and following the boats that we know are crossing this year. Our other alternative is to go to South Africa, which involves sailing more miles but a lot less stress; however, it will mean leaving Malaysia this year instead of next January. We will decide within the next month what we will do.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Bangkok to Chiang Mai, Thailand

February 16, 2011—Our train for Chiang Mai did not leave until 6:10 p.m. so we took our time getting ready in the morning, and around noon we left for the train station. We were able to leave our bags at “Left Luggage” and then walk to China Town. Unfortunately, it was Saturday and the streets were packed. What a surprise!

We walked down the main street and then turned up an alley way that was filled with shops. The path through the shops was so narrow that we walked single file; however, that did not stop motor scooters from using the path as well. At one point, a small truck was trying to drive through as well. We soon made our way out and found an air-conditioned restaurant for lunch.

After lunch we walked back to the train station. We had a few hours to wait, but it was interesting to watch all the people at the station. An hour before our train was to leave, we were able to board and stow our bags. This trip was in a second-class car, which meant that Steve and I each had a wide seat during the day, and then at night our two facing seats made up one bunk with a drop-down bunk above. There were curtains for privacy, and the bunks were quite comfortable plus the car was air-conditioned.

Across the aisle from us were an American and his Pilipino wife who live in the Philippines but travel six months of the year. Larry and Helen sat and talked with us for quite awhile, and we really enjoyed meeting them.

The porter made up our bunks around 9 o’clock, and we called it a night. We did not sleep very well, but we came into Chiang Mai at 7:30 in the morning and were able to check into the Galare Guest House when we arrived. The Galare is a lovely Thai styled facility by the river with a restaurant, and they offer wifi, laundry, and tour services.

We decided that we wanted to take an elephant tour, so they booked us for Monday. As soon as we could, we walked into town to look around. Chiang Mai is a city of around 174,000 people, and it is so much more enjoyable than Bangkok. It is still a tourist city, but it is very clean, the people are friendly, and we didn’t have any trouble with scammers.

We spent the day walking around to see even more Wats. The temples here are not as grand, but they are still beautiful. We enjoyed lunch in town, and we walked through the market that was being set up near the old wall that used to surround the city. Later we walked to the Night Bazaar to look around. The Bazaar is definitely a tourist event, but it was still interesting to look at all the stuff that was for sale. We enjoyed dinner at an Afghani restaurant, and then went to McDonald’s for an ice cream. After that we were pretty tired, so we headed back to our room.

Monday morning we got up early to have breakfast and wait for our driver to pick us up at 8:15. When he arrived, we climbed into the van and took off to pick up two other groups. One of the groups included three young ladies from Uruguay. We ended up getting to know them very well during the day, and we exchanged emails with them to share pictures.

We drove quite awhile before we arrived at in Maetamann and the Thai Elephant Home. Joe, who is one of the owners, introduced himself and then explained how we would spend the day. He gave each of us a top, pants, and a hat that we would wear. He taught us five basic commands for the elephants and also gave us some interesting facts about the Asian elephant and how it compares to the African elephant.

Our next step was to practice getting up on the elephant and giving voice and leg commands. The word “malong” meant lie down, “bai” meant go forward, “what” meant stop, and “bend” meant turn either left or right depending on your leg command. Steve’s elephant was named Boonsee, and the mahout’s name was Wimon. My elephant was named Noi and the mahout was Porn. The mahouts are the trainers, and each has his own elephant. Both elephants were rather large, and mine seemed to be a bit stubborn. Anyway, we all got up on our elephants and headed to the Waan River. We crossed the river and then began a climb up the hillside.
At first I didn’t feel very secure on the elephant, but after awhile, I became more comfortable. The only problem with my elephant was that she kept sneezing so I ended up with snot on my legs, but it wasn’t all that bad.

It was amazing to see these huge animals climbing up a narrow path on a hillside. We reached our lunch spot just about noon and dismounted the elephants. There was a covered shelter with tables and benches where we were given a delicious meal of Thai noodles with chicken and prawns that was wrapped in a banana leaf. We sat and talked with Ximena, Fernanda, and Camen from Uruguay and enjoyed our food. When we were done, the elephants got any left-over food plus the banana leaves. They didn’t really need the food because they had been grazing on the lush grass on the hillside while we were eating.

We rode the elephants up the hill a short distance and then watched as the elephants were allowed to enjoy a luxurious mud bath. It was fun to watch them throwing mud on themselves and scratching their bodies against the side of the hill. When they were done, we headed down the hill to the river for a bath. Steve and I decided to walk for awhile because if you have ever been sore after riding a horse, just imagine riding a very large elephant.

At the river Steve walked across, but I decided to ride Noi across. At the other side the riders all got off, and the elephants were allowed to get into the river and take a bath. Some of the water was deep enough for the elephants go be completely covered with water. We all joined in the river bath and had a great time splashing water on the elephants. In return the elephants would hose us down with water from their trunks, which felt good because it was a hot day so the cold water felt really nice. I got an opportunity to ride in the river on one elephant’s trunk.

Now it was time to return to the facility. We all got back on our elephants and made our way from the river to the facility. When we got back, we got off and thanked our mahouts as they led our elephants to their stalls. Then we changed our clothes and enjoyed some watermelon and cold water. It was a very interesting experience, and we thought that this was a fascinating way to spend Valentine’s Day in Thailand.

We said our goodbyes to Joe and made a donation to the facility. We all slept in the long van ride back to Chiang Mai, and Steve and I returned to the hotel very sore but determined to have a lovely dinner out. We found a place called The Duke’s and enjoyed a wonderful dinner of steak and baby back ribs. A woman came in selling roses, and Steve bought me a lovely red rose for Valentine’s Day.

The morning of February 15 we ate breakfast, and then we packed up our things so that we could check out at 11 o’clock. We took two hours to walk to the post office and then around town for one last round of looking in shops.
We caught a ride to the bus station for our bus to Chiang Rai at 2:45 p.m. We booked the VIP bus because of the larger seats and fewer people, plus the fare for the bus was only 265 baht each or $9. The drive was lovely since we are moving to the northern border of Thailand and the terrain has higher hills. After three hours we arrived in Chiang Rai and found our hotel called The North. It was now dinner time so we went to the Night Bazaar where we bought some pork satay sticks for dinner. Tomorrow we will explore Chiang Rai.