Monday, July 17, 2017

REI's Last 36 Hours - Hill Tribes, Trees, and a little scare to strengthen our "family"

We were awakened by the smell of breakfast in our home stay.  Eggs, Toast (with pineapple jam), fruit…and a traditional breakfast soup of broth, pork calls, rice, cabbage, carrots…and of course local coffee.  We all bid our farewells to Mae Noi and her family and were on our way for our last full day with REI.

Our first stop was at the Lisu hill tribe.  This tribe has less than 200 at this location and is led by a local Shaman we were going to meet.  He was determined to be the village Shaman because after the last one passed he performed some feat showing he held some special something, like healing someone ill.  When we arrived the Shaman was no where to be found.  His wife finally showed up and served us very hot tea in coconut cups.  One of our guides was not so sure about it, so told especially the kids to just take a sip.  Finally they found the Shaman, but their dialect was so difficult to understand our guides only understood about 15%, but what they did understand is we had been invited to a village party because the Shaman apparently had healed an ill man.  So we followed him through the village to a group of homes.  Under one awning were a group of women chopping raw pork into a paste with herbs…and eating it raw.  Under the awning of another home were all the men sitting in a circle drinking and eating.  Apparently they were drinking the local corn liqueur that was 80 proof.  And we were invited to partake.  We did not want to offend, so we took a shot.  What we quickly learned though if our glass was empty our host refilled.  So when he started filling with a beer chaser we stopped.  Back through town we bought some handicraft, a purse and a crazy hat for my Dad. (This paragraph written by Avis)

Next we visited the Akha tribe.  Here we just walked with our guides through the village.  This tribe is known for their excellent hunting skills especially with the bow as well as their silversmith handiskills.  There were lots of ladies in their traditional headdress pushing sales from their little stalls.  Mom was very disappointed when one of our guides asked the ladies if they had any real silver.  Mom was looking for a charm for her travel necklace, but everyone laughed when the lady kind of laughed and replied back in her dialect…"no, silver is too expensive."  So much for her charm.

Reforestation Project
Alec planting with lead guide, Anon
Our lunch today involved climbing in the back of a pick-up due to the rains and going up the hill to a restaurant with a little camp around it.  There we met a man everyone called “Uncle” who had launched a reforestation project in the Mae Taeng District.  Reforestation is one of the royal projects of King Rama IX’s wife and this man after being big in business wanted to give back and is reforesting areas devastated by slash and burn agriculture and teak poachers.  After a lunch, which included a new soup made of young bamboo my parents loved, we went out into the forest and planted trees ourselves.

videoBack down the hill we continued on to the Hmong Hill Tribe Lodge.  It was raining like crazy, but we still talked Dad into letting us swim in the pool before dinner.  Mom stayed in and listened to the rain and drank coffee.  This area gets a lot of rain in the mountains and Ally quickly learned these wet, rich rain forest covered mountains meant leeches.  Before our trip was over she would get 2, Mom would get one, and another on our trip got one.  This evening was our last dinner together and the kids were very excited to have a pasta bar.  After dinner we went into a large room where several girls about Ally’s age and an older gentleman and young man from the tribe performed for us.  The Hmnog are immigrants from Laos.  Several dances as well as this amazing pipe instrument, but the one we enjoyed the most was the last one where they showed us a game they play with large wooden tops.  We all got to play too and it was a lot of fun.
Alec and Hmong elder

Amazing catepillar, which would become their version of a firefly

Hard to believe one more hike tomorrow morning and it would all come to an end.

FYI…the next morning’s hike was cut short and Andy and Ally as Ally got leech #2 and Alec had some mysterious reaction that morning.  We still aren’t sure what happened when he nearly collapsed in the dining area complaining he had a short breath and his chest hurt.  To be on the safe side we gave him 2 doses of Benadryl, then about 30 minutes later while Andy and Ally were starting their hike he started shaking uncontrollably.  Our guide, Vicky, was amazing rubbing his feet (Thai believe very much in acupressure and health being tied to your feet).  Alec said he was scared and she called the drivers to retrieve Andy and Ally after Alec said he just wanted his family together.  When Andy arrived and we laid him in his arms his little body relaxed and the shaking stopped and he has been fine ever since. (This paragraph by Avis)

Tears flowed at the airport…it was an incredible trip with three other wonderful families and three wonderful guides.  Over the last 11 days we had definitely become as Anon our lead guide said… “One Family…the REI Family.”

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Last Day in Thailand - What we have learned

Tonight we are all pretty tired, so we thought we would share the biggest things we learned in Thailand:

Allyson - "In a time where our country struggles with our leadership I found the love for the recently deceased King Rama IX amazing."

Thailand’s King Bhumibol Adulyadej (known to the people as King Rama the Ninth) died at age 88, ending seven decades on the throne during which he became a unifying father figure and rare source of stability in a country that has weathered more than a dozen coups since he came to power in 1946 at 18 years old.  He died on October 13th, 2016 and the country is in a 1 year period of mourning.  I (Avis) equate the love of this people for the king similar to England's love of Diana...the people's princess.  King Rama IX was definitely the people's King.  In fact our guides referred to him as their father...and nor political where the prime minister is the political arm, but the King is one of his consultants.  King Rama IX is loved because he spent many of his early years spending all of his personal wealth on royal projects to make the lives of the Thai people better.  Over time the government saw his effectiveness and as well funneled funds his way.  He got opium growers to instead plant coffee and other product.  He had hundreds of such projects enriching the lives of the people.  The people mostly are wearing black for this year in mourning.  I'd say 85% of the businesses and most homes have some sort of memorial whether a photo in the family room or a picture with flowers and candles, to massive banners and black and white ribbons.  Ally was very moved seeing such a love of a leader where she as a child has had many questions about the leaders in her own country.

Here's an article more about King Rama IX.

Alec - "I was most interested in the gods, especially the Hindu gods that are also acknowledged by Thai Buddhists."  I was most interested in Erawan...the three headed elephant."
Thai representation of Erawan
More Hindu representation of Erawan

We learned in our travels and from our guides that Thai Buddhism is a mash-up of Buddhism, Hindu, and sometimes animism.  Alec seemed most interested in the Hindu gods, especially Erawan, which has said to have 33 heads, but in sculpture he is generally depicted with 3 as 33 is just too difficult to depict.  Here's more about Erawan.  We also traveled to the Erawan Waterfall is called that because at the uppermost of the 7 tiers it is said to have three stones similar to the 3 heads of Erawan.

Avis - "I've struggled with religion all my life and have always been drawn to Buddhism and really enjoyed learning more about the Thai form with it's hints in Hindu and animism.  Their strong belief in karma is a big pull for me as I am one who truly believes in what you put out there will come full circle back to you - good and bad."

Here's some info on Thai Buddhism.  I am excited to head to Cambodia next, the place where the ties to the Thai Hinduism originated.  As with most religions I still found my struggles...the lack of women's roles in religious leadership.  There are Buddhist nuns, but no monks (all be it we did here of one who's recently started a group here after returning from Sri Lanka).  Ally and I always had to be covered and stand our distance from the monks.  Only Andy and Alec were able to pour the water as the final step in our giving alms. Also we had a talk with Monk KK about the simple life Buddhism preaches and how the monks themselves live and the contradiction with the elaborate almost extravagant temples the people fund to build.  Gold inlay, large, hand-painted, ...absolutely awe inspiring.  All in all though Buddhism still feels most comfortable to me and the visit to Thailand only strengthened that familiarity.
I was born on a Friday .

Andy -  I think the biggest thing I learned was a better understanding of the Thai people.  Much of our impression of Thailand in the west is either the big city of Bangkok ("Hangover Part II") or tourism, amazing beaches, and parties in Phuket.  Having the opportunity to travel around different areas including big cities, ancient capitals, small villages, and beach resorts revealed different facets of the country.  The people we met and learned more about really left the biggest impression on me though.  Nearly everywhere we traveled, they were extremely friendly and warm and expressed a strong sense of pride in their nation, the rich history of multiple kingdoms, Siam, and eventually what became the nation of Thailand.   They also pride themselves as a free people who were never colonized by the European nations like many of the surrounding states.  The opportunities to meet and interact with various tribes in the north such as the Hmong, Lisu, Karen, and Akha will not be soon forgotten.   And most of all, we appreciated the incredible hospitality of our guides, hotel and restaurant employees, and all others who helped us during our trip.
We LOVE our REI guides, Vicky, TK, and Anon.
Left to Right in this video.
Toasting with a Lisu Shaman and his village to the recent healing of one of their members.

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Amazing Race, Zip Lining, and Mae Noi

Time to check out of the beautiful hotel in Ching Mai and travel to a very different overnight at someone's home in the hills of northern Thailand.
Finished Lily
Preparing to present our lilies

But before we got there we had to put our Thai language learning to the test in an amazing race.  Our guides had taught us how to count from 1 to 99...then had also taught us greetings, several fruits, and even some phrases to do things like ask how much something was or ask for a discount.  So before we got into our vans we were divided into 4 teams with no family members on the same team.  We drove about 30 minutes and arrived at a market.  A market is really 50 individual vendors under one roof selling everything from rubber boots, to fruits, veggies, fish, frogs and much more.  We were given 150 baht ($5 USD) and our teams were given three items and the quantity all in Thai and then had to race around the market only using Thai to find the item and purchase it.  Points were awarded for the team who finished first, who got the items right, and who spent the least amount.  Quite a lot of fun!  And all our items would be used for our dinner that evening, right or wrong.  And the vendors were very helpful if you started with a smile, a bow, and a hello.  This was not the end though...after we finished we climbed back into the car and were taught to fold water lily buds artfully to present as a thank you for our hosts.
Beautiful baskets
Beautiful Waterfall
Lunch location looked like fairy house

Another 45 minute drive and we arrived at the Mae Kampong Village.  Here we proceeded to the store and were greeted by a village leader and we were also introduced to our host families. Our's was led by Mae Noi (Mother Noi).  In her home was her husband, 29 year old daughter, and 6 month old grandson (Tang which means money).  We dropped our bags and went for a hike around the village learning that products and handicrafts they made as well as visited a beautiful waterfall and then wound back to a beautiful temple in the middle of a river.  From there we went on to lunch in this beautiful almost fairy-like restaurant as the roof was done all in teak leaves...thousands.  Lunch was another set Thai menu, but this time it also included a band and all the kids were called up to help them.  We can not find the name on line, but it is literally across the street and down some stairs from the zip-lining office.  I enjoyed playing symbols with the local band.

Loves Ziplining
Can you see the platform?

After lunch we crossed the street to our adventure for the afternoon.  Zip-lining.  I was really excited as I have never gone before.  I do in-door rock-climbing, so heights are no problem.  We got our gear, climbed in a truck, and drove to the start of the course.  The company was called Flight of the Gibbon, as many live there in the forest.  There were 15 zip-lines.  My favorite one was called Superman, because you jumped off the platform like you were going to fly and land in a cargo net on the other side and then climb up and out.  Because I do not weigh a lot the guides threw me off the platform and I still didn't make it to the other side, so a guide had to come out and rescue me, which was a lot of fun too.
After zip-lining we walked back through town to our host family.  WOW was this town busy. Apparently it is quite popular for locals to come up to escape the heat or do a day trip from the city.  Only one road through town and there was a traffic jam of scooters, people, sports cars, and people.  We stopped in at a coffee shop, Lung Pud Pa Peng Coffee House, where everyone was getting their pictures taken in front of.  Apparently this is how you prove to people you have been to this town is to post a pic on Facebook or Instagram.

Had to get photo here, like the locals
Back at Mae Noi's house we helped finish cooking dinner.  I fried chicken wings, Ally helped with the soup, then we all played with baby Tang.  But before dinner we met the village elder at another house and he performed a welcome ceremony.  We all sat in a circle and passed around a spool of white thread that had been given to him by the monks.  After he chanted he collected the thread and then tied a bracelet of 3 loops of the thread around our left wrists.  Then he blessed us by throwing water on us with some leaves.  He was very nice...and very patient as his grand-daughter about 3 years old wanted to play with Grandpa at the beginning of the ceremony.

Back at Mae Noi's we had a wonderful dinner on the second floor of the house looking out a window on the town.  A rain came and it was very pretty.  After dinner we cleared and washed the dishes.  Ally washed and I placed all the dishes to drop dry in their places.  There were no cabinets in the kitchen.  All the pots and pans hung on the wall.  The dishes were placed on open shelves with wood slates so you could prop them to drop-dry.  At 7PM 3 ladies came to the house and upstairs in the common room three mattresses had been laid out and we all got Thai massages.  Very different from the massage we have gotten in Jamaica.  This one involved a lot of acupressure, which is pushing really hard in one spot.  On my parents they even used their feet to push on their legs.  It felt very good and we were all tired after.  We got our beds all set-up for sleep.  The beds were simple mattresses on the floor covered with mosquito netting because the roofs of the houses were just slant metal roofs and did not fully attach to the house, so open...and the windows did not have screens on them.  The town got very quiet and we did not awake again until morning when we smelled breakfast and heard baby Tang.  Breakfast was fresh eggs, toast, fruit, and a Thai rice soup...simple broth, cabbage, rice, and a few other things.  Mom and Dad were thrilled when taking the dishes down to wash to find Mae Noi and her husband and several neighbors standing around the table eating a real Thai breakfast and were invited to join them...sticky rice balls dipped in fresh cut chilies and mushrooms.  Only here for 24 hours it was a beautiful town with beautiful people.
NOTE:  We learned this village which is a the jewel of the country's eco-tourism and homestay industry is so popular during the US winter/dry season home stay visits should be booked 6 months in advance.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Alms with the Monks, Hiking with Karen Tribe, and Night Market with Thousands of People

Today's blog by Alec and Mom...

Early, early morning….we met our group in the lobby at 6:30AM and Mom and Ally were in long skirts with their shoulders covered.  We were driving into town to give alms to the monks who walk the streets from ~7AM-7:30AM to be fed and supplied by the people.  They do this twice a day.  We got out of our vans near a temple where many monks would be walking.  Along the streets were vendors who were selling alm “gift sets.”  It contained the following items and this would be order we presented it to the monks… rice, some sort of protein, dessert, milk, juice, water, and then on top of this bowl when he placed the lid on it we would place a bouquet of flowers.  Our guide Anon taught us the proper way to present things.  After presenting, in our bare feet on the street, we knelt in the street while he blessed us.  During the blessing Dad and I poured water from a small ceramic pitcher into a small bowl.  After we were done we would pour the water on the base of a tree returning it to the earth.  We did this one time for practice with Anon watching us…and then a second time on our own.  It was a very emotional experience.  Mom and Dad actually cried afterwards saying doing something like this so close to Dad’s step-grandmother’s death (she died while we were on our trip on July 6) it was all a bit overwhelming that morning.  Picture will come later as our guides took them so we could all concentrate.

Our Karen Tribe Guides

Back at the hotel the guides gave us time to pack and have breakfast then we were off to visit the Karen “long neck” hill tribe.   I liked breakfast here because they had donuts and hot chocolate. We pulled off the side of the freeway at the start of a trail and were met by a man and woman from their tribe.  You are not allowed to hike the trail without them.  We would walk with them for over a hour…along the way they shared with us many plants which are medicines as well…including one that cures malaria, citronella…also useful ones like cinnamon and one who’s leaves are used for sandpaper.  Beautiful terraced rice and coffee fields, flower greenhouses, and waterfalls were all along the way and we got to swim in one of them.  At the finish of our trip we enjoyed a traditional Thai picnic eating only with our hands…rice, chili, pickled vegatables, fruits, salted pork, etc..  And to top it all off Mom and Dad even let me have a cup of the local coffee which they had ground and steeped right there in front of us.
Hill Tribe chrysanthemum greenhouse
Enjoying local coffee under a coffee plant
Many beautiful's the rainy season

After finishing we were all excited as we got an afternoon/evening off.  Back at our hotel we all hopped into the pool and had drinks.  Then that evening we went into the Wua Lai Night Market.  The biggest of all the markets they shut off numerous blocks of the street called Wua Lai.  We had the porters call a songthaew for us.  Song means two and thaew means bench…and this is exactly what it is in the back of a truck and covered.  When we got to the market it was really, really crowded.  We had to hold our parent’s hands all the time.  There were thousands of people on the street and the police kept announcing over the loud speaker to watch for pick pockets.  Mom and Dad steered us down a side street and Dad ordered egg fried rice and a spring roll for Ally and I and seafood pad thai for he and Mom.  As everything was cooked fresh we waited a long time for our food and then it took us a while to find a seat.  We also ordered fresh squeezed juices.  After we ate we went back out onto the street where I got a little owl with my name on it and Ally bargained for 5 anklets saving a whole 50 baht, or $1.50.  We again got a songthaew to take us back to our hotel, but because the traffic was so bad we paid extra 30 extra baht ($1) to go non-stop (meaning he wouldn’t pick-up any passengers) and express (meaning he would take the freeway).  Very tired and overwhelmed from the crowds we fell asleep quickly.  Tomorrow morning we were checking out and moving on.
Dining at the Night Market

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Caring for Elephants & Thai Cooking School

We woke up in the morning bright and early, got dressed, and went to breakfast.  Today was going to be a very busy day.  This breakfast was really good with lots of western choices including donuts and hot chocolate.

Our Guide, Mike
After breakfast, we drove to Elephant Nature Park where they rescue elephants (and dogs and cats).   When we got there we sat down at our tables and our guide explained how the day would go and introduced us to Mike who would be leading us around the sanctuary.  Mike’s English was very good and all self taught from working with the western volunteers who came to the sanctuary. 

The first thing we did was we feed two elephants fruit.  I think the elephant's favorite were the bananas!  After we were done feeding, we walked around for quite a while and we got to see lots more elephants and water buffaloes. While we were there, I learned a very cool thing.  Some dogs get so attached to the elephants they become their guardians and when people come close they start barking unless it is their keeper. 

After we walked around for a while they rang a bell that meant lunch.   For lunch I got fruit, rice, soup, and noodles.   Lunch was so fun and after lunch we got to go shopping in the gift shop.   Though I didn’t get anything, Ally got green elephant pant-shorts and a shirt that said “Save the Elephants”.   After shopping it was time for what I think was the most fun part of the day,  washing the elephants. 

We walked down to the river and used buckets and threw water on two elephants while they ate bananas.   One time an elephant almost ran away, but came back when she saw the other had bananas left.  We washed the elephants because horse flies can lay eggs on them and we want to make sure there aren’t too many flies.   After the elephants were all washed it was time for them to apply sunscreen.  Since elephants don’t have their own sunscreen like we do, they throw mud on themselves to protect themselves from the sun.  Halfway through applying sunscreen, 3 elephants and a baby walked over.  The baby elephant on its four feet was taller than me!  

After that we walked over to fences that said “Danger”.  It was the male elephants.  The strongest of them all was named Hope.  His got his name because he has an infection and they hope he will survive.  Hope was trying to throw full bamboo stalks at the elephants across from him.   After we left the males, we went to an elephant’s pen.  I asked what was wrong with her foot because it was all purple.  They said she had broken her leg.  She had stepped on a landmine.   We went and saw a few more after that.   There was one really cool one that their trainer put a flower in her ear.  She had an earring because one of her injuries was a hole in her ear that would snag on thing and tear bigger, so a keeper designed an earring for her.   She was one of the elephants that I mentioned earlier that had a guard dog.   He was really cute.   This entire time we are walking right along with the fences, no barriers, except for the male elephants.
Champagne with her earring
After we went back to our table, there were tea coffee and deserts waiting for us.   When we were walking out, we passed a giant map and dog pictures and an article.  The map had pictures of people who had adopted dogs from the sanctuary.   These dogs had survived things like floods, mean owners, and trash filled areas.   

After that we drove for about an hour and a half and we finally arrived at Baan Thai Thai Cookery School!   We were going to make 4 things.  We had a choice of options to pick from.   For the soup, I picked chicken with coconut milk.  We also did a papaya salad,  fried rice, and a dish called Khao Soi.  Mom was most excited for the last one.  I like the fried rice.  My sister learned how to make springs rolls and loved them.  Dad loved his curry.  After a very long time cooking, it was time to eat.  The meal was good but it was mostly fun to cook the food.  I was trusted with a large knife of my own and hot cooking woks…but Mom was always close by.  Though the sad thing was that every kid got burned on the pans but Ally.  My parents enjoyed it because they learned how to make all kinds of things to cook at home. 

We got back to the hotel very late at night and got on our jammies and went to bed since we were going to have to get up early the next morning to give Alms to the monks.

Limes, Weaving, Monk Chats, and Durian....Oh My

We are now on Day 5 of our trip with REI and it is another long drive day with a good break in the middle.  Destination tonight is Ching Mai, but along the way we stopped at a village where the local leader, a woman, met us and showed us around to see how their community operated.  It's called Ban Na Ton Chan.  You can read more here in this National Geographic article. 
Lime Farm
      First, we visited a farm for limes and bamboo.  Limes are used in almost every dish here in Thailand and are one of their more lucrative crops.  They are in season now so she taught us how to pick a good one and then sent us out into the fields to find the best one.  Then she as the village leader selected the best from the adults and best from the children.  Andy/Dad won best for the adults which was quite nice as it was his birthday.  They enjoy limes cut fresh with salt and honey.  Next, we saw how they made bamboo into chopsticks as well as cups.  Riding in the back of her family’s farm truck we went to her home where she showed us how to prepare a spool of thread and then how to weave using a loom that the pattern was controlled by our feet.  This village is famous for its cloth as it is very soft.  How does it get so soft…one of the steps before they dye it using natural plant dyes they soak it in muddy water.  Apparently, the women of the village figured this out after the hems of their dresses would get soaked in the muddy rice fields and then washed and over time got very, very soft.

     Also at this village we were taught to make our own lunch.  A piece of muslin cloth stretched tight over the top of a clay pot full of steaming water….we poured a pancake/crepe type batter (except made from mung bean) and let it steam while covered with a bamboo hat/tent structure.  Then on another drum head we cooked an egg.  We placed vegetables and glass noodles in the center of our “pancake” and then were taught how to fold it into a Thai burrito using a bamboo stick.  We placed this in a bowl, topped it with our egg, some broth, and then chilis, cilantro, and crispy pork.  Really good!  Ally even enjoyed her all vegetable one.  The dish is called khao poep.

      Back into the cars we traveled to the busy northern city of Ching Mai.  Along the way we saw many small parades of school children and in the front of the procession was an elaborately decorated pick-up truck bed with a giant candle.  This week the Buddhist lent season starts and the monks are not allowed to travel much and as many temples do not have electricity the people in addition to food and other supplies bring these giant candles as an offering to provide the monks light during their 3 month lent. 
     We worked our way through the Ching Mai rush hour to the Wat Suan Dok.  Here we got to do a “monk chat.”  Yes, this is what they called it, not us.  But seriously we got to spend an hour with Monk KK.  He’s been a monk for 15 years and started at age 13 after losing both his parents.  All men are required to spend time as a monk in their life…even if only for a few weeks.  Most generally do several months.  A lot of orphans or children of poor families are given to the temples to be monks to ensure they are taken care of and educated.  We learned about their way of life including some of the 227 rules they must follow, including never, ever touching a woman.  In fact Ally and Mom had to be well covered in their presence…to their ankles and no bare shoulders.  Monk KK was very nice and answered our questions non-stop and in the end showed us the three ways they are allowed to wear their robe.  Unfortunately we were not allowed to take any photos of the monk.
      Before leaving the temple area we found our guide, TK, had been out doing some shopping.  As a post monk chat snack he brought us durian.  Look it up.  It’s an incredibly stinky fruit, that is actually quite expensive and generally reserved for special occasions.  He brought a very ripe one and not so ripe.    We all tried it with our noses pinched.  Dad preferred the soft, ripe one.  Alec and Mom the less ripe one and we couldn’t convince Ally to try either.
      Off to dinner we dined at a river side restaurant overlooking another beautiful stupa.  At the end of dinner our guides had arranged a birthday cake for Andy as it was July 6.  We checked into the beautiful RatiLanna Riverside Spa Resort.  We get to stay here for 3 nights.  Everyone was so excited after moving every single night except our first two.  Another birthday surprise greeted us as instead of two separate rooms we received a large connecting suite for our family that upon entrance had 2 cakes on the master desk again wishing Mr. Paul Andrew Jolly a happy birthday.  But we couldn’t eat another bite and we had an early morning date with some elephants, so off to bed for us.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Temple Out!

The next two days are going to be blogged by Mom and Dad.  Reason being…our guides gave us another term to use…like Happy House means bathroom.  Sticky Rice means we need to gather together closely so they can talk to us.  There’s also one called “Temple Out”…which means OK…we’ve had enough temples and for the next two days we would travel north through the first and second capitals of Siam and do a bunch of temples.
So our next day we would travel north to the city of Ayutthaya.  Ayutthaya was the longest capital and second of Siam.  On the way there, we made a stop at a roadside delicacy vendor, barbecued rat.  The Thai people live off the land and do not eat much processed food.  So in the area we were traveling there were a lot of rice fields and the rats love to go there, so that is where they are hunted.  They are grilled and served with a chili sauce.   If they are really lucky, they find a snake in the field to BBQ and sell as well.  
In Ayutthaya we visited the king’s summer palace called Bang Pa-In.  It is very different from Camp David…the king who built it wanted to show Europeans they were just as civilized, so it almost felt like you were walking in Epcot…there was Thai architecture, Chinese, European, and more.  
From the palace we took a longtail boat down the river and were picked up by our vans and taken to a local restaurant…very good.  From there we went into town, checked into our hotel, and quickly changed for a bike ride.  Very refreshing, we rode through the rain to Wat Phra Si Sanphet.  We were there at dusk and in addition to the beautiful stupas we got to witness hundreds of bats exiting the buildings.  This evening we would dine on a rice barge…and yes as loved in many cultures in Asia we enjoyed a little karaoke.  Lots of temples and we were all tired, but the kids enjoyed the roof top pool before crashing out at Kantary Hotel.

Up early again the next morning we were on the road again, continuing north.  This time to the Sukhothai, the first capital of Siam.  We stopped at the Wat Tha Sung ..btw Wat means temple.  This temple is also called the glass or crystal temple as it is very opulent inside with chandeliers and little diamond-shaped mirrors covering everything.  It was built to enshrine a monk who is believed to have reached enlightenment because when they went to cremate the body it did not burn.  Along the way we stopped in the town of ____ (back to you later with this one).  Here we stopped and toured a local market and tried several things.  The item the kids enjoyed the most was lotus flower seeds.  They taste very much like snap peas. 

From there we went to the river and climbed aboard a rice barge for a trip down a river which is home to the last river families in Thailand who’s homes are built floating on the river.  Many have fish farms right along side their home.  The government has allowed this one to stay established as in the past they moved their homes and children never went to school regularly…by allowing them to stay in one spot children can attend school.  From here we went onto Sukothai, checked into our hotel, Legendha Sukhothai Resort, and again biked out at sunset among the temples, including one containing a very large Buddha.  Back at the hotel we enjoyed dinner and a Thai cultural dance and drum show.