Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Princess and the P

For every beach we pulled up to, it wasn't clear as to where exactly we were. Our "guide" Hu would mumble the name of a place and shake it off with laughter. When we approached the next beach, I was pretty sure that we were at Railay Beach, as the sight of Rayavadee's restaurant just perched a few feet above the sand, looked just like the photographs.

Months before the trip, I had seen images of this restaurant nestled in a cave in just about every travel publication. The critics raved, this luxury resort can only be reached by boat and is dubbed one of the top 20 places to stay in Asia. But this couldn't be it... the beach was the equivalent of Times Square. There is no way that this was #5 of the "20 Amazing Hotels You Need to Visit Before You Die." Low and behold, Ashley saw a sign and confirmed that this was in fact the much lauded exclusive hotel. To be fair, I'm sure the overly crowded beach is the only setback.

But what were they all here for? We disembarked from the longboat and took a stroll down the beach, naturally to follow the crowd. To our left, rock climbers scaled limestone cliffs. Straight ahead, at the end of Railay Beach, another cave. Within the cave, the sign read:

It is believed among the villagers here that the spirit of Phranang Princess Goddess resides in this cave. Fisherman, before going out, would pledge Phranang for good luck. When their wishes fulfilled, votive offering would be made at the shrine. Common gifts are flowers and incense sticks, but usually the spirits of goddess shall be offered special gifts, the lingams. However, this has nothing to do with the Thai people's religions, neither Buddhism nor Islam, that the belief of the lingam and holy womb shall create fertility and prosperity to the whole earth and  mankind.

Upon entry, I thought to myself "ooh daily offerings, kind of like the ones I saw in Bali." And then moments later, I realized that I was just a little off. These fisherman were trying to ward off a curse on this lonely princess with phallic objects. I turned around to Jaclyn and Ashley and reverted to a junior high schooler. A cave full of them?! There must be over 100, all different shapes and sizes. 

No wonder Hu was laughing! Stay bitten ;)

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Travel Tip Tuesday: Trust Strangers

When we were young, we were told not to talk to strangers. If I listened to that rule, I don't think I would have gotten very far. Cruise around Thailand on the cheap? That would certainly be out of the question if I kept my mouth shut.

More often that not, I'm chatting up a stranger. Shortly thereafter, they've become a new friend. On our first night in Krabi, we ventured to the lobby of the Sofitel for a welcoming happy hour. It is there that I realized I wasn't the only chatty one of my friends. 

We met a sweet Australian woman who gave us the rundown of where to go. She advised us to leave the hotel property in the morning in search for Hu. He should be there across the street, on the side of the road either in a tuk tuk or a longboat. Can't miss Hu. Just ask the locals for him.

So the following morning, we took to her advice and within minutes of asking who's Hu, found ourselves in the company of one smiley, laid back guy. Sporting a Bob Marley shirt and a longboat adorned with Rastafarian colors, we knew everything was going to be alright. He was missing an ear, a teeth or two, but had a sweet demeanor that allowed us to put our trust in a stranger. 

On one rickety longboat, we would ask him what island we would head to next and he would just laugh it off. Hu didn't speak much English and to be fair, I knew even less Thai. Apparently Pad See Ew and Khao Soy won't get you to Ko Phi Phi. But a smile, that will take you pretty far in the Land of Smiles.

Stay bitten ;)

The Beach

Koh Samui? Rainy season.
Phuket? Pronounced f*ck it? Either way, too touristy.
Ao nang? Ko Phi-Phi Don? Ko Lanta? Ko Phi-Phi Leh?

There were a lot of island destinations to sift through and it was tough to decide where we should land from Chiang Mai. Oh, "the struggle is real" as they say it. I knew that at these coordinates, any beach would do the trick. While we couldn't get a room where our friends stayed, at the Nakamanda, we found a nearby resort to unwind at for the remainder of our vacation. Thanks to Jess and Paul, we took their recommendation to reside in Krabi, a smaller scale version of Phuket that would allow us to easily take day trips to the neighboring islands.

15 years after the movie was released, you know the one and in case you've forgotten, it's the one with a young Leonardo DiCaprio on what was once one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Now, it's a bit crowded.

I was more than ready to leave the mainland, hail a longboat around the islands, in search of a more remote beach than "The Beach." Paradise, lost or found, an afternoon at sea with friends is the luckiest of days. 

And me? I still believe in paradise. But now at least I know it's not some place you can look for. Because it's not where you go. It's how you feel for a moment in your life when you're part of something. And if you find that moment... It lasts forever. - The Beach

Stay bitten ;)

Friday, January 16, 2015

Guestblogger: Jaclyn's Tips to Booking Your Elephant Experience

If you do get the chance to book this incredible experience, a few TBB travel tips:

- Pack sneakers only for rain; flip flops that you can easily toss are the best ideas as my Nikes never recovered

- Elephant riding clothes are provided so you won't directly touch the elephant (they are surprisingly hairy), but I did get lots of lashes from Shampoo eating palm leaves. If you're sensitive to a few bumps and scratches then long pants should work.

- Bug spray. That is all.

- Pack a camera, but pass it over to your guide so you can really be present and take the memories with you in your mind above your photo album. A plus, Patara gives all guests a CD of photos and video to take home.

- A change of clothes for your ride back. You will get dirty, you will get wet, but like an elephant... you will never forget.

Stay bitten ;)

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Guestblogger: Jaclyn Becoming an Elephant Owner for a Day

What I loved most about the Patara experience, aside from the stylish trainer attire in bright woven colors and getting to overuse the elephant emoji more than we’d care to admit, was being paired with an animal based on your temperament and personality. The trainers pegged each of their pupils and assigned us to our elephant soulmate for the day.  There she was in the field ahead, bouncing from leg to leg and dancing with some pep in her step.  Flapping her ears, in what we’d learn was a signal that she was really enjoying herself.  Shampoo, aptly titled as I work for a beauty company, was mine and with her came Yaya, her one-year-old calf who bumbled at her feet all day. Two for the price of one.  Ashley would pair with our pregnant queen for the day who graciously led the pack (FUN FACT:  Elephants are pregnant for almost TWO years!), and Lauren, not to settle for the ordinary, renamed her fun elephant Moose and quickly took to his trunk to climb aboard.

Approaching each with careful footing and a basket filled with bananas and sugar cane, we would introduce ourselves to these beautiful animals and start to earn their trust for the ride of our lives. We learned about an elephant’s disposition, Thai commands to let them know they were a good girl or boy (di-di), how if their toes are sweating they’re in good shape.  We inspected their droppings - so there’s that.

Before I knew it Shampoo was my friend, trusting that I’d have a ‘good girl’ pat on the back or a snack up my sleeve.  Also, I touched her poop and that’s a true friend right there.  We learned how to ask that they extend their leg or trunk to let us climb on board, and before I knew it, I was seated next to my best friends about 9 feet up and on one of the most incredible animals. 

The group lined up and started down the path, and because I likely would have taken pics the whole time, I was happy to hand my camera off to my trainer so he could snap a few candids. Shampoo, being my elephant and all, quickly jetted to the front of the line and Yaya, still learning her footing and the path, slipped and trotted alongside. With my legs tucked behind her ears and cramping, I quickly forgot about how sore my thighs would be the next day and started to really take it all in. Before long we approached a road, slowed down tour buses and crossed over to the murky waterfall.  Each of us were handed buckets and brushes and bathed our elephants one by one. Yaya, like any child, avoiding having to get clean… but Shampoo enjoyed it for the two of them. Soon they were soaking us down too. It was here I looked beyond Shampoo’s eyes and into her soul. I patted her trunk and connected to the moment realizing how lucky I was to be this close to a majestic animal and to know she trusted me. We had been invited into these elephants’ home and in turn, invited them into our hearts.

Stay bitten ;)

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Guestblogger: Jaclyn Addressing the Elephant in the Room

Well, I told myself that if some successful people my age had it all with kids, a husband, real estate and so on – that I would achieve one of life’s greatest successes… by riding an elephant. How many people could or would say that in their lifetime? It wasn’t until I stood side by side with one of this world’s most majestic and gentle creatures, stood above it to wash it and stood back at the hotel room trying to take it all in - that I realized just how much of a lifetime experience it would be.

Being a connected generation means travel, concerts, restaurant outings and lazy Sundays have changed for a majority of us. We experience concerts through replaying videos, post photos of vacation for the likes and comments of sheer jealously. We take it all in with a screen in front of us – instead of putting down the camera and breathing in all that is around us. We struggle to be connected to the moment instead of our devices. Admittedly, I spent too much time at our activities waiting to get back into the Thailand internet zone to “check in” with a clever caption. But, in stepping out of the van that took us to Patara Elephant Farm and in turn another world of rescued and domesticated wild animals, I would disconnect and connect in ways I should be more mindful to do always. 

Lauren, Ashley and I were welcomed into a family that day. Cheesy as it sounds – I would look closely into the eyes of my adopted elephant and never be the same again.

Provided transportation to and from the remote farm, we hopped out of the van accompanied by new acquaintances from England and straight on to muddy ground. There, right in front of us, was an elephant so close and with no zoo bars between us. Running and bulldozing between her feet was her just three-week old baby, feeding and enjoying playtime, which meant toppling humans over. We were each encouraged to face our tepidness right from the start, stepping right up to the elephant for a welcoming hug and kisses (blowing a kiss has a whole other meaning here). It was then we knew we were rolling up our sleeves and facing the elephant in the room head on.

Stay bitten ;)

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Dream Big

Within minutes of booking our flights to Thailand, I promptly emailed Patara Elephant Farm to reserve three spots now that our dates were confirmed. From the honeymooners Alisa & Brian to college friends Jackie & Kim, they all said "Patara or bust."

I received a response that they were booked for the month of November

Cue the tears for this adventure capitalist who was looking to cash in on an afternoon ride through the jungle with an elephant of her own. That night I ended up staying up until 2 or 3am, who knows, I lost track of time sending emails, pleading for a waitlist and surfing the web to find a close alternative. I had done my part, well as much as I could from 8,000 miles away, exhausted myself with bloodshot eyes, caved and went to sleep.

I must have been dreaming really hard as I woke up to an email from Patara Elephant Farm that they had availability for November 13th. They say dream big. I took that up a notch and had lofty visions of a larger than everyday life experience, a day caring for an elephant in the countryside of Northern Thailand.

Stay bitten ;)

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Wanderlusting in 2015

I'm wanderlusting all week long, not just on Wednesday, thanks to my winter reading (and this bone chilling weather). Just like the year prior (and the one before), the travel publications are timely recommending the best places to visit this year. For me, here's my 2015 travel bucket list in no particular order and as always, subject to change.

1. Savannah, y'all.

2. A long weekend in Portugal.

3. When I get thirsty, Dublin.

4. Fly fishing in Montana.

5. A summer vacation in Corsica.

6. Or maybe, Malta. Island wanderlusts.

7. Denver (to visit friends) and catch live music at Red Rocks.

8. Cuba because soon it really will be ok to go.

9. Chile, it's chilly here.

10. Walk the Great Wall of China.

Let this year be the year that you book what's on your list. 
What are your top wanderlusts for 2015?
Stay bitten ;)

Travel Tip Tuesday: Passport Check

So you have a passport and if you're anything like me, you enjoy filling the pages with stamps, from destination to destination.

Before you book an upcoming international trip, double check your passport.

1- Check the expiration date. 
Make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months. I've heard it happen to friends (we won't bring up the Paris reroute to Aruba trip) but I witnessed it firsthand en route to Bali when my friend was just a few weeks shy of 6 months. She wasn't allowed to proceed through the airport, ended up missing our weekend in Ubud only to meet up afterwards in Seminyak. She made the most of the situation, baring a positive attitude that I've ever since aspired to have, and went to the embassy in Seoul to sort things out, all the while exploring South Korea for the weekend. Note to self, channel Liz's energy. 

2- Count how many blank pages you have left. 
Some countries require at least two open pages. If you're running low, apply for more pages here.

3- Research the visa requirements for the country you are visiting. 
You can do this on the embassy website or simply google "passport to India" (or the location of your final destination). Always good to check beforehand, no matter what the duration of your travels may be.

4- Look at a map. 
Costa Rica may be frequented by many of American tourists but it does not count. Any Caribbean island that is not part of the US Virgin Islands, will require entry with a passport. Just to refresh your memory, get out the map and make sure you're good to go.

Stay bitten ;)

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Live in the Moment(s)

I take full ownership that I'm a cheeseball. I'm the girl who decorated the chalkboard wall at my office with love quotes. I wear my heart on my sleeve, even in tanktops and am ok with that. I'm also the girl who writes down a favorite memory of each day. Because I'll let you in on a little secret...

The day is comprised of great moments (big and small).

It's January now and just a moment ago, it was July. The seasons change with a blink of an eye and while some days it feels like nothing changes or that not much is happening, beneath the surface there's plenty going on. Relish the every day, the little stuff. Because a year from now, that little thing could turn into something big. And even if it doesn't, on that day in time it held some sort of meaning, if not to me, then to someone else.

I can't emphasize enough on how fulfilling it was to wake up to a new year with a reminder of all the beauty that the last year held. Picking one memory per day. Being ever so selective with what made me a bit happier. And to be able to share it with the ones who made it so.

Keeping an ever grateful state of mind, here's just a few from this past year. Onward, there's more moments to enjoy.
Stay bitten ;)