It's getting late here but I feel like I've put this off for to long. It's getting cold here in Bangkok (cold being relative, 70 degrees is now cold to us), no aircon needed. It's def winter. I also will be going home in less than 3 months! I can't wait for Taco Bell, Target and Goodwill, oh and of course to see the family.
It was really hard for me not to be able to be home for Christmas this year. I'm somewhat lucky that I live in a culture that is totally lacking Christmas Spirit because the only time I felt it was Christmas is when I thought of home really or when I saw a christmas tree...... :)
A huge group of us left for Chang Mai the night after our last Christmas program on an overnight bus. 9 hours. I slept decent until I nearly froze to death. It got to 14 degrees celsius inside of the bus. I was to busy chattering to fall asleep. And the funny thing was when we stepped off the bus the next morning in Chang Mai, which is in Northern Thailand and is supposed to be "cold," we were actually relieved by how warm it was.
Chang Mai is very very different from Bangkok. If I could have the same school and the same easy access to the beach in Chang Mai I would totally live there. Although it's the second largest city in Thailand there aren't any skyscrapers and it is filled with historical charm. The old city is surrounded by a moat and wall. It's really cool. Our guesthouse was right near one of the gates into the old city (they don't actually use them anymore, but the gates and the corners are really the only parts of the wall that are still standing).
After we settled in and ate breakfast we went out and rented motorbikes, which not only do I love riding but is also the easiest way tog get around Chang Mai. We took took a short ride out of the city into the hills to the Maesa Elephant Camp. I've ridden an elephant before, in India, but this was so much better, I just felt safer, and I liked that this time we were facing forward instead of sideways. We got an hour long ride on trails all through the area. It was fun, but we had a pretty stubborn elephant that didn't want to do things it was supposed to do, like go in the river. Oh well. There's always next time :)
On the second day we decided to try to find an umbrella factory. So I busted out my handy dandy Lonely PLanet and we found this town, Bo Sang, about 6 Kilometers from Chang Mai that was supposed to have umbrellas. Not only did Bo Sang have umbrellas, it is actually the umbrella making capital of Thailand. Now, I must explain, when I say umbrella I'm not talking about your everyday it's raining umbrella, I'm talking about handmade, hand painted, paper umbrellas that are absolutely beautiful! There was so many beautiful colors, it was hard to choose which one to get. Finally I decided to get a cream colored on with pink flowers. I figured it would be more diverse to use for decorating purposes in the future, although there was an orange one I really liked that was hard to resist.
On our third day, Christmas EVe, some of us decided to take our motorbikes out to Doi Inthanon, the tallest peak in Thailand. We knew it would be far, but it turned out to be much farther than we anticipated, about 100km. Our butts got pretty sore. Riding through the national park was beautiful. There wre green trees everywhere and so much solitude.
The farther up we went the colder it got. I hadn't ben smart that morning and had grabbed a sweatshirt where the sleeves are only 3/4 length. With the cold air and the wind riding on a motorbike I was freezing. I did think enough to bring a hat with me but that didn't help until we got off the bikes (and unfortunatly I left it in my bike basket when I turned it back in so now my awesome hat from Nepal is lost to me forever). The farther we went the lazier our motorbikes got as well. When we got near to the temple by the top, I had it in my site but I had to keep turning my engine on and off just to give enough boost to make it and that was pretty difficult because every time I would turn it off the bike would start to roll backwards. After many stops and some bike swapping we made it to the top, high above the clouds where the sun was shining, it said 60 degrees there so I know it was much colder as I was driving before. We decided to take a little break at the top, took some pictures and got sucked into about 30 pictures with a huge Thai group. It was a little awkward.
On the way back down we decided to just coast and ride our breaks, no engine needed. WE all needed gas so we couldn't have used our engines if we wanted to. Lucky us, in a little Mong village in the park there was a "gas station." The woman pumped gas right out of an oil drum. It was pretty cool.
Doi Inthanon park is also full of waterfalls so we decided to stop and give one a look before heading back to Chang Mai. It was one of the most beautiful waterfalls I've ever seen. Wide and powerful like snoqualmie falls only more spread out but surround by green Jungle. It was so beautiful.
That night we all went to a American restaurant close to our hotel and we got Christmas Dinner. Mashed Potatoes, Turkey, Stuffing and Pumpkin PIe. It was AMAZING! all the foods we're deprived of here. It tasted so good. Then we headed to a local international church for a midnight Christmas Eve service. It was good not to miss out on the christmas eve service.
Now Christmas day was amazing. I wasn't with my family and there was no presents involved and somehow I happened to have on of the best Christmases ever, and all thanks to an amazing group of kids at a place called Dream House. We spent the entire day playing games with the kids. When one game finished there was another to play. Spider tag, ping pong ball races, musical chairs. It was never ending and SOOOO much fun. Then later the kids did a performance for us that told the story of the 3 trees which were turned into the MAnger, the boat and the cross. It was really cool the way they did it. They used sticks to act it out. I would have never though of that.
When Christmas dinner time came around there was more games to be played (like I said, the games were never ending). One game I thought was really cool we played after we ate. There was a tree set up in the middle of the room with a bunch of papers hanging from it and all different types of food underneath it labeled with numbers on them. Each paper matched a number on a food item. NOw there was great potential for disaster here mainly because there were many packages of "fish sticks" and potato chips under the tree. Finally my turn came, I pulled a number nervously. I thought the girl was reaching for the potato chips at first to give to me but then she grabbed the chicken sticks. YAy! I love chicken sticks! (for all you americans fish sticks and chicken sticks are NOT what you think they are. I don't even know how to describe the fish sticks, but the chicken sticks are like a cross between a chip and a cracker in stick form).
Then it was time for the kids to open their presents from their sponsor. I loved watching them. The girl sitting next to me, Faith, asked me to read her her card from her sponsor (which was in such crazy cursive that I even had trouble reading it). It was so sweet I almost cried. Every kids got a fleece blanket and some sort of clothing. Some just couldn't wait to put it on, like little Phil, who's about a year and a half and immediately wanted to put his pants on himself. It was so cute.
The day after Christmas was quite an adventure. My cell phone died and the internet at our hotel wouldn't work so I had to walk around town trying to find an internet cafe so that I could call home for Christmas. Luckily, thanks to the snow everyone was late and they were pretty much just starting. It was nice to be able to talk to everyone, even if I couldn't be there.
The day after Christmas was also an unusually rainy day. A few of us went back to the orphanage and it was a fun filled afternoon of more game :) But seriously, I love it. And the kids are so amazing. I haven't talked about the as much as they deserve because it's late, but there's Faith who is just so friendly, Mark, who stole my camera at every turn and Caleb who tried to take it from him. Then there's Debbie, Abby and Becky who are all 4 and just tooooo cute! And there's so many more but maybe I'll tell those stories another day :)
One thing about Chang Mai I haven't mentioned yet was the night Bazaar. It was one of my favorite things there. SO much cheaper than Bangkok and I got some amazing things, but I didn't spend too much money :)
We left on a bus back to Bangkok the night after Christmas. This time we made sure to get a better bus with thicker blankets and wider seats. Honestly I really did sleep SOO much better. We got into Bangkok about 6 in the morning, went home to sleep and repack and left again at about 4:30 that afternoon to start the second part of our adventure, but that's a story to come in my next blog :)
Until then, I will go to bed. I hope you all have a great week! Give me a couple days and I'll finish the story :)