July 2002
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The Maller Family Travel Gazette:
Thailand, The Land of Smiles

In the summer of 2002, the Mallers have embarked on the latest in our series of adventures, a visit with the Thais. We have been planning this for months, and we're all terrifically excited. Despite her extensive travels around the world during her prolific career at Gap, Doreen has never been here, either. We decided on Thailand for a number of reasons. This being the first summer after the horrible events of last September 11, we began the search for a politically inert country. The Buddhist people of Thailand (and Siam before that) are known to be very peaceful and tolerant, they love children and they have some of the most delicious cuisine in the world. So after consulting with the collective conciousness of the Internet, we were confident that we could do this.
New: Click the calendar at left to jump to a particular date.
Click the small map to the right to see our general itinerary.
Current date and time in Burlingame: 7:19:52 AM on Fri, Feb 23rd, 2024 Current date and time in Thailand: 9:19:52 PM on Fri, Feb 23rd, 2024

July 3-5:
"In Transit"

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We decided on
Singapore Airlines because they have a great reputation for service, and we knew we'd need a lot of service because getting to Bangkok takes about 22 hours of flying time, and several more of layovers (there was two stops on the way). SIA also offers in-seat movies in Economy class, and has dozens of Nintendo games built in to their system, too. This had proved to be a godsend on our Virgin Atlantic flights to Africa. We left at 2:00 PM on July 3 for the first leg, a 12 hour flight to Seoul, South Korea. After a very quick stop there, we continued on the same plane for six and a half more hours to Singapore, where we were scheduled for a 7 hour stop. I had hoped to secure a room or two in their "transit hotel", but they had no rooms. So we just camped out in the airport (which was magnificent), watched ESPN, CNN (such terrible news from LAX!), and used their free ethernet connections to check up on email, etc.

July 5:
We're Here!

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After seemingly interminable flights, nine timezones (one of them the International Dateline), three international airports, five airplane meals, several abortive attempts at sleep, a few innings of a Giants game in the Singapore airport, seven movies and 22 Nintendo games, we've finally arrived. We didn't accomplish much tonight besides naps, showers and a walk around the night markets surrounding the hotel, but it was wonderful nonetheless. We're beginning our explorations in earnest tomorrow, so wish us well!

July 6:
The Adventure commences

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We awoke early and headed off to the famous Floating Markets of Bangkok. On the way, we stopped at an interesting little roadside stand where we saw, learned and tasted the process of making coconut sugar. Yum! We arrived at the Floating Markets a while later, and we went for an exciting boat ride throught the channels leading to the market. Once there, it was a little contrived, until we found the part of the market that seems more for the local people. They sell fresh fruit and vegetables and there are also many floating kitchens where interesting and exotic dishes were being prepared. The next stop was the Rose Garden, a beautiful place with a fun show where we saw Thai kickboxing and an amusing elephant show. We came back to the hotel late in the afternoon and the kids checked out the swimming pool. We then went to dinner at Silom Village, where we also had a delightful show which followed a tasty dinner. This was an exciting day, and we look forward to many more like it!

July 7:
Temples, Giant Buddhas and the Grand Palace

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Today we saw some of the grandeur that typifies the ornate history of this beautiful land. We saw some of the most famous Buddhas in the world, including the Emerald Buddha (no photos allowed!) and the 48 meter long (one half a football field!) Reclining Buddha. We visited the Grand Palace, a compound of dozens of some of the most ornate and amazing architecture we've ever seen. We learned about the Buddhist priesthood and the life of a monk, and Sam even took a turn with the "robe and bowl".

July 7:
Bangkok's Underbelly

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One of the more interesting things we've done is take a longboat, ride through the klongs (canals) of one of Bangok's poorest areas. These photos are separated out here because they sort of stand on their own. Please take a look to get an appreciate how some people in the world live in the age of satellite television and the internet.

July 8:
Heading North

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We left Bangkok today and headed north. Our first stop was the Gem Factory, where we were treated like royalty, taught a little bit about Thailand's gem production, saw how jewelry is made, and even took home some beautiful examples of their handiwork. We saw the Summer Palace of the King at Bang Pa In, and the Monkoi Bophit temple with the biggest brass statue of the Lord Buddha. We had lunch at a delightful roadside noodle house where we dined on satay sticks, noodles, drinks and coconut ice cream, and the total bill came to less than $8.00 for five of us. We are staying overnight at the Krungsri River Hotel in Ayutthuya, a very nice place. The boys played in the pool, and we had a nice dinner this evening.

July 9:
Temple Monkeys and 300km due north
(Lopburi, etc.)

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After catching up on voicemails, emails and some much-needed sleep, we departed Ayuthuya this morning and headed for Lopburi. This is another ancient city with one particularly distinction: the temple monkeys. By conventional wisdom, these little critters should have deserted the town hundreds of years ago when the first Siamese settled the area. For some reason, the monkeys took up residence around the original Buddhist temple and never left. Even after that temple was sacked, they stayed. Then it was restored, but even when the restored temple disintegrated, they stayed. Finally, a new temple was built and the monkleys claimed that one, too. The Buddhists believe that the monkeys are sacred, and they encourage offerings not only to the golden Buddha in the local temple, but to the monkeys, too. These are truly well cared-for little guys. Rather fiesty, too! They have rotten reputation, but they were very hospitable towards us, with no excrement hurling, thievery or other mischief. The rest of the day found us bouncing about on a pretty bumpy Thai interstate on the way to Phitsanuloke, where we're going to be staying at a new hotel, the Amarin Lagoon.

July 9:
The Night Market

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In another Special Edition your photographer takes you on a topical tour. This edition attempts to capture the mood, the sounds and smells, the light and darkness of an evening on the streets of a Thai city. The locale is Phitsanuloke, which is pronounced "pit-san-oo-lock", or so I believe, not that this city is all that different than any other we've visited to date. Our mode of transport was quite novel and exciting: three-wheeled bicycle taxis. These brave drivers must have been gravely disappointed in their enormous American fare, but they bravely pedaled for at least an hour on the streets of Phitsanuloke.

July 10:
Buddhas and More Buddhas
(Phitsanuloke, Sukhothai)

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We have learned that the Thai people are very spiritual, and adore their Buddha images. Each of them is distinctive, and many we've seen are very, very old. We visited two such historical sites today, one of them active, and one a beautifully preserved collection of ancient ruins. We also visited a foundry where artisans craft new Buddha images, keeping alive a tradition that goes back hundreds of years.

July 11:
The Big Schlep North
(Sukhothai to Chiang Rai)

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If you look on a map, you'll see that it's about 300km as the crow flies from Sukhothai to Chiang Rai. Needless to say, we didn't have access to a crow. So today called for about 400km (240 miles) of driving, and much of that would be on winding mountain roads. In spite of insurmountable odds, these four sweaty, weary travelers stuck in a moderately airconditioned diesel minibus managed to survive the day. Along the way, we stopped at the "Big Sukhothai Buddha" (take a guess who posed for that photo), some truly adorable water buffalo, and the Wat Pratarlampangluang, a nice older temple in the countryside. Oh yes, and Happy Birthday to our dear Uncle Laurence...we hope you enjoyed your big day!

July 12:
Hilltribe people and an Elephant Ride
(Chiang Rai)

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Having traveled very far north, we are staying near the nexus of Thailand, Myanmar (Burma) and Laos on the shores of the Mekong River. This area is called the "Golden Triangle", a name derived less from the geographical appearance than for its history as the crossroads of the opium trade. It has become more of a tourist curiousity now that the opium export business has become so complex, but it still has a bit of a "wild west" feel to it. We came here to see some of the local hilltribe peoples, as well as to take an elephant-back ride into the jungle. Neither experience disappointed, and it's very possible that today will be remembered as one of the most eventful travel days of our history as a traveling family. The hilltribe peoples are fast being assimilated into modern Thai society and losing some of their distinctive anthropology. We feel fortunate that we were able to see authentic Karen and Akha villages. It's likely that within a few short years these will be little more than suburbs. We bought some beautiful local handcrafted fabrics and embroidery from some of the artisans there. It's difficult to describe how very cool it was to ride on an elephant, and not just a carnival-type ride around a park. These maginificent animals, cousins to the larger and more feral African elephant, have been domesticated for many generations in Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, they still have much of the mystique for us as any wild animal, and they clearly have a personality and an understanding of us. One of the photographs in the gallery shows one of them trying to pull me away from another elephant that I was petting, probably wanting affection himself. But he was careful, almost tender with me, despite his enormous girth. It was an indescribable feeling.

July 13:
Hilltribes, Golden Triangle and South to Chiang Mai
(Chiang Rai)

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Late yesterday we went for an interesting boatride on the Mekong River (yes, that Mekong River) where we went all the way up to the Myanmar border and we visited an opium museum. The Mekong is as brown as you would imagine Willy Wonka's river would be, but instead of chocolate, it flows through eight countries with the mud of 4800 kilometers of erosion, garbage, and an occasional tree carcass. We also visited a Li Tzu hilltribe village, which (as we cautioned in yesterday's dispatch) had been homogenized by the Christian missionaries and Thai government and had lost all of its uniqueness. The people there looked like any other poor provincial Thai farming village. The main difference is the prominent christian church in the middle of town. What a shame. We then hit the road, and as I write this, we are about 100km north of Chiang Mai. Kind of a quiet day after yesterday's thrilling adventures.

July 14:
Winding Down In Chiang Mai

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Now that we're in Chiang Mai, the structured, educational portion of our trip is winding down. Despite advice to the contrary, I know how our family operates, and we planned the true "R&R" portion of our trip at the end, not the beginning. So we started with daily guided adventures, moving rapidly through the countryside. Now we're staying in Chiang Mai, and we have just completed our last full day with our guide, Nat. We had an intriguing visit on our way down to Chiang Mai at a hot springs, which in typically industrious Thai fashion were being used to cook food for the locals and the tourists! Our day in Chiang Mai began with a visit to the magnificent temple at Doi Suthep, perched in a commanding location in the hills overlooking the city. There is a single, long staircase of over 300 steps leading to the temple, but it is well worth the climb. After our visit to the temple, we took a whirlwind tour through the factories of several of the notable handicrafts of Chiang Mai. We saw (and purchased liberally!) from jade, silk, celadon, lacquerware and umbrella factories. The prices were quite good, and the quality and selection excellent. One must be careful with the street merchants here, so it's reassuring visiting the sources for these famous Thai goods. Finally, we were treated to a lovely dinner and show featuring the native dance and music of the northern Thais.

July 15:
Small Adventures (Chiang Mai)

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We've taken the opportunity to enjoy our time in Chiang Mai by having some unstructured time. We finally met Yvon, J. R. Chiang Mai's delightful proprietor, who booked the in-country portion of our trip. We took off on a walk to find an Israeli restaurant for which we had seen a sign. Unfortunately, when we got there we found that it was either out of business or not yet fully constructed. But such is our luck that seemingly from nowhere a fresh faced, twenty-something American kid on a scooter appeared and directed us to another Israeli restaurant on the other side of town. On the way, we got ourselves lost, and yet another angel, this time an older Thai woman, helped us reorient ourselves and we eventually found our way. Chiang Mai's Jerusalem Falafel Restaurant is run by a gregarious Israeli woman named Zahavit, and we enjoyed one of the most delicious (if not slightly more familiar to us) meals of the trip so far. We shared stories, and had an altogether wonderful time. After lunch we all squeezed into a "tuk tuk", the funny little three wheeled motorcycles piloted by friendly taxi drivers. Our ride back across town was all of 40 baht, which figured out to $.25 per person, an amazing bargain. We then got a whole family massage, which met with mixed reviews. Thai massage is not the same brand of touchy-feely technique which us "farang" (tourists) are used to, but bears more resemblance to a beating. I suppose it's an acquired taste, like stinky cheese. I loved mine, but the my companions less so. Finally, this morning we awoke to a delicious surprise, as we spied a Starbucks in the neighborhood, and we had our first real coffee in almost two weeks.

July 16:
Falafels, Go-carts and a Swiss Boy Named Christopher (Chiang Mai)

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Max and Sam befriended a delightful Swiss teenage boy named Christopher, and our two familes ended up spending the better part of two days together. We had several meals and quite a few adventures around Chiang Mai. Christopher and his parents Peter and Sorros have reminded us that families are families regardless of their nationalities, languages, origins and appearances. Yet the differences between our lives have made for stimulating conversations and wonderful stories. Together we spent quite a bit of time playing in our hotel pool, with many spirited battles and acrobatic stunts. We hired a couple of Tuk Tuks for another exciting dash across town to our new favorite Chiang Mai eating place, Jerusalem Falafel Restaurant (35/3 Moon Muang, A. Muang Chiang Mai, tel 05-3270208). Once again Zahavit did not disappoint, and neither did her delicious Israeli cuisine. We introduced Christopher and his parents to her, and had a nice late lunch. We mentioned that the three boys (and their Dads, too!) wanted to go to the go-karts, and she threw us all in her little pickup truck and drove us over there. We raced around and had some great "boy time" together. Zahavit even waited for us and drove us back to her restaurant. We had yet another nice evening in the night bazaar, and even found a new suitcase to hold all of our newfound bounty from several days of furious shopping.

July 17:
The Beach! (Phuket)

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Just a short update today, as much of the day was spent "in transit". It's about a two hour flight from Chiang Mai down to Phuket. We timed things a little wrong and we spent quite a bit of time waiting at the hotel for Nat to arrive, and then because we were on a "domestic" flight, checkin was very quick (despite the fact that Security took away my Leatherman tool again!). Our hotel is about an hour's drive from the Phuket airport, so it was mid-afternoon before we finally arrived. But we had time for a few hours of fun in the largest of the resort's three pools. Then we went for a walk down to the beach, where we celebrated our first touch of sand and beach and the ocean (the Andaman Sea, to be precise). We ended the day with a walk into the nearby town and a delicious dinner at a local seafood restaurant.

July 18:
Ahh...Paradise! (Phuket)

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Today's report isn't full of cultural significance, self-reflection, or even any remotely educational content. Mainly it's just an excuse to show off in our bathing suits on a glorious, sandy piece of paradise. Karon has a beautiful stretch of beach, and because it's low season for tourism, we had the place mostly to ourself. The surf was a little rough, but we managed to have fun despite not being able to go very far in (there were severe riptides). Doreen and I got fitted for custom-tailored suits by a lovely man in town, as the prices here for custom needlework are hard to pass up! More details in tomorrow's report.

July 19:
Billiards, Butterflies and Bespoke (Phuket)

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The past 24 hours have been an amalgam of interesting pursuits, some very Thai-like, some very Maller-like. Yesterday Max and Sam found a pool room at the resort, and had an hour of spirited, if less than spectacular billiards play. Later that afternoon, Doreen treated herself to another wonderful, inexpensive Thai foot massage, this time poolside under the trees. Today we decided to rent a car, and although nervous about driving on the wrong side of the road in the very unique Thai style, we pressed on. We stopped at a nice butterfly farm on the way around the island of Phuket. We also stopped at a scenic overlook where there was a curious homage to elephants there. We could only guess why there were hundreds of small carved wood elephants around the main altar. Such is touring in Thailand without a guide and with no command of the language. Finally, we dropped back into Mr. Alam's tailor shop and got our last fittings for our new wardrobes. Max and Sam got custom dress shirts as gifts, and we all agreed that we'll look smashing at Grandpa Harry's wedding! If you're ever in Phuket, you should look up Mr. Alam, and tell him the Maller family sent you. You can telephone him at 07-6-396139. His shop is adjacent the Karon Villa Resort at 36/6 Karon Beach Road.

July 20:
Maritime Adventures (Phuket)

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Today we went off on an all-day boat trip to visit some sights in Ao Pangh Nga, chief among them James Bond Island, so named by the farang and the tourist operators because "The Man With The Golden Gun" utilized this particular island for much of its location work. Most of us enjoyed the ride, and we got to see some truly spectacular natural formations. The kids also got to frolic on a deserted beach. Doreen and I went to pick up our custom-tailored outfits, too, and they came out beautifully.

July 21:
Yipee -- Pee Pee Island! (Phi Phi Island)

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Today we went off on an all-day boat trip to visit some sights in Ao Pangh Nga, chief among them James Bond Island, so named by the farang and the tourist operators because "The Man With The Golden Gun" utilized this particular island for much of its location work. Most of us enjoyed the ride, and we got to see some truly spectacular natural formations. The kids also got to frolic on a deserted beach. Doreen and I went to pick up our custom-tailored outfits, too, and they came out beautifully.

July 22:
Dangerous Aquatic Adventures (Phi Phi Island)

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The weather once again is wonderful, despite the warnings about this being monsoon season. If we've had three or four hours of rain in the two and a half weeks we've been here, I'd be surprised. Delighting in the paradise that is our final resort location here in Thailand, we decided to go for the higher-end form of entertainment today: a speedboat snorkeling trip. It cost about eight times what a longboat trip costs, but it gets you around a lot faster and lunch is included, so it seemed worth it. So off we went after breakfast. Our boat drivers delivered us to some spectacularly beautiful areas around Phi Phi Don (the larger island, where we're staying) and Phi Phi Lei (a smaller, uninhabited island). We all had fun snorkeling around enormous numbers of fish, beautiful (yet terribly battered) coral reefs, and lovely limestone formations. We finally stopped for lunch on a scenic deserted beach. Max and Sam went to play in the water, and Max ambitiously swam out to a nearby coral reef. Moments later, we heard him yell to us that "the urchins got me". We were terrified, and as Max made his way back to the beach, the boat drivers sprang into action. As he approached the beach, Nut, the head man of the three man crew, quickly cut open nothing other than a lemon, and immediately applied it to the three distinct urchin spine punctures on Max's heel. I'm sure modern medicine has numerous, more complex and expensive antidotes, but the men seemed convinced this was all we needed to do. Proud of Max's courage and his positive attitude, we all loaded back into the boat and returned the our hotel. We had a quiet afternoon, except for a small expedition Sam and I took to see a huge colony of nutty little fiddler crabs near the hotel.

July 23-24:
Winding Down, and a Couple Tatoos (Phi Phi Island)

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We closed out out last day on Phi Phi with a nice day trip to Tong Sai Bay, the "town" at the center of this island. It afforded us an opportunity to touch base with the rest of the world, and to walk around a bit and do some last minute shopping. We came across a street vendor doing henna (temporary) tatoos, and we couldn't resist. Sam and Max got great tatoos, and we all felt like it was a fitting last activity. I woke up before dawn this morning, as Doreen and I did the day before, but with my camera gear this time. I was treated to a nice show, as you can see in the photos. Not to be outdone by his courageous performance yesterday with the sea urchin (the folk remedy of lemon juice seemed to work great), Max ran into some nasty little jellyfish today at the beach. Doreen applied another folk remedy (don't read this, Grandpa Harry!): our guide Nut suggested rubbing banana and sugar (no kidding!) on the jellyfish stings. An hour or so later, he seemed much better. OK, Doreen gave him some Benadryl, too. But the good news is that Max took it like a man again...what a kid! As I write this last travellog update, we're at a quickie overnight stop in a hotel near Bangkok airport, and we head back to the airport first thing to head home.

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