After a few days in Bangkok, we flew to Chiang Mai on a quick Bangkok Airways flight. One of the activities we planned far in advance of arriving was seeing some of Thailand's famous elephants. Unfortunately, the more I researched the different elephant camps and treks found outside of the city, the more disappointed I became. Many of the elephants in the these venues are terribly mistreated and live horrible lives. However, I read about the Elephant Nature Park and was happy to find an elephant experience that was humane. The Elephant Nature Park is a sanctuary for elephants (and cats and dogs!) from Northern Thailand and Burma where the elephants live in a somewhat wild setting. Visitors feed the elephants and go down to the river to bathe them, but there are no elephants rides or tricks performed.
You can schedule a visit online before arriving. They do have a limited number of visitors each day, so plan ahead. Their van will pick you up at your hotel in the morning. I asked our hotel front desk to call and confirm the day before. The ride through the forests and mountains was quite pretty. The driver shows a short video on the way about their work and the need for elephant sanctuaries. After arriving, you help feed the elephants and see them walking around the grounds. You are allowed to get quite close to them, but there is also a platform viewing area for those who are not as comfortable being close. A guide accompanies you throughout the day. Bring a large bottle of water and clothes that you don't mind getting wet (and dirty!) A vegetarian lunch was provided mid-day. After lunch, they show a video showing the traditional training process many of these elephants go through. It was absolutely heartbreaking, and I was not able to stay through much of it. You are welcome to leave and go out to the viewing platform until it is over.
While the house (actually a compound of several houses from around Thailand and rebuilt on site) was interesting, to me, the most outstanding features of the museum were the garden rooms you pass through between the buildings. There were water gardens, tropical flowers, and gorgeously composed niches throughout the complex.
When you visit the museum, you must take a guided tour. The tour was not long, but informative and a worthwhile addition to your itinerary.
I traveled to Thailand two years ago, but it remains one of my most memorable trips. Thailand has the amazing combination of history and culture, beautiful sights, warm people, and delicious food!
We stayed at the Peninsula in Bangkok. As you can see in the photos below, the grounds and pool area were all gorgeous, but the best part of the hotel was the service. Every employee we encountered was incredibly friendly and helpful. All the rooms and dining areas face the Chao Phraya River, and we enjoyed watching the non-stop activity. We made good use of the pool in the afternoons after long mornings of sight seeing. There was plenty of shade and ice water to help everyone cool off! The little boat with the green roof takes you across the river to the elevated train stop/ferry dock and other places along the river.
Working with the concierge ahead of our arrival, we booked a guide and driver for two days to see the sights in Bangkok. This allowed us to see what we wanted to see and not have to travel in a large group on a set schedule. It is totally possible to do the sightseeing on your own and take public transportation-or book a guide and travel on public transportation. However, it was extremely hot, so having the air conditioned car gave us a chance to rest up between sights. Our guide was excellent and having her tell us about each location was so interesting. She also taught us a lot about Buddhist religion and culture and how it shapes so many things in the country. We got so much more out of our visits to the temples and palaces than we would have by just reading the guidebook as we walked along. Check with the concierge desk to see what your hotel offers in the way of tours and guides. Due to the exchange rate and the generally low prices of Thailand, we found it was an extremely reasonable expense. We did tip her and the driver a small amount at the end of the second day. It is also a nice gesture to offer to buy them a bottle of water or soda as you stop for refreshments.
She helped us plan our days to include all the major sights in Bangkok, such as the Grand Palace, the Reclining Buddha, and the Golden Buddha. Take your time to examine the details in these structures-the tile work, the gilding, the small water gardens placed along the walkways. The level of detail is dizzying at times, but all incredible. Also take note of what the Buddha does with his hands as you encounter the various Buddhas around the city. The different hand positions signify different things, meaning all the Buddhas you think look the same are actually all quite different! Also look for the Chinese and Khmer influences in the architecture and decoration.
Are you currently under the "Heat Dome?" We are hot, hot, hot the East Coast and these articles about some cooler destinations look like appealing Weekend Reading.
I traveled to Vancouver one August, and the weather was perfect for trying all the great outdoor activities there.
A Baltic cruise is something I am interested in, and summer is certainly the season to go!
Some of these off the beaten path locations look really neat...
While in Paris, we were interested in trying a cooking class, but were looking for one taught in English. The cooking would be challenge enough-we didn't need to add French translation issues to it! After a bit of searching, I found La Cuisine cooking school on the Quai l'Hôtel de Ville. The location was perfect for us and they had several glowing Trip Advisor reviews. They offered a wide variety of classes, but unfortunately, many were booked for our week. Next time, I will book much earlier! Luckily, there was a class with four spaces available on a day we could go that focused on making the classic French cookie-the macaron. Having sampled many, many macarons from Pierre Hermé, Ladurée, and the Bon Marché food hall, I was eager to try baking some myself.
The teaching kitchen was an incredibly well organized space. Our class had eight participants, working in four teams of two. I think the classes often have a few more students, but there was plenty of room for a larger group. Our class consisted of the four of us (Americans), a Canadian mother and daughter pair, and a young couple from Mexico. We all enjoyed laughing about our own ineptitudes and taking each others' pictures as we attempted the many steps involved in making macarons. Chef Guillaume was a great teacher. As a teacher myself, I appreciated how well he taught the technical aspects of baking and cooking, but his sense of humor and funny comments really won us over. He was absolutely hilarious!
We learned to make two types of meringue for the cookie base-Swiss and Italian, then each team made a different filling. The fillings were fruit jam, chocolate, pistachio, and a vanilla cream. Assembling the cookies took some time, but at the end we got to sample four different macarons-all delicious! Everyone left the class with a box of cookies to enjoy over the next few days. The lady at the front desk of our hotel graciously stored ours in the fridge of the lobby bar-and was happy to taste some as a thank you!
I would definitely recommend trying a class at La Cuisine. It was fun for first time visitors to Paris, as well as a fresh experience for return visitors. They offer a bread making class that I would love to try!
Google Translate is available offline as well as when you are on wifi or a data plan. You can download the languages of your choosing, now without taking up so much space on your phone. This is a great feature when faced with a menu full of unfamiliar choices...or when attempting public transportation in a foreign language.
Museum apps are a great tool when you are visiting a new museum, or revisiting a favorite. This article in the NYTimes reminded me how great the museum produced apps can be. Many of them do not require wifi if you download them before visiting, or the museum may even have wifi available for their app. Check museum websites as you are planning your trip! The Louvre, the British Museum and the Museum of Modern Art (NYC) are among the museums offering an app.
Keep your devices charged! I use an Anker charger that is big enough to charge both an iPhone and my iPad, but the small ones that will give your phone a full charge are well worth the small cost in case you have an emergency. Here are a few examples-
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Seine river cruise at night
The Vedettes du Pont Neuf leave from under the Pont Neuf on the Île de la Cité. There are plenty of signs to point you in the right direction as you cross the bridge. You head down some stairs towards the water, then join a line to buy tickets. You can also buy them ahead, but we wanted to buy them the day of so we could be certain of clear weather. It was chilly in March, but with proper clothing, it was not at all unpleasant. We passed all the sights along the Seine, including Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Musée d'Orsay, the Conciergerie, and several beautifully lit bridges. We also got an interesting view of some of the gorgeous apartments along the river.
The boats had an inside seating area, and upstairs, an open air seating area. The view is much better from the outdoor deck, so we opted for that. You do want to be near the front of the line to board in order to have a good choice of seats. Drinks were available from a little bar downstairs. On a warmer night, a nice glass of wine would have been lovely, but it was too chilly!
The attacks on the Brussels airport and metro stations had just occurred, so the Eiffel Tower was lit in the colors of the Belgian flag. Having endured their own terrorist attacks in November, Parisians felt a sense of solidarity with the Belgian people, and lit the Eiffel Tower as a symbol of their support.
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A few things to read over the weekend from three of my go-to blogs about Paris.
What is better than ice cream on a warm summer day in Paris?
Chocolate shops-with some great tips and French vocabulary
During a visit to Paris in March, I stayed once again in my favorite neighborhood in Paris, the area surrounding the Saint Germain des Prés church in the 6th arrondissement. The Hotel d'Angleterre, at 44 Rue Jacob, is in a wonderful location and I have enjoyed two stays there. The people at the front desk are helpful with directions, dinner reservations, and answering transportation questions. Yes, they all speak English! It is a quick walk to sites such as the Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Luxembourg Gardens. There is great shopping-high end designers and more low key options-close by.
While it is fun to visit the famous cafes of the neighborhood, like Cafe de Flore or Brasserie Lipp, for an afternoon glass of wine, you may not want to have dinner there. I want to tell you about four restaurants that I especially loved during my most recent trip. One note, I am a vegetarian, but the people I was traveling with are not! So the restaurants below all had vegetarian, meat, and seafood options that suited our whole group.
Le Petit Saint Benoit
Fish La Boissonnerie