Thailand Adventure : A Day with Elephants!

30 April 2014

Animal interactions in Thailand are plentiful and animals are very much a part of the life and culture of the country.  Animals are pretty much my heart, so when I travel, I really do try to make wildlife a central part of my experience if possible.  Before arriving in Thailand, I did a lot of research on how to have these experiences responsibly without participating in any experiences or supporting businesses that cause harm to animals.  I won't get on a soapbox and pretend to be an expert or tell you how to live or travel, but I do encourage you to take some time to do your own research and follow your heart if you plan to make animals a part of your travel experience.

Asian elephants are a beautiful and important symbol of Thai culture and they are also endangered, so I knew I wanted to learn and experience them while I was there.  I choose the Elephant Nature Park for my experience based on lots of research and some inspiring bloggers experience there.  It is run by a wonderful woman named Lek, who started the park years ago when she rescued an elephant from the illegal logging industry. She believes elephants should be respected and trained using positive reinforcement and love instead of hooks.  The money raised with tourism to the park goes toward the elephant care and towards buying other elephants in bad situations in need of rescue.

The day started out with an hour drive from Chiang Mai into the beautiful mountains, we watched a video about the park and about elephant treatment in Thailand as we drove.  Once we arrived, we met two of the park's residents - two old girls, one blind from being shot at with a slingshot in her time as a logging worker, the other her best friend who never leaves her side and has protected her for years.  The story of these two friends brought me to tears and genuinely inspired me with their way of loving.  We fed them their favorite snacks of melon, squash, and bananas and they waved their ears (a sign our guide told us meant they were happy - like a dog's tail wag).  

Next, our lovely guide, Kai, took us for a walk to meet some of the other herds around the park.  She told us stories about where each elephant came from and she was full of knowledge about each of them.

One of the things about elephants that really touched me was they way they form bonds with each other and make families even though they are unrelated. And these bonds last a lifetime.

We had lunch at the park and then watched a documentary about elephant phajaan or "crushing" - the way most elephants are tamed to work in logging and tourism in Thailand.  The movie was heartbreaking at hard to watch, but it was important and I felt grateful that education was such a large part of the mission of this park.  It really made me understand why elephant riding is not acceptable & I would be careful to make good choices in my travels.

After the movie, to soothe our heavy hearts, we came to one of the best parts of the day - bath time!  We met our elephant, Medo, at the river with buckets and gave her a nice cooling rub down.  Medo had a very obvious broken hip for being forced to haul more than she was able in her work in logging, but she was sweet as can be and seemed to appreciate the attention.  

The rest of the afternoon, we followed our guide to meet more of the herds - including these sweet little babies!

Elephant Nature Park also offers sanctuary for stray dogs and I loved that.  Thailand's streets are filled with wandering dogs and cats and it was nice to see some of them had found a nice home among the giant elephants with good care.  Kai took us to the kennels and it was so hard not to take one of the sweet dogs back to the states with me! It was a nice way to end the day.

All in all, the Elephant Nature Park was an incredible day!  I learned so much and had experiences that will stay with me for a lifetime!  My dream is to be able to visit Thailand again and spend time volunteering for them.

Roasted Beet & Goat Cheese Bruschetta

28 April 2014

I love goat cheese. It's always in my fridge and I always excited to find new ways to highlight it. Beets are a perfect pair for goat cheese because they have a nice earthy bite to them and the textures are sublime together. This recipe feels fancy, but it's easy to make and is perfect for your next party because the visual impact is amazing! I brought these to canning club and they got great reviews, so I hope you will give them a try!

Roasted Beet & Goat Cheese Bruschetta
makes about 24+ slices

3 medium sized beets
5 diced radish or 1/4 cup diced shallots
2 tablespoons fresh diced dill + springs for garnish
1 tablespoon fresh diced parsley
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 baguette, cut into 1/2" slices
olive oil for brushing
4 oz goat cheese
4 oz cream cheese - room temperature
1 tablespoon milk

Start by roasting your beets in the oven at 400 degrees for about an hour. Make a foil packet and poke some holes to allow the steam to vent and put on a baking sheet. Cook until you can easily pierce the beets with a fork. Roast with the skins on and once they cool a bit, you can just use a paper towel to rub the skins off.

While the beets are roasting, lay bread slices out on a baking sheet and brush with olive oil. Bake in the 400 degree oven for about 5-10 minutes until toasted.

Dice the beets and put into a large bowl. Add radish or onion (for texture), dill, parsley, vinegar, salt, and pepper and stir. Cover and place it the fridge for at least 1/2 hour or more to let the flavors marry.

Combine goat cheese, cream cheese, and milk in a mixer and blend until soft and spreadable.

Assemble by spreading goat cheese mixture over the bread and leave a bit of a trench in the middle to help your brushetta stay in place. Add beet brushetta mixture (about a heaping teaspoon each) and top with a sprig of dill.

Beet & Goat Cheese Bruschetta with Fresh Herbs

Thailand Adventure : Scooter Tour of Bangkok

25 April 2014

Continuing on with sharing my trip to Thailand, I wanted to share a really fun experience I had the first day I was there - a scooter tour of the city!

Bangkok is infamous for traffic jams. It's a big city with a population of around 8 million people - about the same as the population of New York City.  It can be hard to cover a lot of ground without the right transportation and I quickly learned why the one of the most popular methods of transport in Thailand is by scooter.  Scooters are able to weave in and out of traffic, get off the beaten path, and cover a lot more ground than sitting in a traffic in a taxi ever could, so I am really glad I was able to set up a tour of the city via scooter on my first day there!

I booked my tour through Best Bangkok Tours and I am so glad I did!  It was a perfect introduction to the city and the culture and it was also really fun and exciting! It gave me a good glimpse of the experience I was about to embark on! My tour guides met me at my hotel and set me up with a walkie talkie and professional scooter driver.

I hopped on the back for the scooter, reluctant and nervous at first, but after a few minutes, I was so engrossed in the beautiful sights of the city that every fear or hesitation I had just melted away and quickly turned to excitement and enchantment! Weaving in and out of traffic and feeling the wind on my skin, I felt such freedom and I felt like I was seeing Bangkok like a local. I was lucky enough to have the benefit of the knowledge of two guides as one was training! Both Susan and Leighton were lovely, they were both American expats who obviously had a deep love and appreciation for the city they were showing me. I learned so much in my hour and half tour and I saw so much in that short time.

Not only did I get to see the traditional sights you find in the tourism books like the flower market and Chinatown, but I also got to see the more "secret" local gems like the best happy hour spot to see the sunset.  I felt much more like I was seeing Bangkok as people live in it instead of just the tourist viewpoints.  My guides answered every question I had and gave me extensive insight into the Thai culture and the little nuances and customs that differ from life in the States. It was an absolutely perfect way to be introduced to the country I would be spending the next two weeks exploring and it really helped me get my bearings in this big city.

Before my arrival, I was uneasy over the news of violence and protesting in Bangkok, but as we drove past the Ministry of Defense building, my guide stopped to point out the small strands of pretty pastel ribbons that were tied along the bared wire. She explained that this was done by the protesters as an act of peace. It put things in perspective and perhaps shifted the way I perceived the situation and the Thai people. The juxtaposition of hard, guarded barbed wire with softly colored pretty pastel ribbons was striking and emotional for me. We also rode past the camps of the protesters and although I would keep my distance from the situation, I felt a little more at ease and gained new perspective.

 My guides made me feel safe and comfortable.  There were a lot of breaks and chances to get off the scooter for quick photo shoots and exploration. They were both so sweet and gave me lots traveling tips and restaurant recommendations and really went above and beyond by letting me know that I could call or email them if I needed anything during my trip.  As a solo traveler, it is really lovely to be able to dive in and really get a chance to experience the city in that way with so much helpful guidance.

After the tour, they even emailed me the customized google map with every sight that we saw so that I could easily make my plans to to back and spend more time visiting the sights that interested me most! So perfect! They also took some super cute fun photos for me and emailed them as a momento of our trip.

If you are planning a trip to Bangkok, I hope you consider going on a scooter tour with Best Bangkok! I really can't say enough about how wonderful it was!

Thailand Adventure: Bangkok!

23 April 2014

I just returned from my two week stay in Thailand! My head is still spinning a little trying to grasp all the amazing things I've been lucky enough to experience in the past few weeks!

The trip taught me a lot of things about myself. Being a solo traveler can be hard, but I also think it opened me up to the experience on a different level. I learned that I'm much stronger than I thought I was and each successful public transit trip or food order felt like a little win. Being alone also helped me to be open to meeting a lot of wonderful and interesting people from all over the world. I connected and learned a lot about more than just Thailand during the trip and I am so grateful for my experiences!

There were a lot of highlights and want to document them and share them with you.  I feel like I could easily write 20 posts about all the amazing things I experienced, but I will spare you every single detail and instead share just a few post over the next couple weeks in several different posts. The first leg of my trip was in Bangkok.

I started my time in Bangkok with an amazing scooter tour (I will share more about that soon!) that helped me get acclimated to the city and get a glimpse of the things I wanted to go back to see more of. It really got me excited and inspired to start my journey.

From Bangkok, I took a day trip to visit the Damnoen Saduak floating market. Floating markets are something I've dreamed of since seeing colorful glimpses of them in books as a little girl. The truth is, the days of true Thai commerce and trade in the waterways of Damnoen Saduak are gone and this market is vastly a tourist destination. The boats are mostly full of the same tourist knick knacks you find all over Thailand and eager shopkeepers trying to pull you and persuade you to spend your tourist dollars instead of what I imagine used to be filled with beautiful produce and handicrafts once upon a time. Even so, it was a really fun visit and I am glad I went. It was a bit of a drive, but once we arrived, we got into boats and floated along the canal inundated with beautiful colors and smells from every direction. I ordered some amazing food from a vendor making impressive traditional food out of her small longboat and it was definitely an experience for me.

I spent a day in Bangkok floating up the Chao Phraya River (which is part of the Bangkok public transit system and costs only a few dollars for a day of cruising and getting off at as many stops as you want! Such a great way to see the city!). I visited some of the most unbelievably beautiful and sacred temples I could ever imagine. The Grand Palace is a massive expanse of beautiful building after beautiful building, each more grand than the last. It was like a maze of gold gilded walls with striking gems and bright colored details. The smell of inscense and flowers filled the air as people came and gave prayer to the gorgeous altars.

Just around the corner from the Grand Palace is Wat Pho. While Wat Pho is not quite as large and grand as the palace, it had it's own captivating charm. Wat Pho is most famous for being the home of the largest reclining Buddah in the world - it was an imense and beautiful sight to see and it made me feel quite small as I stood at the foot of the this massive beautiful gold, shiny monument. Wat Pho is also famous for being the home of the first school of traditional Thai Massage. If you have never had a Thai massage, it's really unlike any massage you've had in the past - a combination of yoga stretches, pressure points, and rhythmic pressure. A massage was the perfect break from the heat of the day.

Also around the corner, I took a short walk through the Amulet Market to admire some beautiful precious amulets, charms, and talisman that pay homage and bring fortune.

I was a little overwhelmed by the shopping experience in Bangkok because the options seemed so expansive and endless. I'm not a big mall shopper, but I do love a flea market and Bangkok is home to one of the world's largest - Chatuchak Weekend Market. It is 35+ acres of 15,000 stalls selling everything from pottery to clothing to squirrels. It's really an overload of the senses. More than really the act of buying things, I just enjoyed the experience of getting lost in the stalls, eating bites of all the amazing food vendors, and taking it all in. So much delicious food.

Overall, Bangkok was an incredible experience.  The city was full of life and it sometimes felt endless.  After Bangkok, I headed north to Chaing Mai. Stay tuned for lots more!

Guest Post : Support a Great Cause!

12 April 2014

Sawadee Kha from Phuket, Thailand!

I'm having an amazing adventure in Thailand.  I've been here for almost two weeks and I am so excited to share all of my adventures with you all when I get back. For now though, I am delighted that Amanda is sharing some really important information about a cause that is near to my heart.  My mother in law was diagnosed with MS a few years ago and it's a really important cause that I am so inspired by Amanda's words and commitment to it! 

Be sure to check out her awesome blog - Chicky Stitches as well!

Hello lovely readers! Sarah has so graciously offered to have me guest post today to share something very dear to my heart. Recently, I decided to participate in the MS Walk this year. My Dad was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis when I was in middle school. Watching him go through this ordeal has been heartbreaking. I am very happy to say that he is in remission at this point, and doing very well. But there was a time when things were not so wonderful. MS is a very mysterious and often debilitating disease. You never know what to expect. I borrowed this little clip from the MS Walk website:

"Multiple sclerosis is an unpredictable, often disabling, disease of the central nervous system that interrupts the flow of information within the brain, and between the brain and body. Millions of people are affected by MS and the challenges of living with its unpredictable symptoms, which range from numbness and tingling to blindness and paralysis. The progress, severity and specific symptoms of MS in any one person cannot yet be predicted, but advances in research and treatment are moving us closer to a world free of MS."

No one knows what causes MS, and there is no cure. For anyone currently effected by this disease, all anyone can offer is treatment for the symptoms. Usually this requires large doses of pain medications that wreak havoc on the body. There are medications available to try to slow the progression of the disease, but they are extremely expensive, and many people cannot afford them. The MS Society's mission statement says:

"The National MS Society is a collective of passionate individuals who want to do something about MS now—to move together toward a world free of multiple sclerosis. MS stops people from moving. We exist to make sure it doesn't. We help each person address the challenges of living with MS through our 50-state network of chapters. The Society helps people affected by MS by funding cutting-edge research, driving change through advocacy, facilitating professional education, and providing programs and services that help people with MS and their families move their lives forward."

There are currently over 2 million people living with MS in the world today.

I am sharing this with you today to ask for your help. Our team has set a goal to raise $1,000 to help find a cure. You view our team page here. Follow that link or click the image below to make a donation today. Everything helps! No amount is too small. You can donate anonymously if you like, but if you wish to leave your name, I will personally send you a small handmade thank you gift to show my appreciation.

Also, any sales made through my Etsy shop this month will go directly towards our team fundraiser. Not just 10%, or even 50%, but the ENTIRE purchase price. You could have a brand new wallet for yourself, and still be donating to a great cause! Make sure you leave a little note when you check out, or send me an email at, so I know it's you! I don't want anyone to miss out on their Thank You gift! And thank you in advance for helping out with such an important cause.
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