11 April 2018

California is Pretty Great

We had a great time in Thailand but we were itching to get back to our boys. We were greeted with the most darling sign from Blake and Nash. I kept it on our door to keep on welcoming us for the next six weeks until we moved.
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The boys were so excited to be reunited with their brothers since we split them between grandparents while we were away. When we were finally all together again, we swept them up and drove to the beach to watch the sunset.
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We saw a lot of beautiful beaches in Thailand but there's nothing like the beach down the road from us.
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California sunsets are pretty great. 
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There's no place like home.


09 April 2018

Beijing and The Great Wall of China

After our unforgettable day on the Andaman Sea off the coast of Phuket, we rushed back to the hotel to shower, grab our bags and catch a red eye flight to Beijing. Since we had to stop for a layover on the way back to the US, we decided to make an entire day out of it. We knew we would be tired after a few short hours of sleep on the plane, but we didn't know if/when we'd have the chance to go to Asia again. We wanted to catch a glimpse of China while we were over on that side of the planet.

We had about 12 hours to explore before our connecting flight to LA. We were able to get temporary visas at the airport which was much easier than going through the standard visa process months in advance. We met up with our guide and driver for the day and were able to store our luggage in the car. 

Our first stop was Tianamen Square and the Forbidden City.
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The Forbidden City is where the Emperors lived for 500 years (from the Ming Dynasty to the end of the Qing Dynasty). It was home to 24 Emperors. We went through where they lived and ruled. It was sad to think about how the Cultural Revolution destroyed so many of the important cultural relics and so much of the history of this country.
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Our guide told us a lot of stories about the various emperors' concubines and their different personalities. Those stories about the concubines made the Forbidden City come to life. We admired the details on some of the areas where they lived.
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I can't remember why Troy was making me laugh. But I do remember that every time we took our sunglasses off, people came right up to us and stared at our blue eyes and then got their family members to do the same. It didn't bother us but it did take a little getting used to.
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Our guide gave us the choice of Subway or authentic Chinese food for lunch. Of course we chose the latter. I have no idea what the restaurant she took us to was called, but if I'm ever in Beijing again, I'm going to have to have to hunt down a translator and show them this picture because the food was amazing. I was particularly fond of the cauliflower that was soaked in some sort of soy sauce and had so much flavor that to this day I still crave it.
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We were so full of excitement to head to the Great Wall next. We took the tram ride up.
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And then BAM! There we were.
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Every time I've seen pictures of people visiting the Great Wall it has been flocked with tourists, so I'm not sure why we got so lucky and had it almost to ourselves, especially on such a beautiful day.
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It was fascinating to be there. It made me realize why the Great Wall is truly a wonder of the world. At the time that the Chinese people were laboring on the wall, there were no machines. All of the work depended on manpower. Millions of people worked among the continuous mountains and steep cliffs. They worked facing dangers and many of them lost their lives. When workers died, they were buried right under the bricks.
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I'd be toast if I had to carry one brick up into the mountains, let alone build grand stairways and walls.
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The steps were varying in height and width so we had to really pay attention when we were walking up and down.
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I loved watching this mom teach her little boy all about it.
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Our guide gave us time to explore the wall on our own and we accidentally walked two towers past where we were supposed to meet back up with her. The towers all looked alike so it's a good thing we realized we needed to backtrack or we might have seen a lot more of China than we planned.
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We took the slide back down the mountain and drove back to the airport completely exhausted and completely grateful for the opportunity to see the majestic Great Wall of China.


08 April 2018

Thailand in Motion

I've been editing photos and writing about our trip to Thailand all week. It's been ten months since our trip, but as I was posting the other night I started craving Pad Thai. I was at a convention with Troy and he had a work dinner so I was on my own. I looked up the closest Thai restaurant in Chandler, Arizona (not exactly the mecca for Thai food) and drove 15 minutes to pick up takeout. I finally got back to the hotel room ready to dig in only to realize that they didn't include utensils. Troy eventually hunted down a fork for me, but cold takeout Pad Thai in Arizona at 9pm sure wasn't anything like the real deal in Thailand. 

Thankfully I have this video to remember all of the details of our trip more clearly than I can with still photos. If only I could replicate the taste of that Pad Thai...



07 April 2018

Sea Kayaks and Loi Kratong in Phuket

We spent our entire last day in Thailand on the Andaman Sea.
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We toured with John Gray's Sea Canoe which came highly recommended and was the highlight of our stay in Phuket. There were about 30 passengers on the main boat and we had a great time getting to know people from England, China and the states. We were on the boat from 11am to 9:30pm. The long day flew by and the staff provided delicious lunch and dinner buffets. 

We left the main boat several times with a personal guide who paddled us around in a small kayak. We entered the Tidal Nape Sea Caves in Phang Nga Bay. Sometime the clearance between the cave and the water was so low that we had to lay all the way down in the kayak. 
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Once we emerged from the caves (sometimes lined with thousands of hanging bats a few yards above us), we discovered hongs; hidden cliff-lined lagoons.
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We were treated by wonders of nature. The quiet Jurassic Park-like lagoons were surrounded by vertical rock walls and stunning limestone landscapes.
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I lost my sunglasses while kayaking over some waves in Krabi so I picked up some cheap statement beauties at a souvenir shop. Troy teased me about how embarrassed I'd be looking back at the photos of this day years from now. Oh well, they got the job done.
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It was fascinating to watch the sliver of light appear at the end of the dark cave.
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We had some free time to paddle around by ourselves, swim and explore nearby beaches. Troy took a little siesta while I watched tiny crabs climb around the shore rocks.
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Before dinner, our guides helped us make beautiful floral arrangements to celebrate the native festival known as Loi Kratong.

Every year on the last full moon of the lunar calendar, tiny rafts are built from banana tree trunks and decorated with folded banana leaves, flowers, candles and incense. They are released into the water as a sign of gratitude and to wave goodbye to misfortune, wash away sins of the past year and make wishes for the coming year.

Our guide taught us how to fold the banana leaves and how to decorate with orchids. He had most of the arrangement completed in advance and we helped to put on the finishing touches. We learned that each guide spends anywhere from 2-4 hours creating the intricate arrangements for his guests.
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Our friends' kratong was beautiful and intricate too.
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All of the kratongs were lined up for us to admire while the staff set up the dinner buffet.
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We ate dinner while the sun was setting and I can honestly say I don't think any view will be able top the landscape we were surrounded in that night. 
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After dark, we got back into the kayaks with our kratongs. Our guide took us into a cave and lit the candles. We made wishes and sent them into the sea. They burned for about five minutes while we shed all of our bad luck and brought happiness and prosperity to our families.
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Then we swirled our hands in the water and saw bioluminescent plankton. Under the water surface were streams of glowing greenish-blue sparks. We could only see it inside dark caves. It was magical.

The hour long boat ride back to the dock might have been the most magical of all. We laid down on the bow of the ship, completely surrounded with millions of stars against the black sky. Troy turned on relaxing music and none of us said a word, we just took it all in. The warm summer air, the slow movement of the boat, the sea below, the stars above. I thought about everything we had seen and done over the last week and was filled with gratitude. It was truly the trip of a lifetime.
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