Sunday, December 28, 2014

Moments I Won't Forget From My Wedding

I can't believe the wedding finally happened. After all of that planning and a blink of an eye, it was over. It's kind of funny - as a bride, you kind of go in to this shock. You build and build and build up to this one day and then in a flash, it's over. Thank God for wedding photos. I was freaking out for a few weeks that it was all over and all we were left with was debt and I barely remembered what happened anyway, asking myself "Did people even have fun?"...but then I got the photos from Fox & Owl Studios...and my entire perspective changed. They tell the story was a beautiful day.

Suddenly all of the memories come rushing back to me. There were good times, and bad, but overall, it was an amazing experience that I wouldn't trade for the world. It was the first and probably last time I would ever have all of those people together in one place. All of my friends, family and all of Andrew's friends and family. There are so many memories from that day, but there are a few that stood out in particular...

My top 5 moments from the big day (in no particular order):

1. The reveal to my dad. 
I think this was the most special moment of the day. I am most definitely a daddies girl. It was such a whirlwind of emotions all at once. I was hiding out in our venue before we walked outside to our outdoor ceremony...waiting for everyone to get lined up and things to get in order. Then it was time. I walked out and saw my dad outside, and we both just started to cry. And laugh. And cry some more. And smile. And bawl like babies. It was amazing. Then we got to walk down the isle together and at that moment, I was so glad we had a long isle. It was a good 3-5 minute walk to where the ceremony was happening. So dad and I were able to chat and laugh along the way. We even did some skipping. It was such a precious moment...bugh I'm starting to cry just thinking of it. Anyway, cue the photos.

2. Our wedding toasts.
Andrew was very adamant about doing toasts, and though I wasn't really in to it - we did it. We had my dad, his dad, my best friend, his best friend (virtually), and his sister all make toasts. We kicked it all off with our spiels and then the emotions came pouring. Unfortunately I don't have a recording of all of these (for future brides, MAKE SURE YOU RECORD THESE), but I do have the memories. We laughed, we cried, we gave funny looks haha. It was fantastic. At that moment, I started to really zone in and realize how special this moment was. To be in a room filled with the people we love most, and to know how much they all loved That's something special.

3. Our first dances. And I say dances because all of them were adorable and lovely.
It was funny because I can remember going over to our photographers and asking...who goes first? Do we go first? Do my dad and I? Something I neglected to look in to before the wedding haha. Andrew and I did our dance first. Originally we had practiced and actually had a choreographed routine...but then the weeks got shorter and we had more and more to do and we stopped practicing. So we decided to wing it. It was super sweet...he sang to me, I messed up his hair, I gave him spin, he gave me a spin. We danced to Ingrid Michaelsons "The Way I Am". It was perfect.

The next dance was my dad and I. We danced to my childhood favorite band, because of my dad, Nickel Creeks "When You Come Back Down". We had talked about it weeks leading up...trying to figure out what to dance to...deciding we should probably practice. Yet again, we didn't practice. So we winged it too ;) It was so wonderful. Uhh, crying again. It turns out that song is quite long (unlike the song Andrew and I danced to)...but that made it even easier to remember. I felt like we were gliding across the dance floor. As a child, my dad and I used to dance all the time. In our house, we had "dancing nights" where we would boogy down to Nickel Creek, Shawn Colvin, Billy Joel, Beach Boys, etc. It was the best. And dancing with my dad that night took me back. We're a great dancing team ;)

Lastly was Andrew and his mom's dance. They danced to Elvis, "The Wonder of You".  He was aiming for a cheesy song...and man did he find it ;) It was adorable. He sang to her, spun and dipped her. Totally sweet. He is such a cheeseball. It was the perfect song for them.

4. Dancing with my best friends. 
We started the night off right with my favorite group dance song - the "Macarena" by Los Del Rio. Oh my did that get everyone on the dance floor (or at least all the youngsters that grew up in the 90s haha).  Soooo funny! It was even better because one of my bridesmaids and best friends, Grace, made us these gorgeous animal masks for a photo booth we were supposed to have. Well, I neglected to inform anyone of where that booth was supposed to be, including her husband who had volunteered to take the photos for there was no photo booth...but that didn't mean we couldn't still use the props! So people danced all night with animal masks, mustaches, and paper beers haha. It was the best. We also had some stars on the dance floor, 5 year old Sam, and 25 year old Ben. They stole the show and had us all laughing ridiculously hard. We ended the night of dancing with most of the guests I decided to turn on a song for my girls...Spice Girls, "Wannabe". Me, my cousins, my best friends, and new family members (all female) proceeded to belt the song together. It was basically the best ending to the best day ever.

5. My amazing family and friends.
So, as some of you know, we did the wedding without a wedding planner. The entire thing came out of my head and for the most part, my mom, bridesmaids, friends and family, made it happen.  There were lots of things that I had planned that didn't happen (because I suck at delegating) but everything that did, was because of them.  I didn't set up or break down a single thing at my wedding (or rehearsal for that matter). I had every intention to help...but I didn't account for the craziness that is life..which made me run late to EVERYTHING. They were so wonderful. I walked in to my venue about 2 or 3 hours before we were supposed to do this thing, and my mom was freaking out.  She had only gotten to the venue like an hour or two before me and nothing was ready.  She had my female cousins making flower arrangements, my male cousins making boutineers (haha), my mother in law assembling the cake, my bridesmaids decorating the was NUTS. When I came back to hide before the ceremony...everything was done. And it was beyond beautiful. I couldn't have done this without them. Yes, they weren't able to finish everything, and yes it was chaos, but it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.
Absolutely perfect.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Real Life Stories from a DIY Wedding

Do a DIY wedding they say, it will be fun they say...yeah sure haha.  No but really, it did make the experience much more...ours? I'm not sure what word I'm looking for there but basically, everything we did came from our hearts and our heads. We had to determine what we wanted from the cake, to the decor, to our attire. Each piece of our wedding was personalized - no, not with monograms - but it was personal to us. So here are the things we did allll on our own, and my thoughts on whether or not it was worth it...

DO design and print your own invites

This was a great idea. It was a bit stressful because my design skills were a tad rusty...but if you know someone who can design your wedding invites for you - do it. You can also explore using online invite companies or even find designers on What I did was hand-draw my invites, scan them in, and then cleaned and colored them in using photoshop. From there, I actually bought cardstock from Michaels and then printed them at Office Depot. I think we ended up spending under $100 on 70 invites. Pretty crazy considering the 2013 national average spent on invites was $443.00.

DO get your flowers from a flower farm

This was an adorable idea but it all depends on the time you have. For me, everything got really rushed at the end. So it would have been nice to have the morning of our rehearsal dinner off, not worrying about getting up at the crack of dawn to pick flowers. However, it was a really fun activity for me and my girls to do. I had a few bridesmaids and also some family members from both Andrew and my side come out. Though it was a pain in some ways - it was also refreshing and a bonding moment. I think just to save time, I would still do a flower farm, but ask that they pick them for you. That way, you would have more time to actually arrange the flowers which is definitely much more time consuming than you would think.

DO write your own vows and make them unique to you as a couple!

It took us forever to do this piece and we definitely waited until the last minute - but it was so worth it. Our vows were something that we wrote ourselves and because of that, they were perfectly us. Now I do know that some people want to go the traditional or religious route and that's completely fine as well...but we decided that we wanted our ceremony to be completely us.  We worked together and created the entire script of our ceremony, pulling quotes from different pieces we loved, some traditional, some not, and we also worked in a few family traditions (detailed below). We wrote our vows separately and read them during the ceremony to each other for the first time. We put some boundaries over how to write them (we did it in a "I promise to x, y z" format) so it ended up being really sweet and flowing perfectly. We also wrote letters to each other to read before the ceremony and I really loved that.

DO insert some traditions from both sides of the family or create new ones

This was some of the most fun and memorable things we did. We started incorporating our heritage and families with our attire. My husband wore a kilt in honor of his Scottish heritage and I actually wore his grandmothers dress that was re-designed for me. The second thing we did was use Scottish traditions in our wedding ceremony by having an oathing stone and having a Scottish poem recited at the end of our ceremony. With an oathing stone, guests pass around the stone and make a wish on it, sending the stone their vibes of happiness for the couple. Then it gets passed up to the couple and they take their vows while holding it. The next tradition was from my Dutch heritage, a wishing tree.  This was something similar to the oathing stone but in this tradition you write your wishes for the couple on a piece of paper then hang it from the tree.  Our wishing tree was absolutely gorgeous, and now we have all of the wishes from our family forever.  At our first Christmas together, we hung the wishes on our garland across the mantle. It was a really sweet way to remember the big day forever.  These traditions really made the wedding feel special and like we incorporated both of our families in to everything we did. It's also something we can pass on and our children can do at their weddings :)

DO make your own cake (but enlist help!)

This actually worked out great (besides me picking the wrong cake stand).  My mom and best friend actually made my wedding cake and cupcakes for the wedding. They were able to do this by making each piece a few weeks in advance and freezing them. Genius. So if you have a big freezer - and you test it all out in advance and know the cake you picked thaws well - do it. It did take a lot of time to do, but because you can freeze it, I think it's totally do-able.  All in all, the cupcakes and cake thawed out wonderfully and they looked and tasted great!  So shout out to mom and Lauren. You kick butt.

DO be thrifty and buy your decor, DON'T rent it

This is definitely the best plan.  I am very lucky that my mom is a huge thrift store junkie and so is one of her best friends, Jacquie. Basically my mom, Jacquie, myself and my best friend looked all through the time I was engaged for things we could use at the wedding...vases, candles, unique props, and little knick knacks that we put on the table that made it "us".  I also bought a few things online from bulk wedding vendors using That's where I bought my linens (at the same price it would have cost to rent them) and my votives (at cheaper than it would have cost to rent them). I highly suggest you consider purchasing things over renting them because 1. its cheaper and 2. you can re-sell it. We also scavenged through our homes for decor to use. This was a great thing to do because alot of things in your home have memories connected to them, so it meant something to have those pieces there :)

DO have an IPod wedding but DON'T hit "shuffle"

This was an interesting DIY project. We thought this would be totally easy and run really smoothly butttttt not so much. It went fine, don't get me wrong, and I doubt anyone even noticed, but I noticed. We spent a few months gathering up songs we wanted for the cocktail hour, dinner, and dancing pieces of our wedding. We actually used Spotify to store them all, which was great, but we ended up freaking out and selecting too much music and we also didn't put it in any particular order. That's where we failed. If you're going to pick your own music and do an Ipod wedding, it can work, but you need to be sure you put your songs in the order you want. That way, you are guaranteed to hear the songs you love.  Some of the songs I couldn't WAIT to dance to at my wedding, never came up. So make sure you have enough music to last the whole time (and then some), and make sure you don't hit shuffle.

Those were just a few of the DIY projects we did and all in all, I think that doing a DIY wedding was definitely worth it. You're still going to end up spending a bunch of money, because weddings are expensive, you cannot get around that, but it will definitely help your wallet in the long run.  It also made it really fun to be able to work on some of these things with your friends and family.  Having a wedding definitely isn't all about the big day, it's about the experience, and DIY weddings give you a pretty memorable experience ;)

Monday, November 3, 2014

Go All Blacks!!!

After our trip to SE Asia, we flew in to Chicago for the most exciting sporting event of all time. Now I'm not normally a sports girl, but when my husband and I started dating, he introduced me to rugby. Being from New Zealand, he was a PROUD All Blacks fan, so he and I watched the Rugby World Cup in 2011 in the wee hours of the morning. We watched every game that NZ was in...staying up until 1am or waking up at 4am for the game (thanks to it being held on the other side of the world).  They ended up winning 8-7 to France in the from that time on, I was an All Blacks fan.  So back in June 2014 I found out that the All Blacks were coming to the US for the first time since the 1980s to play. It's pretty much a huge deal, so I decided to make it work and buy tickets. When the SE Asia trip rolled around, everything worked out perfectly because Chicago was a stop on our route we just decided to have an extended layover :)

We landed in the afternoon on Halloween.  In Asia the average temperature was 80-90 something degrees...when we got in to Chicago, it was about 30. And we didn't have any winter clothes, or closed toed shoes for that matter...WHAT?!?@!?@!? Talk about a temperature shock! It was snowing on the train ride to town and when we got off the subway stop near our hotel, we had to run through what had turned in to freezing rain about 4 blocks to where we were staying.  I felt like I was going to die.  Andrew's mom was coming in the town the next morning with all of our winter gear...but it was Halloween so we decided to run to the shops to buy some shoes and a coat so that we could go out. We stayed at the International Hostel (which is pretty nice for a hostel, just in case you were wondering) which was really convenient to everything. We checked in then went up the street to hit the DSW for boots and then Macy's for a coat.  Both for me because Andrew had closed toed shoes and he felt he could suffer through the cold until his mom came the next day.

Macy's in Chicago is fantastic...but only because it used to be Marshall Fields. My mom lived in Chicago for a while growing up and her mother modeled for Marshall Fields so I especially love it.  I had a great time going up the escalator, seeing all of the Christmas decor, and then finding the perfect down coat :) After shopping we headed over to a pub that supposedly had great Chicago style pizza.  Andrew had never been to Chicago, therefore he hadn't ever had their we figured why not?  It ended up being delicious...and while there we saw the Pope (remember it's Halloween), so I would say we had a pretty great night ;)

The next day was the big day...the day I would see the All Blacks play, in person, for the first time.  I was SOOO EXCITEDDDD! We started by meeting Andrew's family at their hotel just a block away. We got ready in our fancy All Blacks gear that I had bought online a few months prior, and painted our faces...I pretty much had the best fern uni-brow ever (unintentional but I went with it).  While we got ready we did a bit of pre-gaming before we headed out to tailgate with my sister-in-law's rugby friends. She plays rugby up in Boston, soooooo they were pretty much the best people to tailgate with haha. After a few drinks at the tailgating area, Andrew and I decided we needed to rush in to the game so that we didn't miss the infamous New Zealand haka.  It's pretty much the best thing ever as you can see below (note Ali Williams favorite player that unfortunately retired from the team)...

Anyway - in came the All Blacks...they did the haka (it gave me chills) and then the game was off.  We had awesome seats, not so much because of where they were, but because of who was around us.  We had a great mix of USA fans and All Blacks fans.  It was so much fun watching it with them because the USA fans KNEW that they were going to get they just laughed the whole way through with us.  The final score was brutal...74 to 6...poor USA...

After the game we went back to the girls hotel and my husband passed out haha. Poor jet lagged thing. He was SO tired and his mom ended up falling asleep too haha.  So I hung out with the girls. They're crazy. And it was great. But I was getting soooooo tired. When my husband and mother-in-law woke up we decided to go get some food. We walked down to a lovely diner called Eleven City Diner. Pretty good! I definitely suggest it! However, after that, we were all stuffed...and tired...and jet rather than going out with the crazed fans...we were lame and fell asleep early.

The next morning we were up early so we decided to take my husbands mom to breakfast. His sister had just got back to their hotel like an hour earlier (if only I could party that hard) so my mother-in-law snuck out and came to eat with us at Wildberry Pancakes & Cafe...Talk about AMAZING! There was a huge wait to get in, but once we were was go time. I hadn't had a real American breakfast in over a my husband and I went to town. 
After breakfast we decided to check out some shops with my husbands mom before she left to go back home.  As we were walking around we kept running in to NZ fans and Andrew and I were wearing some of our gear so we kept getting nods and "how ya going?"s.  It was pretty cute.  We did a bit of shopping and then said our good-byes and decided to walk to the Navy Pier.  Bad idea...because I was in new boots...and the pier was ages away.  After an hour and a half we finally got to the pier. I was so pooped...and Andrew was so pooped....we took a look at the view, went and ate a hot dog and then turned right back around to find the subway. We grabbed our stuff from our hotel, and then headed back on to the subway to the airport.  While at the airport, my husband fell asleep under the chairs in the terminal...classic. We got home that night around 10pm.  We were tired...but we did it.  We made it back from SE Asia, to Chicago, through the cold, and our first New Zealand All Blacks game together...and it was great.

Friday, October 31, 2014

Three Nights in Bangkok - Part 2

On our final day, we were so tired. Tired of waking up early, tired of heaving our backpack around, tired of walking, tired of the heat, and just tired of being a tourist. It was hard moving around every few days and not ever feeling like we could just relax. We had to take it in take it in take it in and it finally hit us on our very last day.  We decided the best thing to do was to sleep in, enjoy breakfast at the hotel, go do one last round of shopping for souvenirs, and then have an awesome night on the town before our midnight flight. So we booked some tickets to the most famous ladyboy show in town (#10 on our list) and did some last minute shopping. We started at a duty free shop that was next to our hotel. Chaos. We had some coupons that they gave us to use and unfortunately, they didn't work on the one thing we wanted to buy (alcohol) so we were a bit out of luck.  We ended up giving them away then going to a market at a mall to finish to finish off all of our souvenir shopping. I was really wanting to find a rice hat to take home because I skipped out on getting one in Vietnam and Cambodia since I didn't want to carry it. Turns out rice hats are hard to find in Thailand...and I never found one :(

That evening, we started off by checking off #9 on our list of things to do in Bangkok...go to the Sky Bar at Lebua State Tower. Oh my was that a fantastic decision. We took the train down to the pier then walked up the street to the tower. This tower might seem familiar to you if you've seen the Hangover II...which is why Andrew was especially keen to visit it.  We got there at around 5pm...which was too early to go to the well known Sky Bar, so we went to Distil Bar, which was also at the top but had a different view. It was a beautiful bar, and the service was fantastic. They all know we're there just to go to the Sky Bar, but they were really helpful and nice, taking pictures for us and giving us advice on ordering our drink before we go over to the Sky Bar to avoid long lines. The view was spectacular and we were there at the perfect time. The sun was slowly setting and our drinks were divine. I had the hangovertini (amazingggg) and Andrew had some sort of fancy mojito which was delicious.  He wanted to try something else so I took over his mojito and he got some sort of redbull drink that I think was combined with a fine champagne...pretty much the best cocktails we've ever had. Which they should be considering they were about $20-30 each. But just like with the movie we saw, we were paying for the experience...and man was it an unforgettable one.

At around 6pm the Sky Bar opened up and we were one of the first ones in.  Wow what a view.  It was beyond gorgeous and we pretty much had it to ourselves at that moment. It was spectacular! The sun was setting, the cocktails were delicious, and we were saying goodbye to SE Asia. Pretty memorable.  We snapped a few photos, took it all in, and then headed down to go to our show...Calypso Cabaret.  The show is located at Asiatique, this touristy shopping center with restaurants.  We decided to eat there and stopped at a random restaurant that sounded good because we were both starting to get really hungry.  It was called the Why97 Club and Andrew was all funny because he realized our pretty waitress was definitely a man. That was the start of our fun evening haha. When we booked the tickets online, we let them pick our seats so we didn't know where we were sitting. When we arrived, they took us to our the very front and center of the theater.  Andrew was right aisle front...and totally embarrassed.

The show was fantastic!!! The "ladyboys" were unbelievable. You would never know that they weren't originally a female. The show consisted of many different acts, and there wasn't any nudity.  They lip-sang to a lot of different songs and there was dancing. It was fun! One ladyboy in particular (who pretty much looked like a man in drag) had a particular interest in Andrew. It was hilarious! He had 3 solo's and during the first one, he spotted Andrew.  Not hard considering he was the only man in the front.
 He came over in his first act as a Chiquita banana girl and sat in Andrews lap...oh dear.  Next act he was a geisha and he had his eye on Andrew the whole act - making everyone laugh every time he looked in Andrew's direction.  Then he came back over, sat on his lap, and gave him a BIG kiss! The whole crowd died laughing haha. The final act he was some strange blue something that looked Raggedy Anne like.  He came over again, gave Andrew the look, and Andrew threw up his hands going "no no no!" and the guy laughed, came over, and shook Andrews hand. The whole crowed laughed and cheered and then the show ended. As we were leaving everyone saw the big red kiss mark on his cheek and laughed and laughed saying "you're the guy!". Then we went and had a few pictures with all of the "ladies" and at the very end of the line, was Andrew's gal...she smiled and laughed and we got a great shot of them together. It was the best end to a fantastic trip.

So by the end of our 3 days in Bangkok, we were able to be lazy and still check off 7 of the 10 things on our list (unless you count #6 because we did that in Chiang Mai, then it was 8). We skipped the trip to Ayutthaya because it was a tad expensive and would have taken most of the day to do. We also skipped Nana Plaza because well...I'm just not in to that. No strippers and ping pong shows for me thank you. One regret is that we didn't get to see the big floating market in Bangkok.  It was far from everything and we didn't feel like spending the money at the time...but I think it would have been the perfect spot to go and get the last of our souvenirs.   Other then that - Bangkok, you were awesome. I can't wait to come back and visit again! South East Asia...I will be back.

Side Note:
As some of you may know, this trip was primarily sponsored by friends and family as our "wedding gift" in lieu of traditional gifts.  So I want to take a minute to say thank you to all that sponsored us going on this amazing trip of a lifetime. We really couldn't have done it without you and you helped us create some memories that will last forever. WE LOVE YOU!!!!!

Three Nights in Bangkok - Part 1

View from our AWESOME hotel
Bangkok is...well...Bangkok. It's HUGE! It's a crazy huge city with crazy energy. There is SO much to do in Bankgok and having only 3 days made us feel a bit overwhelmed. We reached out to our Thai friend and a friend of mine who spent a month in Thailand and tried to figure out a plan...because having only 3 days, you need some sort of a plan. They sent us a few ideas so I've condensed them in to a list of top 10 things just in case you're interested:

Top 10 Things to Do In Bankgok:

1. See a temple, one suggestion was Wat Po or the Grand Palace Temple
2. Check out the shitshow on Kaosan Road
3. Take a river taxi along the Chao Praya river
4. If you're tired of touring, see an English-soundtrack movie in "Gold Class" seating, and never be able to watch a movie in the USA again
5. Go to a night market and eat street food
6. Ride in a three-wheeled tuk-tuk, making sure you agree on the price (and destination) before you get in. Hang on for dear life!
7. Visit Nana Plaza hahahahahahaha (this advice came from a man...)
8. Go to Ayutthaya
9. Go to the Lebua State Tower at sunset and have a drink
10. Go to a ladyboy show (and this advice came from a woman...)

Only being their 3 days - we were not able to do all 10. So this is what decided to do...

Unfortunately our flight was delayed that morning, and took forever, so after landing and taking the train in to the city, we were pooped.  We hauled our packs up to our hotel, the Pullman King Power Hotel which was Andrew's pick (he picked all of our Thailand hotels and did a fantastic job!).  It was AMAZING! We looked like total bums walking in to this gorgeous 5 star hotel (for only $90 a night).  It was beautiful. There are 5 restaurants, 4 bars, and an infinity pool.  Out of sheer luck, we got upgraded to a room on the very top floor...high rollerrrrssssss! When we entered the room the tv displayed "Welcome Mrs. Patricia Hofland. We hope you enjoy your stay". Snap. We were all tuckered out so we decided to take a bath, get all dolled up, and have a date night, taking advice #4. We looked up places to see a VIP Gold whatever whatever movie and found the Paragon Cineplex theater that was at a giant mall...sounded promising. So off we went to figure out the train system (which was pretty awesome by the way). 

When we arrived at the Siam Paragon Mall we were pretty much in shock. That place was freakin HUGEEEEEEE! It is home to the largest aquarium in SE Asia, 16 theaters with the largest movie screen and seating capacity in Asia, an opera concert hall, an art gallery, bowling alley, gourmet market and huge food court, 10 stories and over 270 stores. Wow. We started the evening by purchasing our tickets to a showing of Fury (there weren't a lot of great options) for a hefty price of like $25 a piece, and yes that was in USD. However, we were there for the experience so we sucked it up. After purchasing our tickets we went down to the food court to check it out. Oh my amazing. I ended up getting a bunch of different dumplings from one of their little stands, including a durian dumpling which was disgusting. We also got our first bubble tea.

After a while of checking things out it was time for our movie so we went up to the VIP lounge to get our snacks and drinks that were included with our purchase. It's no american sized treat - but they were cute and I got a baby Ben and Jerry's ice cream so I was excited. The theater itself was filled with awesome leather lounge chairs all sectioned in to two's.  Each seat had a pillow and a blanket and reclined so that you could put your feet up and lay back. Pretty much...amazing.  After the previews (all in English but dubbed in Thai), the national anthem came on.  It always comes on
in every movie and you have to stand or else you look like a jerk. So that was interesting...especially since the country is going through their whole Marshall Law thing. Then the movie started and all was normal. The movie was good...but not $25 good haha.  However, if you're an avid movie-goer, you must have this experience. It was quite unique.

The next day was our touring day. We started the day with breakfast at our fantastic hotel. They had the best buffet ever! Fresh fruit, fresh pastries, real pancakes (most places made crepes instead of American pancakes), and fresh hot dumplings, noodles, and more. It was a dream.  After a big breakfast we caught a cab and went to the Grand Palace Temple, suggestion #1. We paid too much for our cab because they didn't sue the meter (which we learned later) but that was the least of our scamming worries haha.

When we arrived we were approached by a man who seeeeemmmmmeeeeddddd to be really nice. He gave us a map and said that unfortunately the temple didn't open until 12:00 so he suggested that we get a river boat and see the canals. Sounded fun, so we decided to go for it and check off to-do #3. He said that we needed to be sure we told the boat people that we "are living in Thailand", not visiting from the US, and he taught us how to say hello in Thai so that we wouldn't get "scammed".  Then he "called" us a tuk tuk and they dropped us off at a pier to "catch a boat". First thing they said was "hello" and so I answered "Sawasdee ka" (yes!) and Andrew said "Hello!" (no!) and they said "Oh, you speak some Thai"so I had thought I saved us. Then they asked "Where are you from?" and Andrew said "The United States". Fail. There went our we're from here so you can't scam us bit. So we haggled on a price for the boat and though it wasn't as cheap as we probably could have gotten it, Andrew still got it down to a price we were ok with...$20 for the boat ride. And it was a private boat. So we said sure. They took us all around the canals, even to a sad little floating market of 3 boats (haha).  It was pretty neat to see some of these homes on the water...barely being held up by wooden stilts that were eroding.  It lasted for a little under an hour and then they dropped us off at the pier in front of the Grand Palace Temple.

When we got off the boat we realized that though it was fun...we were definitely we vowed not to listen to the "nice" people who "offer to help us". We walked through the crowds and little vendors set up along the street and got stopped yet again by someone who said "the temple is closed until 2:30pm, you should go to the blah blah temple instead, it's free today only" and yada yada. "No thank you" I said, as I dragged Andrew away haha. Once finally in the temple, Andrew had to borrow some pants because shorts were not acceptable. Luckily I was fine in what I was wearing.  We toured all around the temple and it was absolutely beautiful. Loved every minute of it! They had lovely paintings on the walls telling stories that I couldn't really understand since I didn't know the history of their religion...still gorgeous though. A few hours later we were pooped, I was getting hangry, and it looked like it was going to rain so we decided to grab some ice cream then head back to the hotel for a shower.  Andrew took to the streets to haggle for a cab that would take his 150 baht but after about 30 minutes of no luck, it started to rain, and luckily we found a tourist stand that called us a cab. It was $5 the first time we took a cab and "haggled" vs. only $2 to go back when the tourist services staff made them use the meter. Now we know.

That night we went out to do activity #2...check out Kaosan Road. Apparently it used to be a crazy time, but now that Marshall Law was enacted, it was pretty tame. It was like all of the other night markets we visited except this time the stuff they were selling was pretty crappy.  Very touristy stuff that didn't seem unique at all which sucked considering I still had people to shop for.  We did a bit of shopping, bought nothing, ate some curry, and got asked multiple times if we wanted to go to a "ping pong show" (ummmmm NO). Andrew got adventurous and ate a scorpion...gross...and then we decided to retire in because the trip was definitely wearing on us...we were so tired...but we still had one more day of adventures before we could call it off to sleep we went to prepare ourselves for our final day in SE Asia. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Petting Tigers and Riding Elephants...Humane?

So as I mentioned in my last post, we did two super touristy things while in Chiang Mai.  The first was visit Tiger Kingdom and the second was supposed to be a trip to the Elephant Nature Park however, I never had time to book our spot so the park we originally wanted to visit was booked full.  After freaking out and almost changing our flight to make it work, we decided to just try a different elephant place which may or may not have been a mistake.

I'll start with our thoughts on Tiger Kingdom.  They claim on their website that the tigers are not drugged, and there hasn't been any sort of leak stating that their claims are false, so we decided to give it a go.  Andrew was veryyyyy hesitant about going because he felt like the tigers had to be drugged for people to be able to be in there with them, but I really wanted to do it so he said we could go. You had the option of playing with either the small babies, older babies, mid-sized tigers, and adult tigers.  The chick at the counter said we were more than welcome to watch the tigers for a while before deciding, so after checking out the few that we were allowed to watch for free, we determined that the baby tigers were the least likely to be drugged so we went for those. We had a bit of a wait before it was our turn so we walked around and checked out all of the other tigers. At that point, we began to question how humane this place really was.  A lot of the larger tigers were in small cages alone, which was really disheartening. Something you didn't see before paying.  We were hoping they would have had some large area for the tigers to roam or something - but nope.

When it was our turn to play with the babies, I will admit it was an amazing experience. They were really playful and loved playing with each other. It was quite hard to snap a good photo because they were so rambunctious which made me pretty happy to see that at least these guys weren't drugged.  Their fur was so was pretty much like playing with a large cat (like you would have guessed).  I think our overall conclusion was that though it was an amazing once in a lifetime experience, but we would leave it at that, once in a lifetime.  It is a strange situation because these poor animals don't really have an option. Out in the wild, they are caught and killed. However, being in a zoo or in this case, a petting zoo, really isn't that much better. So I guess it's up for you to decide what you think is best. If you go to zoo's you can probably handle this, but I wish they would have at least had some education on tigers and some more space for the bigger tigers...especially since they rake in so much money...but oh well.  

The next day was our day with the elephants at Baanchang Elephant Park. We started out feeling really good about it because the reviews were really good online and the company seemed to be pretty humane. They did have a disclaimer about how they used bull hooks on the elephants (which are the things animal cruelty people shout about) but they said they were only in case of emergency because the elephants are out in the open and can easily hurt someone if frightened (understandable). We showed up and got changed in to their little outfits then went to meet the elephants. We were in a smaller group of about 10 people and everyone in the group was really nice.  First we got to feed the elephants bananas and sugar cane which was really cool. They gave us some education on the elephants and the tour guide for the group, Jimmy, was fantastic. The elephants were all chained up at the foot which made us feel a bit sad but we were told it was for our protection because all of them are very greedy with the food, trying to snatch others, so it made sense.  Because man were they greedy haha...

After feeding them we learned how to ride them bareback which was awesome and MUCH better for them than those big chair things you can ride on them with.  After that we went on a little trek around the park and Andrew and I shared an elephant, taking turns being in the front. I was hoping we were going to see a big open space that they let them out when it's not feeding time, but no...turned out they were chained most of the day because a lot of them aren't "friends" so it isn't safe to allow them all out together. So that made us a bit sad. We all went in a big line and each elephants mahout (basically their trainer) came with them, standing next to them to make sure they were good. Most of the mahouts had a fantastic relationship with their elephant. You could see that they really loved them and bonded with them. Unlucky for us, we got stuck with the jerk. He seemed to be really mad at his elephant, yelling at her and threatening her with his bull hook when she went out of line. It made us both really uncomfortable...and then at one point he even took out a knife and threatened it. It was so weird because all of the other mahouts were really good to their elephants. Our elephant was one of the oldest, 40 years old, and she was pretty grumpy, but it was still no excuse for the mahouts behavior. Kind of soured the experience a bit for us.

After walking around, we got to bathe the elephant...Andrew did it because he wanted to give the elephant a bit of love, but after all of our mahouts yelling and threatening, I felt uncomfortable so I stayed back.  When it was all over, Andrew had a talk with Jimmy about our elephants mahout. At one point Jimmy said that they prided themselves on having great mahouts that never threaten their elephants with the bull we felt he needed to know.  He did seem to take the issue seriously which was good - and said he would talk to his boss. Fingers crossed the jerk got fired. When we were leaving we got to see a really adorable site.  We got to see the mahouts take the baby elephants and their mommys for their afternoon swim! Oh my were they so cute and happy. Made me feel better about our experience because most of the trainers there really did seem to love their elephants.

In conclusion, I think I would say stay away from those two attractions. Everyone says to go to the Elephant Nature Park if you want a good humane experience and I think that's probably your best bet. Just make sure that you book in advance because they do sell out - even on a Monday during the off season.  I wouldn't say we regret going to either, but I would say that we have mixed feelings. Yes we got to pet a tiger, yes we got to ride an elephant, but I think its better to donate funds towards a real conservation effort that has the animals best interest at heart. These groups were saving the animals from "worser fates" but they definitely made a pretty penny off of it...