Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Swanky Pangkor Laut

Upon our return from Laos, we realized that the next weekend was another long weekend thanks to Chinese New Year.  Where to go, where to go.... Flights were pretty expensive and I wasn't in much of a mood to just go somewhere to go somewhere, especially after how amazing our last trip was.  Despite my reluctance to hop on another flight, we did manage to get out of town for a few nights via car and boat to the secluded and private Pangkor Laut Resort. We booked two nights three days at this ultra swanky resort under the residence package, that we qualify for as expats, taking advantage of the great all inclusive prices. On our drive down to Pangkor, we received a phone call from the resort letting us know that we were upgraded to the "quieter and more private" sea villas that are perched on stilts over the ocean. We may have mentioned that I am pregnant on our reservation and climbing stairs was not a great option, but never did I expect to get upgraded to a villa on stilts.  It was awesome!
 From the moment we arrived at the resort we were treated like royalty.  I'm not sure if it was because I am pregnant or because we are residents, but we were given upgrades, discounts at the spa, private dining and told by the resort manager to email her when we come back and they will upgrade us again!  Wow, I hope I didn't blow all of our upgrade karma for the future, but this weekend was pretty good.
The view from our bathtub...and yes, we used it
Our private balcony, where we had morning tea and happy hour
Enjoying a beautiful rainstorm followed by a rainbow
Not only did we spend a lot of time in our villa, we enjoyed the private spa pool, the great beach and the luxurious spa.  Generally, we are not ones to splurge on expensive spa treatments at resorts, but after several friends recommended a treatment and the resort threw in some discounts, we decided to ring in the Year of the Snake with a nice massage.  I enjoyed an amazing pregnancy massage, while Eric had a traditional Balinese massage.  The spa at Pangkor Laut has won numerous awards including the Best Spa in Malaysia.  It was, by far, the nicest spa experience I had ever had.  Well worth the extra money that we spent on it and a great way to pamper yourself. Highly recommended.
Eric post massage, looking all relaxed and happy
One of the many resident hornbills that call the resort home
We enjoyed our short stay so much that we tried to extend another night.  It was quiet, relaxing and so nice that we did not want to leave.  Unfortunately, the resort was full, so we will have to make another trip back to this fabulous resort!

Monday, February 11, 2013

Lovely Luang Prabang, Laos

For the second half of our 10 day trip, we hopped a quick flight from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang, Laos.  LP has been one of the most talked about trips from some of our friends and Dave and Em said it was a highlight on their two month honeymoon last year.  We knew we had to go for a visit before tourism overtook this quaint, sleepy town.  Our time in Laos did not dissapoint.  We spent two days in town, taking in the colonial architecture, lazy cafes, fantastic night market and cruising the Mekong River.
Sunset on the Mekong
Monks and Eric crossing the bamboo bridge
After a quick few days in town, we headed for the best Eco Resort, Zen Namkhan, that we have ever stayed at.  We had an amazing bungalow overlooking the Nam Khan river, where we hung out on our patio enjoying the sunrises, sunsets and the cooler weather.  There was only one other person staying at this resort, so Eric and I had the whole resort to ourselves.  It was pure bliss.  We were treated to delicious Lao meals and dined solo at "our private resort" for three days.  It was awesome.  In the mornings we would listen to elephants trumpeting as they crossed the river as we drank our morning tea.  I really don't have enough words for this place.  We fell in love with the resort, the people and the location.  I know we will be back, it was perfect. Here are a few pictures of our stay:

Morning sunrise from our balcony
We hiked to the nearby village and enjoyed Lao hospitality for a morning
The view from the dining room
The spring fed natural pool that felt like Barton Springs...awesome!

The highlight of our entire 10 day trip was our experience at Elephant Village, a quick 5 minute boat ride from our resort.  We participated in the one day mahout training, where we rode the elephants, learned basic commands, took a trip to nearby waterfalls and bathed our elephants in the river.  Overall, this was the most responsible tour we have been on in Asia.  The group was kept small and the elephants were all treated with respect by their handlers.  All of the elephants were rescued from logging and now "earn" their living through responsible tourism.  Hands down, this was one of the best days we have had living in SE Asia.  All I wanted to do was ride an elephant bareback and that was more than accomplished.  The very best part of the day was bathing the elephants in the river, where each of our elephants laid down, completely submerged with us on their back.  A truly memorable and magical experience.  Enjoy the joy on our faces!

Local kids giving treats of sugar cane to the elephants as they passed through the village
Eric the Mahout
Eric channeling his inner Indian Jones
5 1/2 months pregnant riding bareback on an Elephant!!
Eric showing off on his elephant, while mine decided she needed to lay all the way down!
Get ready for the....
Trunk Splash!
Awesome Bath!
The pregnancy dismount!
I can not recommend Luang Prabang enough.  To our friends living in SE Asia, you MUST go for a visit, it's truly awesome!  I am so grateful to have the opportunity to travel and see the world in ways that I never imagined possible.  I hope reading our blog inspires you to travel.  I know that our travel will look different in the upcoming year but our baby has already visited six countries in utero.  I wonder how many stamps he/she will have before we move back stateside....

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand was our number one spot to travel to before baby.  We decided that a trip here was in order and spent 5 days in the wonderful and charming city.  Before leaving Penang, Eric and I were feeling a bit underwhelmed about going back to Thailand after spending Christmas in Koh Saumi.  Chiang Mai was a pleasant surprise and our favorite location in Thailand, so far.  The city is quaint but big, full of tourists and still authentic.  We spent our time visiting temples, shopping, hanging out with elephants, eating, relaxing and enjoying cooler weather. Here is our visit to Chiang Mai in pictures.  Enjoy!

Temples, Temples, Temples

A day with the Elephants at the Elephant Nature Park
Our number one reason for visiting Chiang Mai was to spend time with elephants.  Elephants are revered and iconic in Thailand and much of SE Asia.  Our day at the Elephant Nature Park provided an up close experience with elephants that have been rescued from abusive situations.  This reserve provides a forever home for elephants after they have been decommissioned from logging or saved from abuse. We enjoyed feeding the elephants their favorite snacks of watermelon, bananas and pumpkin.  In the afternoon, we joined the elephants in the river to help bathe them.  It was a great day!

Shopping and Relaxing
Although there are no pictures of our shopping adventures, Chiang Mai had the BEST market we have been to in SE Asia.  Each Sunday vendors from nearby villages line the streets selling their handicrafts and food.  The Sunday market was at least 2km long and filled with lots of finds.  We spent 4 hours shopping and didn't even complete half of the market!  Pretty amazing!  
We also stayed at a fabulous guest house, Seven Senses Guesthouse, where we were pampered and taken care of.  The staff loved having a pregnant woman to cook for and they kept me well fed and full of mango sticky rice. 
I can see us returning to Chiang Mai, and I rarely say that about places we have already visited.  A great city in Thailand, where tourism isn't overdone and hospitality is fantastic.  The cooler weather doesn't hurt either!!

After 5 days, we hopped a quick flight to Luang Prabang, Laos!  Stay tuned for those details soon.