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Thailand

Wow. So different from The Philippines. I’m glad we did Manila first-it eased me into this whole “Asia” thing.

Even though I’d never been to the Philippines, my time in Mexico (along with the fact that everyone speaks English) made it feel somehow familiar.

Not so in Thailand. Very little English, and a very different culture. Spirit Houses, temples, and Monks serve as constant reminders of the spiritual darkness in this country.

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We started our Thai adventure by spending a couple days with Bob, Stacy and their kids. It was great to experience their Thailand lives firsthand. Visited their grocery store, went to their church, and saw the school they serve (and practically live) at.

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Next, two days of food! Thai cooking school (a MUST if you are in Chiang Mai) and a “Foodie Tour” (great cultural and Buddhist background information. Also fantastic street food).

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Wednesday we spent the entire day riding, feeding, admiring, and (YES) swimming with real Thai elephants. Best parts: getting picked up and shaken by the elephants trunk, getting a sloppy elephant kiss, and getting up close and personal with a baby elephant (who also, coincidentally, stepped on Gary’s foot – destroying Gary’s sandal (instead of his foot!) in the process)

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As if we hadn’t had a full enough week already, we boarded a bus Thursday and went North to Chiang Rai. We saw some temples (spectacular, but heartbreaking), played in a waterfall (fa-reeeeezing!!), went into the mountains to see some hill tribes, and visited an amazing tea plantation in the mountains.

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For those of you who have ever made the trek from Chiang Rai to Chiang Mai… yes. We did stop at the “pie place”… And, yes. It was the best (albeit, it is the only) pie I’ve eaten in Thailand.

Last night, back in Chiang Mai, we braved the night market and ate way too much. We managed to find everything on our “Thailand shopping list” and are now resting up for the next few days of travel.

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Tomorrow we start our journey back- first, back to Manila… And Friday we hit the skies again to return to the US of A.
This has been a fantastic trip, and I will miss having daily “cultural adventures”, fresh fruit, amazing food, and the warm weather. However, I am feeling ready to be home- for predictable schedule, my own bed, family nearby and a big bowl of cereal for breakfast :)

4 more days.

See you all soon!

If you ever plan to visit the Philippines, there is something you should know now: getting your electronic devises fixed, while costing much less than the states, involves, on average, two (or more) trips per transaction for the desired outcome.
And that is why I have not blogged for so long. (It’s not that great of a story… but everything is back up & functioning)

Here is a short version of our adventures:

Banaue Rice Terraces:
9 hour overnight bus ride, arrived at 7 a.m. At 8:30 (yes, 90 minutes later) we ventured out on a “short visit to see the terraces up close”. Apparently that means different things in different places. Our “short visit” took up the whole morning & early afternoon. We all got sunburned and Charlie was in the same diaper for the whole thing (sorry bud!) BUT… We did get an amazing experience walking along the rice terraces.
Spectacular.
(And Gary got worms… Hehehe)

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Baguio:
Traditionally know as the “Summer Capitol of the Philippines”, we found things (like streets) very inadequately labeled, and hot in the sun, but cool in the shade. We arrived, after the most stressful 6 hour bus ride of my life, at 11 p.m. Since we were not provided the address or phone number for our reserved accommodations, nor did the taxi drivers have any idea where it was, nor did our phones/various devices have battery or wifi coverage, Gary made the call to purchase a hotel for the night instead of sticking it out at Jollibee’s 24 hour restaurant until morning. (A call mama chase would applaud. Nice one, Stauffer!)
Most of the city was underwhelming… Except for the market. Paula was too overwhelmed by the sights and smells to make any decisions to buy anything… Besides some delicious local fruit. Sorry folks, but no gifts from Baguio. (No barrel men… No anatomically graphic ash trays)

CCF:
A mega church (auditorium holds 8,000) in Manila was where we spent our Sunday morning. I have many thoughts about the worship experience, but they can wait. The preaching was fabulous.

Taal:
We took a bus ride, a boat ride, and than a horse ride to get to this famous location. From where we were, we could see an island inside a lake inside a volcano inside a lake inside an island inside the ocean. Perfectly blue water, which was hot and boiling in places, surrounded by gorgeous scenery which boasted steam vents (reminding us that it is still an active volcano) Totally worth the extra money to go into the crater lake and get to touch the sulfur water (instead of just going to an overlook). Once in a lifetime experience.

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Puerto Gallera:
The beach. Pristine white sand, the sound of the ocean lulling us to sleep… I’m sorry, did you say you just got a foot of snow? I’ll stop. It was here that I met my first monkey (who went through my pockets, shirt, purse, and down the waistband of my pants). Hilarious, and semi violating.

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We only spent one full day there (boo!) and have now returned to the city to run laundry, sleep, and pack for our departure tomorrow for THAILAND!!!

Thank for praying with and for us.

Love and kisses!

-The Stauffers

a.transportation.exploration.

I have decided that I’m going to try everything. My logic is as follows: if I am going to go to the trouble of paying thousands of dollars, flying across the ocean, and jacking up my kids finely-tuned schedule, I want an experience to match. That’s how I ended up eating Halo-Halo (pictured above) It is a famous Pinoy desert with a list of ingredients ranging from shaved ice and evaporated milk to beans and flan.
Not a fan. (But if I wouldn’t have tried it, I could not have said that) understand my logic?

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It’s that same logic that led me to explore 5 different modes of local transportation yesterday. It started out simple enough: Gary asked if I’d be up for trying to take a taxi into Manila. “Of course!” Was my reply. Though the traffic was horrendous and the 10 mile journey took 2 hours (cost $10 US) the “AirCon” (air conditioning) made up for it.
Next, we tried a tricycle. (A bike with a 2-person sidecar). The driver misunderstood our initial directions, so half of our 10 minute ride was into oncoming traffic. (10 min, $0.50 per person)

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Then, after exploring the “Old City” for a while (lots of 400-year old buildings and new-to-me history) we boarded the elevated rail train system. (A far cry from Chicago’s equivalent) I didn’t realize how tightly you could pack people into a small train car. Nowhere to sit, nowhere to move. You didn’t have to hold on, because there was nowhere to go. (You did have to hold on to your wallet, though. It would be impossible to tell if someone tried to snatch it) 15 minutes one way ($0.50/person) hopped off to grab a different line, 30 more minutes, $0.50 more.

Next was the Express taxi. It had AirCon like the first, but had lots of people jammed inside and made multiple stops (it was also much cheeper: $0.50/person instead of $10.00) 45 minutes.

Last, but not least, we grabbed a Jeepney for the final leg of our journey (pictured below) open air, packed like the elevated train, and loud with black diesel smoke billowing from the tailpipe. This is classic Manila transportation and it was awesome! 20 minutes, $0.50 for all 3 of us.

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We made it home happy, filthy, and exhausted.

And I loved every minute of it :)

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