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Thailand is seriously an amazing place. There is so much to do there. I’d say we were only able to do about a fourth of all the things I thought would be cool to do. I guess we’ll just have to go next time.

Our trip in Thailand was divided into three parts. The plan was to visit the southern part first with Holly’s family (her parents, brother Andrew, brother Ryan and his wife Ann and 2-year-old Emily, and Ann’s parents who live in Thailand. After a week in the south we went up to the northwest to Chiang Mai with only Andrew. Then for the last few days we went to Ann’s home in the northeast to visit and meet her extended family. So Holly and I flew to Thailand ourselves, but her brother, Andrew, was going to meet us there in Bankok (he was scheduled to arrive a few hours before us). We wanted to go to church in Bankok that morning but we ended up losing Andrew and it took a while for us to find him. Later that day we went down to Phuket, which is in the south close to malaysia. That is where all the beaches and islands are, it’s also where the Tsunami hit really hard.  There was still a lot of construction going on there in recovery.

Some of the beaches in the south were the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to. We met up with Ann’s parents who don’t really speak English. We mostly visited a number of islands, went snorkeling, and took a lot of boat rides.

Then Holly, Andrew, and I went north to the city of Chiang Mai and that area. It’s in the mountains. We saw a lot of Buddhist temples and shopped at a lot of markets. We took a 4-hour drive out to the back-country near the border of Burma and stayed for two nights at a place called the cave lodge, where we stayed in a bamboo hut in the misty rain forest next to a river. Our hut was on really tall stilts that were like 30 feet high at some parts because we were on a hill. We went to this area to do some hiking and explore some caves. We had a guide take us on a really long, hard hike to visit three different caves. It was just me, Holly, Andrew, and some dude from California who was a full-time traveler/backpacker. When he found out we were from Utah he asked if we were Mormon and then asked tons of questions about Mormons. So that was a fun experience to be able to answer all his questions. Anyway, the hike was a lot of fun and kicked our butts. I got blisters that were like 1 1/2 inches long on each side of my feet. We saw some cool caves. One had a stream going through and we had to slide on our bellies through the stream through the cave… Holly was a trooper although she was terrified. There were also thousands of spiders in that cave and crabs and shrimp in the water. Inside another cave we found a scorpion. I got some cool photos in most of the caves – I dragged my camera bag and tripod through them (it did a fine number on my gear, but I think it was worth it). There was also a cave (not part of our hike) that has a full river running through it and it’s huge. We rode bamboo rafts through it.

To drive back to the main city after the back-country stuff we rented scooters and rode them through the mountains on the four hour ride (well, took us more like 5 hours). It cost around $15 to rent it and ride it back – that was a lot of fun.

The mountains didn’t end up as pretty as I hoped. It was the dry season there so a lot of the bamboo and stuff was dead like fall or winter here. There was still a lot of green where there were rivers and streams. The air was horrible though – I was hoping for some good landscape photos but the air was so smoky from deforestation fires and farmers burning to clear their land that you could barely see the blue sky, and you couldn’t even see a mountain if it was more than a mile away – we were just there the wrong time of year.

In Chiang Mai we also went to a cultural center and had a fancy dinner with traditional dancers. We rode elephants and swam in some waterfalls. There’s so much to do we just didn’t have enough time. We did go to church there in Chiang Mai. Half the congregation was American so the missionaries (there were I think six for that ward) translated and we listened with headsets during sacrament meeting. We only stayed for sac meeting because we had to catch a bus after.

Then for the last day before our return we went to Ann (our Thai sister-in-law)’s house in a different, non-touristy city which is like an hour from the border of Laos. We mostly made that short stop so we could see her house and stay as guests of her parents. They had this big family party while we were there and they did some kind of cultural ritual that might or might not be a Buddhist ritual (many old Buddhist rituals have become simply custom there, although most people, including everyone in Ann’s family except her parents and her, are Buddhist). Some dude dressed in white chanted a super-long prayer, then everyone tied white strings to our wrists symbolizing blessings they gave us, the blessings were things like “happiness”, “rich (money)”, “health”, etc. And your’e supposed to keep the strings on your wrists for at least three days or as long as they will stay there – so I still have mine on my wrist over a month later, I’m hoping they work. It was a pretty cool experience. We also visited this really strange place just at the border of Thailand and Laos with a whole bunch of statues – some kind of mix between Buddhism and Hindu. Ann couldn’t even explain what was going on, but they were pretty cool to look at.

Then we came home! We didn’t have as hard of a time as we thought we would without Levi. Probably because we were running and playing so hard and as soon as we got to the hotel each night we just crashed hard so we didn’t have much idle time to miss him. But as we arrived we really did. He remembered us when we showed up – looked kind of confused at seeing us but he gave us really long, clingy hugs which made us feel good. His hair had gotten even more blonde while we were gone and he really learned to use the word “No”. He says “no” when he means “no” and also when he means “I want that”. So he points at something he wants and says “No! No! No!”.

It was an amazing experience and we’re so lucky we were able to go. I’m sure we’ll be back again in the future having family there and all but that might not be for many years. I took literally thousands of photos and haven’t really had a chance to go through most of them yet. I have some really beautiful ones that I can’t share without processing them first. I’ll try to share more in a later blog post.

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