Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Chiang Mai adventure

Hello all! Dubai day #2 will have to wait...It was a whirlwind day, then night, then boarding another flight for Bangkok, dropping exhausted into bed, only to have to wake early to catch another flight to Chiang Mai. I've been so freaking busy, haven't stopped since landing in Chiang Mai. early morning, late nights.

Once we landed in Chiang Mai, stopped off at Tamarind Hotel (see my room below) just to drop off our luggage, change our clothes to begin our adventure, really an eco-adventure.

Our first stop was Jungle Flight, a zipline adventure. I've already zipped in a handful of other places, but I think this is my last one, the ultimate zipline. The zipping was great...but the repelling! Eeks, my hands were sweating in fear. It's the highest zips I've ever done -- LOVE THEM! -- but the repelling were straight drops from as much as 40 meters...yikes! Then the hiking, in the mountains, about did me in. This trip I wouldn't be surprised if I lost weight! At night I'm so tired that I'm not hungry and we're hardly stopping for water, much less alcohol.

Yesterday, I became an elephant trainer at Patara Elephant Farm. This was a life changing experience. The elephants are like oversized puppies, eager to please, bouncing up and down on their heavy feet, ears and tail flopping. My elephant was one of the studs, Bodo, and he simply *loved* it when I bathed him in the river, scrubbed the muck off his body and splashed him with water, even got an elephant shower when Bodo sprayed me with water from his trunk. The finale was quite the feat as I scrambled up the elephant, stepping on the back of his foot, then his leg and up on top of his neck. I tucked my knees behind is ears and off we went to the waterfall where the elephants frolicked in the water -- and really frolicked is the word. They played in the water like little kids. It was so cool!

I even got to see twin baby elephants at this conservation elephant farm. As I stood on the wooden "bridge," one of the babies became curious and his trunk gently rested on my leg. I learned a lot about the elephants and that they are basically disappearing in Thailand. All the Thai have a healthy respect and love for this lumbering beasts with a big heart, and now I do too. The owner of Patera Elephant Farm, Pat, is passionate about the Thai culture, and his passion includes "saving" the elephants by breeding and educating the public.

We returned to our hotel, and as much as I'd have preferred staying, we had a site visit to Mandarin Oriental Hotel, an amazing step back. The architecture is old "school" Thailand, even though it's a newer building. It's as if I'd stepped back into time in an old Thai regal village. Awesome! From scrubbing an elephant's back to dining with the royals, just one of those days.

Next up...I'm transferring from Chiang Mai to Lisu Lodge further up the mountains of Chiang Mai. Tomorrow is an 8 mile biking tour of the villages. My legs already hurt from the hiking and riding bareback.

Until next time...Diana

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Dubai, day one at Burj Al Arab Jumeirah

After an uneventful, but long flight (14 hrs+) on Emirates Airlines from Houston to Dubai, we (me and several other SATW Freelance Council members) arrived at the spectacular Dubai airport, almost Vegas-ish with the columns, glitz and luxury. Customs went smoothly enough before our transport to Burj Al Arab Jumeirah by Desert Adventures, the amazing destination management company.
After that, it was all about looking up. Dubai (United Arab Emirates) met and exceeded my expectations. I'd heard Dubai compared to Las Vegas and as the New York City of the Middle East, and all are true. We've all heard about the sky-scraping architecture, but seeing it is simply saying WOW. You look up and up and up and the top of these amazing buildings seemingly disappear into the clouds. Then the world's tallest building came into view, the Burj Khalifa tower, pushing straight to the sky, reminding me of my "religious" upbringing the Tower of Babel, the top floor stretched so far into the mist that I could barely see it tonight.
We didn't know that we would be staying at the most luxurious hotel in the world until we arrived. After a 14 hour flight, any room would almost do, but our hosts have been more than gracious, and all I can say is let my pictures do the speaking, the Burj Al Arab Jumeirah is more than I could have imagined.

My personal butler escorted me to room, and it took 15 minutes of instruction to grasp the magnitude of this button to open the turn on the open the turn on the lights. It was so overwhelming that I had no choice but to sample the bottle of Dom Perignon and taste the white chocolate dipped strawberries.

Tomorrow is an early day with a whirlwind tour of Dubai, but tonight, maybe I should enjoy my in-suite Jacuzzi?
Until next time, Diana