Monday, August 27, 2012

From Dubai to Chiang Mai: One Last Eid Trip

Almost all of our friends and family now know that Matt and I are plotting our move back to US this Fall.  For us that means a lot of things to look forward to, and of course, plenty of things to miss.  One of our most favorite times of year (although it does change with the sighting of the moon) is the Eid al Fitr holiday which marks of the end of Ramadan.  An annual 'Eid trip' is a hallmark of time in Dubai and in the past we've been fortunate to travel to some great places.  As this Eid approached and the list of things to do for our pending move grew longer, we thought that we might just have to stay in town for this final Eid.  Prices were up, time was low, and there was just too much to do.

Then it struck.  That nagging, stir crazy, cabin feverish feeling of missing out on an opportunity to see another side of the world.  Matt caught me casually (furiously) perusing TripAdvisor and I caught him logging into his Skywards miles and studying a world map.  I mean, what were we going to do, look at each other for the next 4 days?  There were elephants to ride, tigers to play with and rain forests to hike!  Thus our trip (all planned in the preceding 48 hours) to Chiang Mai, Thailand was born.

For those of you following our adventures for the last five years you know we have a problem sitting still.  How could we not end on a high note?  This will mark our fourth trip to Thailand in four years, and what started as a first date is clearly now a full blown love affair.  We are hopelessly in love with Thailand.

First stop, play with some baby tigers!

These tigers are rescued from abusive domestic situations where they were bought as exotic pets for some clearly crazy owners.  The sad truth is that it means of course that they don't get to fully indulge in their wild ways.  I must say however, it was a fascinating and once in a lifetime experience to see this stunning creatures up close.  They are spectacular looking, and I have nothing but respect for their sheer size and power.
Hanging out with the Buddha at Wat Phra Singh.  One of Chiang Mai's most famous temples. 
The temples are in the lanna architectural style, which is characterized by the sweeping upturned roof.  Today, what we now term as the ‘Lanna’ rule refers chiefly to the period AD 1259-1558 when northern Thailand and Chiang Mai in particular asserted itself as a centre of arts, culture and architecture - similar to the Italian city of Florence during the Renaissance - during an almost identical period of history.  

Wat Chedi Luang was started in the 14th century, when King Saen Muang Ma planned to bury the ashes of his father there. After 10 years of building time it was left unfinished, later to be continued after the death of the king by his widow.  It was then 82 m high and had a base diameter of 54 m, at that time the largest building of all Lanna. In 1468, theEmerald Buddha was installed in the eastern niche. In 1545, the upper 30 m of the structure collapsed after an earthquake, and shortly thereafter, in 1551, the Emerald Buddha was moved to Luang Prabang.
The beautiful Wat Doi Suthep is found on the top of a mountain overlooking all of Chaing Mai and it makes for some great views.  Learn more about the legend of the white elephant here.

Matt received a blessing by one of the Theravada Buddhist monks.
The Chaing Mai zoo held other adventures, like the chance to hand feed a hippo!  (A hungry, hungry hippo?)  And the opportunity to see fields of orchids who simply have no problem proliferating in the climate.  I've been trying to get the one on my table to re-bloom for a year!

A visit to a local market is always top on our list and the fantastic produce here didn't disappoint.  Neither did the delicious lemon grass smoked pork sausage we nabbed and noshed for breakfast!

Then there were the a protein only mean I hear they are South Beach Diet friendly ladies!

For another first we took the chance to zip line through the rain forest.  If you've never done it I can't recommend it enough.  Soaring through the jungle on a wire was an incredible feeling!  I was a bit nervous at first but I was clearly hitting my stride after a few glides.  The experience is called Flight of the Gibbon in reference to the way a gibbon would swing through the tree tops.
And wouldn't you know we ran into this baby gibbon during our travels.
The Baan Chang Elephant Park is a visit that I will not soon forget.  This wonderful organization buys mistreated working elephants and gives them a life in 'retirement' allowing us to bath and exercise with them.  There is a long history of domesticated working elephants in Thailand though to number about 20,000.  Not all are mistreated but many are ill cared for and worked to death.  In many cities in Thailand they actually roam the streets begging for a meal since they are unable to return to the wild.  This park is doing some incredible work in giving them a second life.
You haven't lived until you've been 'kissed' by an elephant!

Matt's a 'mahout' for the day.
A private joke!
Bathing beauty!  My little girl was just 6 years old and was born to her mother in the park (she was rescued pregnant).  She loved the water!
You can't escape Thailand without a few delicious meals, so we decided to try our hand at learning how to make a few of the specialties.
We made some great curries and pad thai, but the drunken noodles preparation definitely was highlight of the instruction.  If you can't take the heat, then...
Can you believe all of this....
...turns into this!  I have a new found respect for home made curry paste.

Speaking of culinary highlights, one of favorite new snacks was a spiral cut potato on a skewer.  Simple and delicious. 

Oh and did I mention the bug buffet?

It's clear that no matter how you whet your appetite Thailand will always make for a satisfying trip!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Better Homes Cover!

It's not Sports Illustrated or the September issue of Vogue, but we aren't real models either so we have to be happy with what we get! Matt and I were pretty jazzed to grace the cover of Dubai's Better Homes magazine this past week.  It was a great opportunity for Matt's slick Knot Standard blazer to get some airtime and an even better excuse to clean our house from top to bottom.  Cover shots are definitely "toothbrush on the grout" worthy!

It was a great chance to look back on our last five years in Dubai and the place that we have made into a real home.  We've come along way from living out of seven suitcases at the Movenpick hotel in our first month, to a chance to have our home featured on a cover so many years later.  We've had so many weird and wonderful experiences (and blisters from Ikea allen wrenches) in our attempt to create a home in a foreign land.  This piece gave a moment to look back on the journey that lead us here and we were really grateful and flattered to be featured!

The full text of the article can be found here:

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Zighy Bay: Rugged Relaxation in Oman

There are very few ways to beat the heat on the Arabian Peninsula during the summer. Once the weather turns the whole region is engulfed in a blanket of haze and oppressive heat. In a search for ways to keep cool and due for another adventure, we set off for a little weekend away at the Six Senses resort in Zighy Bay, Oman. The resort is hidden behind the gargantuan Hajar Mountains, on the little-known Musandam Peninsula on the northernmost tip of Oman just 2 hours from Dubai.

Any good road trip starts with a sweet ride, and luckily for us my love of millinery (and the resulting Best Hat honors) has given us the use of a Jaguar XK for the weekend. When she was dropped off, sporting a beautiful candy apple red finish, Matt was all smiles!

See it's worth it to support your wife's custom hat habit...
Once you arrive at the resort you have to switch to a 4x4 vehicle to traverse the mountains.  Sorry Jag, this road wasn't built for you.
With our transportation, and accommodations set we had one final decision to make, mode of arrival. The resort offers an overland transfer via 4x4, a speedboat ride, or the chance to paraglide in from the mountain tops down to the white sand beach.  I’ll let you guess which one Matt wanted to do…

After paragliding for the first time in Germany two years ago, Matt’s been desperate to do it again, and he’s been insisting that I give it a try.  I knew the more I thought about it the more terrified I would get, so I made the split second decision to just do it!
You want me to run off what?
As they suited me up in the harness, the Omani staff member told me that I must be scared because he could literally see my heart beating out of my chest.  My blood was pumping and my stomach was in knots, and the brief instructions – “when I tell you to run, just run off the cliff” – were not helping to ease my nerves.   I was told that once we were in the air I would then sit in the harness.  When the moment came, a mix of adrenaline and momentary confusion meant that I immediately popped into my harness leaving the instructor to run us both of the cliff!  Worked for me, but apparently this is not how to take off.

The instructor said that this was one of the best days for flying that he had seen in months.  If I was going to do it - it was now or never!

Once in the air the feeling was incredible.  Now I understand what those birds are always chirping about.  The chance to soar along the cliffs riding the thermals, while drifting with the sea breeze was once in a lifetime.  It is a moment of weightlessness and pure bliss (albeit mixed with continued nervousness). 
Matt was looking and feeling a lot more confident.
You definitely want the guy controlling the parachute to be smiling.
Walking on sunshine...
You can can definitely appreciate the scenery better with a birds-eye view!

Matt's an excellent camera man at 1,000 feet.
When we final got to the bottom there were only a few friends to greet us.  (Since when can goats climb trees?)
The Resort resembles in many ways a traditional Omani village, with narrow passages between the individual villas and palm shaded, sandy roads and is an almost car-free environment.  We really enjoyed our plunge pool which at 90 degrees was still 20 degrees cooler than the air.  Sunscreen required!

Until now, only a few fishermen and elders of the village have enjoyed its unspoilt beauty, kept safe from tourism and progress by unassailable mountains and hostile terrain. But the wonders of technology, all-terrain vehicles and the unstoppable search for the few remaining undiscovered corners of the world have aided in its discovery and cultivation.

Until 30 years ago, the Musandam belonged to the Shihuh tribes who lived in scattered villages between the peaks. Once oil was discovered, the peninsula had to be allied to either the UAE or Oman, and the Shihuh opted to become Omani. Many were given homes in towns and now the only remaining inhabitants are lone Pakistani goatherds.

A sunset cruise was the perfect way to survey some of the surrounding environment.
The scenery was desolate, rugged and beautiful.

This limestone outcropping has been worn into a sea cave.
This is a picture of the sun...
...this is a picture of the moon.
We were treated to the most fantastic full moon.  Based on the blazing sun during the day, we got some fantastic light at night.
The water was fantastic, warm and clear - but the sand was sizzling!  We had to head to the pool to cool off from the beach!
An oasis in the desert.
Matt brought along some big boy toys and started photographing with some of the new camera lens optics I got him for Christmas.  I love this one of the dates hanging from the palm tree. 
All good things must come to an end, but we eased our pain with a wonderful send off dinner in our villa.