Chiang Mai, Thailand

I had high expectations for Chiang Mai….and it beat all those expectations! We were extremely lucky to have been in the city during the Loy Krathong (Floating baskets) and Yee Peng (Floating lanterns) festival which coincide with each other in Chiang Mai during the full moon. The entire city is adorned with beautiful colorful lanterns which are particularly prevalent in the city’s numerous temples. This festive atmosphere added a new level of charm and delight to this already beautiful city. As we approached the city from the airport, Ayaan started pointing out the lantern decorations along the way. Since the kids were relatively tired from the flight, we decided to dine at the hotel restaurant which turned out to be a fantastic meal of Penang curry and our favorite pad see ew. After the kids slept, Gaurav and I chatted in the balcony for a while before turning in for the night. The next morning, we took a 40-minute ride up the mountain to the famous Doi Suthep temple. As we ascended, we were greeted with views of the city below as well as Buddha statues and temples along the way. Ariana fell asleep as we approached requiring Gaurav to carry her up multiple flights of stairs to the top of the temple. Bright golden hues and several Buddha statues makes this temple particularly stunning! Ayaan enjoyed being blessed by the monk with water drops and a string around his hand. Ariana enjoyed playing catch with the new friends she’d made. We returned to the mall near our hotel for lunch and the kids enjoyed playing with the kiddie planes and cars and the huge Christmas tree outside. I seized the opportunity to get a foot massage near our hotel while the kids napped. That evening, we set out to enjoy the festivals and got dropped off near the banks of the Ping river. We dined at Woo, a restaurant and art gallery that was casual yet classy. We enjoyed a Khow Soi, A classic Chiang Mai dish of noodles and curry topped off with several condiments. Toward the end of our meal, we noticed the lanterns floating in the sky and decided to skip dessert and hit the streets. We walked along the ping river and stopped on the bridge. Thousands of lanterns were released into the sky and as they floated up, they illuminated the entire sky. Down below, the river was lit by thousands of small flower boats and baskets with candles and incense sticks, making for another feast for the eyes. It was a sight to marvel at, and we felt lucky to experience it. Ayaan bought his own floating boat which we released into the water, which is believed to release all ill and unhappiness.

The next morning, we decided to wander the old town of Chiang Mai, starting with Wat Chedi Luang. We were amazed that this complex consisted of several temples within it with countless statues of the Buddha. We then took a tuk tuk ride stopping at several notable temples within the old city, each more inspiring and rich than the next. We were awed by the collection of temples within such a small area of the city. Our final stop for the morning was the gate at the entrance to the old town where we saw a large decoration of beautiful lanterns. We ate lunch at a local restaurant that had a nice outdoor garden. Ariana who is still being potty trained had an accident while Ayaan lounged in his hammock. This time Gaurav went for a foot massage in the old town while the kids napped. When Ayaan awoke, I took him down to the hotel lobby where he made his own ‘Krathong’ to set down in the river. He also took one for his little sister. When she awoke, we set off to view the festivals by the Ping river. We arrived early and set our krathongs while wishing for the release of ill. This time, we had dinner reservations at the Gallery riverside restaurant. While the food was relatively average, the location allowed us an amazing view of the lanterns being released into the sky all at once, without the crowds. Ayaan was the first to spot the first release at 7pm. We retreated back to the hotel after dinner to prepare for our early morning the next day.

We visited the Mae Rim elephant sanctuary the next morning. Upon arriving, they had us feed the elephants several bananas to befriend them. We then walked with them to a large mud pool where we learned more about this magnificent creatures and how they were rescued from cruel camps or circuses to be cared for at Mae Rim. Next we set off to play in the mud pools with them which Gaurav and Ariana enjoyed thoroughly. Ayaan and I enjoyed the next water pool where we splashed the mud off their backs to clean them. As we retreated back, we played in the ‘human’ pool and then learned to make noodle soup which we devoured for lunch. The kids napped on the way back to our hotel. We took the kids to the nearby Maya Lifestyle mall that evening and they loved playing in the kids play area there. We’d called for a babysitter from the hotel that evening since Gaurav and I were hoping to spend some time with each other. The babysitter though didn’t speak any English and seemed way in over her head with both kids so we decided it was best not to leave the kids in her care. We strollered down to the Nimmam district for a quick dinner at Nimman Social before heading back for a nightcap in the balcony while the kids slept.

We were excited when we awoke the next morning since we were checking in to the luxurious Dhara Dhevi hotel in Chiang Mai. We took a ‘Grab’ (equivalent of uber in Asia) and were greeted by stunning grounds as we approached the hotel. The main lobby as well as most of the villas looked like temples with golden tops, and the grounds were lush and green. We spent a relaxing couple of days here, alternating between the resort pools, the kids club and the various restaurants. Ayaan enjoyed the buggies that would transport us within the resort as well as the local arts and crafts center where he made fish and frogs out of colored bamboos. The highlight of our stay was our family dressing up as local farmers and planting rice with the water buffalos while being serenaded with live music. The kids even played in their own little ‘orchestra’. Gaurav and I did manage to get a date night in at a nice, Italian restaurant while we left the kids with a caring sitter from the resort. We really enjoyed dining as a family in our outdoor living room on the last night as well. On the last day, a horse carriage took us around the resort before we left for our flight to Phuket.

Cambodia

Our first journey as a family after 6 weeks in India started in Siem Reap. We took an early morning flight connecting through Bangkok and the kids did great on both legs. On arrival in Siem Reap we were greeted with a clean and organized airport where it was quick to obtain our visa on arrival. We took a taxi to the Le Meredien and we liked our driver so much that we decided to hire him for our entire stay here for $90. We figured it’ll be easier to be in an AC car while visiting the temples than Tuktuks in the sweltering heat. That first night we just relaxed in the lounge where the kids had some pizza and we had some great cocktails and after they slept early we had a date night dinner in the Italian restaurant downstairs.

On our first morning in Siem Reap (named for the city’s Victory over Thailand), we woke up comfortably and we had a sumptuous breakfast including local dishes. For our first trip to Angkor Wat we decided to get a babysitter to watch the kids while we covered the more strenuous temples. We got dropped off first at the Angkor Thom complex starting at the famous Bayon temple. Angkor Wat (or temple city) is filled with the legends of Ramayan, Mahabharata and Buddha and went back and forth between Buddhism and Hinduism. Bayon was our favorite temple with its face covered edifices and different levels. After Bayon we visited the nearby Baphuon, another important temple in the complex with a grand walkway to it and a terrace at the top. We were glad we left the kids as there was a lot of climbing with very high steps and extreme heat. We also explored the several Buddha statues, Elephant and Lepper King terrace, Phimeanakas and a detour to Prah Palilay as Anjali and I got lost in the magic of the jungle. After 2 hours of strolling we were tired and stopped for a local Cambodian lunch with shrimp noodles and lemongrass chicken with Angkor beer. The short hiatus energized us to go see the grand Angkor Wat temple. Right from entering the moat, the temple is majestic and as you enter the west gate a long walkway leads to the main temple. The reflection of the temple in the pond nearby is a photographers dream! Climbing to the top of the temple we got a fantastic view into the Khmer empire among the forest that was built in the 12th century. That afternoon we decided to take it chill and we relaxed in the pool with the kids. We ventured out to Pub Street at night and ate a fantastic dinner that Ayaan really enjoyed at nearby Khmer Kitchen. Siem Reap is a fascinating little city that is well planned along the river and is extremely cheap with $6 massages and 50c beers.

The second morning, we took the kids and drove 45 mins to Kampong Phluk – one of four floating villages in South East Asia’s largest lake. We took a traditional boat out for 2 hours that took us to the amazing floating village comprised of houses, school, hospitals, temples, a church and restaurants where 600 people live. The kids did very well and were fascinated by seeing crocodiles, snakes and rabbitd all of which the locals eat and makes goods of. They also enjoyed seeing the mangroves growing in the lake. On our way back to the hotel, we stopped at a great place for lunch that our driver Sophian recommended where we sat is a private hut and our table was essentially a large swing in the gardens. The food as always was delicious and Ayaan particularly excited that he got sticky rice with mangoes (something he tried to order on the flight in but they didn’t have). The kids napped well after lunch while I had a foot massage and when they awoke we were off to the main Angkor Wat temple again to watch the sunset. Although not extraordinary (it’s better for sunrise but we were too lazy), the kids enjoyed their first visit to the temple and saw some monkeys as well. We once again ended the day with dinner at a Pub Street restaurant called Monsoon and walked the Night Market as well (that had $1 massages!). At night we had a little adventure as we sat in the hotel bar downstairs while the kids slept upstairs only to be called by the staff to let us know that Ayaan has escaped to the lobby!

On our final day, we visited the temples with the kids again. We first visited Preah Khan which worked out great with kids as they were able to walk the entire temple themselves, exploring it holding hands and posing for cute pictures. It wasn’t very crowded which worked well and it was quite an experience strolling through the long corridors with historic pillars and rubble. Ariana was happily singing songs while walking back through the jungle while Ayaan was busy collecting sticks and leaves. Our last stop at the temples was at the famous Ta Prohm temple made famous in the Tomb raider with many of its temples devoured by overgrown trees. It was an impressive site but it was too crowded with Chinese tour groups all of whom for some reason wanted to take pictures with our kids (it got creepy soon). We came to back to room service for lunch and after the nap took off for our short flight to Hanoi, Vietnam. Cambodia has been very kid friendly with amazing food, cheap, and We leave wondering why Angkor Wat is not a wonder of the world.