Saturday, March 2, 2013

Pre Holy Land Thoughts

Photo courtesy of
Last night, I went with my friend to get my hair cut (finally).  So thankful that she came with me because my hair actually turned out pretty close to what I wanted.  Yay!  Today while you read this, I will have just taken the train into Shanghai to stay the night with some friends so I can catch my 10am flight on Sunday to Israel!  Back in the fall, my parents' church (and the church we attended in Richland) started recruiting for a trip to Israel to tour the Holy Land.  My mom wanted to go, but my dad wasn't able to, so they paid for me to go with my mom.  It's a double blessing because not only do I get to see the places Jesus walked and taught, but I get to see my mom.  So fun.

I'm almost ready to go, bags almost packed, but one thing I wish I had done more of was read and watch movies or documentaries about the places I will visit.  I know I'll learn a lot, but I just feel not as well prepared as I could've been, you know?  Anyways, here are some of my "Pre Holy Land" thoughts... 

1. I hope I am able to take it all in.  We travel a lot, but I feel like this trip is a once-in-a-lifetime event.  I get nervous thinking about that because I keep thinking, "what if I can't take it all in?"  I have no idea what that really means, but I'm anxious to experience it all. 

2. Warm weather.  I'm excited for 70F weather.  It got cold again this week.  Brrr...

3. Food.  Besides seeing the amazing sights we will see, I'm so excited for the food.  I love Middle Eastern and Mediterranean food so I'm pretty sure I'm going to eat until I get sick every night.  Haha.  Yay!

4. I'm not crazy about tour groups.  There's always one or two crazies who annoy everyone else.  I have a hard time ignoring those people.  But - I'm hopeful I can just stick by my mom's side and her friends from church and not have to get carried up in any drama.  We have over 40 people in our tour group, I'm pretty sure there's going to be some drama. 

5. And lastly, I keep thinking "how do I prepare my heart for this?"  Again, not sure how to answer that one, but lets just say that I keep praying and asking God to make me a learner of Israel.  To be aware of what's going on around me and to really experience the culture.  I want to walk away not just knowing more about the Biblical and historical sites, but more about the local culture and people who live there.  These are just places, holy places but still just places; it's the people who lived there (like Abraham, King David, Jesus & the Apostle Paul) and the people who live there now (both Israeli Jews and Palestinians) who God loves deeply.  I hope that I can see past the stones and replicas and into God's heart for that place.  

Friday, March 1, 2013

Thailand Recap

It feels like we got back from Thailand over a month ago, but it's really only been two weeks...hmmm.  I guess we've been busy!  Since I'm sure no one wants to read a full post about every aspect of Thailand I will just give you our favorite things from our trip which is much more fun, right?

We spent our time in the area in and around Pattaya.  Interesting area, full of European tourists (mostly Russian), lots of bars and is the "hotspot" of Thailand for the sex industry.  It was definitely eye opening and we weren't quite prepared for the amount of prostitution and bars we would see.  After about five nights of loud music and not sleeping, we changed hotels and went 20 km south.  It was a good move and we were still close enough to take advantage of the great restaurants and things to do in Pattaya, yet not be in the middle of all the crazy.  TripAdvisor became our new friend as we found all the below activities through that website.  Traveling soon?  I highly recommend checking out reviews of hotels and activities on TripAdvisor.

Koh Larn
Pattaya beach is crowded, noisy and not really the type of beach I want to spend my afternoon.  Too many people!  For $1, you can take a government boat 45 minutes offshore to an island called Koh Larn.  We heard there were better beaches there, so one morning at 7am we boarded the boat and headed over.  Once we landed, we rented a scooter and went to the southern tip of the island, a beach we saw on the map that looked "removed" from it all.  It was!  We got there around 8am or so and had the entire beach to ourselves until around 10am when all the other tourists started showing up.  Once the beach started filling up, we snorkeled for awhile and then took a break for lunch before heading back.  It was a great morning!  It took a lot to get away from the crowds, but totally worth.  And, while snorkeling, we found some great seashells.  Always a plus!

Making friends at the beach!
Finally, not a soul in sight!!
Million Years Stone Park and Crocodile Farm
Online we saw this "zoo" had decent reviews and was close to our hotel.  It claims to have the largest concentration of crocodiles in captivity - a pretty big claim!  So we hopped on our scooter to check it out.  It exceeded our expectations.  The zoo is built around a "stone forest" of petrified wood.  There is a random assortment of animals, some birds, camels, and horses.  The coolest part was the interaction with the animals.  The Hubby fed a crocodile a whole chicken on the end of a bamboo pole (exciting!) and I got to bottle feed a baby Bengal tiger.  So fun!

I'm pretty sure he didn't know I existed.  All he cared about was the bottle.
The Hubby getting to feed a crocodile.  Kind of crazy, yeah?
Nong Nooch Botanical Garden
Go ahead, let the name fool you.  Because it's not really a botanical garden, at least not what we picture when we think of botanical.  It was definitely a garden, just more Asian inspired than we were expecting.  The most natural spot was the "Palms of the World" exhibit which was basically a small park dotted with palms.  Throughout the park we were greeted by seas of animal statues - pandas, giraffes, tigers, sabertooth tigers (yes, I know).  They would line the path in between the different flowers and bushes.  So...different?  The best part was the elephant show.  They had two shows, a cultural show and an elephant show.  The cultural show was fun and well done, but the elephant show was amazing!  Did you know elephants can bowl?  They also play darts, soccer, can ride a bicycle, shoot a basketball and paint!  It was so fun.  Elephants are smart.  It was impressive.

Do you see the Stone Henge look-a-like to the far right?
See!  Elephants are talented. 
Khao Kheouw Open Zoo
By far our favorite.  We did this in conjunction with The Flight of Gibbon (below).  It was the most interactive zoo we have ever been to.  In parts of the zoo, the animals roam around freely (like deer and monkeys).  You could feed a rhinoceros (kind of scary), a giraffe and hang out with an orangutan.  They had the best exhibits I've seen in an Asian zoo.  Most Asian zoos are behind on the exhibit factor compared to zoos I've been to in the States.  We spent several hours there and should have rented a golf cart, but since we did Flight of the Gibbon first, we were already in the zoo and didn't want to walk back to the main gate.  Bad idea.  It was too much walking.  But we still had fun.

The Hubby's new friend, Cindy

Whatcha' got in there?
Flight of the Gibbon
Definitely a highlight.  It's a zip line tour through the rainforest and extremely fun.  I was nervous that I wouldn't feel safe.  I usually don't have a problem with heights, but I wasn't sure how secure I would feel hundreds of feet up in the air on small platforms.  The staff were incredibly safety conscience.  I felt very secure the whole time, and so, was able to enjoy myself.  The longest zip line was 300 meters - you couldn't see the end of the line!  It was pricey for Thailand, about $100/person, but was totally worth it.  As we zipped along, we saw gorgeous butterflies and amazing lizards.  I was hoping to see more wildlife, but I'm sure with people swinging through the trees yelling and laughing most animals tend to not hang out nearby.

Ready to go!
The "Honeymoon" Zip Line
Diving & Snorkeling
Also in Pattaya were several options for diving.  The Hubby is a certified diver (advanced, I think).  Anyways, we scoped out Pattaya Diving & Fishing which has the highest ratings on TripAdvisor and booked a day excursion with them.  We were the only ones booked through Pattaya Diving & Snorkeling, but on the boat there was another group of tourists who were with a different company getting their certification.  I do not dive, I snorkel.  So the Hubby did a couple dives and then around lunch we both went snorkeling.  It was fun to get out of town for the day and our dive guide was great. The waters in Thailand might not be as clear as Maui, but there were still some cool fish and coral to see.

Overall we had an amazing time and were blessed to get to take some time to relax and see some cool stuff.  We really felt like we hit the "reset button" and returned home to China refreshed and ready to get back to work.