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We discovered Elephant Haven last year when we were making plans to take Isla to the Elephant Nature Park. The park was completely booked (how wonderful that this incredible organization is thriving and reaching so many people!) and after a little research on their site, I learned there were several sister organizations we could visit that upheld the same standards and beliefs surrounding elephant care. Elephant Haven is located in Soi Yok, just outside of Kanchanaburi and a short train ride from Bangkok. Our first experience there, an overnight stay, could not have been more magical, and we were beyond thrilled to return a few days this year to be surrounded by such magnificent creatures and lovely people. Elephant Haven is a wonderful, ethical organization that allows you to interact with elephants in a loving and respectful manner. This means no riding, shows, tricks, bull hooks or brutality. The elephants have a daily routine, but are not forced to participate in anything they do not want to be part of. When you visit Elephant Haven, you have a rare opportunity to observe and interact with the elephants. Your day is spent preparing food, feeding, walking alongside, and bathing the elephants. It is such an enriching experience!!! Knowing we are contributing towards a program that is pushing for the ethical treatment of animals fills our hearts with joy. When you visit Asia, please don’t ride the elephants! Instead, do your research and support organizations like Elephant Haven who put the welfare of the animals first.

Some tips before you go:

It is hot, dry, and dusty. Elephant Haven has lots of cold water available, but it’s a good idea to bring your own water bottle. Drink lots throughout the day so you stay hydrated. Also, bring plenty of sunscreen.

Bring a towel with you. They are not provided.

Wear outdoor water shoes. The river bed ranges from muddy to rocky, so it’s nice to have your feet protected.

Stay overnight. You have the opportunity to spend a little additional time with the elephants before the day visitors arrive, and may be able to visit a local market in the evening. We were able to connect with the staff during the evenings when we stayed, and really enjoyed getting to know them more!

Bring cash. There are some small trinkets, cold drinks, and snacks available on site. It’s good to have cash for purchasing snacks and souvenirs if you stay overnight and visit the local market (and cold beers at 7-11). Also, you can leave additional donations and tip the very hard-working and deserving staff.

Bring your camera! You will want to document your interactions with the elephants. If you have a waterproof case or camera it is so fun to bring it into the river for the elephant bathing.

Elephant Haven has internet and electricity, so you can charge your electronics while you’re there.

Each morning starts out with an opportunity to feed the elephants before walking around the grounds with them.

While still cautious, Isla displayed such a growth of confidence around the elephants this year! By day two she was really at ease while feeding and walking alongside her pachyderm friends.

I cannot rave about the caring staff at Elephant Haven enough! Not only are they wonderful with, and knowledgeable about, the elephants, they absolutely ADORE children and provide them with endless attention. Isla felt so loved, and I truly think she may have been more excited about her human friends at Elephant Haven than the elephants!

If you stay overnight at the park you will have an opportunity to visit a stretch of the Death Railway nearby. We went to the railway on a scorching hot afternoon, and as we had seen this spot the year before, we opted to look around the nearby shopping stalls and enjoy a cool coconut treat.

In the afternoon the elephants have an opportunity to bathe in the river and all of the visitors get to jump in as well. It’s refreshing and exhilarating to play with these giants in the water. They work up quite an appetite during their bath time, so there is another feeding afterwards.

Little Miss, off to feed the elephants! Behind her you can see the little cottages we stayed in. They are basic, with a toilet, shower, and mattress on the floor, but it is SO worth staying overnight, as it affords you extra time with the elephants and the staff.

Up and at ’em bright and early the next morning before the day visitors arrive. We loved having this time to ourselves with the elephants!

That confident little smirk on her face is too much!

When the daily visitors arrive, food preparations begin. Everyone pitches in and it’s a great opportunity to start to get to know the other travelers you’re about to share the experience alongside.

Prepping rice balls for the elephants. This fiber-filled snack is helpful to the elephants’ digestive system and they find them super tasty! Isla wasn’t so certain she wanted to get her hands dirty at first, but once she knew the rice balls were helpful to the elephants she dove right in!

Both our stays at Elephant Haven were so enriching and wonderful! The opportunity to interact with these incredible creatures in such a loving and ethical environment is truly life-changing. We cannot wait to return again, this time to introduce Cole to the Elephants!

With just a few days between our stay in Penang and our Bangkok portrait sessions, we researched several new places to visit near Bangkok and decided on Ayutthaya. We are SO glad we did! Ayutthaya is the former capital of Thailand, and is steeped in history, culture and charm. The ancient remains of magnificent temples and palaces were fascinating, and we stayed at the most serene and comfortable guest house! Ayutthaya was definitely a highlight of our 10 week adventure and we would love to go back and explore some more.

We traveled by train from Bangkok to Ayutthaya. It was a pretty quick and simple trip, however we learned a valuable lesson: if at all possible, do not travel this route in the late afternoon, for it is when all of Bangkok gets off of work and tries to cram on this train!

We bought a handful of new books before our trip and kept them hidden from Isla. Every few weeks (or when we were absolutely sick of reading the same books over and over) we’d pull out a new book as a little surprise for her. These thin, lightweight National Geographic readers were perfect for our passionate little scientist.

Standing room only. The train was packed like this pretty much the entire stretch from Bangkok to Ayutthaya. Isla and I managed to squeeze onto one seat, which absolutely saved me as I was miserably hot and nauseous with morning sickness.We met a gregarious tuk tuk driver at the Ayutthaya train station and hired him to pick us up the next day and take us to see the ruins. We left early in the morning to try and beat the heat and crowds and managed to visit 3 different sites before tiring out and calling it a day. One could easily spend a week exploring all of the crumbling temples and palaces.Our little photographer taking photos of Mommy and the baby in Mommy’s tummy.

Our first stop of the day was Wat Yai Chai Monkol, a former monestary.

There were bougainvillea at Wat Yai Chai Mongkol that produced 4 different colored flowers, which I’ve never seen before! They made me think of my mom, who fell in love with bougainvillea when we lived in Dubai in the 80’s.

Next we visited Wat Phanan Choeng, which houses a towering gold gilded Buddha that sits 19 meters high!

As impressive as it was, Isla was far more excited about this furry fellow…

No matter where we are in the world, if there is a cat, Isla WILL find it and convince it to be her friend!

Dogs too…

Our last stop was at Wat Mahathat, also known as the Monastery of the Great Relic, and it was our favorite of all the temples. Dappled sunlight streamed through the trees as we explored the ruins, and there was such an air of calm around us.

After a long, hot morning exploring the temples and ruins of Ayutthaya, it was soooooo lovely to return to our amazing guest house and relax. Peaceful, immaculate, and charming details tucked into every beautifully manicured corner, we cannot recommend Baan Tye Wang highly enough!

The most perfect little outdoor shower there ever was. Such an amazing way to unwind and freshen up after exploring the temples and ruins all morning.

Isla decided to create some rock people. Such a crafty little girl!

We took an earlier train back to Bangkok and it was far less crowded. Isla practiced her photography skills and caught up on some reading with Daddo.

Our stay in Ayutthaya was brief, but fabulous- and that is really saying a lot, given how miserable I was feeling! The history of this former capital is fascinating, the ruins are magical, and our guest house could not have been more adorable. After our brief stay, we feel comfortable adding Ayutthaya to our list of favorite cities in Southeast Asia, and we cannot wait to return and spend more time exploring.

While staying in Batu Ferringhi we heard great things about Entopia, a nearby butterfly farm and insect discovery center. We decided to check it out before heading into Georgetown and loved it. What a fabulous experience!

We spent most of our time in the butterfly garden, surrounded by more winged beauties than you could count. It was absolutely magical!

We arrived just as the staff began a brief informational presentation and butterfly release. Each person was given their own cup, and inside it was a newly hatched butterfly. Upon opening the lids we witnessed them flutter off into the garden.

Some of the new butterflies were not ready to fly off right away.

Isla was thrilled to hold an Atlas Moth, one of the world’s largest moth species.

“I’ve got TWO butterflies!” Mind=blown.

One of the newly-hatched butterflies took a real liking to Isla, and it stayed with her for over 20 minutes! Isla was beyond smitten with her new pal and named it Blue. She carried Blue so tenderly, while it slowly exercised its new wings. Our hearts melted watching this sweet little friendship form.

Before moving on to a different area we found lovely flower for Blue.

Entopia was absolutely massive, and truth be told, after spending so much time in the butterfly garden we sort of just skimmed through the remainder of the exhibits. It was such a surprise to find such a well-curated educational center in Penang! We will definitely go back next time we visit the island.

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Happy Father’s Day to our favorite Daddo in the world!

While we do all we can to ensure we are expressing our love and appreciation for you daily, it is so fun to have an opportunity to celebrate you and all your wonderfulness! You are really, truly one incredible Daddo. Parenting alongside you is one of the happiest adventures of my life, and my heart nearly beats right out of my chest as I sit reflecting on the incredible qualities you are teaching our sweet child (soon to be children!) through your words and actions.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, when I think about you, the very first thing that comes to my mind is your incredible heart. All your actions are led by love and that is so admirable. You are an amazing model of kindness to everyone around you, regardless of how you are being treated. Every single day your giving heart shows through, but I think one of the very best examples was during our recent 10 week adventure abroad. I hate to say it, but when I think back to that experience, the very first thing that comes to my mind was how hard it was. My morning sickness was intense- the unending nausea and exhaustion were downright miserable. The really special thing, however, is that as soon as I begin to relive those difficult moments, they are immediately followed by the warmest, fuzziest memories of how wonderfully you cared for me. All of those yucky feelings are washed over and replaced by the most powerful appreciation for you and how deeply you love me, and how deeply you love our children. I will never be able to thank you enough for your support during those weeks.

Along those same lines, I am absolutely in awe of your selflessness and seemingly endless supply of patience. How do you do it? Seriously?! Whether it be running 3 miles through the chaotic streets of Hanoi to pick up the one food item your pregnant, morning-sickness-plagued wife can stomach or simply going to fetch Isla’s water bottle from downstairs at bedtime every night (why is it so hard for us to remember to bring that to her room?!)- thank you for all you do for us to show you care and to make our lives a little easier and a lot more enjoyable!

You really do bring a lot of fun into our lives through your playfulness and sense of humor. I know I sometimes roll my eyes at your jokes and goofy antics, but I really love them all. No one can get Isla to giggle the way you do. I love listening to you “make her babies talk” for her and how you give her stuffed animals those high-pitched, silly voices- even in public! The conversations you two share during those times are the sweetest, and I have no doubt you are creating memories Isla will cherish forever.

Watching you play with Isla might be my very favorite thing in the world. I love the bond you two share, the way she calls you Daddo, how her tiny little arms wrap around your neck when you carry her, how she eagerly looks forward to the “fumi” you make her each morning, how she loves nothing more than to “westle” and play soccer with you. I cannot even begin to imagine how my heart will handle the love I feel when seeing you with both our children. It is still hard for me to wrap my mind around the fact that we have another sweet babe on the way, but I know without a doubt that watching you with our son is going to be nothing short of incredible. He isn’t even earthside yet and you are already investing so much in him. I love how he already knows and responds to your voice with his kicks. I cannot wait to see him in your arms for the first time.

Thank you, thank you, thank you, Isaac, for being the most amazing partner and Daddo we could ever ask for. We love you SO much! Happy Father’s Day!

 

Happy Father’s Day 2017! » Wayfarer Studio Photography - June 19, 2017 - 12:30 am

[…] are a few of my favorite photographs and the whole video can be seen here. Happy Father’s Day to all of you wonderful dads out […]

When we first visited the island of Penang, Malaysia in 2016 we knew we had stumbled upon someplace really, really special. There was just something about the feel of the island that sat well with us. Experiencing such a deep and instant connection to a place we had never been before was truly surreal. It sounds totally crazy to say, but it felt like a place we could happily call home… not that we have any intentions of moving!

I am realizing now that I never blogged about our first trip to Penang, so thought I would first share a few (okay, actually A LOT of) favorites from our 2016 experiences in Georgetown, Penang Hill, and Batu Ferringhi. Think of this post as a 2 for 1 deal! First up, Georgetown. A wonderfully charming, eclectic mix of crumbling colonial architecture, bustling motor bike traffic, and winding alleys filled with fascinating street art.We stayed at Le Dream Boutique Hotel and could not recommend it highly enough! It is seriously one of our all-time favorite hotels and went back again this year. It is immaculately clean, very comfortable, and boasts some of the best service we have ever received- the manager greeted us by name every time she saw us! The hotel offered a daily complimentary happy hour on their rooftop deck, complimentary ice cream sundae bar, and complementary daily laundry (sadly, they stopped this service this year, but their laundry is still very reasonable). The breakfast spread was tasty, and we were located just a block away from the Kimberly Food Street. We enjoyed several delicious street food experiences there during our stay and filled ourselves with stir fried noodles, satay and fried chicken for less than $5 total!

While we tend to avoid or water down-juice at home, we splurged a bit during our travels and allowed Isla to order fresh juices every day. They were so refreshing and she absolutely loved knowing she was indulging in a special treat.

The most heavenly fried chicken ever. If memory serves this was my second (or maybe even third?) drumstick!

We spent one full day exploring Penang Hill. We took the bus (a large bus station is just a few minutes walk from the hotel) to the funicular train station at the base of the hill. Then we took the funicular train to the top!

The sweeping views of Penang Island were stunning. Our photos don’t even begin to do it justice.

There are a variety of attractions at the top of Penang Hill. Also awaiting at the top are drivers with golf carts who are eager to show you around. We decided to visit the Monkey Cup garden and opted to walk there. It was a leisurely stroll along a winding road past charming old military homes, lush gardens, and peek-a-boo views of the city below.

The monkey cup garden features more than a 100 varieties of carnivorous pitcher plants (also known as monkey cups). The garden was beautifully maintained, and our guide (sadly, a year+ later and pregnancy brain has caused me to forget her name) shared all sorts of fascinating facts with us as we toured the gardens. While the garden is quite small, we spent several hours inside and enjoyed every bit of our time there immensely!

When Isla discovered the shy plants (mimosa pudica) she could hardly contain her excitement! She touched every plant she could for months afterward to see if the leaves would close up.

We discovered a sweet little Froggy fellow, tucked away in a leaf.

We were hot and sticky after our walks to, from, and through the monkey cup garden and so when we stumbled upon this coconut ice cream cart we decided we would give it a try. Little did we know we were about to experience one of the tastiest treats we had ever eaten! We even went back for seconds. Thus began our love affair with coconut ice cream, and we searched for it everywhere during the remainder of our trip. We had such a longing for it after we returned to the states that we found a recipe and started making it ourselves!

We planned to attend a walking tour of the city to learn more about Georgetown highlights, but ended up running late and missed the tour. Initially frustrated, we found a shady spot to regroup and make some plans. We decided to explore Little India and take ourselves on our own walking tour to view the city’s famous street art. This ended up being one of our most treasured experiences of our entire trip!

During our wanderings through Little India we decided to stop at a salon so that Isla could have her first henna. Initially nervous that the process would hurt, I volunteered to get some first, and she watched with great interest. When it was Isla’s turn she did such a great job holding still.

So in love with her henna design she started asking about adding it to her legs and feet as well!

The street art in Georgetown is truly something to behold- a mix of metals, paintings, and found objects that incorporate history, pop culture, and the imagination of some truly talented artists! Some artwork was commissioned by the city and could be found easily, while other pieces were tucked into the most unique and creative places, so you really had to look carefully.

Even Isla decided to be part of the artwork! This is one of my all-time favorite photographs of her.

After several fabulous days in Georgetown we moved to the coastal town of Batu Ferringhi. We stayed at the Holiday Inn, which was clean, comfortable, and had a great pool.

We opted to spend our first evening in Batu Ferringhi on the beach, and enjoyed dinner at a little ocean front restaurant where we could sit with our toes in the sand as we watched the sun dip below the horizon.

On our second day in Batu Ferringhi we were walking on the elevated pedestrian walkway back to our room and crossed paths with a troop of these curious spectacled langurs passing through!

That evening we walked through the night market to the Long Beach Cafe food stalls for dinner. I saw this darling romper and recognized that it was clearly made for Isla! Wouldn’t you agree?!

Phew! Okay, are you still with me? I told you it would be A LOT of favorites. So, let’s fast forward to this year’s trip…

While absolutely giddy to be returning to Penang, sadly my morning sickness was really taking a toll on me during our stay (you may be noticing a trend in these trip blog posts… boo, morning sickness!) so we were not quite as adventurous this go ’round. We decided to head straight to the beach and took a taxi from the airport to Batu Ferringhi.

We considered staying at the Holiday Inn again but decided to try out the Bayview Beach Resort because it had similar reviews and a huge splash pad/pool area for kids that we thought Isla might enjoy. The hotel itself was strangely huge. The room was basic, the food was below par, BUT the splash pad/pool area was awesome! Isla spent hours playing, sliding, splashing, swimming and squealing with delight!

One night we ventured back to the Long Beach Cafe food stalls for dinner. When we passed through the night market, Isla looked around, then turned to me and said, “Hey! We’ve been here before! You were looking to buy a purse for someone.” This kid has the memory of an elephant. She was two the last time we were there and remembered the specific detail that I was looking for a purse! My mind was blown.

We bought dishes from a variety of the stalls, but Isaac ended up eating most of it since I was living in a state of constant nausea.

Isla, exhausted from a full day at the splash pad, passed out before our food was delivered. I didn’t let it stop me from eating some chicken wings though. Not only were they the only thing I could stomach, they were really tasty! I’ll tell ya, your SE Asia experience is SO MUCH better if you enjoy the street food!

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