Elephants! (tour guides part 3)

I have a minor obsession with elephants, and up until now have never been on one for more than 5 minutes, so I was super excited that we were planning on taking our guests to an elephant camp! We figured with two more adults helping out, we could manage our three children for the event.

2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (3 of 25)We found a great deal for a new elephant camp outside of town and decided to give it a try. They took us out in their van, and after an introductory speech about elephants and a welcome drink, we went over to meet and feed the elephants. 2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (4 of 25) 2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (5 of 25)We then loaded up and trundled off for our 30 minute ride. We took three elephants – one kid on each. Our particular guide, was very happy to take some pictures of us.  He ended up hopping down off the elephant and taking dozens of pictures, to my surprise later when I looked back through them.  Good thing it’s a digital camera!2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (1 of 25)To his credit, he got some great shots, like this one. 2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (2 of 25)And some “creatively framed” ones, as well (above).  At one point we got a little nervous, because he wandered so far away taking pictures of scenery and everyone else, that we ended up alone on our elephant, and our elephant got to doing her own thing.2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (7 of 25)The ride was fun, although rather short. But, that actually turned out to be a good thing, because it was blazing hot out that day! 2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (8 of 25) 2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (9 of 25)After the ride, we spent a little more time with the elephants at the feeding post, and one of the elephants was pretty interested in Isla and ended up slobbering snot all over her baby carrier!   2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (10 of 25)By far the best part of the day was bathing the elephants. I guess they got pretty dirty on our little walk.2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (11 of 25)I think the elephants enjoyed cooling off as much as we did.  Riding mine in the water, was like riding a bucking bronco! Of course, I have no experience on a bucking bronco, so I may be being a little dramatic.  2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (12 of 25) 2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (13 of 25)The mahouts (“elephant wrangler” to the layperson) said that only one person could go at a time, so the girls waited on shore. 2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (14 of 25)I again got ditched by my mahout and ended up riding solo.  A little adrenaline makes the experience that much more exciting! 2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (15 of 25) 2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (16 of 25)We explained to the mahouts that our girls don’t know how to swim yet, but they still wanted to have a turn bathing, and they reassured us that they’d take good care of them. 2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (17 of 25)Getting sprayed! 2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (18 of 25)And again. 2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (19 of 25)Ryan’s brother and Elise were the last to go in. 2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (20 of 25)

Nothing better than a clean elephant!2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (21 of 25) 2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (22 of 25)Elise got her turn washing her elephant.2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (23 of 25)She also got a good soaking. 2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (24 of 25)The girls absolutely LOVED it, and wanted to get back in right away. 2015-09-21 elephant riding with kids in Luang Prabang by Melissa Crossett (25 of 25)We got to say one last goodbye to the elephants before heading out.  Elise left in tears, because she hadn’t had enough time with the elephants.  I’m sure we’ll be back sometime in the future, because Mommy’s as fond of these massive creatures as the kids are!

What’s your favorite animal?

Mekong River Cruise – downriver

I hope you weren’t holding your breath for the second half of our river cruise! If you were, you would be dead by now so wouldn’t be reading this warning! Life has been a bit too full for blogging this summer.  We recently did this same river cruise for the second time, so these images are again fresh in our minds. 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (32 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (33 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (35 of 62)Since we already experienced the villages on the way up, we opted for running and playing on the beach on the return trip. 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (36 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (37 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (38 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (39 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (40 of 62)The girls did great taking naps to the sound of the river rushing by. 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (41 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (42 of 62)  2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (48 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (49 of 62)When they needed something different to do for a while, the girls listened to audio books and sang along with the Frozen sound track. 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (50 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (51 of 62)Water buffalo 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (52 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (53 of 62)At one of our stops, a boat crew member bought a monitor lizard.  Looks like the crew will have a delightful feast tonight! 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (54 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (56 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (57 of 62)We even got to see some elephants along the way!2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (59 of 62)A downpour of rain made for some cozy cruising. 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (60 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (62 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (61 of 62)Arriving back home!

You can see part 1 here. What did you do this summer?

Mekong River cruise – upriver

Sorry about the silence.  Our internet has been TERRIBLE, and we’ve also been quite preoccupied with finding a new rental house – no luck so far.

Ryan’s job required that he experience the products he was selling, and the kids and I got to come along on this Mekong River Cruise.  Normally you choose between 2 days upriver, or 2 days downriver, but we did the full roundtrip, which meant 4 full days on the river!

2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (1 of 62)

The boat is quite big with capacity for 40, so with only one other customer on the way upriver, there was plenty of space to make ourselves comfortable.

2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (2 of 62)

The views were stunning, and it was incredibly relaxing to watch life go by on the river. Along the way, we stopped to see a few sites.  First up was Pak Ou Caves. 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (5 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (6 of 62)There are hundreds of Buddha statues in the cave that have been put here over the last few hundred years.  Locals come here to worship on special days of the year. 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (7 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (8 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (9 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (10 of 62)Back on the boat, the girls kept themselves occupied with drawing and playing with things they brought in their backpacks.  The snacks and meals served on the boat were perfect for the whole family, too. 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (11 of 62)Personally, I just enjoyed sitting and watching life go by on the river.  Plenty of interesting sights, like these goats and pigs being transported on the front of a boat… 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (12 of 62)Or people going about their daily life on the river. 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (13 of 62)Next stop off the boat was to visit a village. These people see a lot of tourists but not many with three little girls.2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (14 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (15 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (16 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (17 of 62)I was excited the boat was big enough for Isla’s stroller, although she never did nap in it.  She was still pretty happy for the whole trip, taking good naps in the baby carrier, and the stroller was great for mealtime.2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (18 of 62)We were frequently passed by these speedboats full of people wearing helmets.  Often, people don’t wear helmets when driving motorcycles around town, so I was very intrigued by the need to wear them on these speedboats. 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (20 of 62)Talia’s favorite part of the trip was making friends with other guests.   2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (23 of 62)

Enjoying more sights…2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (21 of 62)2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (22 of 62)Unloading precious cargo – the beverage of choice in Laos, Beer Lao!    2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (26 of 62)Not a bad beach for a landlocked country!  The cows are loving it.2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (27 of 62)The “lookout” at the front of the boat was the kids’ favorite spot, though I required them to have adult supervision up there.  The Mekong River is not tame at all!  I’m not sure even a strong swimmer could handle some of the whirlpools and undercurrents.2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (29 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (25 of 62)  We pulled into Pak Beng at dusk for our first night’s stay at the lodge.2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (31 of 62)

2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (45 of 62) 2015-06-08 mekong river cruise by Melissa Crossett (46 of 62)

After a hot and somewhat sleepless night, we got up bright and early for day 2 of the upriver cruise which took us to the Thailand border.  Thankfully, after that first rough night, we all slept much better the following nights.  Stay tuned for part 2 – downriver!

What trips have you taken your kids on lately?

our favorite luggage

2015-03-26 favorite travel trunk by Melissa Crossett (1 of 5)(Talia as a baby in our first set of bins)

When we moved to Southeast Asia 5 years ago, we looked around for a sturdy but inexpensive way to pack our things.  We did some research and found these Contico Storage bins and they’ve served us well all these years.  They aren’t perfect, but they fit the dimensions for airline check-in bags, are light-weight and at around $30 are WAY cheaper than buying suitcases. With a couple small alterations they can handle a relative amount of abuse during travel. From their website it seems they’ve come out with a newer model, so maybe they’ve improved some things.2015-03-26 favorite travel trunk by Melissa Crossett (2 of 5)

Each time we’ve gone back to the US for a short visit (or to have a baby) we’ve picked up a couple more.2015-03-26 favorite travel trunk by Melissa Crossett (3 of 5)

They’ve really come in handy when storage in some of our houses has been limited.  We’ve used them in place of a kitchen cupboard, extra counter surface and also as a bookshelf.2015-03-26 favorite travel trunk by Melissa Crossett (4 of 5)They work great for neatly storing things we aren’t using on a daily basis.2015-03-26 favorite travel trunk by Melissa Crossett (5 of 5)

We even built our bed last year to accommodate storing them underneath!

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What’s your favorite piece of luggage?

diy passport photos

I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time shelling out $7-$10 for 4 little passport photos.  For years now, we’ve been taking our own at home.  It isn’t too much work, and possibly faster  than getting three little girls ready and out the door to go have them taken at a drugstore or post office.

First, we find a white sheet or blanket.  A blanket is better as it’s less wrinkly.  Hang it up in a well-lit area and have your subject stand in front of it.  Then take a bunch of pictures! 2014-10-05 diy passport photos by Melissa Crossett (1 of 10)For the baby, we put the blanket on the floor and take the pictures standing over her.  It’s just a little tricky to get her to look right at you, not put her hands in front of her face, and not make a funny face.2014-10-05 diy passport photos by Melissa Crossett (4 of 10) 2014-10-05 diy passport photos by Melissa Crossett (3 of 10) 2014-10-05 diy passport photos by Melissa Crossett (6 of 10) 2014-10-05 diy passport photos by Melissa Crossett (2 of 10) 2014-10-05 diy passport photos by Melissa Crossett (8 of 10)2014-10-05 diy passport photos by Melissa Crossett (10 of 10) 2014-10-05 diy passport photos by Melissa Crossett (9 of 10) 2014-10-05 diy passport photos by Melissa Crossett (5 of 10)Once I’m satisfied with my pictures, I upload them to ID photo 4 you where you can select the size and correct cropping for passport pictures.  Then, order the prints through your favorite one-hour photo location and go pick them up for less than $0.30 each! 2014-10-05 diy passport photos by Melissa Crossett (1 of 2) 2014-10-05 diy passport photos by Melissa Crossett (2 of 2)

A few tips to make them even better:

1. Use a reflector to eliminate bad shadows on the baby shots.  Unfortunately, I left mine in Laos.

2. Check to make sure you’re using the right camera settings BEFORE you take your pictures.  Oops!

Have you had passport photos taken recently?  How did you do it?

getting around town

2014-06-10 transportation Northern Laos by Melissa Crossett

When we left Thailand, we sold our car and our motorcycle.  But, we did bring my bike along when we came, and bought one for Ryan the next trip out.  These have been our daily mode of transportation, and they work great here in our town which sits in a wide valley.  The girls and I fit easily on my bike with one child seat on the front and another on the back.  We do attract quite a bit of attention, especially since our girls are the only western children living in town.  I’ve even had a tourist so impressed with our setup that he asked to take our picture.2014-06-10 transportation Northern Laos by Melissa Crossett-102014-06-10 transportation Northern Laos by Melissa Crossett-11Rarely a day goes by when I don’t ride my bike… to the corner store, to the market, to a restaurant, etc..   Everything is within 5 minutes ride from our home.  When we have time, we like to go on long family bike rides around the outskirts of town.

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hanging out, watching the town go by

We’ve enjoyed observing the creative ways people get around town and thought I’d share some of the pictures with you.  We had fun taking these while we waited for our dinner at a local restaurant.  This is just a taste of what we’ve seen.  A lot of the crazy stuff we haven’t had the chance to capture yet.

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the steam bun girl puffing her way up the hill
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three kids on an electric bike
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updating her facebook status while her friend does all the work
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we’ve seen up to 5 adult men on a motorbike!
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he’s hoping he doesn’t have to make any turns
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carpooling
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sunblock
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riding side by side makes for convenient conversation
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the “tak-tak” – guess what sound it makes
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the cotton candy man quit on the hill
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saddle baskets
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coming back from the rice fields
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biker gang
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ladder rack
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yes, it’s a rooster
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karaoke machine – a local necessity
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going home from a day at the market
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can you count them?

Which one of these options would you suggest for me once I have three kids to haul around?

touring Northern Laos: family accommodations

With around 20 hours on busses and tuktuks and over 10 hours on boats, you can imagine we also experienced a range of accommodations during our week touring Northern Laos.  2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa CrossettSome of the guesthouses we stayed at were a little rough, but thankfully, the accommodations got progressively nicer each night of our trip.

Day 1: In Oudomxay we stayed at a nice guesthouse that was the only place we stayed with air conditioning the entire trip.  The girls enjoyed having a real shower with water pressure and hot water (as we all did!) The room had two twin beds and we made up beds on the floor for the girls using the extra blankets in the room as well as our blow up mattress and cushions from the chair covered  with sarongs.2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-2Day 2: In Phongsali after a very long bus ride, we checked into the guesthouse Ryan had stayed at the month before.  However, the upper level rooms where he had stayed previously were all full, so we were left with a lower level room.  Our room was tiny and there were two twin beds and no floor room.  So we had the girls share one, and Ryan and I shared one.  Let’s just say, it was a rough night.  The beds were rock hard, the bathroom stunk pretty badly, the sheets were sandy, and a 7 month pregnant woman and a full grown man don’t fit very comfortably in a small twin sized bed!2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-3 2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-4The girls, however, slept well, and we were excited that they did well sharing a bed for the first time, opening our options for the future.

Day 3: Our second night in Phongsali, we moved to a different guesthouse that had three twin beds.  Wohoo!  Ryan and I each had our own bed, and the girls shared again, except for during their naps.  Bonus: the sheets were cleaner and the bathroom didn’t smell as badly, though you had to be careful not to hit your head on the sink when trying to reach the toilet.  On the way out, Ryan trapped a cockroach under the cup in the bathroom as a surprise for the next guests!2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-52014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-17Day 4: In Muang Khua we again found a guesthouse with a three twin bedroom.  Perfect!  Only challenge this time was the hotter weather now that we were out of the mountains.  Overall, we slept pretty well that night.2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-6 2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-8 Day 5: In Muang Ngoi, we stayed at a bungalow facing the river with its own little balcony.  The balcony was a nice place for Ryan and I to hang out while the girls slept.  Here it was another hot night, and we were back to sharing a twin bed, but we still sleep alright.  2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-112014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-9(not sure how she ended up with the comforter on in that temperature!)

Day 6: The last night of our journey, we stayed in some beautiful bungalows in Nong Kiau.  The room was huge, had a wonderful bathroom with a rain style shower head and very hot water.  The challenge here, was twofold: the bugs and the heat.  There was a beautiful mosquito net on the king bed, but you couldn’t feel the fan through it.  So you had to choose between getting eaten by mosquitos, or sweating the night away.  The kids slept on small mattresses on the floor that were in the room already.  Very convenient.

2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-12 We chose to use the mosquito net, but in the end I got very little sleep because of the heat.  It’s hard to sleep when you just can’t stop sweating. 2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-14 2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-13The large balcony was a great feature of these bungalows.2014-06-07 Northern Laos accommodations by Melissa Crossett-15Our tour of Northern Laos was definitely an adventure for our family in every department, but we’re so glad we took the trip and enjoyed so much of it.  We were so happy with how well the girls did with the whole trip, and love it that they can share a bed when needed.  After a week on the road, it was nice to get back to our own rooms, fans, and screened windows!

Where do your kids sleep when you travel?  Really, I want to know!

part 1 touring Northern Laos: packing light

part 2 touring Northern Laos: Phongsali

part 3 touring Northern Laos: down the Nam Ou River