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Thailand

Scooting Around Chiang Rai

Site-seeing via scooter

sunny 85 °F

Chiang Rai is the most Northern Province in Thailand and has easy access to the border town of Chiang Khong to take a river boat into Laos. Our plan was to stay four nights, but we fell in love with the small, safe, laidback city and stayed for an extra night making this the longest stint in a single hotel in our trip so far! Being in Chiang Rai over the weekend, we were able to visit the Saturday and Sunday street evening markets that were full of entertainment, food, and stalls selling local crafts. We scouted out the most powerful manual scooter we could find and headed into the country roads along the river, stopped at a few rice fields and then headed up a Buddhist temple lookout for the sunset.
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We heard people talking about how an independent artist built a white Buddhist temple called Wat Rong Khun with ‘crazy murals’ and ‘totally different than any other temple you’ll see’. Well that sounds like our kinda temple! So the next morning we scooted off to see what all the fuss was about.
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The temple was more than peculiar and unconventional; it was big, bad and furious. The pathway takes you through sculls and arms reaching out at you from hell, and inside the temple there is a mural that incorporates modern movie heroes and 9/11… it’s a story about how all these heroes and role models are created, but how they have been unable to save us from ourselves. It was definitely well done and worth the visit. One our way home we stopped for a 5k hike to the Khunkorn waterfall where it was just us and another couple before the tour bus showed up.
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We didn’t carry our whole family, or any huge bales of hay with live chickens piled on top of our scooter, but we did order a coffee (with straw!) to go in a small plastic bag to dangle off the handle bars :-)
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 04:16 Archived in Thailand Tagged chiang scooter rai Comments (0)

Thai Cooking Class

A lesson in Thai cooking and culture

sunny 85 °F

Chiang Rai is a peaceful town full of bustling markets. We booked a cooking class with Suwannee, and luck had it that we were the only ones to show up that day! So began our private trip to the local market to pick up ingredients for cooking with. This market didn’t show up on any tourist/westerner (felong) map so we were right in the thick of things. We sat down to discuss recipes at a local coffee stall and had the best coffee we’ve had in all of Thailand. The 5 Baht (17 cents) Akaa coffee was uniquely brewed (sort of like French pressed only never pressed – ‘same same, but different’ as they say here). Strangely it was served with a complimentary glass of tea, a glass of sugar and a glass of condensed milk. Suwanee was determined to teach us how to support the local market so that we could fend for ourselves the next day by avoiding the tourist traps and escalated prices (a felong priced instant coffee goes for ~30 Baht ($1). The market was a hoot (as hanh would say)! People were selling rice next to t-shirts, meat next to tea, and driving scooters through the hallways.
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While having coffee we agreed on 4 different Thai dishes to shop for and then proceeded through the market to collect our ingredients. Our menu consisted of:

Papaya Salad
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Green Chicken Curry
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Sweet and Sour Tofu
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Pumpkin in Coconut Milk

Suwanee took us to an area of the market that was only for hill tribe venders. She explained how the government lets them sell in this area without charge to try and entice them to grow market worthy products instead of opium. She continued to point out all the local nuances and explained some of the history of the 17ish different cultures in Chiang Rai due to its proximity to the golden triangle border of Myamar, Burma, and Laos. While shopping we sampled a variety of coconut sticky rice, donut looking rice balls that had a chunk of sweet potato in the middle, and a few different fruits. One of the highlights of the market was purchasing coconut cream from a stall where we watched them husk, and press fresh coconuts.
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Suwanee’s style of cooking is to use your own taste to determine how much is needed of each ingredient. We never measured anything while cooking; we just tasted and decided whether or not we liked it. If we wanted more salt…add fish sauce, if we wanted more spice…add chilli, want it sweeter...add sugar, and so forth. Robin also learned how powerful a small chili can be; just one chili in her papaya salad was plenty! For the sweet and sour tofu, we used a “secret sauce” composed of 1:1 ketchup and sweet chili sauce. Using this sauce and slightly crushing the pineapples was all we needed to make the most amazing sweet and sour tofu!!
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We ended the class by feasting on the dishes that we had just prepared, and Suwannee surprised us with a fridge full of beer to wash it down!

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 04:11 Archived in Thailand Tagged food culture cooking thai class hilltribe Comments (0)

Bangkok

A laid back stay in a big city

sunny 95 °F

Normally we aren’t into overcrowded cities but we had to stay a few extra days in Bangkok to make sure our Vietnamese visas had enough time to process. It is pretty amazing to see how well Bangkok has cleaned up and recovered from the serious floods that occurred about 3 months ago. Locals told us that the city was basically under water for about a month and shelves were stripped of food and beverages. There was still evidence of sand bags around buildings and plastic bags stuck high up on branches from when in high water. We were lucky to meet Kitt and stayed at his place for a couple of nights -- fortunately for us, he had a roof top deck and a pool to relax in after a hard day’s work of sightseeing.
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We thought the Grand Palace was sorta like visiting Disneyland because there were so many tourists, and loud speakers telling you how to enter. To enter the Grand Palace, you have to cover your shoulders and wear either a long skirts or trousers. Luckily, for a deposit, you can borrow clothes to go inside. Unfortunately, they have chosen the MOST unbearably hot clothes for people to wear  Kevin still managed to get blessed by a monk with ‘lotus good fortune water’ despite sagging his formal pants. Tip to perspective visitors; the entrance fee to the Grand Palace also gets you into the Museum of Royal Decorations and Coins, which although the entrance is hard to find, is upstairs with full blast air con (so definitely pay this place a visit after you tour the Palace since they allow you to take your formal wear off.
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From Kitt we learned about a series of museums (including anatomy, pathology and criminal investigations) that was housed in the Siriraj Hospital complex. We had a great time looking at preserved body parts and various soft tissue injuries that packed the shelves of this dusty old university biology room. In the main museum there were also mummified bodies of past serial killers and murder victims… creepy but cool. One mummy, who was held standing by a wire around his waist, slowly leaned forward over time until his forehead hit the protective glass and left a long streak of goop. The exhibit could be compared to “The Bodies” road show that we have in The States, but in a much more raw form.
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Bangkok is infamous for high end shopping, where we managed to find Robin a pair of real running shoes (knockoffs were all over the city but these required a true shop). Of course we also stayed true to our bargain hunting skills, and managed to find a bunch of street markets and a humongous local mall called BMK (8 stories of little stalls similar to an outside market, but with aircon).
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On our way home from shopping, we stopped by 7-11 for some brews and picked up a couple of bottles of each variety… turns out what we though was going to be cheap 8% beer was actually un-carbonated rice wine called Siam Sato that that tastes a bit like Carlo Rossi mixed with a wine cooler. Kevin quickly added this to the list of ‘what to brew when we get home!’ We have started keeping track some of the best places, foods etc… and Bangkok now holds the title of ‘weirdest thing we’ve eaten so far.’ You might think it would be a creepy crawly or some strange animal part to hold this title, but strange enough, it was a plant based quiche with the sharpest thorns we’ve ever tried to chew and swallow. Imagine cutting up a thorny bush in to pieces (without sautéing or softening) and then mixing it into some egg-like substance and then baking it. It was definitely an uncomfortable surprise when chewing and swallowing and couldn’t help but wonder what would happen the next morning on their way “out”.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 23:50 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok Comments (1)

Kanchanaburi, Thailand

A history of Thai culture and the Buddhist religion

sunny 90 °F

We took a side trip from Bangkok out to Kanchanaburi to visit John and his girlfriend Ann. Kanchanaburi is a small provincial capital about two hours outside of Bangkok that receives only a few tourists who come to see the Bridge over the River Kwai. John has basically gone native and tries to live the way the Thai people do, and thus, has vast knowledge about Thai culture, customs, religion and local dentists (which we used for a 6mo cleaning). He was an amazing tour guide with a plethora of knowledge spanning from traditional way of life for the Thai people to internet security :) He showed us around the obligatory tourist sites including the Bridge over the River Kwai and the war museum…
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…and also took us out of the city to spend some time with kids at the Moo Baan alternative education community for orphans, in a temple (where we encountered our first king kong sized buddah) and in a local watering hole where we swam with the fishes under multiple waterfalls. Some locals (and Robin) actually encourage the fish to suck on their leg to remove dead skin as a therapeutic massage.
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..the highlight of the trip was when we brushed up on our motor biking skills while scooting around the countryside looking at cows with big floppy ears, rice fields, banana plantations, papaya trees, cave temples and beautiful mountains.
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Lucky for us, Ann has many skills including masseuse, furniture maker and amazing cook. Robin didn’t hesitate to receive some extra pampering from with a Thai massage one night, and a foot scrub another. We watched and learned how she prepared Tom Yom soup and BBQ Tilapia fish with here outside Thai style kitchen. John also showed us his BBQ pork ribs trick by creating a make-shift sauce from ketchup, vinegar, garlic, and Thai sweet chili sauce.
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We were really lucky to have John and Ann as such gracious hosts and tour guides, it was really nice to have some time away from the tourist life to learn more about the way people traditionally live.

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 23:42 Archived in Thailand Tagged cooking thai scooters kanchanaburi Comments (1)

Ton Sai, Thailand

A rock climber’s paradise

sunny 90 °F

Many movies like The Beach and Hangover 2 were filmed around Phi Phi Island and Riley Peninsula because of its absolutely stunning scenery. The rocks rise out of the water like ancient creatures and the water is a beautiful hue of blue. The beaches have soft sand, and the drinks are cheap. We stayed in a rustic (ok, barren might be a better word) bungalow in a garden behind a rock climbing school. Our room consisted of a bed with mosquito net, a fan, and a rock floor bathroom that gave you the feeling that you were outside. We had electricity from 6pm to 1am, a nice stoop with hammock, a cold water tap, and a run in with the largest hairiest spider we’ve ever seen.
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This being our first stop in Thailand we had to sample all of the beer options and discovered Chang Beer (6.4%) and Chicken Naan from our new Canadian friends. Chicken Naan is like a burrito made with Naan, chicken breast strips, and lots of mayo and ketchup… it was a great break from the Chinese style noodles that have recently dominated the menu. The beach is setup perfectly for climbers with routes available right from the beach. We enjoyed watching the hard core overhang climbers while eating thai pancakes :-) At night the ramshackle of a town becomes filled with drinks, stories, slack lines, reggae music and locals training for a fire twirling competition.
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We tested our rock climbing skills on a deep water soloing trip. We took a boat out with ‘Base Camp’ outfitters for the day. This type of climbing doesn’t involve ropes or carabiners; you just free climb until you fall (or jump) into the water below. It was so much fun and we met a bunch of cool Canadians (aren’t all Canadians cool?) from Montreal. Kevin got over his fear of heights with his “massive” 25 foot leap into the water below (most of the folks were upwards of 65ft).
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We also went on a sunset snorkeling cruise that took us to 4 islands and dropped us at a fifth island for a seafood BBQ dinner on a remote beach. The trip was a little disorganized to say the least but we did manage to come out with some tall tales and some good snorkeling.
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Near the end of our cruise we arrived near the beach for our BBQ dinner but the boat was unable to dock due to currents and other nautical jive. When they were talking about shuttling us over with a long tail we asked the skipper if we could swim to shore, against the current and then float back to the boat prior to dinner. So it began… we and two others jumped out and swam ashore. After a little wandering along the most amazing remote beach/sand bar, we started to swim back to the boat so we could pick up our camera for the sunset. To our surprise when we got to where the boat was supposed to be … it was gone! Talk about your open water experience! We eventually swim back to the shore against the current but never saw the other two swimmers. Alone on the beach without a boat in site we enjoyed the sunset. Just as the sun fell off the horizon a long tail boat arrived with our tour guide and a few unhappy tourists… minus the other two swimmers! A few minutes passed and a private dingy pulls onto the beach with the missing swimmers who apparently had swam to a sailboat down current to seek refuge. The experience created amusing conversations over dinner, and for the rest of the night. As the horizon darkened against the islands, we watched what seemed like an endless supply of enormous fruit bats flying from their nesting island to find their dinner on the mainland. Our tour concluded with what was truly an amazing night snorkel to see the phosphorescence algae glowing all around us in the water. This is definitely a must do and was the highlight of our trip! As we aqua jogged in the water we looked like glowing silhouettes from the movie Tron.

We stayed our last night in southern Thailand in Krabi so that we could catch our 9am flight to Bangkok. We had low expectations for this town, but actually really enjoyed it. Luckily, we met a couple on our longtail boat ride who recommended staying in a place called Blue Juice. For just $6 a night, we were living it up with a proper bed, clean sheets, and fantastic food in the restaurant downstairs.
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Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 07:19 Archived in Thailand Tagged beach krabi rock climbing snorkeling tonsai Comments (0)

3 Months Down

What we intend to do next... we think.

sunny 90 °F

Before we left on our trip, we had planned out a three month journey that got us to Robin’s Uncle’s house in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. We have now been traveling for ¼ of a year and it still feels like we’ve been on an extended vacation from work; it’s almost unreal that we are now planning our next three months. For those who are curious, our next leg of the journey looks like this:

Posted by Robin-and-Kevin 22:45 Archived in Thailand Tagged planning Comments (1)

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