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Return to Bangkok

Eventually, we had to say farewell to Kevin, leave Chiang Mai, take the train back to Bangkok and get ready to repatriate.

Train to Bangkok

Women on a motorbike

Train going around a bend

Hand on the train window

Sunset blur

Waking up to palm trees

Waking up on the train

Morning landscape

Lopburi station

Golden monkey statue at Lop Buri

Arriving in Bangkok

Grafitti

It’s a really strange feeling to return to a massive “foreign” city like Bangkok and have it seem familiar.  The same old train station, which by this point we had routed through enough (three times) that we knew which vendor sold the cheapest croissants.  The same skyline and smells, the same busses and taxis and touts.  This time, we stayed near Chinatown and got to explore a different section of the city.

Duck noodle soup street vendor

Wat Traimit

Blessing seekers

Chinatown

Tuk-tuk

Monk gift basket

Buddha near Chinatown

Chili spoon

One afternoon, Alicia heard a familiar-sounding jangle and met Khun Thorn, the banjo player for a Thai bluegrass band called the Blue Mountain Boys.  We already knew that there was a Thai cowboy subculture, I guess we shouldn’t have been surprised that Thai bluegrass was a thing, too.


Thorn the banjo player

BKK airport

The day came to leave.  We spent a total of two months in Thailand and had come to love it.  But after 11 months away, it was time to go home.  Well, almost.  One more major world city to add to the list…

Tokyo bound

02
Jun 2013
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Thai Cooking Class

Here are a few photos of the day we spent at a Thai cooking class north of Chiang Mai.  It included a tour of the market (amusing, since we’d been going to these types of markets for months now); a tour of a garden packed full of ingredients like lemongrass, galengal and tumeric; and an afternoon of chopping, mixing, wok-ing and eating.  No specific measurements, just instructions to pour the oil and fish sauce into a big spoon “with emotion” and add chilis in quantities that were proportionate with whether we felt “a little sexy, medium sexy or suuuper sexyyy.”  Maybe not an intensive learning session, but definitely a lot of fun.

Different types of rice

Garden hats

Garden tour

Rice paddy

Banana blossom

Prep for holy basil stir fry

Mashing the som tam

Red curry paste ingredients

Panaeng curry ingredients

testing the curry

Red curry and coconut cream soup ingredients

Making the sticky rice with coconut cream, palm sugar and salt.

Batter for the deep fried bananas

Cooking together

Dinner is served

02
Jun 2013
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Organic Farming in Ban Khun

Cherry tomato vine

While we were staying with Kevin in Chiang Mai (for the second time), we were able to tag along on one of his jobs.  It was burn season in Thailand and the three of us were happy to leave the city where it was so smoky that the big mountain, Doi Suthep, was invisible.  It turned out to be smoky everywhere else too, but at least in the mountains it’s mixed with less exhaust.


Burning the undergrowth

Kevin does filmmaking for non-profits and his friend Sean had a project for him.  Sean is an American who is working to improve the wellbeing and economic stability of his wife’s Karen (“Kuh-RIN”) hill tribe village in the Omkoi district in the southwest part of Chiang Mai Province.  He is experimenting with vegetable growing methods that are kind to the earth and result in organic produce that can be sold at higher prices to local markets and restaurants.  He is shouldering the burdens of trial and error and hopes to pass on the knowledge to local farmers who may be interested in switching from conventional (chemical) farming.

Here is an explanation from Sean’s website:

“Over the past decade or more chemical fertilizer companies have come into many of the local hill tribe communities promoting their product and investing into local farmers to grow many different crops.  This created many jobs for many poor Karen farmers.  Over time farmers have become reliant on this market and the chemicals and have since lost the ability to take care of the land and use natural resources.  They are have no other market and are forced to sell to middle men and make no money almost every year, growing things like tomato’s and chilis.  We aim to make it possible for these farmers to go back to their roots of working with land in a more natural way and help them find a higher price for their produce.”

Seedling trays

Sean's porch

View from Sean's window

Mosquito net

Sean's dirtbike

Breakfast mango

Sean built his house himself, and it features an open-air kitchen and a porch with a great view of the valley below. (His wife and children were visiting friends back in Chiang Mai, so unfortunately we didn’t get a chance to meet them.) It was fun making dinner together and throwing the scraps to the chickens waiting just outside the window. Sean’s mother-in-law helped chop vegetables and brought over a really big knife to cut the meat.

Garlic pounder

Alicia making dinner with MIL

Alicia's borrowed knife

Potato hash

Plate o' pork

Inlaw's house

Rice mill

Dog

Alicia and MIL

If this were a blog about organic farming, we probably would have taken better notes about the seedling trays, the vermicompost (worm tea), the natural fungicide sprays that cost the same as the chemicals, the greenhouses, the rice paddy irrigation, and the way the roots respond to the placement of drip irrigation lines.  Pictures will have to stand in for actual information.

Vermicompost

Drip irrigation

Sean holding beet seeds

Sean showing how roots respond to the placement of drip irrigation

Kevin shot lots of great footage that will help Sean share organic farming methods with Karen and Thai farmers.

MIL's carrot

Kevin filming MIL

Making furrows for the beets

Fun aunt

Mixing up a carrot fungicide

Wildflower tangle

Pressure sprayer motor and fungicide

Jodi spraying the carrots

Walking out to the rice paddies

Cows grazing in the dry rice paddies

Kevin shooting the workers

Worker throwing soil on the raised tomato beds

New Pi

Workers hitching a ride back to the village

Planting trays of tomatoes

Planting trays of tomatoes

Planting trays of tomatoes

The greenhouse

Soaking the seedlings

On the last day before we made the long drive back to Chiang Mai, Sean’s mother-in-law called us into her house and fried us some sweet sticky rice batter.

Fried sweet sticky rice batter

MIL cooking

Tony asked about the little star tattoos that dotted her hand and wondered if they had any particular meaning or purpose. Sean translated her response:

“When I was young, it was the fashion. There is no meaning, we just thought it looked pretty.”

Big smiles all around.

Hand tattoos

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Jun 2013
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Return to Chiang Mai

We decided we were done with beaches but we weren’t done with Thailand.  We still had a few weeks left before our flight back to the States, and we were really feeling the weight of being away from home for so long.   The next best thing was to go back to our home away from home: Kevin-the-Kiwi-Photographer-with-the-Handlebar-Moustache‘s place all the way back up in Chiang Mai.

Hua Lamphong station

Kevin

So nice to be together again, and much sooner than anyone expected!

And khao soi.  Chiang Mai has khao soi.

Khao soi

Kevin took us to a ceremony for the Impossible Life Photo Contest that he and his fellow Thailand International Photographers Society (TIPS) friends had entered.  Each photographer was asked to create a portrait of a person who struggled with major disabilities or illness.  The both the winning photographers and their subjects would receive a cash prize provided by the owners of Theppadungporn Coconut Company (if you have a can of coconut milk in your pantry, it probably has the TCC logo on it.)

The ceremony was held in the garden of Wat Srisuphan, one of the most beautiful temples in Chiang Mai.  The Governor of Chiang Mai Province, Tanin Subhasaen, the wat’s abbot, Phra Khru Phithak and the owners of TCC were all in attendance, as well as most of the photo subjects who were receiving a cash grant.

Videographer

Wat Sri Suphan

Wat Sri Suphan's abbot, Phra Khru Phithak

A grateful recipient

Kevin’s portrait subject was a young girl with a serious and rare heart defect.

Kevin's photo subject

Chiang Mai Province Governor Tanin Subhasaen

Joe, one of our friends that we met through Kevin and the Chiang Mai Couchsurfing group, was honored with second prize.

Winning photographers

After the long, long ceremony (most of which was in Thai), we were invited to have lunch at the Wat.  Abbot Phra Khru Phithak stopped by to make sure we had enough to eat and checked out Tony and Kevin’s tattoos.  (Kevin’s tattoo is an homage to a Thai rock band, his favorite energy drink and is a reference to his Thai nickname, all at once.  It makes sense, trust us.)

Phra Khru Phithak inspects Kevin's Carabao tattoo

Oh, Chiang Mai.  You are so happy and beautiful and delicious.

Mango shake

Wat Buppharam

Donald Duck

Chiang Mai graffiti

Tony at Wat Buppharam

Cat enjoying Wat Buppharam's carpet

Buddha and chedi at Wat Buppharam

Wat tabby

Performing dogs

80 baht haircut

Tea bag

We spent two more weeks at Kevin’s house this time around.  We posed for more photos and he also took us on one last great Thai adventure…

Kevin's collage portrait of us

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Jun 2013
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Lonely Beach, Lazy Beach

Back to Thailand.  Since we had already spent a few weeks in northern Thailand when we first came to Southeast Asia, and our flight back to the States was leaving from Bangkok, we planned to spend the remainder of our weeks abroad in the south of Thailand along the coast and on some islands.

Ko Chang PO box

We decided to start at Koh Chang, mostly because we were leaving Cambodia via the border crossing west of Siem Reap and we could go there directly without having to go all the way back to Bangkok to connect to other transportation.  From Siem Reap, it was a two hour minibus ride to the border town of Poipet, three hours waiting in line at the border, another six hours in a minibus crammed to the max with bodies and luggage, and an hour ferry ride.  The ferry ride was actually not what we had in mind; we wanted to spend the night in Trat and then take the ferry over to the island in the morning.  But as we approached the outskirts of Trat, our driver announced that he wasn’t stopping because if he did, the rest of the passengers would miss the last ferry to the island.   So on we went.

It was dark by the time we got to Koh Chang, and about 20 of us crammed in the back of a waiting songthaew.  The overloaded truck careened around the steep and winding jungle road that skirted the coast and somehow none bags fell off the top.  Since it was late and we didn’t have reservations, we decided to try to find a place in White Sand Beach, one of the main tourist areas.  We spent an exhausting hour wandering up and down the strip looking for a guesthouse that had rooms we would afford and… well, vacancies.  We walked past bars pumping loud music to solo white male patrons who were flanked by local girls in tight dresses and heavy makeup.

Eventually, we settled for a place a bit out of our price range that was set further back the trees.  We woke up the next morning, paid for an additional night, rented a motorbike and went in search of a cheap little bungalow far away from the lights and vibe of White Sand Beach.

Almost as soon as we took off, it started to rain.  Just a little cloudburst, but enough that the steep hills and hairpin turns might as well have been coated in ice.  After seeing the intense concentration on the local drivers’ faces and witnessing two motorbike accidents happen right in front of us, Tony decided to pull over and wait for the pavement to dry.  As we sat on the side of the road, a Russian couple slid into a slow-mo crash right next to us.  They decided to clean up their bleeding scrapes and wait it out, too.

Biking caution sign

Slick hill

After less than an hour, the roads were dry again and we were on our way.  For the next several days, we ended up trying out a few different bungalows on different beaches and exploring different areas around Koh Chang.  Tony piloted us all over the island and kept us upright at all times, even when we had both of our bags on board.

Sand road through the palms

Bang Bao pier

Lucky charm belt

National park rules

ATM truck

Klong Kloi bungalow

We eventually settled in at Lonely Beach in a row of cheapie bungalows with cold water showers and a bucket-flush toilet.  They weren’t the most picturesque and the bars next door were noisy all night but we liked the Thai staff and the food at the attached cafe.

Shoes parking

And the hammock.  The hammock was good.

Tony in the hammock

Alicia in hammock

Cafe poetry

Cafe dog

Cafe del Sunshine

Kitty

Lonely Beach

Lonely Beach swing

We borrowed a big woven mat from the cafe and spent long afternoons at the beach.  The water was as warm as the air and we were well aware of how lucky we were to be on a beach in the middle of February.  Our biggest problem was that the masks and snorkels we were renting for $1 were a little leaky and the blues bar next door was just as loud in our bungalow as when we visited in person.

Alicia at SF

Dog on stage

It is done

After much discussion over what island we should go to for the rest of the month, and what was going to be different there than laying in hammocks and drinking coconut shakes and picking up seashells, we decided we were done.  We didn’t need any more beach.  We already had that a few weeks prior in Cambodia, and we had our fill here.  We sent some emails and headed back to the mainland with a plan.  And the oldest, rustiest ferry we had ever seen carried us back.

Alicia on the ferry

Rusty ferry

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Jun 2013
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What We Ate in Bangkok and Northern Thailand

Piles of street food
We’ve been looking forward to eating our way through Southeast Asia since the we first began planning our trip. The food is fresh, cheap, delicious and everywhere.  If you are hungry… well you don’t really have much chance to actually get hungry because you are tripping over sidewalk cafes and street vendors at every turn.

 

Street vendor with wok

We’re not even sure how to organize all this. Most of it’s street food, there’s noodles everywhere and it’s all incredible.  Let’s start with noodles, then.

STIR FRIED NOODLES, RICE and CURRIES

Our first pad thai.  Buried underneath is shrimp, calimari, and baby octopus.Our first Pad Thai, eaten on a plastic stool on the sidewalk. Buried underneath is shrimp, calamari and baby octopus.

Pad thai standMore Pad Thai.

Pad see ew

Chicken fried ricePad see ew and chicken fried rice for breakfast at our favorite sidewalk cafe next to our hostel in Bangkok.

green curry chickenGreen curry chicken with basil.

Mushroom and tofu curry
Mushroom and tofu curry.

Fried basil, mushrooms, chickenFried basil, mushrooms, chicken.

glass noodle salad with chilis and fried chickenProbably the spiciest glass noodles and best fried chicken we’ve ever had…

red curry… and some red curry. This particular Bangkok restaurant was in the entryway to a market building and people would ride mopeds through every few minutes.

SOUP

soup shop

Soup vat

beef and noodle soup

beef and noodle soup with fish ballsVarious noodle soups. Point to the type of meat and the type of noodles you want and they throw it in a small basket and dip it briefly into a large vat of boiling broth. Then they pull it out, ladle on the broth, top it with cilantro, green onion and fresh herbs, and it’s up to you to doctor it up with lime and chilis.

Tom yum soupTom yum kung - hot and sour seafood soup made with lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lime juice, fish sauce and chilis.


STUFF YOU DRINK WITH STRAWS

smoothiesSmoothies and fruit shakes. So cheap you can have them twice a day, but be sure to ask them to skip the sugar.

Lemongrass chili lime drinkLemongrass chili lime drink to cure all your digestive woes.

KHAO SOI

Bus station khao soiKhao soi gets its own category because Tony attempted to eat it for every meal.  It’s egg noodles and meat (usually pork or chicken) in yellow curry sauce, topped with crispy noodles, pickled greens, green onions, shallots, herbs, lime juice, and as much chili paste as you can handle.

Khao soi

Khao soi with fixins

Khao soi at brown rice

Khao soi at Dang's

BURMESE FOOD

green tea leaves salad with cabbage, tomato and peanutsGreen tea leaves salad with cabbage, tomato, soy nuts.

Hinlay curry with tofu and potatoesHinlay curry with tofu and potatoes.

Another Hinlay curryAnother Hinlay curry.

Burmese food cooked by Hong SarEven yummier Burmese food (tea leaf salad, Hinlay curry, vegetable soup, steamed cabbage) cooked for us by Kevin’s friend Hong Sar. As we ate, Hong Sar described the events he saw and experienced in Burma as a child before his family escaped to Thailand.

CHINESE FOOD

CarrieThere’s probably a lot more Chinese influence in the food in Thailand than we realize (we’re looking at you, steam buns), but we had an official Chinese food night at Kevin’s house when another Couchsurfer, Carrie, cooked us her favorite dishes. We had stir fried morning glory greens, spicy tofu, and a potato and pork soup.

SALADS

Som tam vendor

In Thailand, salads aren’t some leafy green thing.  It’s a salad in the folksy casserole sense of the word.  A big jumble of lots of delicious ingredients, and can be served hot or cold.  The lady above is making some som tam.

som tam in a bag

Som tamSom tam is shredded green (unripe) papaya and carrot with tossed with a paste of dried shrimp, chilis, fish sauce and sugar, and topped with tomatoes, raw green beans and peanuts.

Banana blossom saladMelt-your-face-off banana blossom salad.

Tofu mushroom saladTofu mushroom salad. The mushrooms here are so savory and meaty, even the most devout carnivore wouldn’t mind the lack of meat.

FOOD CARTS and ROADSIDE STANDS

Chicken wingsChicken wings and other grilled meat on a street cart.

Roti stand

Nutella rotiRoti. Somewhere between a crepe and a puffy, crispy pancake, made with ladles of butter, stuffed with banana and drizzled with sweetened condensed milk and Nutella.

mini pies

Salty potato puffMini pastries stuffed with sweet and savory things like, potato, taro, pineapple and yam.

Tiny fried quail eggsFried quail eggs.

roasted bananaRoasted banana.

Steam bunsSteamed buns filled with BBQ pork, chicken curry, red bean paste, chocolate pudding… dozens of sweet and savory options.

Black Egg.  Preserved over several weeks, then deep fried.Black Egg. Preserved over several weeks, then deep fried.

fried dumplings stuffed with chicken and cabbageFried dumplings stuffed with chicken and cabbage

Deep fried tofu tarts (topped with sweet soy sauce and peanut)Deep fried tofu tarts topped with sweet soy sauce and peanuts

Dumpling vendor

Steamed pork dumplingsSteamed pork dumplings…

dumplings in a bag…served in a plastic bag with spicy sweet dipping sauce.

Banana leaf omeletEgg and minced meat grilled in a banana leaf.

Miangkam on a skewerMiangkam. As soon as your teeth break through the slightly bitter chaploo leaf wrap, the sticky mixture of sugar, coconut, peanut, ginger, shallots, dried shrimp, chilis and lime inside explodes in your mouth. Whoever invented these is a genius.

Miangkam makerWe’ll thank this nice lady.

Bacon Thick-cut bacon grilled over coals on a skewer…

tablecloth…served at a roadside stand that uses uncut sheets of product labels as tablecloths.

30
Dec 2012
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Motorbiking in Mae Hong Son Province

A man and his dog

North of Chiang Mai, there is a town called Pai. Apparently the journey to Pai used to take seven days by elephant before the road was built through the mountains a few decades ago. Now it takes three hours by minibus and either a strong stomach or motion sickness pills.

Pai walking street

Pai is full of backpackers and Thai tourists, rickety bungalows and boutiques and street stalls full of quirky, self-congratulatory souvenirs that proclaim the number of curves in the road one has endured to get there (762). There are unique caricature artists, and even some guy who runs around in full Jack Sparrow costume and sells postcards of himself. Not exactly a quiet place to escape to, but it’s an easy area to enjoy life.

Alicia and Satiya

Satiya's caricature of us

Little kitty at our bungalow

bungalows

tea vendors in Pai

Pai is also in the foothills of the Himalayas in the Mae Hong Son Province, which is considered one of the very best places in the world to motorcycle. A 125cc moped isn’t exactly a motorcycle, but you can rent them in Pai for less than $5 per day, so we decided to go for it. For several days, Tony drove us all over the valley, through villages, to the waterfalls, and down the rough gravel road up to the “secret” hot springs that is still in use as a village bath.

helmets

Pai Canyon

Sketchy bridge

Pam Bok waterfall

Harvested rice field near Pam Bok waterfall

Rapeseed field

Harvested rice field near Pai

Tony sliding down Mor Paeng waterfall

secret hot springs

Alicia at secret hot springs

On our last full day in Thailand, we decided to head about 40 km north to see Tham Lod, a large cave hear the Myanmar (Burma) border. We got a late start and the road wound tightly up and down the mountains. By the time we got to our destination, we realized we needed to turn right around if we wanted to make it back to Pai before dark. Then we passed a sign for Cave Lodge, which we remembered had been highly recommended to us by Kevin. We decided that the best thing to do would be to stay and see Tham Lod, spend the night at Cave Lodge, and then go back first thing in the morning.

Cave Lodge parking lot

Cave Lodge hammock

We hiked out to where the river exits Tham Lod, and got there just in time to watch thousands of swifts making their nightly return to cave at dusk.

Tham Lod

Swifts entering Tham Lod

This was the first time all year that our headlamps were really necessary, because we walked the trail back to Cave Lodge in the dark. We noticed what looked to be glittering dew all over the ground, but upon closer inspection, it was our lights reflecting in the eyeballs of every spider in the jungle. Jungles have lots of spiders.

spider in a cave

We were disappointed that we hadn’t carved out more time to spend up here, but were really thankful for our short taste of a pretty amazing place.

We woke up early the next morning and realized that while our decision to spend the night had given us the safety of traveling in daylight, we had sacrificed the heat of the day for it. Tony was wearing only a light shirt and shorts and it was a gray and damp morning and there was a mountain between us and the rising sun. But soon we were rewarded by amazing views of the mists in the valley below.

First view of the mists from above

hairpin curve in the road

Lone tree

tree - looking east

Lisu girl silhouette

By the time we made it to the top of the mountain we were nearly frozen solid and sprung for hot cups of instant noodles from the tourist concession stand. Some Lisu girls, who hang out at the scenic overlook to pose for photos in exchange for tips, were also eating their breakfast before they began their day.

Tony and the Lisu girls

slurp

The soup warmed us enough to continue and most of the rest of the way to Pai was in sunlight.

Burma is somewhere over there

Tony at the top of the mountain

reflection

We had to return the moped and leave for Laos that evening, but we’ll be looking for excuses to ride again soon.

28
Dec 2012
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Loi Krathong

King and Queen of Thailand honored at parade

November is a great month to be in Thailand. The rainy season is over, the weather is cool(er), the holiday crowds haven’t arrived, and since the rice harvest is over there are festivals to celebrate. After the euphoric lantern release at the Yi Peng festival is the Loi Krathong festival.

Krathongs for sale

Loi means “to float” and krathong means… well, the internet says a lot of different things and we don’t know Thai. But a krathong (“kra-TONG”) is a tiny raft usually made of banana leaves and flowers. You stick a few candles in it, along with some small offerings, set it in the river on the full moon of the 12th month and watch your bad luck float away.

On Loi Krathong, the river is choked with these little creations, parades full of bored-looking young people in glittering costumes crawl through the streets for several nights in a row, the sky is filled what seems to be thousands of glowing jellyfish, and firework enthusiasts (every male under age 30) run amok with zero regard for public safety. It’s glorious.

Pink lanterns on parade

White Elephant on parade

Riverside chaos

We roamed the streets with our Couchsurfing host, Kevin, and some fellow Couchsurfers from Portugal, Holland and China (Kevin has a big house).

More khom loy were launched.

Amber with lantern

Maria's lantern

Thai guy's lantern

We laughed at the small dangers and fled from the larger ones.

Throwing fireworks off the bridge

The street clears for a large firework

Fried bugs were eaten.

Fried crickets and grubs

Amber is concerned about the bugs

Amber is very concerned about the bugs

Amber holds up a bug

Amber's reaction

Ole's grub

Tony's reaction

Strangers’ photos were enhanced by our sneaky and uninvited faces.

Tony prepares photobomb

Sneaky Tony

Discovered!

Best photobomb

Our photos and words don’t quite convey what it really feels like to be there… So we made this video.

video