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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.

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Fire in the Sky

On our first night Couchsurfing with Kevin in Chiang Mai, he took us to his favorite annual event: the Yi Peng festival.

The evening was hot and sticky and the thousands of people crammed into the Maejo University grounds inspired a bit of claustrophobia.

The crowd

And then. The monks began to chant.

Smoke at the front of the crowd

And then. The oil lamps staked all over the grounds were lit.

Oil lamp

And then. Everyone held the wax rings wired to the bottom frames of their khom loy to the fire.

Begin to light the lanterns

Lighting the khom loy in front of the Buddha

Girl lighting a lantern

Alicia

Tony

Lanterns filling with hot air

Beginning of the release

AND THEN. A sea of glowing paper lanterns rose, along with our hearts, and for a minute or so, the world was perfect.

Lanterns through the bamboo

Joyful crowd

Sea of lanterns

Lanterns fill the sky

27
Dec 2012
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Couchsurfing with Kevin in Chiang Mai

Night train bunks Tony's bunk

We took the night train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.  We had nice bunks, the bathroom (a squat hole that emptied directly on the tracks) was clean, and the dining car remains a vividly surreal memory.

Chiang Mai from Doi Suthep

Chiang Mai is one of Thailand’s larger cities, although nowhere near the size or speed of Bangkok, and it’s known for being artsy and laid back.

Wat against blue sky and clouds

Alms bowls

Kids playing in an alley

Vendor bathing a baby

Naga silhouettes

Moped riders

Statue at Wat Chet Yot

Moped rider outside a red gate

Monk climbing a pole

The first few days in Chiang Mai were very pleasant. We ate our fill of good food, visited some of the 300 wats, enjoyed the night markets and the Sunday market, and walked all over the old city and around the moat. But we were having difficulty meeting people.

We switched from a guest house to a hostel, but everyone there seemed to already have their own friend groups established.  We were starting to wonder if we should just move on to some other part of Thailand, but we decided to give it a few more days. We moved into a cheap hotel and soon met some fun Australian girls at the does-this-look-like-what-I-think-it-looks-like?-shaped pool.

Unusual pool

We also turned back to Couchsurfing.  We hadn’t Couchsurfed since our great experience in Iceland.  We sent some requests while we were in Europe, but in most of the big cities, it’s difficult to find a host unless you send dozens of requests, and all of those requests require careful reading of profiles and personalized messages for each.  We tried to find a host in Istanbul, but based on the quality of the personal profiles (and a certain indecent proposal we received), it seemed more like people were using it as a dating site.

But with hope blossoming in our hearts, we were willing to try Couchsurfing again.

Tony has a pretty flower

And we found Kevin.

Kevin and Tony on a tuk-tuk

Kevin is a photographer from New Zealand who has lived in Chiang Mai for ten years. His most obvious trademark is his handlebar mustache, although you quickly notice his other prominent feature which is an unfailingly cheerful and kind disposition.  He’s done photography and documentary videos all over southeast Asia and China and has some pretty good stories to tell.

Kevin near Warorot Market

Although Kevin joined Couchsurfing ten months prior to our arrival, we were his number 80-somethingth guests.  We helped him mop up his kitchen when his ceiling leaked after a rainstorm, had fun in his studio and around town being models for his personal and stock photo portfolios, ate a lot of good food cooked by friends and fellow Couchsurfers and vendors in his neighborhood, and attended multiple days of the local Yee Ping and Loi Krathong festivals.

Kevin in a songtaew with Couchsurfers

We ended up staying at Kevin’s place for nine days and left friends for life. (And he’ll show up again in this blog for sure.)

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27
Dec 2012
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On Bangkok and Good Advice from Bad People

We thought for sure we’d be ready to flee as soon as the plane touched town.  A city of legendary heat and humidity, swarming with chaos and 9.5 million people… no thanks.

Bangkok at dawn

And first day does overwhelm all the senses.  Nothing looks or feels familiar.  There are cockroaches.  Rats of unusual size.  With every breath you inhale exhaust fumes and and the heavy scent food in various states of deliciousness and decay.  Trash collectors dump and sort the contents of their trucks on the street and you learn to play a bold and decisive game of Frogger against taxis and tuk-tuks and mopeds pretty quickly.

Bottle collector

Multicolored taxis

Alternative transportation

Side saddle, no hands

Building decor

Not gonna lie: our first full day was spent exploring the malls. And the day after.

Beard Papa's

Mall Christmas tree

But after that, we began to see and appreciate some of the beauty.  It can be as obvious as a towering golden chedi, as commonplace as a woman selling offering flowers, or as inconspicuous as a cat napping on a wall. So we stayed for a little bit.

Woman selling flower offerings

Alley behind dried fish market

Dried shrimp for sale

Monk walking past Grand Palace

Phra Siratana Chedi

Prasat Phra Dhepbidorn - the Royal Pantheon

Kitty at Wat Pho

Wat Pho

Plumeria

Florists making offerings

Bangkok sidewalk at night

Mass of power wires

Cat faceoff

Bangkok traffic

BBQ street vendor

While we do enjoy taking it slow and getting to know a place for at least a week or more (versus the usual 2-4 days that most other backpackers average), if we’re being honest, our lack of speed is also due to reluctance to make a decision.

The downside of this habit is that we’ll visit fewer places overall and sometimes pay higher prices by booking last minute transportation.  On the upside, we’re more relaxed and get a better sense of a place than we would have if we were just zipping through.  We find the good restaurants with the best prices, can easily say “yes” to unexpected opportunities, soak in the little details, and feel more like honorary residents rather than faceless consumers just passing through.

Bangkok is renowned for its tuk-tuk scams and assorted schemes to part the naive from their money, but only one of its citizens thought we looked like a good target.  Luckily, he was just a guy sitting at the table next to us in a sidewalk restaurant, and it wasn’t a big deal.  While we were disappointed that his friendly chit-chat quickly turned into an attempt to get us to visit his friend’s shop that is having a “big gem sale for tourists today only,” he did suggest that we head north for the mountains before visiting the islands.

We took the latter advice and hopped the night train to Chiang Mai the next day. As we write this six weeks later, we’re so glad we did. Our northern path brought wonderful people and unbelievable experiences into our lives. So thanks, scammy guy. You’re the best.

Democracy Monument at night

26
Dec 2012
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Dust and Color

Colors of Petra

We were thrilled to be able to spend time with Cody and Vanessa in Amman.  We were excited to be back towards the Middle East and to add another country to our list.  We were looking forward to exploring a new cuisine.  And after seeing Venice and Berlin, we really had to finish off our Last Crusade set list with a visit to Petra.

Djinn Block

Tony in the Siq

Canyon light

Canyon colors

Chariot in the canyon

First glimpse of The Treasury

The Treasury

The Treasury

Donkey friend

Cave homes

Bedouin and donkeys

Tony takes a picture

 

Bedouin minstrel at High Place of Sacrifice

Tony's Ebeneezer

Alicia in her tree

Garden Tomb

Soldier Tomb

More color

All the colors

This guy invited us to tea.

Green valley

We spent eighteen hours over two days hiking the dusty canyons, declining incessant four-legged taxi offers, climbing to the high places in the blazing sun and making our own way through the wilderness to sit and finally understand the phrase deafening silence.  At night, we stayed at a Bedouin camp, stuffed ourselves with our only square meal of the day and drank sugary sage tea by the fire.

Inside our tent at Seven Wonders Bedouin Camp

View from our tent

Dinner

7 am

Our second morning was November 7.  As we walked through the kitsch gauntlet at the main entrance, we heard an Arabic radio station say a name we recognized: Obama.  We did an about-face and asked the vendor what the news was.  He paused a moment to find the right English word. “Obama… fortune.”  We hadn’t expected to hear the results until we returned to Amman.  Just a few days earlier we were able to vote by email, thanks to Jordan being on a list of special countries where absentee voting doesn’t require you to obtain and mail back a paper ballot.

Colonnaded Street

Lion Triclinium

Palace Tomb

Goats on a cliff

Sami's stable

Monastery from afar

Destination Unknown

After spending the morning hiking the 900 steps up to the Monastery and back, we ran into a retired Taiwanese couple from Flint, Michigan that we had met the day before. We decided to hike together for most of the day, taking a back trail that would overlook the Treasury. I’m pretty sure by the end of it WE were the ones keeping up with THEM. We had many good conversations and wished we had exchanged contact info!

Alicia and Yvonne

Alicia and Yvonne at the top

four Americans

Sami, one of the many Bedouins who actually live in Petra, makes his home at the very end of the trail.  He made us tea while we played with his kitten.  He showed us a photo album and told stories of racing horses, hunting with his falcon, and about the off-limits trails that only the local people know. Sometimes he climbs straight down the ledge which gets him to the Treasury in five minutes (instead of the long way around which takes an hour).

Sami

Confusion the cat

It happened to be one of the few times all year that we remembered to bring our small binoculars with us and remembered to actually use them.  Sami asked to borrow them and leaped to the edge of the drop-off.  Of course he didn’t look at the Treasury; he sees it all day.  Instead, he looked far off in the distance to try to spot his friend who tends goats at the top of another mountain.The binoculars were going to get way more use with this guy, and we’re always looking to lighten our packs, so we left them with Sami, along with our thanks for one of our favorite memories this year.

Sami's binoculars

(Watch our quick video from Petra)

23
Dec 2012
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