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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

02
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

01
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

01
Jun 2013
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