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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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Thailand

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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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Thailand

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Ingi and Eyrún

I’ve been putting off writing this, because it is my favorite Iceland story, and I wasn’t sure how much to include. We’ve also been relying on our photos the majority of our content, so if you are wishing we’d write more, here is a nice long post for you.

Part of our ethos of this year has been not pre-booking or pre-planning ahead too much. Free as the wind! Come what may! Adventure! In Iceland that didn’t serve us well, at least on an emotional level. It all worked out perfectly in the end, but it did make for anxious evenings. Something about being thousands of miles from home, watching the daylight weaken and not being sure about where you are sleeping that night is a little unsettling.

We did have the foresight to pre-book our first night and stayed in a simple little guesthouse in the center of Reykjavik. The next morning, we picked up our car headed for the Blue Lagoon. Afterward, we just started driving and ended up in a fishing village called Grindavik. We drove down the empty streets and wondered what to do next. Then we saw the flags of several different countries waving on a building and decided it looked like a friendly place. The flags turned out to be attached to Kanturinn.

The Simpsons were playing loudly on the TV when we walked in. It was probably 6 p.m., but Kanturinn was empty. I privately wondered whether we had stepped into a place everyone else knew to avoid, but the owner, Ingi, mentioned it would be very busy in the early morning hours. The walls were filled with photos of bands and people having a good time. Ingi took our order and explained to us that kantur meant “edge.” His family originally wanted to name the place in honor of his grandmother, but it would have sounded very similar to “Cocaine Inn” and that wasn’t the image they wanted to evoke. I ordered a heaping plate of noodles and vegetables.

Ingi said that there was a quiz show on TV, and that residents of Grindavik were competing against residents of Reykjavik. I thought he was asking permission to end the conversation and watch the program from his barstool the other side of the room, but when we said, “oh yes, please watch it,” he fired up the projector on the wall behind us. Ingi explained how he knew the Grindavikian contestants, and told us that one man who was representing Reykjavik was a top staff member for the mayor and also a member of the Icelandic heavy metal band Dr. Spock. (If you’re wondering how a person like that gets into politics, this is a great article.)

Ingi asked if we had tried the shark yet. We replied that we had not, but were willing to try it. Icelandic settlers did not have an easy life and survived on the bounty of the sea which they preserved with creative methods. One way they preserved shark was to gut it, bury it under heavy stones for a month or three to press out the liquid, then cut it into strips and dry it out for several more months. It’s called hákarl and Anthony Bourdain once described it as “the single worst, most disgusting and terrible tasting thing” he has ever eaten. Ingi handed us a chunk on a toothpick and poured us each a shot of Brennevin. We both managed to thoroughly chew and swallow it. My urge to gag was mild and easily suppressed, but Tony didn’t even flinch. The Brennevin shots cleared away the hákarl aftertaste.

By this time, we were starting to feel that finding a place to lay our heads for the evening was more urgent. We could easily drive back to Reykjavik and stay either in the same guesthouse or at the backpacker hostel next door. But we were tired and weren’t sure if we wanted to drive that far. The guesthouses in the area seemed expensive, so we logged in to Couchsurfing.com to see if we could find anyone who was both nearby and miraculously online at the same time as we were. We came across one registered couch in Grindavik that belonged to a married couple who had good reviews and who indicated they would be ok with last-minute requests. (Note: A good Couchsurfer makes requests at least a few days in advance. It’s better for everyone.)

Since Ingi seemed to know everyone, we showed him their picture and asked if he recognized them. “Oh yes, the woman’s daughter used to work here. Do you want me to call her and ask if you can stay?” We declined at first because we weren’t sure if that would be considered rude, or if the person would appreciate us circumventing the Couchsurfing messaging system. But when he offered again a few minutes later, we said yes. So he looked up the woman’s phone number, had a brief conversation with her, and told us we were all set. He gave us directions to her house which was just a few blocks away, and ten minutes later, we were knocking on the door of a stranger.

Eyrún opened the door with a big smile and said, “please, be welcome.” I was feeling really sheepish about our lack of planning and how we might be imposing on her, but again she repeated, “please, be welcome.” So we were. Eyrún has a big family, and a huge dining table to match, but her husband was out of town for work and only she and her daughter were home. She made us tea and we talked about the sheep she used to raise up north and the differences between the Icelandic and American education systems. She also helped us with some Icelandic pronunciations and told us about her trip to Boston a few years ago. It was such a pleasant evening. We finally went to bed around 11, and left in the morning before she woke up.

We were very grateful for the foresight of Ingi’s father to put flags outside of Kanturinn, for Ingi’s friendliness to weary travelers, and for Eyrún’s kind hospitality. It was a great day.

-A

29
Apr 2012
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Iceland

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