A Travellerspoint blog

May 2011

Chiang Mai

Welcome to the jungle!

So at this point, most of you reading the blog probably realize that we have traveled home to the states and are safe and sound residing in NY. Although it seems a bit silly to still be blogging about our travels after having returned home, it is important to us to finish up by sharing our amazing adventures in Thailand, as our time there brought us so much joy and a much-needed rest at the end of our journey. Anyway, if you are still reading, thanks for sticking with it ☺!

Chiang Mai is a smaller, less touristy city than Bangkok, situated in the Northern region of Thailand. The landscape is comprised of small mountains, rivers, and jungles. Our accommodation in Chiang Mai was a beautiful riverside bed and breakfast.
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Our room was all dark wood with a private bathroom and a balcony. Some views from our room:
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The B & B had a little pool, which came in handy in the 95 degree heat. Also, we loved that you could order complimentary breakfast at any time of day and they brought it to you anywhere on the quaint property that you desired to eat on that particular day- in the garden, on your balcony, poolside. It felt quite luxurious and cost next to nothing. They also brought us up the river into town on this lovely boat!

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Our first adventure in Chiang Mai was a Thai cooking class. This is a popular tourist activity across Thailand. Our class was run by an extremely smart, creative, and aggressive Thai woman. She was aggressive in that she barked commands at us as we were cooking – “CHICKEN! NOW! NOW! CHICKEN! NOW!” -- so that all 12 woks being used produced absolutely delicious fare (and most of us had not cooked a whole lot of Thai food prior to the class).
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We were impressed! We used the freshest Thai ingredients (fresh herbs from the garden) to create authentic Thai curries, stir fries, and soups. It was a pretty cool cross-cultural experience because the teacher was translating into English from Thai, and everyone in the class (except for us) was translating her English into their own language – Spanish, Hebrew, Chinese, French, etc. Whoa!

We also took a tour of some gardens and picked up our ingredients at the local market. Check out the size of these green beans!
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This is a little shot I like to call “After and Before:”
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The Thai people are aware of the fact that American and European palettes in general are not quite as accustomed to very spicy foods. In restaurants, often waiters will ask if you want your curry spicy. If you say yes, they will ask you if you mean “Thai spicy” or regular spicy. Nikki loves her some spicy food so she made all of her dishes “Thai spicy.” Check out this pic of her sweating out the green chili in her Tom Yum soup…mmm, mmmm good!
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And check out Marin at the wok:
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Adventure #2 in Chiang Mai was one of the major highlights of the entire trip and probably Marin’s absolute favorite experience. We went to Patara Elephant farm and spent a day caring for elephants. Patara Farm is located about 30km north of Chiang Mai. There are several places to have a variety of experiences with elephants in Thailand. We were very careful in our selection process as many of the sites do not treat the elephants well and make them do silly things like kick soccer balls with their trunks. Although you may be thinking, “I bet that would be cool to see,” it is actually quite harmful to the elephants. They can easily fall over and break bones. They do not recover well from such injuries and sometimes they do not recover at all.

At Patara, the idea is that you come for the day and care for 1 elephant in the same way that an elephant farmer would. We were in a group of 12 people, and each of us was paired with our own elephant. Marin had a 24 yr. old femaie (she was enormous!!!) while Nikki had a 7 year old male (smaller but big tusks!). We got to feed, bathe, brush, and ride our elephant. You also learn commands to so they will do things like lie down, come, stop, turn left/right, and lift up their trunks so you can feed them. The real elephant people knew how to get them to “speak,” spray water out of their trunks and all sorts of other stuff. We rode bareback (basically sat on top of their giant heads) as this is better for the elephants. Here we are living it up in the jungle with our buddies:

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And did you know elephants love pedicures?

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These guys were the cutest! And because you spent the entire day with 1 animal you really loved it by the end of the day. It was truly special! We fell in love ☺ Oh and there were 3 babies- about 2 months old each- adorable!

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When we weren't cooking or bathing large mammals, we enjoyed the night market scene of Chiang Mai -- more massages, more fresh food, more cheap beer!

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After about 4 days in Chiang Mai, we packed up and headed down to the South of Thailand for some R & R on a remote island and the final leg of our journey.

Tune in 1 last time for our experiences sunning, snorkeling, and smiling on the beautiful island of Ko Phangnan! xoxo Nikki and Marin

PS -- Do you think this monk is real, or a wax statue? We stared at him for 30 mins. and still couldn't decide!!!

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Posted by Marbert18 05:19 Archived in Thailand Tagged elephants cooking chiang_mai Comments (4)

Bangkok!

Yowsa.

Oh, Bangkok…where to begin?

After nearly two months in English-speaking Australia and New Zealand, we headed for the final leg of our great trip to Thailand. Though it seemed close at the time of planning the trip – they are all on the other side of the world, after all – it took us about 11 hours to fly from Sydney to Bangkok. When we arrived, we were blown away. It was so very different from anything we’d done on the trip before – very exciting and very exhausting.

To orient you – or rather, disorient you – to Bangkok, here are a few facts:
--It is a city of 11.9 million people
--There is zero urban planning so streets wind all over the place, everything is just sort of plopped down wherever, there is no sense of neighborhoods that we could make out – given this, plus none of the signs or maps being in English or even a romance language that we could make a good guess at, we got very lost lots of times
--The air pollution is so bad it is difficult to breathe at times (this did not deter Nikki from her daily run – she may be the first person ever to go for a jog in Bangkok, we are looking into it).

Perhaps this picture of Bangkok's fine electrical work sums it up perfectly:

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You will notice that in all of these pictures, we are wearing the exact same clothes each day. That is because it was very, VERY hot (April is the hottest time of year in SE Asia) – so hot that it’s unbearable to wear shorts even. You need a breeze blowing through you at all times. In the heat, it was also very important to stay hydrated:

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In addition to the great street drinks, we had so much fun sampling all the different street foods. The street food we ate in Bangkok was the best eating we did in all of Thailand and maybe even on our whole trip. Unlike American street food, which is pre-cooked and then re-heated on the street, this stuff was all fresh to order. Around 11 AM, everyone takes to the streets with their carts and their fresh fruit and veggies and eggs and propane burners…and voila!
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Some of our favorites were…

Pad Thai:
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These fried coconut custard things:
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Also…fresh watermelon, mango smoothies (we drank at least 2 of these a day) and lots and lots of papaya salad.

And the kicker is, nothing sold on the street costs more than 20 Baht (the Thai unit of currency). 20 Baht is equal to approximately 75 cents. The Pad Thai, for example, created with the freshest noodles, bean sprouts, eggs, and chicken you can imagine costs 10 Baht (about 35 cents). It was amazing!!! We felt like millionaires and the cheap prices in Thailand are not just confined to the street food.

Our move to Thailand meant going from one of the more expensive places on earth (Australia) to one of the cheapest. We got to say goodbye to hostel living and enjoy what felt like luxury accommodations to us. We even raided the mini-bar without guilt or fear of bankruptcy. Yes, the beer was twice as expensive in the mini-bar than on the street -- making it a whopping $3 instead of $1.50! Here were our beautiful digs in Bangkok – it was a nice little oasis away from the craziness of the city. We made good use of that pool after all of our sweaty sightseeing!

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To get around the city, we took many tuk-tuk rides. These were Marin’s most favorite! A direct quote: “This is like real-life Mario Kart!!!” Although there are street signs, lights and traffic laws in Bangkok, nobody follows any of it. I have tried to capture the zig-zagging across multiple lanes of traffic all going different directions at top speeds, but nothing can show it as good as the real thing.

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We held on for dear life and our drivers enjoyed laughing at us and talking with us about their two favorite Americans – Tiger Woods (he is half Thai) and Monica Lewinski (yup).

Yet another Thai treat we enjoyed were the massages. In Bangkok, these went for $5 an hour and they were ammaaaazing – there are massage chairs lined up and down almost every street. We had LOTS of these throughout our whole time in Thailand. And just because they were cheap did not mean they were poorly executed. Those Thai women have amazing hands and gladiator-sized forearms and they know all the special reflexology points. Sitting in this massage chairs was heavenly!!! And no, these were NOT “happy ending” massages -- get your mind out of the gutter. ☺ But, the Thai women did love Nikki’s big foot! And they always took extra good care of it!

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Massage was not the only special treatment that our tooties got in Bangkok. We also stopped into a fish spa. Most of you probably have not been to a fish spa because they are illegal in the U.S. for health code reasons. However, nothing is illegal in Thailand. We stopped in at Marin’s request after a few lunchtime brewskies. The shop itself was an old, converted camera shop with 3 large, dirty fish tanks on the floor. We sat down and stuck our feet into 1 of the tanks so that hundreds of little fish could literally gnaw the dead skin off our toes for the next 15 minutes. Marin almost threw up…several times. Although the experience was probably the single most unsanitary thing we have ever done, it did leave our feet soft and supple. Nikki spent the next 3 days having mini-panic attacks that she had contracted some rare tropical disease from the fish (the jury is still out on this one- we’ll keep you posted).

Here are the fish eating our feet:
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Here is Nikki rather enjoying the sensation:
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Here is Marin wanting to die:
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In addition to sampling the local street culture at places like Ko San Road...here it is by day...
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...and by night...
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...we immersed ourselves in Thai history and religious tradition by visiting some of the most breathtakingly beautiful temples. You are not allowed to expose your shoulders in the temples, hence the rented shirts…Between the golden Buddhas and the millions of tiny glass mirrors, the detailed architecture was gorgeous. Take a look at the Grand Palace and our visit to the Reclining Buddha (he was our favorite – he is 45 meters long (120 ft.) – and we liked his toes the best):

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The inhabitants of Bangkok are a fascinating group of people. While most are extremely peaceful and friendly, subscribing to one of the most peaceful religions in the world, Buddhism, many are simultaneously aggressive marketers, sales people and schemers. It is a bit confusing and creates an atmosphere in which you must constantly have your wits about you (which is a difficult feat when you begin drinking beer at 11 AM). This tiring work, coupled with the intensity of everything in the city from the heat to the pollution to the sex tourism made us quite ready to leave after 3 days. Don’t misunderstand our feelings here -- Bangkok is an amazing place unlike any other in the world. However it is a bit like Vegas in that after 2 or 3 days it leaves you yearning for some peace and quiet. And this is exactly what we got when we flew to Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand.

Up next: our adventures with elephants, cooking Thai curries, and our most delightful riverside accommodation.

Posted by Marbert18 06:17 Archived in Thailand Tagged bangkok Comments (0)

Sydney!

Shiny Happy People Laughing...Shiny Happy People Holding Hands

The day before it was time to write our Sydney blog entry, I came across this description of the great city from Bill Bryson’s In a Sunburned Country (a must-read for anyone heading to Australia, or if you’ve recently returned!):

“An air of cheerful industriousness infuses the scene. These are people who get to live in a safe and fair-minded society, in a climate that makes you strong and handsome, in one of the world's great cities –and they get to come to work on a boat from a children’s storybook, across a sublime plane of water, and each morning glance up from their Heralds or Telegraphs to see that famous Opera House and inspiring bridge and the laughing face of Luna Park. No wonder they look so damned happy.”

After I read this quote, I wondered if there was any point to writing this entry at all? Bryson has already said it so perfectly.
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But alas, we had a fabu time in Sydney and Manly (where our great friend and Hostess with the Mostest lives). We didn’t do much of the regularly touristy stuff – no museums, no tours of the Opera House – but it was a relief. Instead we got to live and breathe like locals and soak up all the damned happiness that Sydney had to offer. There was plenty of it.

The cool thing about staying in Manly with Sarah was that we got to take a break from hostel/hotel living. Including the obvious pleasures, like not having to worry if we could catch an infection in the shower and being treated to two pillows each in bed, we also got treated to many home-cooked meals, got merry with many of Sarah and Wayne’s lovely mates, indulged in lovely and huge brunches, and by the end of the two weekends, had a laundromat, coffee shop, and running route to call our own. We felt like true locals, and even had the happy dispositions to prove it! Here's Manly beach, one block from Sarah's apartment, where we took our daily run and swim:
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Manly is just north of Sydney, so you take a ferry in and out of the city. It’s also right on the beach. There are also tons of outdoor pubs (our favorite was the Manly Wharf Hotel aka “Wharfy” which Lonely Planet describes as “a place that will make you want to move to Australia”), restaurants, and coastal walks. Does it get any better than this?:
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Another highlight of our Sydney stay was visiting Coogee Beach, Nikki’s stomping grounds from her “study” abroad days 10 years ago. We actually visited twice, once via city bus and once via the great Coastal Walk from Bondi Beach to Coogee Beach. Nik got to reminisce on the old days over some beers at the Coogee Bay Hotel, a Sweet Chili Chicken sandwich, and a stop by her old apartment. It was also a beautiful walk, with everyone out and about enjoying the day:
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Just as we thought the royal treatment couldn’t get any more royal, Sarah and Wayne treated us to a few lovely joyrides up the Northern Coast in Lucy, Sarah’s VW Beetle Convertible. I was tempted to wear a headscarf like Princess Grace, but opted for my Red Sox cap instead. Yep, life is good:
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Also, we saw this gigantic Gowana Lizard:
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We had planned to attend a rugby match (call it “Footie” if you want to be really cool) but it was pouring that night. Change of plans – see the game on a big screen TV (indoors) at a club that served beer at a discount and held a Meat Raffle. Yes, this is exactly what it sounds like: a raffle of meat. Let it be known that Nikki purchased 5 tickets…for a total of 50 possible winning numbers..but sadly did not win any sirloin! Choice A: Go to Footie in pouring rain to get “real experience. Choice B: watch game close up on big TV, drink cheap beer, play Pokies (Australian slots) and Keno, possibly win free meat. Is there really any choice here at all?

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Nik and I packed as much in to our last day in Sydney as humanly possible. We took the boat over from Manly, and toured the Botanical Gardens, which seemed to go on and on forever along the harbor. There were many beautiful trees, flowers and tropical birds, but the real highlight was the bats (they also went on and on forever):

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We were glad we didn't get locked in with these creatures

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We made our way up Macquarie St. to Hyde Park, where we had a coffee and enjoyed an intense game of Big Chess:

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Then up Oxford St., through the neighborhoods of Darlinghurst and Paddington – very stylish, very gay, lots of cool shops and pubs:

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After a few drinks, we were happy to have this reminder at each crosswalk:
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Though we’ve gotten used to driving on the left, we still don’t know which way to look when stepping of the sidewalk. I have taken to looking each way 7 or 8 times and then just making a mad dash for it and hoping for the best. This is not entirely different from how I cross the street at home, but still…

We made a stop at Sushi Train:
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You will notice the sushi comes around on a conveyor belt. I thought this was just about the most amazing thing since sliced bread. You just pick off whatever you want, and when you’re finished, they count how many plates you’ve stacked up (this part is rather embarrassing) and then charge you accordingly. Amazing!

We ended our amazing time in Sydney with a beautiful twilight drink in front of the Opera House. Our New Yorker selves simply could not get over the fact that although it was 6 PM, and everyone was out of work (we couldn’t believe that either) and it was a gorgeous night, the bar was pleasantly full but not at all crowded. You could actually enjoy it.

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We ferried home to Manly to enjoy a delicious last feast with our awesome hosts. Check out the size of Wayne’s pie (average-sized for Australia)!

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Thank you, Sarah and Wayne! We'll be back!

Up next: Adventures in Bangkok. 'nuf said. xoxo Nikki and Marin

Posted by Marbert18 21:15 Archived in Australia Tagged beaches sydney ferry bats rugby manly Comments (4)

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