Chiang Mai: cooking and jazz co-ops and hipster coffee shops

Chiang Mai: cooking and jazz co-ops and hipster coffee shops

I knew when I put on my backpack 3(!!!) weeks ago to go on this (marginally unorganized, wandering, see where a paper map takes me) trip to Southeast Asia I was going to have experiences that fell across the spectrum on good/bad/incredible etc. 

I had a day in Chiang Mai, Thailand that was pretty close to (my definition of) traveler perfect. It was just enough traveler touring and a perfect night out of feeling like you had stumbled upon the coolest place in town. It involved a hipster coffee shop that I have now been homesteading and weather that was not too hot or too cold. This perfect day involved cooking, which for people who know me may be astonished by this. However, it also involved limitless yummy food that I got the pleasure of cooking while a very cute thai woman told me exactly how to not burn anything or chop off my finger with my giant cleaver (I know cooking terms now!)

  There are so so so many cooking schools in Chiang Mai but we chose Siam Rice Thai cookery and are so thankful we did. The cooking school is in their home and it truly feels like you are learning to cook with good friends in a cozy home. Our class was small and entertaining the ingredients were deliciously fresh, we visited a local market to see the various spices and chose 6 different items to learn how to cook. I made papaya salad, red curry with pineapple, coconut curry soup, pad thai,  sweet and sour vegetables, sticky rice and coconut for desert. They gave me a cookbook so I could attempt to replicate it but I don’t know if I can without Mai telling me exactly how much fish oil to put in my wok. 

 
   
We discovered a hipster coffee shop that upon entering transported me right back to Portland, complete with local sourced coffee and man buns and minimalist aesthetics. I love it here.

 
We ended this really fulfilling day with pineapple shakes and an open mic night at a jazz co-op that had unbelievably talented and colorful artists jamming together, a great deal of travelers,expats, local thai people  all co-mingling and enjoying smooth saxophones and wildly disruptive trumpets. 

It was one of those days you fantasize about as a traveler when you are bouncing around for hours in the back of a sorrong ta ou (thai pickup truck with seats varying levels of padding) or smelling yourself on a miserable night ferry/van transport across the country that cost you 15 USD. 

You do those things for days like this one. You put on your backpack for days like this one.

A day with elephants and I’ll never be the same

I think I was riding some kind of happiness high because when I left the elephants I felt so blissed out that the 2+ hour ride in the back of a pick up truck down a windy bumpy dirt road didn’t even bother me. 

The elephant jungle park is nestled in a small village outside of Chiang Mai. All the elephants have been rescued from working camps, there is no riding, only elephant hugs. The elephants seem truly happy and other than the 4-6 hours a day when they hug tourists with their trunks, they enjoy their life in the jungle by the village. It was truly a remarkable experience that I would highly recommend for anyone seeking a conservationist approach to meeting elephants. The baby elephant Patung is my new alter ego. He stomps around and doesn’t listen to anyone and frustrates all the villagers. 

Heres photos of me with elephants because that’s all you need. 

     
    
    
   

Ko Phi Phi: beauty can be a burden

Ko Phi Phi is a tropical dream. It’s views are spectacular, limestone rocks imposing and beaches sheltered and stunning. Unfortunately the world knows it. 

I traveled here with Hanna for one night to meet up with Nicole (!!!) and Chris for some fun island time. We went on a gorgeous hike to viewpoints and enjoyed catching up and it was wonderful. 

   
 
However, this gorgeous island also represents some internal tension for the mindful traveler.  The isthmus between the two sides of Phi Phi is one large tourist town filled with wetern food advertised en mass (we also have thai food!!), beautiful spa resorts, and hostels and guesthouses. The island is tailored for those that want to party hard and relax all day. It’s gorgeous beaches are littered in trash from negligent visitors, and probably some negligent workers too, and every Thai person you actually see on the island is either pushing luggage around the windy roads or is dancing with fire as a spectacle for people to be entertained while drinking Thai buckets.

  
It’s challenging because I had an absolute blast here. 

I danced with the fire dancers and I partied on the beach (pouring rain dance party on the beach it was unforgettable) but it’s troubling too. 

If what Phi Phi “is” is a tropical oasis for westerners to party and spa and visit on day trips and maybe scuba if not too hungover and no one is really complaining, especially the Thai people who live here, does that validate how we treat it and talk about it? Does it validate the concept of a westerner’s Thai playground? 

What troubles me is that long after I go home and tell my stories and potentially thrill others with grand tales the people that inhabit this small beautiful place will still just be pushing luggage around windy roads as another ferry of faces arrives to find the cheapest bucket and forget their trash on the beach. 

It’s the traveler dilemma that haunts most everyone that straps on their backpacks. Are we helping or hurting? What does the path I leave behind look like? 

Phi Phi is gorgeous and fun and a wonderful opportunity to be introspective about why we travel and critical of those that often forget mindfulness as they litter the beach with their cheeseburger wrappers. 

Visiting Wat Tham Sua 

After a very long and smelly night ferry from Koh Tao followed by a very strange 2 hour mini van ride we arrived on the western coast of Thailand and Krabi Town. 

Krabi town is quiet, quaint and every shop is selling tours to somewhere else. Just outside of Krabi Town is Wat Tham Sua or the Tiger Cave Temple. It’s a buddhist temple that is well known for tigers and a VERY strenuous 1,000+ flight of stairs to reach the summit. The climb was a sort of pilgrimmage for monks and is available to the public to climb. 

Hanna and I decided to visit at sunset which is highly recommended.   

This sign is false advertising. It’s actually 1,260 very strenuous steps to the top of the mountain. Additionally, at about step 400 the steps become so steep and so high theres long stretches where each step is more of a double step. Around 600 is when I felt as if nothing could be worth it. However, we pitched on and actually made suprisingly good time to the top. 

It was so worth it. The views were spectacular and the Buddha’s were plentiful. After a very grimy ride from Ko Tao, an island where nothing ever dries, it was cathartic to just walk and feel a breeze. 

   
   
The real trouble occured on our descent. The Tiger temple is full of monkeys and the stairs are packed with them and these little tricksters are just waiting to steal your food, your water, or your jacket. (These are all things I watched get stolen). 

   
 
IIf you’ve ever been really close to a monkey you know they have very very human eyes. Despite what people told me regarding monkey safety (don’t make eye contact) I held the eyes of a particular monkey blocking our path for what felt like entire minutes. I was frozen at stair 300 something trying to think of something to sacrifice to these monkeys so they would let me pass. No riddles were spoken but I finally gained some courage and walked around them. They just kept picking bugs off each other, clearly they did not care at all what the sweaty American was doing. 

Ko Tao: joining the subculture

Disclaimer: hopefully in the very near future I will have a really awesome video to post of my dives along with some photos from below but while I’m waiting for those to be sent over here’s some words about my past week. 

I have been underwater for 418 minutes in the past 6 days. 

I hovered at 10 meters while a whale shark swam at eye level, I floated over coral fields that spanned on and on like a scene from planet earth, I saw giant groupers and swam surrounded by massive schools of fish at Sail Rock and I dove deep. Deep down to 40 meters visibility atrocious experienced nitrogen narcosis and all 10 times that I broke the surface I dreamt about the next dive. 

The subculture has changed me. 

 

It changed me…because now I’m a whale shark
 
Hanna and I went to Koh Tao with the intention of getting open water certified to 18 meters, getting some sun and experiencing some underwater life. 

We left the island 3 days later than our original plan with advanced specs in deep diving to 40 meters and nitrox usage, our dive log books filled with all the aquatic life we saw (whale shark in all caps, double underline) and an entirely new appreciation for the world beneath the waves. 

Roctopus dive on Koh Tao felt like a family, an extremely attractive family you desperately want to join. Scuba Steve Crosby, our fantastic instructor, gave us confidence in the water and had us be the most patriotic we’ve ever been. (photos regarding this to come)

  
We laughed through our regulators after getting narked at 40 meters and achieved bottom times of 56 minutes on our last day. I already miss sand in my sheets and salt water through my regulator. It makes perfect sense that everyone on that island arrived and then just didn’t leave. The dive sites are remarkable treasures, the aquatic life spectacular, the sunsets mesmerizing and the changs and the buckets free flowing. Just look out for fire dancers. 

  
Diving has a strange isolation element, not being able to talk underwater, but learning to express your wonderment and joy with no words was bizarrely beautiful as I learned that doing 3 flips amongst hundreds of fish is the only way to express the urge to scream. 

It took a lot of effort to step onto that night ferry and accept that the trip had to progress onward and I couldn’t just spend the next two months drinking 2 USD pineapple shakes and floating through tight caves and watching whip reys floating by. 

I know I’ll be back. Underwater (soon) and to Koh Tao. You should never have to say goodbye to a place where the pineapple people recognize you after only 2 days of being there. 

  

  
Proud to be  a small new part of the dive culture and I can’t wait to be doing underwater dances again soon instead of just talking about it. I won’t miss the tropical remixes though. No one wants to hear Taylor  Swift songs + uke. 

All that I want to do in Bangkok is eat.

All that I want to do in Bangkok is eat.

In this post I wax on and on about all the food I’ve been eating and my visit to Chatuchak market…where my highlight was once again, eating. 

I don’t think there has really been a moment where I didn’t have some sort of food in my hand. Street food is everywhere and I find myself unable to walk about from 10 baht pineapple sleeves (essentially a USD nickel) or skewer of unindentified roasted meat (I think it’s pork?) that is so tender and delicious I have been double fisting them down the street as I tour about. 

Two nights ago I had pad thai that revolutionized my understanding of the dish. I visited Thip Samui for an early dinner before meeting up with some friends for drinks (also of note I can honestly say I think this was the first time ever in my life I went to a restaurant alone…I don’t think I”ll make a habit of it) and WOW. the pad thai. 

  
They make it…and then they have some sort of special egg concotion that they toss it into for about 10 seconds and it creates this eggy membrane surrounding the noodles. This place was incredible and the line for what was street food was about a 35 minute wait, which is totally nutters. 

  
I am having to stop myself from visiting again. Also this insane concotion cost USD 2.25 I’m never coming back to the states. 

Last night I went to another dinner with  a very different vibe than the clammering street food atmosphere I had been enjoying. I went to Krua Apsorn, a restaurant that was named best of Bangkok in 2006. The excellence has not dulled. 

I ordered way too much food for 1 person and regret nothing. I got a crab omelette (one of their notable dishes according to a foodie blog I read) thats spices were so incredible I will probably never be able to appreciate an omelette again. Then I got the curry which was beyond description. My bill totaled out to 6  USD, ‘expensive’ by Thai eating standards. Once again, I am never leaving.  

  
Weirdly, even though I am constantly surrounded by tourists everywhere it seems, Krua Apsorn which I expected to be a lot of westerners was literally full of just Thai  and their food servers didn’t speak any English.  in three days I have become quite adept at maneuvering this language divide. I am especially proud of how I’ve learned to communicate with taxi drivers to get back to my hostel. I quit even trying to say street names accepting defeat on that.. So instead I say BTS which is the sky train and then attempt to say the stop that is by my hostel. It starts with an R and I just hit that sound really hard and they seem to know what I’m talking about. Very proud of this invention. 
I visited the weekend market yesterday as well. Chatuchak Market is the most overwhelming absurd market I have ever been, and I say this having visited the labryinth that is the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul. 

There are over 3,000 stalls and you can literally buy anything there. I mean anything..I decided I was done walking aimlessly through this chaos after a guy with like 2 teeth started pulling live snakes out of a bucket in front of me. I can deal with rotten fish soup making me gag as I walk by but when a guy starts shaking snakes at me…I’m out. 

   I took a lot of photos but none really can communicate the largeness of this place….or the odor. 
After retreating from the absolute ridiculous amount of mostly junk, I found the street food vendors and ate more pineapple and skewers. 

I’ve made lots of friends but am still eagerly awaiting Hanna’s arrival on Monday so that I can go to cabaret  and drink at the sky bar…and introuce her to meat skewers. 

I survived day 1 in Bangkok!!

I survived day 1 in Bangkok!!

it was touch and go. 

I had quite the day and I don’t want to brag or anything but I kind of killed it. 

Besides being utterly lost frequently, sweating like a wild boar, and taking a 50 cent water taxi ride that should have left me in the very brown ‘river’. (Name still unknown…that’s how lost I was.)

Jet lag left me wandering out into the city at 6:30 a.m. with a city map that had all the street names written in Thai symbols and my passport tucked into my bra. Absolutely a recipe for utter success. 

I hopped onto the first city bus that passed believing it was taking me in the direction of the grand palace.  It wasn’t. I got off the bus when I saw an unbelievably giant Buddha. I still don’t know where I was and upon polling people in my hostel about the giant buddha, they said they’d never heard of it. Super mysterious. 

  
From here, I flagged down a tuk tuk because (once again) I had absolutely zero idea where I was. Tuk Tuks are the loudest most unsafe things to be riding in whipping through Bangkok traffic that seems to have no laws. Kom chi, my tuk tuk driver, miraculously got me to the Grand Palace unscathed. 

I took way too many photos at this point that, now that I’m examining them, are all fundamentally the same. Except for this sweaty selfie of me eating a sleeve of pineapple.  

 I had an amazing time at the area around the Grand Palace and it’s going to take me a couple more days to see it all. A particular highlight includes me attempting to chant with all the worshippers and finding the incense unbelievably complicated. I was given to understand worshipping the Buddha involved removing your shoes and bowing. It does not and I’m still unclear whether it was even cool of me to join the flower (don’t put these in your hair, people glare at you) burning incense ritual. As I walked away feeling very spiritual I noticed that I was quite literally the only white person involving myself. But it must have been okay because none of the monks kicked me off the rug. 

I went to Wat Pho and saw the amazing/famous (and vaguely erotic?) reclining Buddha. 

 
This picture doesn’t capture the absolute immensity of this. It’s really quite spectacular. 

I then went to street food and absolutely hit it off with my pad thai maker… who didn’t speak a word of english. I mimed to her river/water? and she left her litle cart! (bless!) and led me to the river. This is where I made a decision that I am still chuckling about. Theres all kinds of boats in this crazy river, none of which seem completely seaworthy, however, I just hopped right on the boat my food cart maker pointed to. I found myself on the Thai water taxi that costs 50 cents and doesn’t have walls or life jackets and I was absoultely the only person that wasn’t Thai. Hi Ho captain! Hanna please hurry and save me from myself. 

 

This is the strap for you to hold onto. I didn’t take any photos because I was considering my own mortality.
 
I got off where I believed was vaguely close to a sky train stop.. Yes, you read that right I didn’t get off immediately…I rode it for like 8 stops. 

I then consulted my Thai map. A beautiful stranger interceded who showed me that I had it upside down and he pointed me in the direction of the BBTS or sky train which I rode right on back to the hostel. I’m now kicking back attempting to rehydrate after losing my entire bodily water supply through my pores and marveling that I survived. 

Successful first day of touring! cannot wait for tomorrow!