Category Archives: Thailand

Most Perfect Food In The World

I think it could be said that Thailand just got dumb lucky when it came to food development.  They just happened to situated in a prefect geographical location to combine the regions spices, tropical gifts, and seafood that make Thai food the most perfectly balanced food in the world.  Now I am not saying that it is the “best” food in the world, that would be a subjective opinion that is impossible to make as a statement.  Plus how could you argue that Italy doesn’t have a “best” dish on its day, or France, or Japan.  What I am saying is that when you grade the food on balance of taste there just isn’t much that can stand up to an amazing Thai curry.  There are not many other dishes in the world where every bite stimulates taste buds without numbing them.  Every taste of a Thai curry is like the first, how is that possible?  Maybe someday a gastro-scientist can explain this to me, but in the end I don’t really care why it happens, I am just happy that it does.

I figured an entire post should be devoted to the food Scotty and I ate in South East Asia between northern Thailand and Laos.  Travel is truly enjoyable when you look forward to eating everyday and never get tired of eating the same type of food over the duration of the trip.

So here we go!

Pad Thai Street Stand

Pad Thai Street Stand

When I first arrived, Scotty took me to get spring rolls and Pad Thai from one of the many street food carts on Khao San Road in Bangkok.  This type of dish isn’t really eaten by the locals and is really for the throngs of international travelers. A great snack though, and at around $1-2 USD a good little bargain.

Sweaty pad thai and spring roll snack.

Sweaty pad thai and spring roll snack.

Spring Roll Cart

Spring Roll Cart

One of my first Thai meals of the trip.

One of my first Thai meals of the trip.

This is one of the first meals I had in Thailand.  Upper left is spring rolls with ham.  Upper right is a red curry, which I think is probably the best dish in Thailand, although I’m sure I would get an argument out of many for this distinction.  To the lower left is basil noodles, these where amazing because the basil is fried and crunchy then mixed with noodles and steamed veggies.

Food at the great restaurant that we could not read the name of.

Food at the great restaurant that we could not read the name of.

This was at the restaurant that Scotty’s friend Duncan took us to.  It has been around forever and is a family run joint in the heart of the business and high end district of Bangkok.  Their specialty was cockles, or little fresh water clams.  These where drowned in an oyster sauce and where delicious.  The other dish is a prawn salad which came up a distant second compared to the cockles.

If you can read the name of this place, please let me know what it is!

If you can read the name of this place, please let me know what it is!

So, After I first posted this entry, a friend from the USA wrote a comment that a colleague of his knew of this restaurant and gave him the name.  Its is called Yong Lee Restaurant.  So there you go, ask and you shale receive!

Ohh Man!

Ohh Man!

Yellow Curry and some kind of soup I ordered that I can’t remember the name of now.  The soup was for like 2-3 people.  Of course I ate almost all of it myself.  Look how fat I am in the picture below.  Good thing I got a nasty stomach parasite half way through Laos and that helped me take off a few pounds….it also almost killed me.  You know when people sometimes wish they had a parasite to help them loose weight, guess what, you really, really don’t want one.

All fat and sweaty.  This meal was spicy, combined with the tropical heat, and my lack of warm weather blood, and you get this mess.

All fat and sweaty. This meal was spicy, combined with the tropical heat, and my lack of warm weather blood, and you get this mess.

Yum!

Yum!

Spicy Seafood Salad

Spicy Seafood Salad

This is easily the spiciest thing I have ever eaten.  We where in Northern Thailand, near Chang Mai.  It was probably about 102 degrees (39 C) and we where sitting around a shallow lake at this cool little bungalow style restaurant.   When I ate this, I almost choked.  I started to get dizzy and my ears actually puckered.  I couldn’t talk, think, move or do anything at all.  The dish tasted great though!

Great Appetizer!

Great Appetizer!

This was a nice little appetizer that we where shown at the Thai cooking course we took.  It is beetle nut leaves, with diced ginger, roasted peanuts, roasted garlic, lime, shallot, and green (bomb) chillies. You fold it all up in the beetle nut leaves, drizzle a little sesame oil sauce over it and enjoy.

All rolled up and ready to munch.

All rolled up and ready to munch.

Tom Yum and red curry we made at class.

Tom Yum and red curry we made at class.

What makes the curries so good in Thailand?  Well for me it is the perfect balance of the spice of the curry powder/paste with the sweetness of the base.  Sometimes its just added sugar, but most times it is the coconut milk/paste that is added to make the Thai curries more soupy than that of there Indian counterparts.  I think this is where the perfection occurs. The fact that Thailand had the tropical coast lines to support coconut, with the proximity to India for the spices was the geographical dumb luck that everyone in the world is now fortunate enough to enjoy.

More tom yum, and a masaman curry I made in class.

More tom yum, and a masaman curry I made in class.

The masaman curry is less soupy than some of the other curries.  It is also sweeter and therefor less spicy.  This might be my favorite dish.

Laap and Brown Rice

Laap and Brown Rice

This is Laap that I had in the northern city of Pai in Thailand.  It is actually the national dish of Laos I found out later.  It is made by dicing up meat like beef, chicken, pork or even fish.  It is then cooked with mild spices and tossed with fresh mint.  I have to say that the mint is magical, it gives the dish this great fresh flavor that will keep you coming back.  The rice shown in this picture is brown rice, but in Laos we would often eat our meals with sticky rice, which is exactly what it sounds like.  The rice sticks together and you roll it between your fingers and eat the balled up rice with you main dish.

The best curry we had? Very possible!

The best curry we had? Very possible!

This red chicken curry I had in Pai was probably the best curry I had on the trip. In the upper corner you can see a mug of thai iced tea.  This may be my favorite beverage on the planet (well non-alcoholic drink).  It is thick thai tea mixed with soy milk.  It is sweet with a heavy back tea taste. Try it sometime, I’m sure you will love it!

We where at this cool little restaurant with about 6 tables down a small alley way near the river.  It was called the Curry Shack.  If your ever in Pai I would highly suggest hitting this cool little place for a dinner one night.  The owner was super friendly as well and we had a nice chat with him as he closed up for the night.

Green Curry in Luang Prabang

Green Curry in Luang Prabang

Scotty got this green tofu curry in Luang Prabang.

Papaya Salad

Papaya Salad

Papaya salad seems to be a staple at every place we went.  I’m not sure if it is everywhere because westerners like it, or its just a regional favorite.  I always had a problem with papaya salad however.  If it was made with very, very light fish sauce I liked it.  It is a nice crunchy veggie salad with shaved papaya, carrots, and various other veggies.  Often the cook might go heavy on the fish sauce, and as our cooking teacher said, “Fish sauce, smells terrible, tastes great.”  This is normally true when its cooked in with something, but when tossed in with a salad I found it to smell like wet dog that has been left in a small room and has pooped someplace and it hasn’t been cleaned in like months…you know the smell, everyone had a friend that had a room in or around their house that had this problem.  The taste isn’t bad, although when really heavy the small and taste start to combine. I pretty much found papaya salad to be like eating stinky cheese.

Night Market Feast in Luang Prabang

Night Market Feast in Luang Prabang

On our last night in Luang Prabang we found a food street in the night market in town. It was amazing.  There where probably 25 stalls lining a narrow alley and tables and chairs where set up cafeteria style all the way down.  Each place had several items on a counter, and we paid for a plate size (Small, Medium, Large) and scooped up food buffet style.

Pha on the loop in central Laos

Pha on the loop in central Laos

Pha, aka noodle soup is actually more of a Vietnamese staple soup.  However we ate a lot of it in Laos on the Loop due to nothing other than lack of language skills.  It can be ordered with beef or chicken usually, and as Scotty is a vegetarian, with no meat as well.  The best part is the fresh water crest and greens that come on the side.  To add some flavor there was usually a condiment platter on the table with various sauces like fish and sweet chilly along with salts and other tasty additions.

Various goodies under wraps at a food stall along the loop.

Various goodies under wraps at a food stall along the loop.

We where never adventurous enough to try any of these, but this was how many places where in Laos.  A buffet table out front and the eatery behind it.  Usually we just got Pha.  I wish I had a local with us…would have been epic to try some of this stuff.

Boohya! Food!

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Slow boat to Laos, and I do mean slow.

In order to head into Laos, the land locked country to the east of Thailand, we needed to take a mini van to the boarder, then spend the night to await for a ferry to take us across the famous Mekong river, where we were to board a slow boat for two days on the river to the Laos royal city of Luang Prabang.  That was the plan anyway.

We sprinted back from Pai on our bikes, early in the morning, in order to have time to shower, eat and meet the mini bus.  Of course what wasn’t planned was me getting lost in Changmai for and hour and a half, fighting the traffic clogged streets trying to find Scotty and the motorbike rental place.

After I finally found it, we hurried back to Julie house where our bags where.  A shower was out, but we managed to whoof down a pad thai and catch the mini bus.  We got to a nice hotel on the boarder that had a pool, and set up our visa information there.  The visa cost $30 USD and could only be paid in US dollars.  Come to find out its very good to travel with US currency in Asia…who knew? Now you do.

In the morning we were taken to the river, put on a small boat and ferried across the river, effectively crossing the boarder.  On the other side we waited for the Laos authorities to process our passports and pay the fee. Two hours later we were on a slow boat heading down the Mekong, which would be one of the most memorable, and uncomfortable journeys I have made.

On the ferry boat waiting to cross the mighty Mekong.

On the ferry boat waiting to cross the mighty Mekong.

Waiting for our passports with Laos visas to return, at least we where overlooking the river.

Waiting for our passports with Laos visas to return, at least we where overlooking the river.

Truck Ferry, Rad!

Truck Ferry, Rad!

Slow boats lined up

Slow boats lined up

Loading up the slow boat

Loading up the slow boat

We slowly made our way down the river.  The boat seated around 50 – 75 people, and had a motor in the back, propelling us probably around 5 knots. The rest of the forward momentum came from current propelling us down the river. Most of us sat on wooden benches that where not made for humans, not even small Asian people. The back rest was straight up, and the seat only came halfway across your bottom.  Luckily Scotty’s sister had told us to purchase cushions for the trip, and in the next 2 days these became key to avoiding a numb ass, which was always a loosing battle.

We slowly meandered, hour after hour, Floating past small ancient villages that had no road access, and have been on the river highway for thousands of years.  Fisherman and their long boats where a constant along the river banks, and there bamboo floating nets caught fish using the river current as the trolling mechanism.

One of the first villages we passed on our 2 day journey.

One of the first villages we passed on our 2 day journey.

A Boat

A Boat

Fast boats. These little wooden speed boats take people up and down the river in half the time.  The trade off though, is that they are hurling down a river with constantly changing water levels.  There are plenty of submerged rocks, logs, cows and other hazards that would destroy one of these boats in an instant. Apparently there is a death a year on one of these.

Fast boats. These little wooden speed boats take people up and down the river in half the time. The trade off though, is that they are hurling down a river with constantly changing water levels. There are plenty of submerged rocks, logs, cows and other hazards that would destroy one of these boats in an instant. Apparently there is a death a year on one of these.

Slow boat dropping off on its way up river.

Slow boat dropping off on its way up river.

Cliffs along river

Cliffs along river

Beautiful little village. This has probably been here for 1000's of years.

Beautiful little village. This has probably been here for 1000's of years.

Fishermen on there way in for the day.

Fishermen on there way in for the day.

10 hours into the journey we came to the mid way point, a small little town, the first with road access.  This has been a classic stopping point to travelers along the river, and We stayed the night at a guest house.  There where multiple options and a plethora of shops and restaurants to choose from.

The next morning , we grabbed a sandwich and snacks for the boat, and where back on the river for another 10 hour trip to the ancient royal city of Luang Probang, a UNESCO world heritage city.

As we approached the city, near sunset, we saw local farmers bringing Elephants to the rivers edge to drink, and holy ancient caves that where adorned with Buddha images from monks long past.

Elephants!

Elephants!

One of the villages we picked up, or dropped someone off at.

One of the villages we picked up, or dropped someone off at.

The Boat! The Boat!

The Boat! The Boat!

Elephants!

Elephants!

Elephants!

Elephants!

Sacred cave just up river from Luang Prabang.  Its filled with 1000's of Buddha images.

Sacred cave just up river from Luang Prabang. Its filled with 1000's of Buddha images.

Finally arrived on the banks of Luang Prabang.

Finally arrived on the banks of Luang Prabang.

I have to say after 2 days of sitting on spine snapping benches and the wooden deck, I was ready to get off the boat.  We made some good acquaintances over the 2 days, and in the next 3 weeks we bumped into people from this journey again and again in new locations.

Although uncomfortable, and long, I have to say that the slow boat and the Mekong are the way to move through Laos.  Its like walking back into time, and using the natural landscape to help you get to where you want to go, a timeless way to travel.

Thai Cooking Course

As Scotty and I planned out the trip in the first few days, Scott was pouring over notes and info that other travelers had given him.  I was delighted when he suggested that we take a cooking course while we were in the northern city of Chiang Mai.  It had been recommended by some of his Kiwi friends that had he had been traveling with earlier in the month.

As I set out on my expedition, I had always considered food as one of the main facets in which to focus on as I traveled.  I not only wanted to experience it from a consumption standpoint, but also analyze it from an ingredient, historic and culturally significant component of a place.  To do this effectively I really wanted to learn to cook various kinds of regional foods.  I always expected Asia to be the most exciting place to do this.

It has become a touristy activity to take a cooking course in Thailand, with cooking schools given in english, and booked from various hotels and backpackers all over the country. As I have learned with somethings, being touristy doesn’t matter or taint the experience much, and taking a cooking course was definitely one of these activities.

We booked the course from Julie House, our hostel in Chiang Mai for the afternoon.  The course was about 4 hours and included a tour and explanation of ingredients from the organic garden at the school, and a tip to a local market.

Here the teacher takes us through the garden of Thai ingredients.

Thai Ginger

Thai Ginger

Eggplant/Aubergine

Lime

Kaffir Lime

Kaffir Lime

Tum Leung

Tum Leung

Eggplant/Aubergine

Eggplant/Aubergine

Thai Chili.  They call these little bastards "bombs" for good reason.

Thai Chili. They call these little bastards "bombs" for good reason.

Ginger

Ginger

Lemon Basil. Yes it comes in the flavor!

Lemon Basil. Yes it comes in the flavor!

Sweet Basil

Sweet Basil

Crazy Long String Bean

Crazy Long String Bean

After the garden tour we headed down the road to the local market.

Veggies at Thailand Market

Veggies at Thailand Market

Veggies at Thailand Market

Veggies at Thailand Market

Lime and Chili

Lime and Chili

Bags of everything, and Scotty posing awkwardly.

Bags of everything, and Scotty posing awkwardly.

How many types of rice can you count?

How many types of rice can you count?

Fish

Fish

After the market we headed back to the kitchen.  We all sat around a long table, and decided what we wanted to make.  We had the opportunity to choose between 5 categories, and pick out 3 dishes to prepare.  As a group we had to pick 3 categories so that the school could shop and get us the ingredients.  From those 3 categories we where able to individually choose 3 dishes to assemble.

A great little appetizer.  Beetle nut leaves, lime, onion, ginger, roasted peanuts, and roasted almond. Tied together with a sesame sauce.

A great little appetizer. Beetle nut leaves, lime, onion, ginger, roasted peanuts, and roasted almond. Tied together with a sesame sauce.

Fold it all up in the beetle nut leave, drizzle a little sauce and....

Fold it all up in the beetle nut leave, drizzle a little sauce and....

Enjoy!

Enjoy!

Getting ingredients for our individual dishes, and chopping.

Getting ingredients for our individual dishes, and chopping.

My Setup

My Setup

Getting ready to cook.

Getting ready to cook.

Scotty makes his first successful spring roll.

Scotty makes his first successful spring roll.

Making Our Second Course, Curries!

Making Our Second Course, Curries!

1,2,3 is the rule. 1 spoon of sugar, 2 dashes of fish sauce, 3 dashes of oyster sauce.

1,2,3 is the rule. 1 spoon of sugar, 2 dashes of fish sauce, 3 dashes of oyster sauce.

ME

ME

Scotty!

Scotty!

Tom yum and Marsamam Curry

Tom yum and Thai Red Curry

Tom Yum soup and Marsaman Curry

Tom Yum soup and Massaman Curry

Pai (pie) Village. Everything is better with pie!

Scotty Around The Corner

Scotty Around The Corner

After a day with the scooters, Scotty and I had the bug, the motorbike bug. We where both in total agreement that the way to get to Pai, a city about 100K farther north than Chaing Mai, near the Thai-Burma boarder was to rent motorbikes and drive them out there. We knew the roads where mountainous, and it was a pretty good distance to drive, so we logically concluded that a bigger faster bike was a much better idea than taking a 100cc scooter.

We headed into the city in search of bigger bikes. The first place we came across had a variety of weird mini 100cc street bikes, and big 250 cc dirt and street bikes. Since I have never driven a clutch bike, and the fact that they were 3 times the price, we decided to flag the idea. We negotiated with the guy for the mini street bikes and went to find an ATM to get cash. On the search for the ATM we came across Mr. Beer, a motorbike renter (note the irony) He had these 150cc small street bikes that seemed like a good compromise between a bigger, heavy bike that I probably couldn’t handle, and the mini bikes we had almost rented. The best part was that they where all the same price, about $5 USD a day!

So that was it, we left a passport with Mr. Beer, climbed onto the bike, and I stalled it instantly. Luckily I get how a clutch works so the next try I nailed it and started to creep down the street. We strapped our backpacks on, and headed out of the city to the open road.

We drove through several towns, on the main motorway for about 50 kilometers. We then reached our turnoff onto the smaller road that lead into the mountains and to Pai. The road winded up, with tight switch back corners and blind hairpin turns. We drove past little villages and rivers. It was the dry season and amazingly hot. Everything was brown and parched, and the air was heavy with smoke from the farmers burning the underbrush from the fields. As we drove it was like being hit with a hot air dryer.

On The Road to Pai

On The Road to Pai

On The Road to Pai

On The Road to Pai

On The Road to Pai

On The Road to Pai

On The Road to Pai

On The Road to Pai

On The Road to Pai

On The Road to Pai

It was the dry season when I was in Thailand.  It hadn't rained quite a while, and with the farmers burning last seasons ground brush, the air was think with smoke and humidity.

It was the dry season when I was in Thailand. It hadn't rained in quite a while, and with the farmers burning last seasons ground brush, the air was think with smoke and humidity.

It took us a solid 4 hours, and we finally pulled into Pai, after a few close calls, numb feet and asses from the vibrating bike. It ended up being a mellow night finding accommodation and walking around the small city getting our bearings. We found a chill little bar and played a few rounds of pool on a severely warped table.

Pool in Pai

Pool in Pai

In the morning, we headed out to a waterfall that was pretty much bone dry, and drove out to a small secluded village among dry rice fields tucked in a small valley.

"bridge" to waterfall

"bridge" to waterfall

"waterfall" kinda

"waterfall" kinda

On the way to a small village near the waterfall

On the way to a small village near the waterfall

On the way to a small village near the waterfall

On the way to a small village near the waterfall

On the way to a small village near the waterfall

On the way to a small village near the waterfall

On the way to a small village near the waterfall

On the way to a small village near the waterfall

Gate to Village

Gate to Village

Looking Back At Village

Looking Back At Village

Motorbike Photo Shoot

Motorbike Photo Shoot

Motorbike Photo Shoot

Motorbike Photo Shoot

In the afternoon we moved to these really cool separated bungalows just out of town along the main river.

Bungalow At Night

Bungalow At Night

The next few days where spent basically laying around during the day to try and cope with the 107 degree heat. At night it cooled a bit, and we chilled at possibly the most amazing bar set up I have ever been too. Multi level bamboo tiers cascaded out over the river, and highlighted bamboo tepee structures framed the corners and boundaries of the bar. A rough paddle wheel finished off the surroundings. Although I knew this was all built for tourist, I was intrigued and delighted at the creativity in the designed space, and ingenuity in use of material and construction methods.

Bar and lounge on the river in Pai

Bar and lounge on the river in Pai

Looking across the river at a high end resort.

Looking across the river at a high end resort.

Looking across the river at a high end resort.

Looking across the river at a high end resort.

Sitting in the bar.

Sitting in the bar.

Sitting in the bar.

Sitting in the bar.

Cold Singha on the River

Cold Singha on the River

Looking Up River

Looking Up River

Salamander In Light Post

Salamander In Light Post (Scotty's Shot)

Beers on the River!

Beers on the River!

The next morning we headed back to drop the bikes off, and catch a shuttle to the Thai-Laos border. We where on our way to a 3 week tour of one of the “poorest” and “undeveloped” countries on the planet.

What?

What?

North to Changmai and the Amazing Northern Curries

One thing that hit me about traveling around Thailand was how developed it was.  This was the first but not the last fact that challenged my expectations of South-East Asia.  Thailand is also set up for tourists, and it was mind numbingly easy to get transport to anyplace in the country.  I was expecting to take local torn up, smelly packed buses, that took 20 hours to get anywhere, like in Uganda.  When Scott told me the bus ride to Chiang Mai took 12 hours my heart sank, as I had flashbacks to 16 hours of bumpy hot, smelly rides with my feet on a sack of potatoes in Africa.  But I knew we had to get there, so I sucked it up, and tried to mentally prepare myself.

The reality of the situation could not have been further from my fears.  We walked up to a travel agent shop, walked in, payed about $10 for the bus, got a ticket, and waited for a few hours for the bus in a nice air conditioned cafe.  We were talking the night bus, leaving around 6 p.m., and due to arrive at 6 a.m. Its a great set up, travel all night so you don’t waste a day, and get a nights accommodation.  Still I knew how bad the bus could be, and wasn’t stoked to be crammed in a metal, bouncy box for that long.

When the bus showed up I was floored.  It was a double-decker, modern road machine.  The AC was cranking, the seats where comfy and reclined to almost lay down position.  We had plenty of leg room, and there where no chickens, or produce or really anything smelly laying around.  The bus was filled with just tourists, so I cannot say it was an authentic Thai experience, but at this point, when it comes to travel, comfort is king.  We watched a movie on my lap top, popped an Ambien, and lights out.

I awoke to a dusty, dry, hot bus station at 6:30 am, someplace in the heart of northern Thailand.  We stumbled off the bus, collected our bags from the hold, and where herded onto a jumbo (like a tuk tuk, but larger).  We where taken to a guest house, where a little speech was given about Chiang Mai, and then tried to be sold a room.  I’m still not sure what this was all about.

Scott had been recommended a good hostel here called Julie House, and we decided to go check it out before we made any decisions.

Julie House turned out to be a really good place, with a great social atmosphere, and we made this place our base while in the city.

Julie House Common Area.

Julie House Common Area.

Chiang Mai is an interesting place.  The city is laid out as a big square and has an ancient moat built around it.  In modern times the city has spilled out far past the old moat, but it still plays a large roll in the city’s decor and marks the inner core.  In April it is hot here….I mean HOT!  The few days we where in the city the temperature was topping out around 42 Celsius (107 F).  It was painful, and the city only amplified the heat with dust and smog.

We met a Canadian guy at the hostel, and we all decided to rent motorbikes (scooters) for the day, and tear out to a lake we had heard about.  With the heat, nothing sounded better than a cool dip in water.  The bikes cost us $1.50 for 24 hours, and I quickly tried to get used to riding one up and down the alley way that Julie House was on.  Once feeling semi stable, we head out into the city.

Motorbikes, well 100cc scooters actually.

Motorbikes, well 100cc scooters actually.

Scooter Scotty says, safety first!

Scooter Scotty says, safety first!

Watching the traffic in Thailand, and for that matter anywhere in Asia is a humbling experience.  It looks to be complete chaos.  No “rules of the road” seem to be observed.  Traffic merges and turns off in a slow sporadic ant like procession.  However, once you are in it, you can see that the chaos is not random, and that, as it has been described to me, traffic flows like a river.  Everyone is looking out, and aware of what is around them.  Every movement is slow and deliberate, and it is actually quite comfortable to drive in with a little practice.

We headed out of the city and drove for about 5 minutes to a turn off.  Once around we swung onto another road and headed towards the single mountain to the east of the city.  the road snaked around and emptied to a ring around a lovely lake surrounded by open walled bungalows and strung up plastic water bottle marked swimming areas.

Huay Tung Thao Lake

Huay Tung Thao Lake

There was a small park with a Buddhist monument, and past that, what looked like a music festival set up.  We continued around the loop of the lake, and saw parched, dusty rice patty fields and what we think where irrigation towers.

Buddhist monument at the lake.

Buddhist monument at the lake.

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

*****

Not sure what this is, but it made for a good setting and picture.

Not sure what this is, but it made for a good setting and picture.

Apocalypse Later

Apocalypse Later

*******

*******

After completing the ring around the lake, we picked a restaurant that had one of the open air bungalows on the lake, and sat down for a late lunch.  I ate the spiciest dish I have ever had, in the form of a papaya salad, and a few cold Changs.  We all went for a swim and watched the sun set.

Sunset from the bungalow

Sunset from the bungalow

Sunset on the Lake

Sunset on the Lake

Sunset Swim

Sunset Swim

Smokey Mountains

Smokey Mountains

107 Degrees and Smoky

107 Degrees and Smoky

Golden Hour Umbrellas

Golden Hour Umbrellas

Golden hour Umbrellas

Golden hour Umbrellas

We could see the music festival get going and decided to head over to check it out.  Later in the evening the festival packed out, and I had some conflicting thoughts of what it was, what Thailand was, and how whacked out it seemed that many travelers come here and are catered to.  The thought ran across my mind, “why would one come all this was just to be around other travelers and listen to and experience what the Thai’s thought a westerner would want?”

Music at the Lake

Music at the Lake

Fire Twirlers

Fire Twirlers

Fire Twirlers

Fire Twirlers

This may be one of my favorite photographs.

This may be one of my favorite photographs.

Fun in the dark with the camera.

Fun in the dark with the camera.

Fire Twirler

Fire Twirler

In the upcoming weeks these thoughts would be challenged, and in some ways supported.  It is an interesting phenomena, but one that I am slowly coming to understand for what it is.

The next day, since we still had half a day left on the motorbike rentals, we drove up to a mountain top temple overlooking the city.  The road was windy and pitched and curved up to a very touristy little spot at the base of the staircase to the temple.  We headed up and, this being the first temple I visited a bit of a surprise.  the sculpting and architecture is incredible.  The statues and creatures all depicting Buddhist mythology where surreal and the entire temple grounds where packed with great little things to be discovered.

In the town near Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep.

In the town near Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep.

In the town near Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep.

In the town near Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep.

Big Old Gong

Big Old Gong

Stairs up to  mountain top temple, Chaing Mai, north Thailand

Stairs up to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, mountain top temple, Chaing Mai, north Thailand

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Wax Carving

Wax Carving

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Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Bells

Bells

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep

Stairway Dragon Serpent

Stairway Dragon Serpent

Asian Land Horse

Asian Land Horse

?????

?????

Amazing example of Thai sculpture.

Amazing example of Thai sculpture.

Unfortunately it has not rained for months in this area, and with farmers burning the ground brush and old crops away the air was think with smoke and the visibility was limited to only a few hundred feet, so no amazing views of the city.

On the way back down. Scotty on the way back down.
Me

Me

Next stop Scotty and I traveled by clutched motorcycle about 3 hours over a mountain pass to the small village of Pai, very north in the highlands of Thailand.  This is my first experience on a motorcycle with a clutch, so it was interesting to say the least.  Stay tuned!

Cross Bow Scotty

Cross Bow Scotty

Bangkok Boohya!

I needed to set up internet as I have a project that I was in the middle of.  I had my mobile internet USB device, which is unlocked, so all I needed was a sim card and a data plan.  This proved to be a little more complicated than I anticipated and took us into the heart of the city to the massive Center World shopping complex.  The mall is a cathedral to consumption. Seven stories of glittering shops, and kiosks all displaying the latest way for the elite to show off their wealth.  All I wanted to do was get the card, get the device set up and working and get out.  After an hour of trying to communicate through a bit of a language barrier, I was set, and we went off to explore the areas street markets and city center.

Outside of Center World Mega Mall Complex

Outside of Center World Mega Mall Complex

Busy Bangkok Streets

Busy Bangkok Streets

Scotty and I found one of the main canals in the city and realized that we could take a boat almost the entire way back to Kuao San, for $2 USD, instead of the $6 USD cab ride that we had originally took.  Plus we got to ride on classic Bangkok transportation, the river boat.

Commuting Canal

Commuting Canal

Taxi boats on the canal.

Taxi boats on the canal.

River Boat

River Boat

The next day we headed back into the city and went to one of the main parks. It was kind of like central park in NYC, except Bangkok really isn’t centralized, there are not sky scrapers surrounding the park entirely like in central park.

Limpini Park, Bangkok

Lumpini Park, Bangkok

Water monitor lizard in Lumpini Park, Bangkok.

Water monitor lizard in Lumpini Park, Bangkok.

Water Monitor Lizard

Water Monitor Lizard

Water Monitor Lizard

Water Monitor Lizard

Water Monitor Lizard

Water Monitor Lizard

Water Monitor Lizard

Water Monitor Lizard

Lumpini Park, Bangkok

Lumpini Park, Bangkok

Kitty just hangin' at the park.

Kitty just hangin' at the park.

There was a Sepak takraw court and several guys playing.  It is an amazing game that combines football juggling with volley ball, and all the aerial acrobatics of scissor and bicycle kicks.  Its crazy to watch.


That night we met up with Scotty’s friend Duncan, a fellow Kiwi who is an ex-pat architect in Bangkok.  He took us to 2 historic places in the city, Cheap Charlies, this rad little bar that was like a barnacle stuck to the side of a building down an alley way, and a little old family run restaurant.  We talked about life in Bangkok and about Duncan’s trip to Burma. Duncan has been working as an architect in Bangkok for 3 years, and gave us great information about the culture, and what to see from an ex-pats perspective.

In the morning Jordan, Scott’s friend that was arriving from India showed up at our guest house, and we set off for the day exploring the city some more.  I had to head back to Center World because the mobile internet I had set up wasn’t connecting properly.  We took the boat back into the city center and after I had a tech look at my computer, we headed for that great little old restaurant that Duncan had showed us for lunch.  The 3 of us ate family style, and had an incredible meal. (food entry to come later!)

Scotty and Jordan sitting down to lunch in a restaurant that I don't know the name of because it was only written in Thai.

Scotty and Jordan sitting down to lunch in a restaurant that I don't know the name of because it was only written in Thai.

See what I mean.  They had great cockles though (small saltwater clams).

See what I mean. They had great cockles though (small saltwater clams).

After discussing what exactly to do for the next month, Jordan decided to head south for some rock climbing, and Scott and I decided to head north into Thailand, and then on to Laos for the Thai new year holiday season.  I was antsy with anticipation and excitement for what the next month had in store for us.

We headed back to Soi Rambuttri where we were staying, and got ready to head up north in the morning.

Soi Rambuttri at Night

Soi Rambuttri at Night

Thailand Ta-Dah!

I left Sydney in the afternoon and had a great flight with Singapore Air.  I have heard that they are the best airline in the world, and it has been proven to me after this flight.  I used them to get to Africa a half a year ago and they where great, and they backed up their performance again with my flight up to Bangkok.  I had a 10 hour over night layover at the Singapore airport.  Again I can claim that the airport is the best in the world. There are massive lounges, video game consoles with bean bag chair sections, free internet kiosks all over and a series of quite halls with lounge chairs for comfortable sleeping.  It was the most comfortable layover I have ever had outside of a business lounge.

I arrived in Bangkok the next day in the morning, and grabbed a cab to Kuao San Road, a famous area for backpackers traveling to South East Asia.  The road is packed with bars, food stalls, restaurants, and shops filled with trinkets and cheap mass produced crap like knock off sunglasses, t-shirt, sneakers and clothing.  There is also all the cheap accommodation one will need when in Bangkok crammed into this area.

Khao San Road

Khao San Road

I was to meet Scotty on Soi Rambuttri, a street just off of Kuao San (Soi meaning road).  I knew where this street was from some Google map research, but as I approached the bustling street in the cab I had no idea which direction was which.  I jumped out, and starting walking in no particular direction.  Of course it was the wrong way, and after about 20 minutes realized that I needed to turn around.  At this point I was profusely sweating.  The air was thick and muggy, and the particulate from the city hung heavy in the air.  I instantly felt grimy and was craving a cold shower.  My body started to adjust to the heat in Sydney, but this was a whole new level.

I finally met Scotty and relief washed over me.  He took me to the guest house (cheap accommodation like a hostel) that he had booked, and I dropped off my bags.  It felt great getting my backpack off and letting my back air out.  I was pouring sweat and quickly jumped in a cold shower.

Scotty enjoying a cold Chang

Scotty enjoying a cold Chang

We grabbed a beer and went over the plan for the upcoming month. A cold Chang (local Thai beer) went down too easy in the hot midday sun, and it felt great to be with a good friend in an amazing exotic location.

We had about 3 days in the city, as we where waiting for another one of Scotty’s friends, an Aussie who was coming in from India.  I was excited to explore Bangkok, but most of all start to feast on some local Thai food.

That night Scotty introduced me to Thai massage.  There are tons of places all around Kuao San to get a Thai or Swedish oil massage, all costing about 150-250 Bat or ($5-10 USD) per hour.  Cheap, great massages, so excellent!

Feet wash before a Thai massage for $10 USD!

Feet wash before a Thai massage for $10 USD!

Scotty's foot washing before his massage.

Scotty's foot washing before his massage.

After the massage, we went out for a few drinks and dinner.  After a great curry and several drinks we went to party on Kuao San, and to watch some of the strangest travelers I have ever encountered.  The Road is just packed with people, mostly white Europeans drinking eating and rocking out.  I discovered one of my newest and favorite drunk foods here, spring rolls with chilly sauce, delicious! Quick street cart pad-thai is also available, which is amazing as well.

That Guy

This guy is a unicorn. Somehow he has combined all the elements of doucheness into one perfect package to become the ultimate "that guy". iPod in a harness on the belt, sleeveless shirt showing off his "authentic tribal" tattoo, super short jean shorts...what the? Fanny pack (although its hard to condemn this). All that he is missing is socks with his cage sandals. If this guy was playing a joke on everyone he would be the greatest human on the planet! But you know he's not.

That Guy

That Guy

The Other Guy

And then just down the road you see the actual greatest human on the planet. Funny how things work out. I want to be this guy someday. Scotty had a good eye and quick photo finger.

Hustle and Bustle of Late Night Khaosan

Hustle and Bustle of Late Night Khaosan

This car would just drive up and down the road.

This car would just drive up and down the road.

Street Pad-Thai and Spring Rolls Baby!

Street Pad-Thai and Spring Rolls Baby!

So excited to feast after several cocktails on Khaosan.

So excited to feast after several cocktails on Khaosan.

I can’t say I liked this area too much.  I was very surprised at just how many travelers where here, and how much everything, from the shops, to the street vendors catered to westerners.  The first few days I was a little pessimistic about Thailand, and I’m sure I annoyed Scotty quite a bit with my negative commentary.  The next few days we headed into Bangkok, away from the party scene of the backpackers ghetto.  Once deeper in the city, my feelings began to change, and a quite appreciation of Bangkok began to creep into me, or maybe that was a parasite, who knows.