Final thoughts on Thailand (2018)

We’ve been to Thailand three times since May 2018.  The first time we visited Bangkok and luxuriated in the idea of being newly retired.  The second time we visited Phuket and Koh Samui, lounging on the beach (and getting some much needed emergency dental work).  The third time we visited Chiang Mai, Sukhothai, and Bangkok, largely sightseeing, eating, and seeing movies.  Below are some thoughts on our time in Thailand.

WatPho6

Wat Pho.  We take this shot every time we visit.

 

 

 

 

  • We adore Thailand.  The food is amazing, the people are friendly, it is easy to get around, and there are some beautiful things to see.  We are already planning another visit in 2019.
WatPho4

Wat Pho

  • Thailand has the best soda water.  Seriously, if you are ever in Thailand, go to a 7-11 or Family Mart (they are on nearly every block) and look for a bottle of Singha soda water.  (Look for the red lettering).  Big bubbles that last forever — I’m talking you can put a bottle on your nightstand and it will still be bubbly in the morning.  Or even two mornings later.  No lie.  And only 9 Baht (or about 30 U.S. cents).  Yum!  (Newsflash!  We just discovered they have Singha soda water in Luang Prabang as well.  Yeah!)
WatPho3

Wat Pho

  • Thailand also has the best packaged snacks.  Again, go to a 7-11 or Family Mart and look for a bag of Tong brand peanuts.  (Look for the blue bag.)  Crunchy, pea-nutty, deliciousness.  And, check out the fried broad beans while you are at it.  And Robert really likes the pre-made sandwiches at the 7-11.  He thinks they are the perfect breakfast before a morning of scuba diving.
WatPho2

Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

  • Thai food (outside of Sukhothai) is fantastic.  Robert likes Vietnamese better, but I think Thai is the best food in the region.  Nothing quite compares to a bowl of khao soi, a plate of penang curry, some smoky pad thai, or some freshly made green papaya salad.  Now, if we just had the stomach room to have all of those dishes in one meal….
WatPho1

Close-up of the Reclining Buddha at Wat Pho

  • Bangkok Airways has to be one of the best regional airlines around.  Clean planes, friendly staff, and a meal or snack on every flight.  Plus, they have small little lounges with snacks at pretty much every airport, and the snacks always include popcorn.  And, in places like Sukhothai and Samui, they control the airports and they are often a wonderful little oasis of green gardens and beautiful flowers.  Plus, in Sukhothai, you can even watch zebras and giraffes from the waiting area!  I don’t even mind flying on a prop plane when I’m flying Bangkok Airways.  (Oddly, their prop planes can be more comfortable than their jets.  Go figure.)
Wat Saphan Hin 2

Wat Saphan Hin

  • The Phuket taxi cab mafia are beyond powerful.  They have largely kept Grab and Uber out of Phuket.  Grab supposedly operates, but we couldn’t get the app to work in Phuket (it has worked just fine elsewhere) and Grab charges a surcharge so it is just as expensive as the taxis.  And the taxis are so expensive.  For example, the taxis wanted the equivalent of $15 dollars to go the under 5 miles from Kata to Patong.  In other words, they wanted half as much as we were paying per night for our hotel to drive us less than 5 miles.  Unreal.  Do yourself a favor and just rent a scooter.  Or, if you can deal with the aggravation of never being certain when it will arrive or quite where it will stop, take the new Smart Bus that runs between the two areas.
Wat Sorasak 1

Wat Sorasak

  • The drivers in Chiang Mai are actually courteous.  Over and over, they would stop and let us cross the road.  Quite the change from most of Asia.
Wat Sri CHum 1

Wat Sri Chum

  • It is kind of crazy how different Phuket and Samui are.  Phuket has the Patong area.  We would never stay there, but if all you want to do is party, it is supposed to be fantastic.  We, on the other hand, didn’t even like it during the day (the only reason we went was to visit my dentist).  Phuket also has the Kata Beach area, where we stayed.  Plenty of shops and bars and restaurants.  Parties if you want it, but not in your face.  But, absolutely crawling with Russians on package tours.  Samui (at least the Bophut Beach area where we stayed), on the other hand, was way more chill than Phuket and seemed to attract a mix of visitors.  We probably should have spent all of our time in Samui, but it was way more expensive than Phuket when we were there.
P1180487

Elephant sculptures in Samui

  • Chiang Mai is one of those cities we immediately fell in love with.  We visited back in 2007 and we still loved it in 2018.  Yes, it is touristy.  Yes, it is full of digital nomads.  But, there are temples galore, plenty of cafes, khao soi on every corner, and a chill vibe that we adore.  And movies are dirt cheap!
Wat Sa SI 1

Wat Sa Si

  • Bangkok is one of those cities that needs time to grow on you.  When we first visited, we pretty much hated it.  Every time we returned, we liked it a tiny bit more.  At this stage, we pretty much feel at home in Bangkok, and I truly think we could live in Bangkok. We have our favorite hotels (all Accor properties because we always splurge in Bangkok).  We have some favorite eating spots (a Northern Thai restaurant right by the Sofitel So and the Or Tor Kor market).  We know how to use the public transportation system and even have a Rabbit card good for the next two years.  We can’t wait to return.
Wat Traphang Ngoen 2

Wat Traphang Ngoen

  • We can’t quite put our finger on why we didn’t like Bangkok at first.  One guess is that it is really just a big city.  It is dirty, it is smelly, and there really aren’t that many fantastic touristy sites to see.   The hassle/scams at places like the Grand Palace make it so we never want to go back there — and, in fact, on our most recent visit when we wandered near the Grand Palace I blurted out “don’t be nice to anyone around here” — a sad indictment of both myself and the touts.  And with the huge number of Western expats and chain stores and restaurants, Bangkok doesn’t even really feel all that different than any city in the U.S.  Plus, I’ve always been bothered by the blatant prostitution, the bar girls making me feel uncomfortable going into certain places, and the gross, middle age, overweight, Western men with 20 year old Thai women by their sides.  (I know, I know, judgmental much?  And, yes, I know the women are using the men just as much as the men are using the women, if not more so.)  But, once you accept all of that, Bangkok is a wonderful place to visit.  You can find any food imaginable and eat until you can’t move.  You can wonder through parks, such as Lumpini Park with its water monitors galore.  You can see current Hollywood movies.  You can ride the boats down the river.  You can see beautiful temples without getting harassed once you know where to go.  If you were there once and didn’t like it, give it another try.
Wat Mahathat 6

Wat Mahathat

  • Woe is you if you find yourself in need of a new bra in Thailand.  With the notable exception of the training bras, every single bra that is designed to do anything other than be promptly taken off is full of padding.  Even the sports bras.  I’m talking more padding in the bras than I have naturally, if you get my meaning.  I don’t get it….
Wat Mahathat 1

Wat Mahathat

  • Thailand has some strange alcohol rules.  For example, there is apparently a law that says you can’t serve alcohol between 2-5 pm.  I read it has something to do with those being the hours school kids are on the street.  But, it is only selectively enforced.  We didn’t even know about this rule in Phuket, whereas in Chiang Mai it was followed nearly everywhere.  I’m guessing the more tourist-focused the area, the less enforcement of the rule.
Wat Mahathat 9

Wat Mahathat

  • Who knew the Thais would pixelate out scenes of guns being pointed at people on TV, as well as scenes of alcohol and tobacco consumption?  Turns out they do.  At least on some channels.  Strange.
P1150138

Erawan Museum

Posted in Thailand | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Reasons not to visit Sukhothai

Sukhothai Historical Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site, contains the ruins of the capital of the Sukhothai Kingdom, which existed from the mid-1200’s to the mid 1400’s.

You really, really shouldn’t go to Sukhothai.  Why?  Well, let me tell you.

Wat Saphan Sin 4

Wat Saphan Hin

Sukhothai is hard to get to.  Our understanding is that most people traveling from Chiang Mai either: (1) take a bus; or (2) take a train to a nearby town followed by a taxi or bus.  Information about the direct bus is pretty scarce — we couldn’t find an official current timetable or a site to buy tickets in advance.  All we could find was a website that purported to list a timetable, but when you clicked on “buy tickets,” it said no tickets were available.  And, while information about the train is more robust, information about the follow-on bus is likewise scarce.  Bangkok Airways flies to Sukhothai from Bangkok, but their website wouldn’t let us buy a ticket from Chiang Mai to Sukhothai via Bangkok.  So, we totally splurged and hired a private car to drive us door to door.  And, you know what?  It was 100% worth it.  It shaved hours off of our transit time and we didn’t have to deal with the hassle of going to the bus station, trying to find a ticket office, hoping we arrived close to a departure time, and then sitting on the hopefully not over or under air conditioned bus for 5-6 hours.

Wat Sorasak 3

Wat Sarasak

The mosquitoes are fierce in Sukhothai.  Seriously, the mosquitoes here are vicious.  Every night, we slather on the Deet (knowing full well it is probably going to kill us down the road).  And the mosquitoes still attack.  They bite right through T-shirts.  We have a nice little sitting area outside our hotel room and we cannot use it because of the intensity of the mosquitoes.

Wat Traphang Ngoen 1

Wat Traphang Ngoen

Sukhothai is brutally hot. Our first day here, the “real feel” was 107 degrees Fahrenheit.  It is so hot that we got up at 6:30 to get our sightseeing done before noon.  It is so hot and the sun is so brutal that it isn’t even that relaxing to hang at the pool until the sun goes down a bit and we can be entirely in shade.

Wat Sa Si 5

Wat Sa Si

Most people get around Sukhothai by bicycle, and the bikes suck.  I returned one bike after riding a few blocks because there wasn’t enough air in the tires.  The replacement bike simply refused to coast unless going down an incline and had only two gears plus the light didn’t work.  Poor Robert had to bike back to the hotel one day with a flat tire and swap out his bike for another bike.  (The funniest part about that story is that I only barely beat him to the park even though he had to backtrack because he is a biker and I am not).

Wat Mahathat 5

Wat Mahathat

The food in Old Sukhothai (where we stayed and the area closest to the Historical Park) is mediocre at best.  Our first night, we were served pad thai that was a glutinous mess — the noodles were so overcooked they were all stuck together in a big ball.  In most parts of Thailand, a chef would be mortified to serve such a disaster of a meal.  But not in Sukhothai.

Wat Saphan Hin

Wat Saphan Hin

There do not appear to be any bars in Old Sukhothai.  You can get drinks at cafes, but the options are minimal.  Beer is everywhere, hard alcohol is available some places, but wine is close to non-existent.  I ordered a wine cooler one night (seriously!), and the waiter ran to the 7-11 to buy it.  And, he only came back with one so I felt too guilty to order another round.

Wat Sri Chum 2

Wat Si Chum

The hotels are overpriced.  We are paying far more for our hotel here than we did in Chiang Mai, and it isn’t nearly as nice.

Wat Mahathat 10

Wat Mahathat

But the real reason you shouldn’t visit Sukhothai is this:  it is one of the most peaceful places we have ever been.  There are almost no tour buses.  There are almost no tourists.  The Historical Park isn’t crowded.  We sometimes had temples entirely to ourselves.  There are no touts begging us to buy mass-produced souvenirs.  The tuk-tuk drivers leave everyone alone.  And, if everyone starts visiting, that will change.  So don’t visit!

If you refuse to take our tongue-in-cheek advice and do visit Sukhothai, the Historical Park is divided into five zones.  You have to pay 100 Baht per person to get in the central, west and north zones, plus another 10 Baht per bike in the central and west zones.  We only visited one temple in the east zone and didn’t have to pay to get in there.  And, we didn’t visit the south zone at all.  Many people only spend a day visiting the temples, but we spread our visit over two days to avoid the afternoon heat.

We spent the first day in the central zone, which seems to have the highest concentration of impressive sites.  We thought Wat Mahathat was one of the most impressive.  It is supposedly one of the oldest temples in Thailand and was built in the 13th century.

Wat Mahathat 2

Wat Mahathat

Wat Traphang Ngoen 3

Wat Mahathat

We also really enjoyed Wat Sa Si in the central zone.  It is built on an island and was built in the late 14th century.

Wat Sa si 4

Wat Sa Si

We saw a few other temples in the central zone, but I would say Wat Mahathat and Wat Sa Si are the two you absolutely cannot miss.

On day two of our stay, we started by biking to Wat Saphan Hin in the western zone.  It isn’t that far — only about 3.5 miles — but by the time we arrived, we were both hot sweaty messes given the sun and the heat (even early in the morning).  And then, when we arrived, we realized it was on top of a hill.  But the climb was worth it.  The temple is fairly small, but there is a large (12 meter high) Buddha and nice views of the countryside.

Wat Saphan Hin 3

Wat Saphan Hin

After Wat Saphan Hin, we biked over to the northern zone to see Wat Si Chum, another 13 century temple,  This is the only place where we ran into large tour groups, but none of them stayed long and we were able to get some amazing photos of this very unique temple.

Wat Sri Chum 6

Wat Si Chum

Wat Sri Chum 7

Wat Si Chum

On the way back to the hotel, we stopped briefly into Wat Sorasak, a temple that is not really in any of the zones.  The elephants were pretty impressive (although we are pretty sure they were restored instead of originals).

Wat Sorasak 2

Wat Sorasak

Bottom line, we loved the Sukhothai Historical Park and are very glad we visited it (even after all the temples we visited in Siem Reap).  If we are being honest, we didn’t love Old Sukhothai, but sometimes you have to put up with the bad to get the good.

 

Posted in Thailand | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Drowning in Khao Soi in Chiang Mai

If you are what you eat, I am currently nothing but a big bowl of khao soi. We spent 14 nights in Chiang Mai, and I ate 17 bowls of khao soi in that time. I know, I know, some of you (ahem…mom) are thinking “she is going to get fat eating all that khao soi.” So, let me remind you that in 14 days there are at least 28 meals (more if, unlike us, you eat three meals a day). And, you should know that: (1) I walked up to 6 miles (roundtrip) for a bowl (no, I’m not claiming it was uphill in the snow both ways, as Chiang Mai is pretty flat and I doubt it has ever snowed there); (2) with the exception of our food tour and a night at a street market, I ate very little other than khao soi while we were in Chiang Mai; and (3) that serving sizes of most bowls of khao soi are quite small, even for Thailand.

What is khao soi you might ask? The short answer: a little bit of heaven on earth. The long answer: Khao soi is basically a curry soup with both soft yellow egg noodles and crispy fried noodles. The protein is most typically a chicken leg, but you can find chicken breast, beef, pork, and even seafood depending on where you go. It is served with a plate of accoutrements on the side — generally lime, shallots, and some sort of picked green. Opinions vary as to what is the defining bit of a bowl of khao soi — some people swear by the broth and the level of spice. Some swear by the soft noodles and their texture. Some swear by the drizzle of coconut milk on the top. Those people would all be wrong — while all of the components work together to form the perfect symphony, the crispy noodles really make or break this dish in my humble opinion.

If you want to know where to grab a great bowl, a very good bowl, an ok bowl, or a horrible bowl of khao soi in Chiang Mai (with all due respect to Anthony Bourdain and Andy Ricker), keep reading.
The grand champion and purple ribbon winner is…..

Khao Soi Khun Yai. This nondescript restaurant tucked into an alley/parking lot on the side of a temple serves one fine bowl of noodles — so good I nearly picked up the bowl and slurped down the remaining sauce after the noodles and chicken were all gone. The sauce was on the thicker side, approaching a gravy consistency, with a drizzle of coconut milk on top. The spice level was fairly high, but in a good way. The crispy noodles were very thin and out of this world delicious. The protein choices were chicken (which was cut into small pieces), pork, and beef. The portion size was small, but at only 40 Baht I didn’t feel at all cheated — instead I seriously just should have ordered a second bowl but I was saving room for trying additional an restaurant later that day. Note that you order your meal at the counter, sit, eat, and then pay. My only regret is that I ate here near the end of our trip and didn’t have time to return. Next time!

P1200329

Khao Soi Khun Yai

Blue ribbon award winners (in no particular order) are:

Khao Soi Nimman. OMG this was some amazing khao soi served in a very trendy neighborhood. Not too much coconut milk, just the right amount of spice for my mid-western palate, layers of flavors, and plenty of crispy noodles. A wide choice of proteins was available (including seafood, which I didn’t see anywhere else), but I stuck with the tried and true chicken on both our visits. Robert got two different types of pork. I know some people don’t like this place because it is touristy and upscale, but I thought it was quite good. A little over 100 Baht per bowl, depending on your protein, so on the expensive side, but worth it.

P1200374

Khao Soi Nimman

P1200378

Khao Soi Nimman

Kanjana. This was a delightful little (actually, this was a big one) bowl of khao soi. Very heavy on the coconut milk, which made it extremely rich. But with enough spice to cut the richness. Unlike most places, this khao soi was served with breast meat. It also wasn’t served with the usual accoutrements — no concern here since I only use the lime. It was so good, I had it twice! I’m pretty sure it was 105 Baht.

P1200155

Kanjana

Khao Soi Mae Sai. A bit outside the city walls, this place came highly recommended by our street food tour guide who said it was her absolute favorite. I hadn’t planned on visiting this restaurant, but squeezed it in on our last day after that recommendation and, I have to admit, it was pretty darn good. One of the spicier bowls I ate, but nicely balanced. And the crispy noodles were plentiful. Definitely worth the trip, especially at only 45 Baht per bowl.

P1200496

Khao Soi Mae Sai

A red ribbon goes to….

Galangal Cooking Studio. I made my own khao soi here. Sadly, it was badly in need of an additional kick (my own fault – I should have added more curry paste). And, the crispy noodles weren’t very good. So, not blue ribbon quality. But, I now know how to make my own khao soi (or, more accurately, Robert can now make this for me in the future….) so that means this has to get a ribbon!!!!

P1200151

Galangal Cooking Studio

A green participation ribbon goes to (in no particular order)….

Dash. Absolutely fine, but nothing special, and a rip-off at 180 Baht per bowl.

Sunday night walking street vendor. I have no idea of the name of the vendor, but she was set up inside the grounds of one of the wats on the south side of Rachadamnoen Road. She had a big pile of boiled noodles and another big pile of crispy noodles and a big vat of curry sauce and combined them to order. Plus, she had a side table full of accoutrements. I didn’t even care that I was eating out of a plastic bowl. I think this one was 40 or 50 Baht.

Street vendor at Le Dta’ Wan Food Market. Plenty of crispy noodles and quite a bit of spice, but I would say it was way overpriced for what it was at 100 Baht.

Coconut Shell. The broth here had a nice flavor with a nice kick. There were a ton of egg noodles, but they were very poorly cooked — some were under cooked and others were over cooked. Plus, there were not nearly enough crispy noodles. I would have it in a pinch, but it wasn’t a favorite. Can’t recall price.

Writer’s Club and Wine Bar. Sadly, a very one dimensional bowl of khao soi and the crispy noodles tasted like wet cardboard once dipped in the soup. Plus, it was a bit oily for my taste. Can’t recall price.

The vendor at the Sunday night walking street. Again, no clue as to the name. She was on the far Eastern side of the market. Only 40 Baht.
Black dishonorable mention ribbons have to go to four places….

Khao Soi Lam Duan. So….this one pains me. Both Anthony Bourdain and Andy Ricker recommend this place (which is well outside of the walls of the old city and, in fact, across the river), and I entered with high hopes. This was certainly the spiciest bowl I ate, but it was one-dimensional. And, there were barely any crispy noodles at all. It doesn’t even look good in the photo. Right? And there were no fans going so I was dripping wet while I ate. Maybe I went on an off day? Maybe they haven’t been able to deal with the Bourdain effect? 50 Baht per bowl.

P1200502

Huen Phen. Not good at all (even though it was supposed to be on of the best bowls in the city). Had an odd taste of chili powder and the bright red color was a bit off-putting. Not nearly enough noodles. Not recommended at all. In fact, I didn’t even bother to finish it, although Robert enjoyed the hard boiled quail eggs that came on the side. I’m pretty sure it was 105 Baht.

Bird’s Nest Cafe. This was the first bowl of khao soi I ate in Chiang Mai and it was very disappointing. For starters, it was covered in pea shoots. What? And, the soup included carrots and pea pods. Again, what? I think they were trying to go for upscale and it just resulted in weird.

The Gallery. I didn’t know khao soi could be absolutely tasteless until I tried this bowl. No flavor, no spice, no fun.

What is your favorite bowl of khao soi?

Posted in Thailand | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Chiang Mai street food tour

We aren’t typically the type of people that book a bunch of food tours.  They almost never represent value for the money.  (How can they, when excellent street food costs only a dollar or two?)  And, we tend to be fairly adventurous and good at tracking down food.  In fact, one of our favorite memories is from one of those days when I was hangry and bordering on hitchy.  Robert walked us into a food market in Vietnam where no English was spoken, sat us down, made it known we wanted one dish, and we waited to see what the vendor would bring out — it turned out to be an excellent chicken soup, the hangry went away, hitchy never arrived, and a catastrophe was averted.

But, after reading about A Chef’s Tour, we decided to give it a try.  It was absurdly expensive at $55 dollars a person, but the reviews were excellent and it sounded like a tour that would introduce us to things we hadn’t tried (not too hard, since I’ve eaten almost nothing but khao soi in Chiang Mai) and neighborhoods we hadn’t been to yet.  And, the tour was a success — we were absolutely stuffed by the end of the night and most of the food was absolutely delicious.  Plus, our guide was fantastic and spoke with us about a wide variety of topics other than food.

The tour started at Wat Lok Molee, which was nice as we had not yet seen that Wat.

P1200386

Robert at Wat Lok Molee.

P1200399

Multi-headed statue at Wat Lok Molee.

As it turned out, we were the only ones that booked the tour that day, so we had a private tour.  Lucky us! (Honestly, we would have preferred it if others had joined us, as that often makes things more fun and interesting).

The eating began almost immediately, with our first stop at the stand of the world-famous Cowboy Lady.  She was featured on Anthony Bourdain’s show and is insanely popular.  She makes Khao Kha Moo, which is basically stewed pork.  Our guide said the Cowboy Lady goes through 300 kilograms of pork every night (and more on holidays).  You can get leg or intestine or foot, and you could order your dish with more meat or more fat.  The leg was delicious, especially after adding chili vinegar sauce.  Yum!  Our guide told us that street food gets awarded something like the equivalent of a Michelin star — it looks like an empty bowl with chopsticks.  The Cowboy Lady has this award and you can bet we will look for that symbol from now on.  (Sadly, we don’t know the name and can’t find any information on-line about it).

P1200433

A horrible photo of us, but I couldn’t resist showing that we met the Cowboy Lady!

IMG_20181008_165337584

Khao Kha Moo (the fatty version).

Our next stop was a local market.  Our guide introduced us to a wide variety of vegetables that were completely new to us.  Have you ever heard of stinky fern?  Trust me, it smelled disgusting.  And, it didn’t taste much better when fried up into an omelet.  We also tried pennywort juice.  It tasted very green.  We both thought it was disgusting.

IMG_20181008_175459980

Curry pastes at the market.

P1200450

Various curries and soups at the market.

P1200454

Water bugs at the market.  These get ground up into nam prik dipping sauces.  We passed on this one.

Our guide had us try some things at the market.  Mostly desserts.  I finally got to try the lotus flower cookie Robert had on his bike trip.  Yum!  And, we had small little crepes filled with marshmallow cream and other things.  Double yum!  And, bright yellow egg yolk desserts.  These were a mixed bag, with some being very good and some being just ok.  And sweet rice cracker cakes that are far better than any rice cakes you can get in the US.

Robert also got to try a sausage at the market.  The sausage was sold by two ladies.  Between the two of them, they are at the market from 4 am until midnight.  In fact, they are the only stall that stays open when the market otherwise closes at 8 pm.  They sell something like 3000 sausages a day on holidays and something like 1700 on a normal day.  They have that Michelin-like award I mentioned above too.  And Robert loved the sausage.

P1200469

Spicy sausage at the market.

Next stop was a small restaurant where we ate pork larb (a minced pork dish) and a Burmese pork stew with sticky rice.  The pork larb was too spicy for us, but the pork stew was excellent.

After that we went to a Burmese restaurant.  Only, we learned that the people that work that are actually Shan and don’t like to be called Burmese.  We all have heard about the plight of the Rohingya people.  Apparently, the Shan are in a somewhat similar struggle, fighting for independence, and many Shan have fled into Thailand.  In any event, we tried three salads at the restaurant.  Robert was thrilled with the tea leaf salad, as it was one of his favorite dishes when we visited Myanmar.

P1200474

Tea leaf salad, a tamarind leaf salad, and a pennywort salad.

We also had a fun butterfly pea flower drink.  When it was served to us, it was dark blue and didn’t taste very good.  Then, we added lime juice and the drink turned purple and tasted much better.

We also tried Miang Kham.  Basically, you fold up a betel leaf, fill it with ginger, shallot, lime (with the peel), chili, dried shrimp, coconut flakes, and peanuts, slap on some sauce made of shrimp paste and fish sauce, and pop the entire thing in your mouth.  You can leave out stuff you don’t like and the final result is quite good.

P1200481

Miang Kham

We also tried green and red nam prik, which are basically spicy dipping sauces.  We learned that Thais eat nam prik as a meal with sticky rice, but we used pork cracklings to dip into the sauce.  I liked the cracklings, but can’t say that I liked the nam prik.  Maybe if we had added the water beetle….

P1200479

Green and red nam prik with pork cracklings.

Then, it was off to another market for yet more food.  We started with two types of soup:  minced pork and cooked chicken blood with rice noodles in a pork broth and fish balls and rice noodles in a coconut broth.  Guess who loved the chicken blood????   (Hint, it certainly wasn’t me).  We also had more sausage, more desserts, and a wonderful watermelon smoothie.

P1200487

Sausages at the market.

Our last stop was for ginger soup with silken tofu and deep fried dough.  The ginger was STRONG.  Our guide told us it would make us burp.  We both badly wanted to burp by this point…. (Sadly, the ginger soup didn’t do what it was supposed to do and both fell into bed completely bloated and uncomfortable but happy….).

 

Posted in Thailand | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Kicking back in Chiang Mai

As you can tell from the radio silence issuing from the Schneiduks, our time in Chiang Mai has been pretty quiet.  We full-on embraced the digital nomad/cafe culture here, and hardly did much of anything.

Most days, we slept in way later than we should have (hello, 10 am wake up times!) and then made our way to breakfast/lunch.  There are so many restaurants here, and we feel like we have barely scratched the surface.  Just this morning we walked down a street we had never been on before and it was littered with cute looking places we wish we had time to try.

Most days we walked for miles.  Whenever we got too hot, we would stop into one of the hundreds of coffee shops for cold drinks.  Robert almost always got iced coffee and it was almost always good (except when we could only find a chain shop).  I lost count of the number of Italian sodas I consumed.  And, they have something called an orange frappe (orange juice blended with ice and who knows what else), and it is amazing.  Add in the lime and ginger soda they sell some places and I am completely hooked on Thai cafes.

Some of those long walks were to visit temples.  There are over 300 Buddhist temples in Chiang Mai.  We managed to visit about 15.  A pitifully small number, right?

WatPrhaSing2

Wat Phra Singh

WatPrhaSingh

Wat Phra Singh

WatBuppharam

Wat Buppharam

Some of those long walks took us to the local movie theater at the Maya Mall.  Movies are a bit different here:  (1) they are cheap — about $5 per person; (2) all the seats are assigned so most people show up about a minute before the scheduled start time of the movie; and (3) they play the King’s anthem before the movie and everyone stands for it.  We ended up seeing four movies here.  The House With A Clock in its Walls was surprisingly good for a children’s movie.  A Simple Favor reinforced that Anna Kendrick is a national treasure.  And who would have guessed that Blake Lively could actually act????  But Hell Fest was absolutely awful.  And Johnny English Strikes Back (which we saw only because it was the only remaining English language film showing) made us seriously question whether we have any sense of humor or not.  Everyone else in the theater was giggling, while we were considering walking out.

Some of our long walks were to khao soi restaurants.  I ate a metric ton of khao soi in the last two weeks.  Anyone who knows me well, knows that I hate dark meat chicken (poor Robert found that out the first time he cooked for me and made chicken thighs….), so Robert got to eat a ton of chicken drumsticks out of my khao soi.  More on that in a future post.

IMG_20180929_120052773

A good bowl of khao soi makes me so happy.

Some of our long walks were to and through the numerous night markets, where we ate way too much street food.  One night, we ate khao soi, two types of pad thai, chicken biryani, grilled sausage, a cashew waffle, and a Nutella roti.  And, all together, it was under $10.  We both felt a bit sick after that outing….(OK, fine, fine, Robert ate more sensibly and I was the only one who was sick after that outing….).

P1200121

Grilled meat at the Saturday Night Walking Street.

We also took a cooking class with Galangal Cooking Studio.  It wasn’t as good as the class we took in Ubud, but what was really nice about it is that we each got to pick our own dishes so between the two of us we cooked eight different things.

P1200140

Shrimp with coconut milk and chili oil (we don’t know the Thai name) and tom kha gai (chicken in coconut milk)

Robert also took a 60 km bike ride without me one day.  I’m glad I declined to participate in that trip.  He came back a sweaty mess with what the Dutch tourists on the trip affectionately called “wooden ass.”   But he did get to eat this amazing looking cookie and I’m very jealous about that.  Robert (who is always in charge of anything tech related) was very impressed that I managed to top off my sim card at the local 7-11 without his help that day so I could text him while he biked.

DSC03012

Thai lotus flower cookie.  Made with an iron like a Rosette.

Tonight we took a street food tour.  More on that in a future post (suffice it to say we are both too full to move right now).  On Wednesday, we are off to Sukkhothai to soak up some culture.

Posted in Thailand | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Final thoughts on Cambodia (2018)

Well, once again, the title of this post is far too grandiose for the content, as the only town in Cambodia we visited this trip was Siem Reap.  That said, here goes.

  • If you are going to get sick, Siem Reap is not a bad place to do it.  Robert and I spent the last week of our visit sick in bed with the flu (first him, then me).  It might have even been swine flu, as that is apparently going around, but we weren’t tested to find out for sure.  (Please, we didn’t even go to a doctor even though we probably should have given the fevers we were running).  And then, just when we were getting better, Robert somehow hurt his eyeball and couldn’t go out in the sun.  But, it could have been worse.  At least we didn’t have dengue!  And, we had a very nice hotel with plenty of space and one can find chicken noodle soup all over town.  Plus, we found real Florida orange juice to help with our Vitamin C needs.  (We are nearly healed now — just some serious residual tiredness).

P1190968

  • Pharmaceuticals are very expensive in Siem Reap.  A box of fake Sudafed (with an active ingredient that turns out not to even work according to both my first-hand experience and the internet) was over $8 (note we paid less than $2 for the good stuff in Bali).  Similarly, a small bottle of Visine was over $8.  Absolutely crazy prices given how cheap nearly everything else is in Siem Reap.

P1180701

  • We were offered street drugs (weed and shrooms) nearly every single day.  Tuk-tuk driver after tuk-tuk driver asked us if wanted something (and the answer was always no, and one night Robert even blurted out “absolutely not,” so I can’t say if they are as expensive as the legitimate pharmaceuticals).  I just can’t understand why anyone would risk it….I don’t even want to think about a prison in SE Asia….

P1180598

  • We don’t often talk about where we eat and drink because restaurants come and restaurants go.  But, after spending three weeks in Siem Reap, we can safely say there are some fantastic establishments there.  We adored Khmer Grill — amazing garlic fried rice, yummy grilled frogs, and some of the freshest spring rolls.  We also loved Lilypop — a family-run Khmer joint where I don’t think we ever paid more than $20 for a meal and had the best chicken amok ever.  Bang Bang Bakery had a divine Nutella brownie.  And, Balthazar and Jaya House were each fantastic for drinks in their own way.  Balthazar is run by a very nice guy from the UK and has a great little selection of wine, and Jaya House has wonderful views.  (Robert says they both make a mean Negroni).  And, note, not a single one of these establishments is on “pub street” — if you visit Siem Reap do yourself a real favor and get off of pub street at least some of the time.

P1190724

  • Interestingly, the wine is cheaper and better in Cambodia than in Thailand.  It must be the French influence.  Beer is dirt cheap — Robert regularly found 50 cent glasses at happy hour.

DSC02380

  • Cambodia was flooded with butterflies.  I’m not sure if it was due to us visiting during we season or not, but they were everywhere.  It was lovely.

DSC02350

  • I love that tourists are absolutely encouraged to wear what are effectively pajamas to the temples.  This all has to do with the rule that knees must be covered at the temples.  (Oddly, the rule applies to men but does not seem to be enforced with respect to the men.  Go figure.).  So, every single shop sells light weight pajama pants to the tourists.  (I think technically they are called elephant pants or fisherman’s pants depending on the style, but they will always be pajama pants to me).  I would venture a guess that close to 90% of the female tourists wear these pants in Siem Reap.

DSC02444

  • That said, I truly don’t understand why my knees are so offensive.  One pair of my pajama pants were pretty much see-through (and I was not alone in wearing see-through pants).  The other pair gave everyone a show each time the wind blew (and, again, I was not alone in this regard).  How is that any less offensive than my knees?

P1190103

  • Cambodian people are some of the most genuinely nice people we have ever met.  Seriously.  Even though their lives are still very difficult.  Many of them are subsistence farmers without the advantages we take for granted.  You know, like running water and indoor toilets (or, in some cases, any toilets at all).  Many of them still live in complete poverty (I read that the average household income in 2016 was about $1200/year).  Many of them live in flood zones.  Many of them spend hours and hours waiting for work and are lucky to get a few dollars a day.  Yet, over and over again, we were greeted with huge smiles.

P1190634

  • Cambodian food isn’t as recognizable as Thai or Vietnamese, but it is really good.  The two most famous dishes are probably amok and lok lak.  Amok is a curry, typically made with fish (but also chicken) and frequently served in a bowl made of leaves.  Lok lak is grilled meat (typically beef, but sometimes also chicken) served with a salt and lime dipping sauce.  We ate a ton of amok and lok lak.

P1190282

  • Cambodia is changing so quickly.  The hotel we stayed at in 2007 was in the middle of nowhere back then (or at least it felt like it) and now it is right in town.  There is now even an app to call a tuk-tuk, kind of like Grab or Uber.  (We can’t say how well the app works, as we didn’t use it.  We found there was no need.  There were always tuk-tuks available anywhere we went.  And, I honestly don’t think the drivers can afford to be losing money to an app.).

P1190687

  • Large tour groups are absolutely ruining the experience of visiting the temples.  They walk along in a herd, blocking anyone else from getting by.  They ignore the signs and climb on the temples.  They are loud.  And, more importantly, from what we have heard, they do not really contribute to the local economy — the large tour groups tend to stay in large hotels, travel everywhere by bus, and eat in large restaurants.  People please!  Independent travel is good.  Exploring independent restaurants is good.  Hiring independent tuk-tuk drivers is good.  I get that group tours can be easy, but independent travel in this part of the world is really easy too.

P1190938

  • Cambodia makes the heaviest chairs in the world.  I don’t know what wood they use, but I could barely move some of the chairs.
  • Cambodia has stolen our hearts.  We will be back.
Posted in Cambodia | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Are you getting templed out yet?

We are….But that didn’t stop us from booking a 6 am tuk-tuk yesterday to take us to two more temples.  I think our hotel thought we were crazy.  “But you will miss breakfast,” they said when we booked our tuk-tuk.  “But we will avoid the crowds,” I said.  “But 6 am is really early,” Robert said.  Ultimately, the hotel decided I wore the pants in the family (can you believe it took them 2 weeks to realize this) and booked the tuk-tuk for 6 am.  (Robert wants everyone to know that he just lets me think that I wear the pants…..).

P1190930

Entrance to Banteay Srei.

Anyway, away we went at the god-awful time of 6 am for our hour plus ride to Banteay Srei.  I’m pretty sure our tuk-tuk driver was sick or hung over or just plain tired.  He certainly wasn’t bright eyed and bushy tailed.  But, he was friendly enough.  We were one of the few tuk-tuks on the road and, I have to say, the air was downright chilly at that time of day. What a pleasant change!

P1190925

Brilliant pink water lilies at Banteay Srei. 

Banteay Srei is a 10th century Hindu temple.  It is build of red sandstone and intricately carved.  And, it just might be one of my favorite temples.

P1190950

Carvings at Banteay Srei.

The carvings are so intricate that some people call it the Lady Temple (the name Banteay Srei translates to “Citadel of the Women”) on the theory that men’s hands are too big to make such delicate carvings.  I doubt that is true (come on, have you seen Trump’s tiny little hands?), but the carvings are impressive (all the more so when you think about the fact that they were made in the 900’s and have withstood wind, sun, rain, neglect, and wars in the interim).

DSC02840

Cool statues at Banteay Srei.

Banteay Srei is also the only temple in Angkor that was not built by a king — it was built by one or two courtiers or counselors (depending on what you read).  Some have hypothesized that might explain the small size of the temple.

P1190933

Close-up of statues at Banteay Srei.

Anyway, we arrived at Banteay Srei shortly after 7 and took our time walking through the exhibits to the ticket checker.  When we got to the temple, we realized there were only three other tourists there.  How glorious!

P1190936

Another close-up at Banteay Srei.

We left Banteay Srei about 8:30, just as more tourists were starting to arrive.  And, as we drove back towards Siem Reap, we saw numerous tourist buses headed to Banteay Srei.  I kept pointing them out to Robert over and over, but he still won’t admit that I was right to book a 6 am tuk-tuk!

P1190965

More of Banteay Srei.

Our next stop was Banteay Samre.  This is another Hindu temple.  If the internet is to be believed, nobody knows for sure when this one was built, but the suspicion is that it was built in the 12th century.

P1190999

Entrance to Banteay Samre.

This temple was also one of the smaller temples we visited and felt very closed-in.  There was a wall around the buildings and they were so close to each other it sometimes felt like you could step directly from one building to the next.

DSC02873

Lisa at Banteay Samre.  I’m getting very tired of my pajama pants….

That said, it was quite beautiful and there were some very nice carvings.

P1200042

Carvings at Banteay Srei.

P1200025

More carvings at Banteay Srei.

And, once again, almost nobody else was there — just a small Japanese tourist group and they left long before we did so at the end of our tour we were actually the only tourists at the temple.

P1200034

Robert with the nagas at Banteay Samre.  Check out the krama (the scarf) he is rocking — it even caused a security guard to ask if he lived in Cambodia.

We were back to our hotel by 11.  As we walked in, the staff all laughed at us — “you left at 6 am,” they said.  “Yep, and we avoided all the tourists,” I said.  “I need a nap,”  Robert said.

 

 

 

Posted in Cambodia | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment