Monthly Recap: Month 9

Another great month! We’re really starting to feel like the end of the trip is coming and we’re feeling more and more rushed to get through everything that we wanted to do. It’s funny how you can plan to be traveling for almost a year, but still end up feeling like you don’t have enough time =) However, we did take time this month to meet up with Della’s parents again a couple of times. They decided to have a big trip for themselves and as we write this update, they’ve been out for about 5 weeks and plan about 2 more. We haven’t stayed together the whole time, but have sort of met up and parted as our schedules allowed. We saw a lot of great things and explored a lot of new places this month. Our only complaint is that it is hot season here in SE Asia and we are REALLY hot all the time. We only have about 2 more weeks in this part of the world before we fly again to explore different parts of Asia.

Here are our stats for this month.

Countries visited:  3 (Laos, Thailand, Vietnam)

Beds Slept In: 13 (We only stayed one night in two towns on the slow boat journey to Thailand and then we went quickly through a couple of places: Sukhothai and Ayuthaya)

UNESCO Heritage Sights Visited:  3 (Historic Town of Sukhothai and Associated Historic TownsHistoric City of AyutthayaHoi An Ancient Town) Total on RTW: 40

We traveled by 3 planes this month.

We traveled by 2 boats this month.

We traveled 5 long distance buses/minibuses.

We traveled by 2 trains this month.

Top Moments:

~ We had an amazing time interacting with elephants at the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary outside of Chiang Mai!

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Runners Up for Top Moments:

We had a bit of a hard time coming up with this list, because for the first time we had slightly different opinions of what to choose!

~ At Kuang Si Waterfalls outside of Luang Prabang, we took in some amazing scenery, got to watch some cute moon bears play, and took a refreshing swim.

Eric's jump

~ Also in Chiang Mai, we took an excellent cooking class in which we learned all about how to each the different yummy Thai dishes that we love!

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~ In Mae Sot, we meandered through a lively market which brought back great memories of our time in Myanmar.

Lively colorful market

~ We struggled for a long time to choose a Thai beach to go to. We had seen some really neat pictures of white sand beaches with large limestone karsts in the distance and longtail boats near the shoreline, and hoped that we could find a scene like that. The island we chose, Ko Lanta, doesn’t have those characteristics, which was a bit disappointing… but some nearby islands do! The last stop of our snorkeling tour was at Ko Ngai, and when we pulled up to the white sand beach we realized we had found just what we were looking for!

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Items Missing, Broken, Discarded, or Added:

Discarded/Broken:

  1. Old toothbrushes
  2. Our large bottle of sunscreen that was new in January
  3. Our large bottle of bugspray that was new in January

Added:

  1. New toothbrushes
  2. New insect repellent

Packing Update:

We feel like we’re a bit of a broken record here: we’re still happy with the contents of our bags. In the hot, humid weather it would be nice to have more shirts, but it wouldn’t be worth carrying them. We’ve also found that we probably could live with fewer socks and underwear because it is quite tempting to rinse them out in the shower or sink often (almost every night). Still carrying unused cold weather gear, but it’s still in hold for Nepal. We haven’t used our tupperware very much here in Asia. We find we don’t pack our lunches very often as food is plentiful and cheap (and really good!)

Books Read: (Have you read any of these??)

Della has read UnSouled by Neal Shusterman (4), A Place Called Freedom by Ken Follett (3), The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (3)

Eric has read All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy (4), Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (4)

Eric and Della have BOTH read The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell (4), Saigon by Anthony Grey (5/4.5)

The rating system is for Della’s mom who is refusing to look at Goodreads. It is 1 to 5, 5 being the highest.

Make sure to catch up on all our monthly recaps: Monthly Recap 1, Monthly Recap 2, Monthly Recap 3,Monthly Recap 4, Monthly Recap 5, Monthly Recap 6, Monthly Recap 7, Monthly Recap 8

Did We Love Chiang Mai, Thailand?

We had high expectations for our visit to Chiang Mai, the biggest city in the northern part of Thailand. We have read about many people that have fallen in love with the city and chosen to move there, so we anticipated that we would have the same feelings during our five-day visit along with Della’s parents. But did we??

Where We Stayed

Choosing a place to stay in town proved to be tough, not because there weren’t enough choices but rather because there were too many. There were quite a few fairly highly rated places in town, with none standing out above the rest.  So we shifted our strategy and only pre-booked two nights at Nonni Guesthouse. This turned out to be a nice and friendly place, although it was on a fairly busy and noisy street and our room was tiny (and had a shared bathroom). So, on our first evening in town we scouted out other locations in the old city area and found the Anoma BB 2 on a quiet side street. It was only a few dollars more and had a private bathroom and included breakfast, so we spent the last three nights there.

What We Did

Chaing Mai’s importance stems from its history. It was founded in the 13th century AD as a new capital for the Lanna kingdom which covered what is now northern Thailand. Chiang Mai had its own independent monarchy up until merging with what is now Thailand in the early 20th century. Many of the sights around town date from the era when it was the capital of the flourishing kingdom. The “old city” in town was originally the center of the Lanna government. Today it is still surrounded by a moat and a few crumbling walls and gates.

Elephant Experience – There are a plethora of opportunities to play with elephants around Chiang Mai. We were pretty happy with our choice!

This baby couldn't look any happier

Check the above link for more!

Cooking Class – We also took advantage of a fun cooking class in town!

finished pad see ewe

Check the above link for more!

Wats in the Old City –Within the walls are a large number of wats (Buddhist temples), since the Lanna kingdom was Buddhist. We visited the two biggest wats: Wat Phra Singh and Wat Chedi Luang. Wat Phra Singh is the home of the Phra Singh Buddha image, although we got a little confused because we expected the image to actually be a lion (Phra Singh means Lion Buddha), but instead it was just a Lanna-style Buddha.

The main attraction of Wat Chedi Luang is the remains of a large chedi (the same thing as a stupa, a large conical structure that holds relics). We also found the wihan (the main hall) to be pleasing.

Over the course of our wandering we also found a temple made of teak (Wat Phan Tao), a temple made of silver (Wat Sisuphan) and a few other scenic ones scattered about.

We also got to observe some fun events surrounding a celebration at the wat near the Nonni Guesthouse. In honor of its anniversary, there were many events, including one evening where there were multiple processions with dancing, music and monks. The dancing was pretty interesting to watch: there were some groups dancing a traditional Lanna dance with long metal nails on their fingers and then one small group of Hmong women doing their own style at the same time.

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep – One of the most famous wats in Chiang Mai is not in the city itself but rather in the hills to the west overlooking the city. One evening we shared a taxi with some travel friends from the slow boat and headed up the curving road to the base of the wat. From the parking lot, we took the 300 steps straight up the hill to the site of the impressive wat. The main attraction is a large gold chedi which looked especially splendid as the sun began to set. There was also a nice viewing platform overlooking the city, but the air was so hazy from the farmers burning their fields that we could hardly see anything.

History and Culture Museums – Chiang Mai has three museums in the center of the city that one can visit using a combination ticket. We ended up visiting all three. The Chiang Mai Historical Centre told the story of the city from its founding to modern times with some nice modern displays, although it was a little hard to follow some of the translations. The Lanna Folklife Museum had various informative displays on the customs and artwork of the Lanna people. The Chiang Mai City Arts & Cultural Centre was a bit of a combination of the previous two, with some history and some cultural information, although it felt a bit more dated than either of them.

Museum of World Insects & Natural Wonders – A friend back home recommended that we visit this quirky museum set up by a husband and wife team that have dedicated their lives to the study of mosquitoes and malaria. It’s kind of hard to describe what we found here as a museum; it is more like the personal collection of the couple of any natural object they found interesting, including rocks and many different types of beetles. Also scattered through the displays were some of their paintings and some information about mosquitoes, their history and advice on life.

Thai Massage – After a successful first massage for Eric in Bali, we decided we had to check out the Thai massage to compare. After a little bit of research, we discovered that some of the most popular and cheapest places to get massages in Chiang Mai share one thing in common: they are staffed by female convicts or ex-convicts who have gotten trained as part of a rehabilitation program (seems like it might even incentivize someone to go to jail so they could get a job!). We went with the company staffed by ex-convicts. Beyond the interesting story about the personnel, we did notice quite a bit of difference between the Thai and the Balinese massage. This time we were wearing a provided outfit, no oil was used, and the massage felt like much more of a workout than the relaxing Balinese one. They bent us into a few shapes that were pretty extreme!

Wayne in the special provided outfit getting ready for his Thai massage

Wayne in the special provided outfit getting ready for his Thai massage

Where We Ate

We continued to enjoy the relative cheapness and good variety of Thai food to be found on the street and in small restaurants. For the most part, we ate at small restaurants because it was pretty hot and humid outside, and a little relief with shade and fans was appreciated. One notable exception was a meal of street food we picked up at the Saturday Walking Street, a large night market on Saturdays that was just around the corner from the Nonni Guesthouse (a little too crowded for our taste though). None of the restaurants stood out over the others: all had a good selection of fried noodles and curries. We did have an annoying trend for a few days where one person’s dish would take way longer to arrive than anyone else’s.

Final Thoughts

We obviously found a lot of fun things to do in the city – we spent five nights and didn’t have much downtime. The people were friendly and the food was affordable. Nevertheless, we’re a little sorry to say that we only just liked Chiang Mai, not loved it. The heat and the haze from the fires outside the city were pretty oppressive, the narrow streets made the pace a little hectic at times, and it was a little hard to get around without having to call a cab. Maybe it is an issue of expectations: if we had come in not expecting to love it, we may have decided that it was a fun place to visit with an interesting history. Or, maybe it was  an issue of timing; if we had come at a time when it wasn’t as hot and hazy, we might have enjoyed exploring more of the city. But since we had heard such great things, we instead just had to say it didn’t quite live up to it.

Tasty Thai Food at Tom Yum Thai Cooking School in Chiang Mai, Thailand

Food in Thailand – yum! This has been one of our absolute favorite places in the world when it comes to eating.

Della is in heaven eating her fried noodles – whether it be pad thai or pad see ewe – every day! Eric has loved all the different kinds of curries! Everything is delicious and we could probably eat here forever.

For that reason, we were super excited to do a cooking class. We had some time in Chiang Mai and we knew that there were several classes offered. Della picked one where one of the main offerings was Pad See Ewe.

The one we chose was called Tom Yum Thai Cooking School and we loved it.

Our first step was to get picked up by our teacher Oun from our hotel in a minivan. He brought us quickly to one of the markets in the city. Here he showed us many of the different vegetables and herbs we needed to know for cooking Thai food. Some of the more interesting things we learned were:

  1. Ginger and Galangal are almost the same, but different.

    Ginger and Galangal

    Ginger and Galangal

  2. Raw turmeric looks a lot like ginger.
  3. There are 3 different kinds of basil used in Thai cooking: holy, lemon, and sweet. (We mostly used sweet)
  4. There are a ton of different kinds of eggplants – the Thai ones we used were tiny.

    two different kinds of tiny Thai eggplants

    two different kinds of tiny Thai eggplants

  5. Long beans in Thailand are truly long!

    Loooong beans

    Loooong beans

  6. Palm sugar is a thing and can be sold in different ways.

    this is palm sugar

    this is palm sugar

We also just enjoyed wandering the market with someone who knew what everything was.

After shopping for our food, we hopped back in the van and headed to Oun’s house.  Here we quickly got dressed up in our aprons, ate a quick snack of prawn crackers, and then began to cook.

Eric and Peggy getting ready to cook!

Eric and Peggy getting ready to cook!

Throughout the cooking class, we had the chance to cook and eat 5 different courses. For each course, we had a choice of three different things to learn to make. For the most part, because it was Eric, Della, and Peggy taking part, we each did something different.

Course 1: Stir Fry

Della learned Pad See Ewe, but both Eric and Peggy learned Pad Thai. For each course, we learned our ingredients, the best way to prepare them (chopping, smashing, etc), and then the order in which to cook. We won’t tell you too much more: you’ll have to go take the class yourself! Cooking these dishes did make us want to buy a fancy wok when we get home.

Course 2: Soup

Della learned Tom Kha (chicken in coconut milk soup), Eric learned Hot and Spicy Pork Soup, and Peggy learned Hot and Sour Prawn Soup. The base of the different soups was actually quite similar, and there were only a few ingredients that distinguished them. For example, Eric’s soup did not use coconut milk but the others did.

Course 3: Salad

Della learned Cucumber Salad, Eric learned Mixed Fruit Salad, and Peggy learned Papaya Salad. All of the salads used the same homemade dressing, which was a flavorful mix of sweet, sour, salty and spicy ingredients.

Course 4: Curry

Della made Green Curry paste, Eric made Khao Soi Curry Paste, and Peggy made Panang Curry Paste. After all the pounding and grinding to get the paste, we each made the corresponding curry. Eric’s was slightly different as his was more of a curry noodle soup (a Chiang Mai specialty) and his was quite a bit more complicated. He was also the only one in the class who chose this dish so had to do the grinding of the curry paste all on his own! He didn’t report being too sore though!

Course 5: Dessert

We all learned how to make Mango Sticky Rice. Yum! We learned a lot about making sticky rice that we didn’t know: for example, it is steamed, not boiled!

One of the best parts of the class was that we got to eat everything we cooked. It was all delicious and we were quite stuffed by the end!

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Enjoying our meals

 

We can’t wait to get home and try out our new, mad Thai cooking skills. We are hoping that we are able to find all of the proper ingredients at home in Denver. We know we might be making quite a lot of trips to HMart in our future!