Taking the sleeper train to Bangkok and traveling to Siem Reap

Rather than take a plane to Bangkok we decided to try the overnight sleeper train. You can choose to travel in first class, which includes a private berth with air conditioning, or you have the option to go second class with or without air conditioning. Second class is more like a dorm room with an open plan and beds along the walls of the train. You leave in the evening and arrive very early in the morning.

Because first class was sold out we decided to get second class tickets with air conditioning. Second Class was comfortable and it was a fun trip. During the day you sit at a table with two cushioned seats and at night these are converted into two bunk beds that come out of the wall. If you’re interested there are pictures on seat61, a site dedicated to the various forms of rail travel all over the world. We were on the Bangkok to Chiang Mai route.

Some of the food left something to be desired but there was plenty of it. It still amazes me how many meals are included when I am using public transportation in Southeast Asia. We didn’t even need to go to the dining car for snacks. Here is a picture of our dinner:

The berths were pretty comfortable and with the curtains drawn fairly private. I’m fairly picky and I even managed to sleep some. I wish that I had gotten a picture of them but I guess I was too sleepy! Here is a picture of us rolling along.

We arrived in Bangkok early in the morning and though not quite refreshed, in good shape.

In Bangkok we stayed at the Good Day hostel for a few days. We rented a private room with access to a communal bathroom. Our room had a bunk which was kind of fun. It reminded me a lot of being a kid. I got the bottom bunk. The rooms are very clean and had outlets accessible everywhere which I thought was great. There was one bathroom for the floor and it was also very clean and nicely decorated. The toilets and showers are in stalls so it’s a little more private than a locker room. All and all I had a good stay here and was very comfortable.

Then we were off to Siem Reap to check out Angkor Wat! The plane ride was uneventful. Siem Reap has a tiny airport and thankfully a very short visa check in process.

You actually use US dollars in Cambodia, which would have been more convenient if I had known about it before, lol. You also want to make sure that all your bills are in decent condition as most places will not accept bills that are overly dirty or in any way ripped.

Here is our plane! We arrived safely and were ready to check into our hotel. Next time I will talk about the city of Siem Reap.

From Mae Chaem and back to Chiang Mai

I didn’t actually take great notes during this period and I’m writing months later, so I’m just going to summarize what I remember about the rest of the trip.

When my back was manageable we left for Mae Chaem on the scooter. I thought this was the best option as while I could have taken a bus, they’re honestly super crammed and not very comfortable. Plus, you are stuck! No stops. With this arrangement I was able to take breaks  when I needed them to stretch or walk around for a bit. I don’t remember much about the journey but I do recall a little about Mae Chaem.

Mae Chaem is small town and unlike most everywhere else in Thailand there wasn’t the plethora of ready restaurants to greet us. We ended up staying at the Mae Chaem Hotel and eating both dinner and breakfast at the restaurant there. The hotel itself was a little bit run down. They have both a main hotel with rooms, and some private cabins in the back. The room they showed us in the hotel was horrible. It was moldy smelling and visibly dirty. We were both horrified and unsure about staying here, but the cabins in the back were much cleaner and nicer looking. Eric decided he’d had enough of looking and just took it.

I remember that I actually ordered something called “fried pork” something or other, only to get a big plate of pork rinds! The server had a good laugh at my expense, lol. Now is probably a good time to mention you should be careful of English translations as they can be pretty fast and loose.

While the cabin was reasonably comfortable it was super cold at night. In addition the pillows were really weird. Twice the size of normal pillows and desperately hard. In the morning I was ready to move on.

I remember looking around on review sights and taking a walk through the downtown, but we just weren’t able to find anything open for breakfast. We ended up eating at the hotel restaurant again to keep things simple.  I was ready to be back in Chiang Mai!

Oh Chiang Mai, how I missed thee. Actually it was pretty stressful getting back. We came back on the exact day that our rented scooters were due and had to pick up some luggage we had left behind at our long term rental place. My back was still hurting a lot too and I couldn’t help out much.

I think we made the rentals by the skin of our teeth and managed to find some Khao Soi Gai. Unfortunately this was probably the worst Khao Soi of the trip! I remember the spices weren’t quite right and they had bits of dry chicken breast instead of the traditional leg. Pretty disappointing for our last time. I don’t remember the name of the restaurant and I don’t feel like it’s really worth looking up.

Next we found an inexpensive hotel called Viraporn’s Place. Why we stayed there is kind of a funny story. Like all of Thailand there was a 1 inch step once you get out of the stairway which I did not see. I totally ate it and busted up my ankle!

The owner was pretty apologetic, but he also made a joke that we had to stay there now, lol! I actually have sort of a dark sense of humor so I thought it was pretty funny. Also true! I didn’t want to walk around looking for another place after that.

Viraporn’s Place was a nice break and I was very comfortable there. Other than that I don’t really remember much about this period. I vaguely recall walking around the downtown backpacker market, and going to eat at this restaurant where I took this picture:

I remember walking down a kind of sketchy alleyway, only to find the restaurant at the end of it.  There was a sign above the door with a weird name. It specialized it a certain type of Thai food but I don’t remember what was special about it (Isaan? Northern Thai?).

After some googling I’m pretty sure that it was at Lert Ros. Even the tabletops look similar to some of the other pictures on tripadvisor. It specializes in Northeastern Thai cuisine and is recommended on the Lonely Planet website.

I remember that we were seated right away and the food was amazing. We ordered the grilled fish, a curry in banana leaf dish, and a clay pot soup. The fish was my favorite and it was especially delicious with the red dipping sauce. Ask for seconds because you will need a lot!

After a few days of relaxation in Chiang Mai we took the sleeper train to Bangkok in order to catch our flight to Siem Reap, Cambodia! On to our next adventure!

Leaving Chiang Mai and heading to Pai

On Tuesday we said good bye to our apartment and left for Pai. I was sad to go but excited about our trip. I’ve heard a lot about Pai from other travelers things like its so amazing you end up staying longer than you planned and there’s so many incredible things to do there.

We decided to travel to Pai using our scooters. Right now there is a lot of construction and the roads are slippery with lose gravel and wet from whatever work they’re doing.

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We stopped at the Royal Botanical Gardens along the way. Very big complex and lots of amazing green houses, plus a very cool canopy walk way.

We made it to Pai around 5 pm. We were all exhausted and booked the first rooms we found for 400 baht a night. Kind of a bad location but we fell asleep right away.

After our naps we woke up to a completely different downtown. The street was closed off and thick with shops. Clothes food, everything you could think of. We ate some dinner at place down the street from our hotel then got an hour long foot massage. Then we went to a bar where to guys played billiards against some Thai guys.

Next day we went to Pam bok waterfall. Beautiful but really cold. Had to cross rickety old bridge that looked like something out of Tomb Raider. Cliff jump that was mentioned in the article I read was not that impressive.

For lunch we went to this cool Treehouse restaurant and guesthouse. I really liked the ambience of the place. Food was okay.

Because we were in the area we stopped at the Noi elephant camp. Riding the elephant bareback really hurt my butt. I guess that I was sitting the wrong way. If you sit on the back of the elephant over it’s spine you need to sit on your legs. I wish that someone had told me! After 15 minutes I couldn’t take anymore and had to get off. Because we were far away from the normal place you mount the elephant they had her sit in water and then I jumped off. Then the guide had the elephant shake off the guys, like in a rodeo. At first we thought the elephant was just upset, but it turns out the guide was giving her a command to do that. Glad I wasn’t on it, lol. I went back on one of the guides motorbikes.

Afterward we went to the Pai hot springs . Amazing location, you really feel as though you are sitting in a hot spring river. If that’s not entertaining enough you can also buy eggs and cook them at the head of the stream where it’s 80 degrees celsius. We just stuck to relaxing in the warm water. The hottest pool you’d actually want to get into was 36 degree celsius. Little waterfalls separate each pool. We started in 33 degrees, then 32, and last 31 degrees.

Back in Pai we had dinner by picking up street food while strolling along Walking Street. I had a fresh coconut, an eggroll and a curry chicken bao almost as big as my face. Great way to enjoy downtown and have dinner.

Loy Krathong

For the past week I haven’t had a chance to charge my laptop because there were no three prong power outlets at the places that we were staying and I forgot my adaptor in some luggage we left behind. I am back in Chiang Mai and I have a ton of posts to make!

On Wednesday November 25th we were able to celebrate Loy Krathong. Loy Krathong is a holiday celebrated in Thailand and some of the neighboring Southeast Asian countries. It is general celebrated over the course of three days and includes many events such as a parade, many contests, a beauty pageant etc.

This is my Krathong
This is my Krathong

The name comes from the traditional practice of floating an offering, usually of flowers, candles and incense down the river. It is supposed to wash away any bad luck of the past and bring you new luck. While traditionally there were only the water kind of Krathongs now there are also the lantern type. These have some a small ring soaked in karosene that makes them float off into the night sky. We tried both.

To start the night off we walked along the parade route and took in the sights. There were some dancers and a number of floats. There were also vendors all along the route selling both the water and sky Krathongs. We bought a floating Krathong and a lantern type for 40 baht each. That’s a little more than a dollar each.

When we got to the bridge over the river we tried to set our lantern but were stopped by police. We found out that lanterns aren’t legal until 9 pm. We thought it would be prudent to wait until then to send off our lantern but it seemed like everyone else was doing it anyway.

Instead we went down to the edge of the river to release our krathongs. My boyfriend’s brother slipped and got all muddy unfortunately. It was very slippery and I almost fell a few times too. Someone standing in the river helped me get my Krathong in the water. I definitely would have fell in if I had tried to release it myself. Even standing near the edge got my sandals pretty muddy.

Through the night people we shooting off fireworks but around 9PM some bigger ones were let off. I’m not sure if it was official but it was nice to watch either way.

At nine o’clock we went onto a cool bamboo bridge stretched to the middle of the river to release the lantern. It was pretty crowded so I accidentally didn’t record us lighting the lantern, but at least I got the last part.

Afterward we went to a bar by the river whose name I can’t remember. I was Cana-something? It was a bit expensive at 200 baht a drink but we had a great view of the river. We spent the next hour or so sipping our drinks and watching the lanterns and fireworks. A very nice way to end our first Loy Krathong!

Thai Cooking class at the AsiaScenic Farm

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On Sunday while the guys we off downhill mountain biking I took cooking class. I eventually decided on the all day cooking class at the AsiaScenic Farm. The day started with a 9:30 AM pick up at my apartment before we stopped at the MaeJo Market, close the MaeJo University.

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This is Pui(say it with a rising tone!), our guide and instructor for the day. Here she is showing us some of the produce that we will be using in our dishes today. There is actually a ton more at the market than just vegetables and fruit. You can buy rice, noodles, any spices, lunch and any spices that you need there.

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Got to have some delicious peppers when you’re making Thai food. Pui shared with us that the smaller the pepper the hotter it will be. Also that fresh chilis are more hot than dried ones, and that red ones are always hotter than green. Good to know when you’re about to spend all day cooking!

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For some reason the carrots just look more cute in Thailand.

After the market we all piled into the minivan and headed over the the farm. It was about a 20 minute drive. Not bad.

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Our first glimpse of the farm! It is a very relaxin place with an outdoor cooking area, a large garden, and plenty of hammocks to relax in between dishes!

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First thing we did was to put on some straw hats and take a tour of the gardens. Lots of the produce that we used was actually grown organically at the farm. Pretty cool.

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These blue flowers have medicinal properties and Thai people sometimes make a tea from them. Pui said they don’t taste like much so people usually add a little lime or something to it. They’re also great for dyeing food and we are going to use these in our Mango and Sticky Rice dish.

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To get us into the cooking mood we had a traditional snack of lime (with peel), galangal, toasted coconut, onion, peanut, syrup and a chili. We used lettuce leaves here but normally you would use a betel leaf. Surprisingly tasty! I had two.

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My first dish, Pad Thai! While it didn’t come out all that well (I think I overcooked it) it was exciting to start cooking. Once I was more familiar with the utensils and format things went a lot better.

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I wasn’t sure what to expect from this Spicy Chicken Salad but it was really delicious, it came out really well. The egg roll was also very tasty with some sweet chili dipping sauce.

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Next we had to make some curry paste in order to make our curry dishes with a mortar and pestle! It wasn’t so bad taking turns but my arm was really sore by the end. Pui said that our paste was really small and that she was impressed. Most groups still have really big chunks.

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This is my Tom Yum Soup. Easily my favorite dish of the day, but it was really spicy!

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Next I decided to make Kao Soi for my curry. It had a good flavor but because I used a lot of chili paste it was too thick. Not all that spicy however. Everyone else was using only 1-3 tablespoons (not spicy to mild) of curry paste in their curry dish, so I just had to use 5 tablespoons (spicy!). Someone had to do it!

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Last but not least was the mango sticky rice. The blue rice is actually dyed from the flowers that we picked earlier in the day. I’m really glad that I decided to try this dish again. The first time that I had Mango and sticky rice the mango was kind of green and the sticky rice was just rice mixed with a sticky syrup. This was really tasty and I would definitely make it for dessert.

After lounging and leisurely finishing our last dishes Pui gave us a copy of their recipe book and we all piled into the minivan to go back home. I was dropped off at my apartment at around 4:30PM, it was a long day!

Overall I would definitely recommend taking a cooking class and choosing one with a trip to the market. It really makes you feel like it’s something that you could get the ingredients for and do yourself. Cooking Thai food was a lot easier than I thought it would be. I am excited about making it when I get back home!

Lunch at Huen Muan Jai

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After a long week and graduating our 15 day Thai class I was just exhausted. All we did on Friday was relax and check out a new northern Thai restaurant called Huen Muan Jai. The restaurant is mostly outdoors on a wooden deck. Mosquito spray is provided for free although I don’t think we needed it. It was lovely to sit out on the shaded deck and to feel the breeze.

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We got all northern dishes, nam prick ong, gueng hang lay, and kao soi. All were pretty good but the Kao soi really stood out. It’s a pretty cheap and delicious lunch, I think that we will definitely have to get it again.

Galae and the Chiang Mai zoo

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On Wednesday we went out to lunch with our Thai class at the beautiful Galae restaurant. The location is right by the river amongst a lovely garden. After a delightful lunch filled with a variety of Northern favorites including Nam Prik Ong, Gueng Hang lay, and deep fried seabass with crispy galangal we went for a short walk along the grounds.

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While driving the scooters around we noticed that we were quite near the Chiang Mai zoo. The entrance was very odd, it almost looked like a private compound and there were no buses or other people besides the two in a small kiosk. We were able to buy tickets there and started walking towards the closest attraction. As it turned out we actually had entered at a small side entrance! We spent ages walking the steep road towards the actual zoo and past some very unusual signs, for example one read “Hormone extraction office” or something along those lines. I wonder if that is a mistranslation or they really extract hormones there?

Next time I would definitely take the time to find the real entrance. We had to walk over a very steep road for a long time and we then had to walk even further to find a place that sold tickets for the bus. In fact we almost had to buy two tickets for the bus around the park because they end at the entrance. Very annoying! I wish those guards had advised us to drive to the actual entrance.

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Once we got over our disappointment with the entrance situation we had a lot of fun. A highlight for me was seeing the pandas! There are only two but as they only cost 100 baht extra for the ticket we thought it was worth it. We got lucky in that the zoo keepers had put out some fresh bamboo just before we got there and one of the pandas we just hanging out eating bamboo really close to the edge of the enclosure. We were maybe 6-8 feet away here. Crazy!

Another cool thing that I almost forgot to mention is that you can feed nearly any animal at the zoo. That’s right, even the carnivores! My SO was brave and decided to feed one of the jaguars. So weird! We also feed a giraffe, an elephant, and some deer.

We did skip the super expensive aquarium but I think with the pandas and various opportunities to feed the animals the zoo is so much fun. I couldn’t recommend it enough. Definitely a different experience than going back home. Just make sure that you go in the main entrance, it will save you a lot of hassle.

Wat Prathat Doi Suthep

IMG_0722On Tuesday after Thai class we all went to Wat Prathat Doi Suthep, a Hmong mountain town with a waterfall garden, then took a quick jaunt through the Bpuping Palace grounds. It was a busy day!

Beautiful view of Chiang Mai!
Beautiful view of Chiang Mai!

Wat Prathat Doi Suthep is interesting in that unlike a lot of the other Wats it is actually far up in the mountains. Tourists have a choice of either paying 50 baht a piece and taking the tram or walking all 306 steps to get to the top. We decided to take the tram. It’s short and there is not much of a view, so actually I might consider walking up next time.

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The temple itself is beautiful and while somewhat crowded with other tourists from Thailand it felt like it belonged on top of the mountain.

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This fruit was actually what started my exotic fruit kick. It is called a physalis and is related to the tomato. While the winter season isn’t the best time to find ripe fruit we have managed to try a rose apple, jack fruit, some weird almost rum tasting fruit that I forget the name of, and my favorite so far dragon fruit. I’m really curious about this fruit called the sugar apple. I hope that we can have a taste of it before leaving Chiang Mai.

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After the temple we drove around for a while looking for the Bhuping Palace and found this Hmong village. There was a long winding road filled with market stalls to the top of a hill where we found this beautiful terraced garden and waterfall.

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No idea what this does.

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After backtracking we realized that we had driven past the entrance to the Bhuping Palace without even noticing! Luckily we got there 30 minutes before closing and were able to see the grounds. Very beautiful gardens although you are not allowed in any of the buildings.

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Le Grand Lanna Traditional Thai Dinner with Dance Show

Last Sunday night my boyfriend and I decided to eat at Le Grand Lanna restaurant, a traditional Thai restaurant with a dance show. The restaurant itself is located at the Dharva Dhevi which is a very nice hotel resort complex.

Unfortunately my iPhone is not great in low light conditions and my videos are frankly blurry, too dark, and have the family seated in front of us in them. However the hotel grounds have a great atmosphere and the restaurant is done up in an impressive imitation of the traditional Lanna teak architecture. We sat outside on the porch overlooking a garden below and underneath a large tree with lanterns glowing in the upper branches. Very romantic!

It really is amazing how they almost seem to tell stories with their hands. I’m not sure that you can see it in this video but they move their fingers in these intricate poses. Beautiful.

The only thing that I would change about the evening is that my poor SO’s chicken curry was undercooked. He didn’t tell me until we were headed home but I wish that he had. He still enjoyed the show but said that the curry left him feeling ill. Because of that while I did enjoy the night I don’t think that we would come again.

The Night Market, the view from Doi Suthep and Wat Suan Dok

Last night we finally got a chance to check out the famous Chiang Mai Night Market! We parked near Anusarn and walked along the strip for a while, trying to bargain and checking out the different shops. They actually seemed pretty pricey compared to some of the other places that we’ve shopped in Thailand, but it seems like the shop attendants are ready and willing to bargain.

Eventually we found an open air food court with live music. It was a nice break after the wall to wall shops. We spent an hour getting food and enjoying a guitar and violin duet.

This morning I went to my Thai class as usual. Class is really getting hard! We cover so much and we’ve learned enough now to start getting things confused. Today I struggled to understand what everyone was saying. A total contrast from yesterday which went well. I did study more on Tuesday than the other night, but I also think that it’s fatigue building up from the whole week.

On the other hand I’ve been thinking in Thai more and more. I’m also starting to get kind of creative. For example while I don’t have much of a vocabulary I was thinking about different ways that I could explain myself in various scenarios. Like I don’t know the word for gas, but I bet it’s either just gas or if that’s not it I could probably make myself understood by saying something like motorcycle water, which while it probably isn’t correct might get the point across.

After class we got some lunch at a western style bistro called Rustic & Blue. I got the Brekkie Stack, a short stack of french toast with bacon and a fried egg, all drizzled with maple syrup. That was really tasty, plus the bacon was cooked nice and crispy which is difficult to find in Thailand. To drink I had a yerba mate tea. Also very nice.

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Originally we planned to drive our scooters up Doi Suthep again, however about 20 minutes into the ride right when we stopped to admire a good view of the city it started to drizzle. I did get a nice photo of Chiang Mai.

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Instead we decided to check out Wat Suan Dok, a nearby temple that hosts a monk chat. A monk chat is basically a session you can schedule with some of the younger monks to talk and ask any questions. You can have a simple chat or dive into advanced theology at your preference. We decided to save that for a different time and just admired the grounds.

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Afterward we went to Wat Umong, another temple in the Chiang Mai area that has the distinction of having a series of underground tunnels. My boyfriend actually looked up the history on it after we got home and learned that at one point the underground tunnels were painted like the jungle. Allegedly there was a famous but now senile monk that would wander off into the bush and these tunnels we a way to keep him at the monastery.

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While I’m not sure if that story is true, Wat Umong was different than all of the other temples that I have seen in Thailand and definitely one of the coolest. It is still occupied by monks but it has an older faded quality that I love. The bricks are slippery with old moss and it’s almost as if it is slowly being taken back by nature. While the walls inside the tunnels are now bare plaster and brick work, the walls are stained with incense and you can hear chanting off in the distance.