Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Koh Phi Phi Lookout

Despite going to bed at somewhere around 4am, I got myself up at 7:30 am and gathered up my camera and headed to the view point. I wasn’t sure exactly where to go but there were signs pointing the way so it wasn’t hard to figure out.

At the end of the normal street, there was a set of stairs that went straight up, and I couldn’t even see where they ended. I started to climb. Up and up and up I went, the odd slight curve in the stairs but for the most part straight up the side of the hill/mountain. Eventually I got to a look out point with a couple of benches to rest on. I was the only one there so I snapped a few photos and saw a couple signs pointing to “Lookout 1” and “Lookout 2” so I started to follow them. Instead of stairs this time, it was a paved path that was on a 40 degree angle that I had to go up. Up up up some more I went, glad that I decided to do this trek in the early morning and not at high noon, since it was already feeling like it was over 30 degrees.

After about 20 minutes of hiking I reached the top of the hill, where a little guesthouse and restaurant was located. There was an outcropping of rocks so I climbed up on them and took a seat to enjoy the view.  There was a man, who evidently worked at the guesthouse, outside sweeping and tidying up around the establishment.  He asked me where I was from and I told him Canada – to which he replied there sure seemed to be a lot of us on Koh Phi Phi. I agreed, thinking of the massive group we were with the day before.  He told me that there had been a massive storm in the morning, around 5 am, when the sun was coming up. However, since the sun had come up behind the storm, there had been a fantastic rainbow that was visible from the view point. I told him I was really sad to have missed such a sight.

I spent about 20 minutes just sitting and staring out over the island. One the left hand side was the port, where we’d arrived into. There were boats docked out in the harbour area, and boats all along the shore. On the right side was the bay that all the bars were located along, where we had spent the first night partying and swimming.  The actual town was situated on a very small sand bar between the two bays, and on either side of the sand bar were massive hills like the one I had climbed to catch this fantastic view.

I started back down the hill, deciding to maybe go swim in the water before we left the island that afternoon.  When I got back down to the lower view point to where the stairs began I started to count each step, curious to know exactly how many steps I had climbed to get up here (not to mention the paved portion of the path up to the official view point).  I must have looked kinda crazy, counting as I went down but considering I was the only person on the path at 8:30 in the morning I wasn’t too worried about it.

Eventually I reached the bottom.... 325 steps later.  It seemed completely ridiculous that I had just climbed up that many stairs. But, as I said before, it was completely worth it.

I wandered to the beach, and walked along with my feel in the water. There were a lot of jelly fish, however, so I ended up not swimming after all. I sat down, tried to take as many mental pictures as possible and just enjoyed the moment before heading back to the hotel to get the boys up and moving.

I thought maybe when I got back to the room the guys would be up and moving, but I was wrong. I’d left the key behind, in case they needed it,  so I wasn’t able to get in. I banged on the door and was surprised to see the room still dark and both boys still laying in bed barely functioning.  I told them I’d be back in a bit, and left to go hang out near the cafe with the internet.

After about half an hour I went back to the hotel and started to get the boys moving. We decided to find some food and then come back and check out officially.  We made our way over to the fruit shake stand that we had gone to the day before and ordered up some drinks. I had already had one that morning, when I had gone to check out the internet, but for the equivalent of $1.10 I really couldn’t pass up the chance to have another.

While drinking our drinks we saw the guys we’d been hanging out with and asked what their plans were. The guys from Edmonton were heading to Koh Tao, and the German was thinking of heading back to Phuket, so asked if he could join us. We said no problem. 

Because we had to be at the airport at noon the next day to catch our flight to Bangkok, our only option was to head back to the main land that afternoon, since the ferry likely wouldn’t give us enough time to get back in order to catch our flight.  Unhappy with Patong Beach, we opted to spend the night in Phuket Town, tagging along with some other Germans that the guys had met while they were out without me.  They already had a room booked at the On On hotel, the hotel that was used in the filming of The Beach.

This was quickly turning into a Leonardo DiCaprio vacation – first we watched Titantic on the flat screen at the beach bar, we visited Maya Bay, and now we were going to sleep where they filmed the hostel scenes of the movie.

We went back to the hotel and  packed up our stuff, left it to pick up later and went to book our ferry tickets back to Phuket. We had about an hour to kill before having to be at the port so we opted to just hang out and do a bit of shopping at the little stalls before heading to the pier.

The sky had started to cloud over since my walk up to the view point that morning, and it looked like it might start to rain. We’d been extremely lucky so far while on Koh Phi Phi, with the only rain happening while we were sleeping (or should have been sleeping). The wind had also picked up, which was sort of nice as it helped with the feeling incredibly sticky from all the humidity.

We took off for the pier, said our goodbyes to the guys from Edmonton, and climbed aboard the ferry. There weren’t a lot of people on the boat so we each took our own seats and tried to make ourselves comfortable.

Unfortunately the wind that was so nice on the shore was creating some pretty serious waves on the water. The boat bounced up and down, sometimes pretty harshly. Somehow I managed to sleep most of the way, despite the fact that my head was hitting against the window of the ferry off and on. Some people on the boat weren’t so lucky though, and were throwing up off the back of the boat. Eric made sure to tell us that even the baby behind him was throwing up.

Along with the rough waters, the rain had also started. Eventually we docked the boat and gathered our stuff. We scrambled off the boat to the pier to stay dry and jumped in our van to take us to the hostel.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Booze Cruise and “The Beach” Beach

We were rudely awoken at 8:30 in the morning by a banging on the door. Startled, we jumped up and wondered what on earth could be happening. Then it dawned on us - we thought we had been so clever to turn the air conditioning on in the room without the help of the remote. We had only paid for a fan, not the AC , and didn't think that anyone would notice. They did, however.

Ren scrambled to turn the AC off and opened the door - he was greeted with an angry Thai man shouting about why were were using the AC (ummm... because this is a tropical country and we're from chilly Canada? How is this not obvious?) before barging in, taking our fan and presenting us with a bill for the cost of using the AC for the past 18 hours.

We’d heard from one of our Canadian friends that there was a day cruise around Koh Phi Phi Le that took us to Monkey Beach and Maya Bay, where they filmed The Beach.  So, after breakfast and some amazing fruit shakes we spent the morning wandering around the island taking pictures before getting ready to go and get on the boat.

We met the group at the pier around 1pm and filed onto the boat. The majority of the group were about 35 Canadians from Edmonton who were traveling with a group who’s mentality was “Life Before Work”.  Within moments of being on the boat the group was creating “Donkey Punch” – a vile looking mixture of every imaginable colourless alcohol and random juice.  We had the option to join in on the “fun” but we decided to just stick with our big bottles of beer Chang.
The boat departed the port and our first stop was Monkey Beach.  We parked the boat and climbed into long boats to take us to shore.  Once on shore we could see why Monkey Beach was called as such – it was overrun by wild monkeys that would right up to visitors. There were monkeys of all sizes, including a mother with a baby clinging to her chest.

Perhaps the funniest, but also most appalling part of the visit to the beach was the fact that the monkeys were fairly aggressive. And they apparently were alcoholics. They would run right up to people holding drinks, grab the drinks right out of their hands and run back to the safety of the trees and chug the drinks back. If people didn’t hand over the drinks the monkeys would attack.  The best course of action was to remain in the water, at about knee level, where the monkeys weren’t  brave enough to venture,

We got back on the boat and took off past Viking Cave – a cave in the cliff face that was originally home to Chinese pirates who painted murals on the walls. We couldn’t go into the cave because it’s currently inhabited.

After Viking Cave we stopped at a cove that offered the opportunity to snorkel and kayak, so of course I took advantage. Myself and a girl I’d met on the boat who was travelling from Israel took off and ventured around the cove. In spots the water wasn’t even deep enough for the kayak. We managed to get stuck and had to push ourselves off the rocks a few times.

We headed back to the boat where I was given a snorkel and goggles and pointed in the direction of some clown fish. I zoomed about under water with my camera, snapping photos of whatever fishes I could.

The major downside to all the swimming was the fact that the air was cool in comparison to the water and it was raining. Shivering, I got out of the water and wrapped myself in my pashmina scarf and attempted to dry off.  We spent a while at the cove while the kids from the tour group jumped off the side of the boat and swam around before heading to Maya Bay.

It’s possible to access Maya Bay in two ways. One way is to come into the Bay, park your boat and take a long boat to shore. The other is to park the boat on the opposite side, take a long boat to shore, climb some stairs and walk through a jungle along a path before being greeted with the oh-so-familiar view. This is what we did.

It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t sunny while we were on the beach, but it didn’t dampen our spirits. More than one (drunk) girl ran onto the beach calling for Leo, while the rest of us just stood in awe-filled silence while taking in the view.  Even with the overcast sky the beach was still amazing. Serene, secluded and peaceful.  The three of us photographers split up and spent awhile taking pictures around the bay.  Most of the pictures were fairly standard, but it never hurts to have a few iconic photos in the collection.  We sat on the beach, played in the water, and generally just enjoyed our time on the famous beach.

Because of the overcast sky, the original plan of seeing the sun set at sunset point was scrapped in favour of heading back to Koh Phi Phi Don and eating some dinner. We piled back onto the boat,  some of us taking the long boat and some of us, like myself, swimming.   Once back at the pier, we rushed ahead of the group and joined up with a couple of the guides from the group that needed a break from the (drunk) Edmontonians like we did.  One of the guys, a local, told us about a place where we could get the best Pad Thai on the island. For only 80B and the promise of a filling meal, we took the guys up on the offer to come with them.

The Pad Thai held true to its promise and was completely amazing. I’m fairly certain I won’t ever find Pad Thai that tastes that good again. Full and tired from a day on the water, we all ventured back to the hotel to take a nap.  We all crashed within moments of being back and didn’t wake up for a few hours.  Eventually, around 10pm the guys woke up and decided to go out and have some drinks. Still exhausted, I opted to stay behind and sleep some more. I told them I’d track them down eventually and went back to sleep.

I slept til about 12, maybe 1am. I got up and wandered out to see what I could find. I went up to street to outside the cafe we ate at earlier in the day to steal some wifi and debated what I wanted to do. The town seemed to be dead, I assumed everyone was at the beach. I internet-ed for a while and then decided to just hang out by myself. I walked around a little bit, went to 7-11 and basically just relaxed, happy to get a little bit of “me” time after being with the same people for days on end.

I figured that the guys would be back around 3, so I stayed awake until around then.  I must have drifted off because at 4am I heard the room door open and the guys come in. They crawled into bed and were surprised to find me awake. I asked them what they had gotten themselves up to and they told me hilarious stories of their night, using the most ridiculous accents imaginable and leaving me in tears.

I wanted to get myself up early to go and see the view point at the top of Koh Phi Phi so I fell asleep and so did the guys. All in all, a fantastic way to spend a day on the island!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Patong and Phuket - Beach Vacation Time!

We arrived into Phuket late at night – about 1am – and still had to head to Patong Beach, a beach town where our hotel was located. The ride from the airport to the hotel took about 45 min and I think I slept most of the way. I was exhausted and couldn’t wait for a good night sleep.

The next morning we woke up late, somewhere around 9:30. The sun was up, and it was already hot outside. We got some breakfast at the hotel and asked them if we could store our luggage until we figured out what we were going to do with our day.

We left the hotel and headed towards the beach. The town was exactly what you would expect of a beach town. Tacky, lacking in character, and immensely different from the cultural centre of Chiang Mai that we had just left. The guys weren’t feeling the beach town vibe and I was indifferent about what we should do, so we found a travel agent and booked ourselves on a ferry to take us to Koh Phi Phi. The shuttle was to pick us up at 1pm so that gave us time to explore the beach and make it back to the hotel.

We strolled along the sands at Patong and it was gorgeous. The town might not be awesome but the beach sure was.  (Just a note – Patong is know for it hedonistic ways – you can get into all kinds of “trouble” there... cabaret shows, lady boys, drinking... you name it, it’s there). At one point I wandered ahead of the guy and didn’t realize they had stopped to sit. I went way off ahead of them and then when I turned back to them (after sitting on the sand myself for a bit) they were gone. I looked around for them for a while but then decided it made the most sense to head back to the hotel – they were smart and would know to head back there to meet me.

Eventually the guys did find me back at the hotel, maybe 15 min after I got back. We grabbed our bags and waited for the shuttle. I slept most of the windy drive to the pier,  waking up just before we got there. We unloaded our stuff onto the waiting area and looked around at the other passengers waiting to board the ferry. Beside us was a group of 3 guys, whom after talking to them for a few moments we found out were from Canada. Well, 2/3 of them were. The other was from Germany and he had just met up with the guys from Canada moments before.

We talked about all the things we’d all done up until the point we were at, marvelling at all the different things that could be accomplished in such a short amount of time. They mentioned that they had a hotel room booked upon arrival at Koh Phi Phi and if we tagged along we could likely get a room at the same place, so thats what we decided to do.

The ferry was late arriving, but once it did get to the port we all embarked and put our stuff in the hold before heading outside  to the front deck to enjoy the sea spray and sunshine. The ride was about 2 hours and very enjoyable (unlike the return trip, but thats for another day..)
Koh Phi Phi Le
Arriving at Koh Phi Phi

Once we arrived at Koh Phi Phi we disembarked and regrouped. Half the group had been drinking on the boat and thus it was a bit difficult to keep people on the move to figure out where exactly we were supposed to be sleeping that night. I was given a map, asked directions from someone and we headed off in the direction of the hostel, as according to the helpful guy at the diving centre.

Turns out there happened to be two hostels by the same name and we walked to the wrong one. We turned around and found the correct one. One of the guys from Canada talked to the woman at the counter and got us a deal on the room for the night. No air conditioning though – we’d have to make do with the fan.
We went into the room and unloaded our stuff. I jumped in the shower and when I came out I found that Ren had somehow managed to turn the A/C on. Wonderful. It was insanely hot out.

We met up with the guys from Canada and made plans to go for drinks after a bit of a rest.  Because it was so hot we decided to just eat some street meat for dinner and ventured out to find something. We found a decent little place around the corner and each picked a few random meats on a stick. We watched the guy heat up the sticks over a makeshift bbq and then douse them in an obscene amount of chilli sauce before he handed them over to us. We passed the stick around, pulling pieces off – didn’t look like much but OH MAN! Tasted so good.
Back at the hostel we met up with the rest of the guys and set out to the beach to find a party. It should be noted that it gets dark early in Thailand, and so while we’re used to it getting dark around 9:30 in Ontario (even later in Edmonton, where the guys from Canada were from) it’s dark by about 7pm in Thailand. We got to the beach and it was dead – which shouldn’t have been surprising, since it was only about 8:30 and the night was still very very young.

The group of us found a little eatery by the beach that served food, but more importantly had cheap big bottles of beer Chang... and had Titanic playing on a big screen. The guy who was running the eatery brought us all out some chairs to sit on. A few of the guys ordered some food and so we all had a seat while waiting for it to be ready.

After the guys ate their food we continued down the beach to Slinky Bar, where we’d heard that the party was... but it was not.  We were the only ones at the bar.  Regardless, some buckets (popular all over Thailand,  buckets are exactly what they sound like – mini buckets of alcoholic beverages) were purchased and we played a few drinking games.  

One of the guys who had been drinking pretty heavily started getting out of hand, so the decision was made to get him back to the hostel. We headed out of Slinky Bar and stopped at one of the food stands to get him some food.

While we were waiting I saw the most amazing sight – a man walking a monkey. Not just any monkey, mind you, but a monkey wearing children’s clothing. Never the type to remain calm in such a situation, I immediately ran over and asked if I could hold him. The man said yes and the monkey climbed up into my arms and gave me a hug. It was the most exciting thing that had happened to me that whole day.

Eric snapped a few photos discreetly (the monkey man wanted us to pay for them) and then we continued on our way back to the hotel.  We dropped our friend off in bed, pretending it was late at night and headed back out.

The night from there on out became something of a blur, but included watching people throw around fire sticks, dub step and swimming at low tide. Along the way I ended up hanging out with the German and Eric and Ren went back to the hotel on their own.  When I got back  I found them asleep on the floor (Ren) and awkwardly curled up in the chair in the “lobby”. Feeling terrible, I woke them up and we all made our way to our room to pass out.

On deck for the next day? Booze cruise around Koh Phi Phi Le.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Night Market and Fish Spas

Every Sunday in Chiang Mai they close off Ratchemonden (sp?) street and it becomes a massive market. The street itself runs the length of the old city and becomes a never ending stretch of food vendors, craftmakers and buskers.

We’d heard that the market was worth checking out so we made sure to leave some time to do it. As we left the cooking school we wandered in the direction of the street and saw that people were just getting started setting up. Even though there wasn’t even the slightest possibility of eating anything we looked at the food vendors and decided that once our stomachs were finally ready to enjoy some more food we would definitely be coming back for dinner.

We wandered along the streets a bit before we heard a familiar sound – thunder. We’d become accustomed to the daily storms that seemed to hit Chiang Mai, usually between 5 and 7 every day so we thought it wise to head back to the hostel and chill out a bit while it rained.  We made it back just before the rain started coming down, and we were glad that we had chosen to come back – it was coming down hard.  It only rained for about an hour, but it was enough to take some of the heat out of the air and give us a chance to rest.

We left the hostel again to go back to Ratchemonden street, which we realized was actually very close to where we were staying. I was a bit grumpy, maybe from the heat, maybe from being up so early, maybe just because sometimes even though you’re having a great time you are still grumpy, and was dragging my feet slightly. As we walked we passed Dr. Fish, a fish spa that was on our usual route from where we were staying. (An aside – I found it extremely frustrating to read maps in Thailand because the spellings of the streets in English is completely arbitrary and changes from intersection to intersection and almost NEVER matches the map, or guidebook or GPS. Infact the maps and guidebooks and GPS never agree on spelling either. So landmarks, such as “FISH DOCTOR!” became the easiest way to navigate around).

Anyway, we’d joked a few times walking past that we should get a fish spa. If you’re unfamiliar with the concept I will elaborate: you stick your feet in a container filled with fish who then come and eat the dead skin off your feet. I’m not kidding. These aren’t even very exciting fish – totally your usual run of the mill garden variety pleckos that you can get at any pet store to clean your fish tank. 

Ren, sensing my discontent but not really sure what to do to fix it (nothing he could have done, really, but props to him for trying) suggested we should all get fish spas. And he’d treat me. I was a bit nervous but the whole trip had taken on the motto of “We’re doin’ it!” which meant we were doing just about anything you could do. So we did it. The fact that they had beers available was a definite bonus – who can say no to beers and fish spas?!

I stuck my feet in first. And almost yanked them back out. It was the most ridiculous feeling thing I have ever experienced. Within seconds of me putting my feet in the fish swarmed my toes and started chewing away. And it tickled. A LOT. I started to laugh. Uncontrollably. With tears streaming down my face. But I kept my feet in there and finally grew accustomed to the feeling of little fish chewing on my feet. Almost came to enjoy it, except for when one would find a super sensitive spot between my toes that had never been touched before.  Eric finally decided to join in the fun after Ren and I both were laughing super hard, and the three of us enjoyed our beers and talked about how ridiculous the whole thing was.

When our time was up – about 25 min later, my feet felt .. interesting. I would say they were more smooth than before – they at least felt kinda like it. And along with the dead skin my bad mood was gone.
Feet freshly fished, we made our way into the market. Still not totally starving but wanting to take advantage of all the interesting foods, we took turns buying random things on a stick and sharing them.  I couldn’t tell you all the things we tried, but if they came on sticks or could be eaten with sticks I’m sure we gave them a go.

We saw a lot of amazing things that night – people playing local music, singing etc, but I think the most amazing thing we happened upon was a flower burning festival at one of the wats. People were lined up buying flowers to burn as offerings to Buddha. In the middle of the courtyard was a massive shrine with flowers everywhere, and off to the side was a stage with people (children, mostly) performing. The energy in the air was electric – even if you weren’t religious or spiritual it was an amazing thing to witness.

Eventually we had to head back to the hostel to grab our things and take off to the airport. It was getting late, at least 9pm, and our flight was at 11. It was a late flight, but on the upside we would soon be in Phuket – gateway to Koh Phi Phi!!

Friday, June 17, 2011

Cooking In Chiang Mai

We decided that we should definitely take a cooking class while in Thailand and something about being in the more rustic North of Thailand made it the ideal setting to do such a thing.

After we returned from our trek through the jungle we returned to Terry the travel agent and told him that we wanted to do a half day cooking class and that we needed somewhere to stay in Phuket when we arrived at 2am.

Terry got on the phone and did what he does best – made our trip easy and memorable. Moments later we were booked in for a cooking class that would go from about 9am til 1:30. We debated doing a whole day class but with only one day left in Chiang Mai we were looking forward to the ability to go check out the Sunday market and just take it easy.

We spent the evening at the Night Bazaar, eating enormous helpings of mango sticky rice and looking at all the things that were available to buy.

The next morning we were awake early... well, I was. 6:30 to be exact. I don’t know what had me awake so early but I was up and ready to go. However, the boys were not and when I should have been going to get something to eat I was waiting for them. Silly me. Eventually they got moving and we went for a coffee down the road. Back to the hostel we went, gathered up our stuff and left it in the locked cupboard for the day, since we had to check out of our room but weren’t flying out until late that night.

We waited for the cooking class company to pick us up, reminiscing about the fun we’d already had and pondering what else might happen to us before we had to return to Canada. The bus arrived and we met some more people who were also doing the class. We were given a sheet to choose what food we wanted to make. We had the choice of a noodle or rice dish, a curry paste and corresponding curry dish and a meat dish. I chose to make the fried noodles with basil, penang curry and paste and the cashew chicken. Also, because we were only doing half a day we didn’t get to choose our dessert but we would get the opportunity to learn how to make fried bananas in coconut toffee syrup. Drool!!

We headed off to the market where our guide gave us a lesson on the different veggies and spices used in Thai cooking. We learned about all the different types of basil and how to tell the difference, saw the Thai Long Beans (seriously, those are some long beans! Can be like, 18-24inches long!) and were shown different types of roots etc. We also learned about the different types of oil used (pretty much everything but olive oil because it doesn’t fry well) and chillies – aka Thai Chocolates, because the Thais like chillies the way us north Americans like chocolate.

After our lessons we had time to wander around the market while the guide gathered up all the necessary foods to make the meals we had selected. Because I was still starving from the fact that I had been up since 6:30 and hadn’t eaten anything, I grabbed a fruit smoothy to tide me over. This was probably the silliest thing I could have done. But I didn’t realize that we would be eating so soon!

From the market we headed to the cooking school where we set to work almost immediately. We were divided up based on the foods we wanted to make. We were given instructions on how to chop up our foods and then directed to our own work stations with a wok. The instructors showed us what to do and we set to work cooking our meals. The first thing we made was the fried noodles. They gave us all the foods ready to go, premeasured and in little bowls. Man it must be nice to have a sous chef when cooking! We sauted the garlic put the chicken in, then the fish sauce, and other veggies, move it around the wok and voila! I know, it sounds so easy. It actually was. After our dish was done we were led into a nice air conditioned room where we could sit down with our cooking partners and taste the food we’d made. It was amazing.

After the noodles we went back out and learned how to make curry paste – from scratch. It’s not easy. It requires a mortar and pestle and a lot of brute strength. Thank god there were boys in the group that wanted to show off their skills. Once the paste was ready we were sent back to our work stations and baskets with the rest of the ingredients needed to make our curry dish appeared. We followed the instructions and all of a sudden the ingredients in front of us transformed into some amazing looking dinners.

While the curries were simmering we got to work making our second main dish. Mine was the cashew chicken. We did our chopping, and then back to the woks. Mixed up the food, again, all given to us ready to go... when done put it on a plate, grabbed our now finished curry and back into the air con’ed room where some rice was awaiting us. We tried out what we made. I fell in love with the curry. Red curry (in this case Penang red curry) is amazing. Must be the coconut milk. I’d made mine extra spicy... it was amazing.
At this point I was completely stuffed. I’m talking can’t-eat-another-bite-damn-you-Alanna-why-did-you-get-that-smoothy stuffed. Thank god the only thing left to eat was the fried bananas. The three of us were the only ones who were doing the half day, so I can’t imagine how the rest of the class was going to cope with a soup and appetizers still to come before dessert.

We got a chance to rest, which was much needed because I don’t know how I was possibly going to eat another bite. Eventually they called us over to the cooking area again and showed us how to make the fried bananas. It was actually very easy. And I could see my waistline growing before even taking a bite. Butter, coconut sugar (made from the flowers of the coconut plant, tastes a lot like maple sugar in my opinion), bananas, coconut cream. Nothing about this dessert was healthy. But man was it delicious.

Once the cooking was all finished, they presented us each with a cookbook with all the ingredients and instructions on how to make the meals we’d created that day and all the meals that were usually offered by the cooking class. All my favourites – mango sticky rice, red curry, etc, they were all there. So excited to be able to stretch my cooking skills at home.

We left the cooking school in search of something to do, but being so full the best we could come up with was sitting under a mist machine at a patio we found walking home. The heat was unbearable after eating so much so we enjoyed a few glasses of beer Chang before doing some more walking around. 

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Thailand in 3.5 Minutes

While I'm struggling to get my blog updated (being back to work seems to make this difficult!) here's a video of our whole trip in 3.5 min, courtesy of Ren. The music used was recorded in Chiang Mai at the Sunday Market, played by a couple of buskers in the middle of the street.


Hiking and Hilltribes in Northern Thailand - Day 2

The next morning we woke up early, around 5am. The guys wandered around the village taking pictures while I attempted to catch up on my writing. I wrote for about an hour, then wandered around the village myself before heading back to the hut to have a nap. We all fell back asleep from about 7:30 til 9am when we got up for breakfast.

The family had prepared us some breakfast consisting of toast (with an interesting wood-fire flavour) and butter and jam, hard boiled eggs and tea and/or instant coffee. Starving, we each ate at least 3 pieces of toast. While we ate we discussed the art of raising chickens, and how does one know who's chickens are who's, as we watched birds roaming about the dirt floor.

We got ourselves ready for our morning of hiking to the spot where we would hop on a bamboo raft to go down the Mekong river. I managed to fit my camera bag into my backpack (and swearing that on my next trip I wouldn't pack so much) and filled up my water bottle. My clothes had finally dried to a point that allowed me to put them back on without cringing at the feeling of dampness against my body. One more walk around town to snap some photos and we were off on the next leg of our journey.

The first leg of the hike was up. Up. UP. A lot of up. And my muscles still hurt from the day before. So I'll admit I was a little bit whiny. However, I was pretty happy when we started going down down down not long after that. The steepness of the hill wasn't overly enjoyable but it gave me a chance to use different muscles at least.

Eventually we came to a little rest spot near the water. We all had another can of beer Chang (probably not the best rehydration tactic, but sooo delicious) and sat with our feet in the water. As we sat there it started to rain, but none of us bothered to move... instead we just laid back on the rocks and let the rain fall on us and cool us off.

We hung out at the rest spot for about 20 min before getting back on our feet and making our way to the main road. At some point Tony Montana pulled out his cell phone, rattled off some words in Thai and next thing we knew there was a pickup truck waiting for us. We piled into the truck completely unsure of where we were going next.

The truck took us to a little roadside stop where we got out and were instructed to put our stuff down. Lunch was to be served before going on our bamboo raft trip. We had no idea what to expect in terms of food, but figured it would probably be delicious. And it was. Very simple fried noodles and veggies were presented to us and we devoured them.

As we ate our food we watched a pair of children come over and inspect the camera that Ren was making on his Go Pro video camera. They just kept staring into it and we all watched, amused and excited about what might come of it on the video.

When we were done eating we piled into the back of the truck again, this time joined by a few more people - a couple from Canada and a guy from France. They too were doing a trek and the bamboo raft ride. We drove to the raft take off spot, unloaded ourselves (leaving our gear in the car) and went down to the river. The rafts were waiting for us so we climbed aboard, myself at the front right behind the "driver", Ren in the middle and Eric in the back .

As we took off down the river all of a sudden the "driver" (gondolier? Raft man?) started laughing and pointing at my lap. I was a bit concerned what on earth he could be seeing that was causing him such enjoyment and looked down. There, on the raft was a black and brown frog, apparently coming along for the ride. Ever the animal lover, I picked him up and we became friends.  He couldn't have cared less that he was sitting on me, infact was completely content to just hang out on my knee or hand while we floated downstream.

The ride itself was awesome, very peaceful and giving us a completely different perspective of the area. We floated past a few "beach" spots - areas where the locals would come to to hang out by the water with their friends on bamboo platforms. We'd wave and they'd wave back . We went over a waterfall (thankfully not too big) and got wet. And it felt awesome.

When we reached the end of the ride we all climbed back up on shore and back to our truck. The driver took us back to Chiang Mai and dropped us off at the hostel. We said goodbye to the people we'd met and gathered our stuff from the locked room and headed off to shower before heading down to the Lost Hut for some well deserved beer Changs.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Trekking and Hilltribes in Northern Thailand - Day 1

The tour bus dropped us off on the side of the road to begin our hike. We set out straight across the road and immediately up a hill that felt to be 90 degrees but likely was only about 30. However with the 20lbs of stuff (camera, clothes etc) it was far from easy especially with my leg muscles burning from clinging to the back of an elephant for the last 2 hours.

Eventually the path evened out but not for too long. Up and up we climbed, my lungs burning part from exertion and part just from my shoulder bag crushing my chest. 

The scenery, however was totally worth the effort. Rolling green hills went on for miles,turning a hazy blue in the distance, the humidity clouding the horizon. 

Up and down through the hill we went,  ducking under branches and dodging the odd spider blocking the path.When we started our journey we'd acquired a follower - a little hilltribe dog that trotted along in front of us the whole way. He'd run ahead, and then come back to find us.

We trekked for about an hour and a bit before coming out into a clearing with a few little bamboo huts set up for people to sleep in. Straight ahead was a huge waterfall. Exhausted we all sat down to enjoy the sound of the water crashing over the rocks and the nice cold refreshingness of a can of Chang. (Beer Chang as it's always referred to in Thailand).
soooo sweaty!

Because the sun disappears early in Thailand we didn't stop for too long. About 20 min of rest and we were back on our feet on the way to the hilltribe village. We only had to walk about half an hour before reaching the village, which I think we were all ecstatic about. The last trek up the hill leading into the village seemed to be never ending.

As we walked up the hill we were greeted by some people from the village, a trio sitting on the front "porch" of a hut drinking mystery liquid from a communal glass. Tony Montana, our wonderful guide, introduced us and taught us the hilltribe word for "hello". We all said hello and were offered a drink from the glass. I took a sip.. it tasted like vodka, or whisky... kind of smooth with a definite burning after taste. I passed it onto the boys doing my best to not shudder from the taste.

Saying goodbye to the villagers on the porch, we walked to what would be our home for the night. We were instructed to put our stuff in the cabin and that dinner would be served shortly. We walked up into our cabin and were greeted with about 5 mats on the ground and mosquito netting hanging from the ceiling. We each picked a mat and dropped our stuff on the ground. I immediately draped my sweat drenched clothes over the lines hanging in the room to attempt to dry them out before our trek the next day... and realized I didn't have any other dry clothes. So, on went my bathing suit top and I wrapped myself in my pashmina scarf. Sometimes you just gotta make do.

We went down to the table in the "yard" to eat dinner. The family had been hard at work putting together a meal of rice, massamon curry and stir fried veggies. We were shown the cooler with the drinks in it and told to mark off what we bought and we could pay the next day. Apparently starving, we each had multiple servings of the wonderful food while discussing the day's events up until that point. We marveled at all the things we'd done and how many more things we still had yet to do.

After eating we were invited into the family's main  living area. We decided to play cards. First a game of Asshole/Shithead and then a hilltribe game called "Black Magic". A simple enough game to play, Tony Montana explained the rules to us: Each person is dealt a card. Ace is low, Kings are high and unbeatable. You look at your card and decide if you want to keep it. If it's low enough you can trade it with the person beside you, unless they have a King, in which case you can't. Once everyone has traded you turn your card over. The winner is the holder of the highest card. And he gets the honour of performing "Black Magic" on the loser.
Photo Courtesy of Ren Bostelaar

In this case "Black Magic" means rubbing their finger on a sooty pot bottom and drawing on the losers face in whatever way they see fit.

I did great for the first couple rounds. And then I lost. Repeatedly.

By the end of the game I was covered in soot and looked like the guy from V for Vendetta. Lovely.
But it was a lot of fun, it really was. Even more fun was being able to wash my face off with face cleaner without truly running water.

We all went to bed soon after that, our elephant and hiking muscles completely exhausted from the amount of work they got. I'm not usually one for super hard beds but the fact that I had a place to rest my weary body meant that I fell asleep fairly quickly.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Home Safe!

I'm home safe and sound from Thailand - I got so busy that I haven't been able to finish writing about all the amazing things I did. So stay tuned - over the next couple days I'll have the full report!