Ubud on Foot and Bali by Bike

Our time in the small town of Ubud was relaxing and enjoyable. It’s small enough to go pretty much anywhere on foot, which is good, because there really aren’t any taxis (or taksis as they’re spelled in Indonesia) or public transportation. Desak Putu Putra Homestay was one of the nicest, friendliest, and most pleasant hotels we’ve ever stayed in. The closest American analogue to a homestay would be a bed and breakfast, and the breakfasts here were quite good. Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-1 Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-5

Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-24Just a few doors down from our homestay was a delicious restaurant where we ate almost all of our meals, Mama’s Warung. Mama and her staff were so welcoming, and the food was so good, that we ate all of our meals except breakfast there while we were in Ubud. Jeff especially loved the tuna satay, with extra spicy peanut sauce, please! Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-31   Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-2 While we were in Ubud, in addition to visiting the monkey forest and scaling Mount Batur, we also took a bicycle tour of Bali. There were several interesting stops along the way. We were very fortunate that our tour guide, Doty, spoke excellent English and was happy to answer all the questions we had about daily life in Bali. Before embarking on bicycles, the tour took us to a traditional coffee farm where coffee and other produce is grown and beans are roasted over an open fire before being processed using a tremendous mortar and pestle.

Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-8A unique kind of Indonesian coffee called Kopi Luwak is possibly the world’s most expensive coffee. The beans are gathered from the droppings of a small, catlike animal called a palm civet, and the digestion process supposedly lends a unique and spectacular flavor to the finished coffee. We tried a cup, and it tasted rather… bland. The palm civet, however, was quite cute.

Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-6Doty showed us a traditional Balinese home, which was laid out in the same way as our homestay, with a covered area in the center for ceremonies and family relaxation; a temple area where offerings are made for prosperity in life; a kitchen and dining building; a building with bedrooms for each family member; and a large garden full of greenery (and a cow). Doty told us that while most of Indonesia is Muslim, Bali is 90% Hindu, although the Hinduism practiced here has nods to traditional animism as well.

The weather on the day of the tour was cloudy, with rain threatening all day. This is the rainy season in Indonesia, and rain can come quickly; scattered clouds can change to a monsoon-like downpour in a matter of minutes. Luckily, the only hard rain of the bike trip was while we were stopped admiring an extremely old and tremendous banyan tree. Its sprawling 500-year-old branches and large leaves were the perfect cover.

Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-14

Later on in the tour we stopped by a workshop where ornate door frames and doors were carved by hand. Each door can take a month to carve, depending on the complexity of the designs. It must take a tremendous amount of skill and patience…

Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-18

Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-20The tour wound 25 km through the hills of Bali and past countless shops, markets, homes, schools and rice paddies.

Ubud and Bali Cycling Tour-12Doty was a fantastic and informative guide, and the bike tour was a fun and energizing way to see quite a bit of the green, life-filled island of Bali.




Sunrise at Mount Batur

The morning after Jeff’s birthday, we awoke at 2:00 am to get ready for our pre-sunrise trek up Mount Batur, an active volcano about an hour’s drive from Ubud. Our guide picked us up from the hotel right on time at 2:30 am, and we made our way to the base camp, where we had a cup of Balinese coffee and got our flashlights ready for the pitch-dark climb. The trek started out fairly flat through the forest at the base of the mountain, but quickly turned steep as we got higher into the rocky cliffs. We were very glad to be the only two climbers with our guide, as we definitely needed some help navigating up the steep and sandy volcanic rocks. It was a long and difficult climb, and towards the end it was best just to take one step at a time and not think about how much further we had to go! We arrived at the peak of Mount Batur just as the sun was peeking through the clouds near Mount Agung, which lies to the east.

Mount Batur Sunrise-1

Luckily, the view from the top turned out to be extremely worth our hard work, and we celebrated with a Sprite from a vendor who climbs Mount Batur every morning to sell his backpack full of sodas at the top.

Mount Batur Sunrise-15

Mount Batur Sunrise-6

While we marveled at the view from every direction, our guide prepared us a scrumptious breakfast, including eggs cooked in volcanic steam, sweet buns, and a delicious fruit we’d never seen before called mangosteen. They’re the purple fruits next to the bananas.

Mount Batur Sunrise-20As the sun rose over the mountains and through the clouds we could see all of Bali bathed in golden light.

Mount Batur Sunrise-22We also saw a few more crab eating macaques at the peak.

Mount Batur Sunrise-25The descent back to the bottom was faster and less tiring but rather hard on the knees. It was a relief to make it back to flat ground.

Mount Batur Sunrise-27The rest of the day was spent in a state of disoriented relaxation, having scaled and descended a mountain before noon. An exhausting, incredibly beautiful day.

Sacred Monkey Forest

Our travels have brought us to Ubud, Bali, which is home to the Sacred Monkey Forest; a park and temple complex that’s home to hundreds of crab eating macaques.

Sacred Monkey Forest-11

Visitors have the opportunity to feed, interact with, and hopefully not get bitten by these little cats-with-hands monkeys. They’re quite comfortable with humans, and it’s easy to get close enough to touch one. We had to keep reminding ourselves that they’re wild animals, and probably wouldn’t enjoy being petted or touched, and do possess sharp teeth and strong jaws.

Sacred Monkey Forest-6There were macaques of all ages, and it was interesting to observe their social hierarchy. There were meek little baby monkeys, playful adolescent monkeys, and some much larger, grumpier, and more aggressive king monkeys.

Sacred Monkey Forest-17

The park itself was incredibly gorgeous. Indonesia has a fully tropical climate, so the growth never stops. The green mosses growing on rocks were such a bright and saturated green it almost looked fake in places.

Sacred Monkey Forest-21

There’s a small waterfall and river running through the lower level of the temple complex, which was flowing quite nicely due to a brief but heavy rain shower earlier in the afternoon.

Sacred Monkey Forest-23

Sacred Monkey Forest-31

We spent a pretty magical few hours on the evening of Jeff’s 26th birthday wandering around, looking at all the intricate stone carvings and lush jungle in the forest, which would have been pretty special even without the added bonus of adorable monkeys at every turn.

Sacred Monkey Forest-3

Sacred Monkey Forest-2

It was really fun to watch them expertly open bananas using both their hands and hand-like feet, although it was less nerve-wracking not to actually be the one holding the bananas. The monkeys were not afraid to demand the goods, and we saw several monkeys jump onto the backs, shoulders and even heads of visitors who were attempting to hide bananas out of reach. After one startled Jane by tugging on her pant leg like Aladdin’s Abu, we decided to go the safe route and hand them down as quickly as possible.

Sacred Monkey Forest-4

It was a great introduction to the tropical island of Bali and the next leg of our adventure!

The Food of Chiang Mai

Aside from the incredible people, weather, and scenery, the delectable food is one of the best reasons to visit Thailand.

Som Tum

DSC06793One of the most common and least expensive street foods in Thailand is also one of the most delicious and refreshing. Som tum is a dish with a base of shredded green, unripe papayas pounded in a mortar with lime juice, long beans (which look similar to green beans, but have a denser texture), roasted peanuts, dried shrimp, and various other fruits and seasonings. It has a surprisingly savory flavor and is filling for a nearly vegetarian salad.

Pad Krapow Kai

DSC06799This dish (pronounced pad ka-pow guy) can be as spicy or as mild as you want it to be, but we think the spicier the better. Thai holy basil is stir-fried with finely minced chicken or pork and spicy Thai chilies. It’s a pretty simple and excellent dish, particularly over rice and accompanied by a fried egg.

Phad Thai

DSC05883The most well known Thai dish in America, Phad Thai is common in Thai restaurants and street food stalls as well. A Chinese-influenced stir fry with rice noodles, peanuts, egg, tofu/other protein, tamarind and other spices, it’s a well rounded dish that’s a strong standby meal for any occasion.

Khao Soi

DSC04821A dish with Burmese influence, Khao Soi is a great northern Thai curry. It’s a complex soup with both boiled and crispy noodles, chicken (usually on the bone), swimming in a broth of thinner-than-usual coconut curry and served with optional toppings of chopped shallots, lime juice, and pickled cabbage.

Thai Fried Fish with Chili Sauce

DSC05582A whole fish, breaded and deep fried, served with vegetables or a salad and incredibly spicy chili-lime and cilantro sauce. Filling, bony, delicious.

Fried Quail Egg Dumpling

DSC06044              We didn’t run into this tasty treat many places, but we were sure to get them whenever we spotted them. Hard boiled quail eggs are wrapped in a thin dough, then deep fried and served with a sweet Thai chili sauce.

Red Curry with King Prawns

DSC04169Spicy red Thai curry with king prawns, eggplants, and other veggies. An excellent curry seems to be one of the main dishes to separate a great restaurant from a mediocre one. This was an excellent curry and a great restaurant: Nest 2 in Chiang Dao

Panang Curry

DSC06762Another superb coconut milk-based curry, flavored with kaffir lime leaves, galangal, lemongrass and chilies. Our favorite version had plenty of vegetables and tiny bitter eggplant for an extra kick.

Pork Noodle Soup


Our favorite lunch for the past several weeks, this soup is a simple but scrumptious meal. Rice noodles, bean sprouts, and cabbage are briefly boiled, then topped with pork balls, a meaty pork bone, and slices of pork loin in a flavorful pork-based broth. It’s finished off with bits of deep fried pork fat and garlic, and crunchy wontons.

Favorite Fruit Shake


We realize these might not look like anything special to the casual observer. But the casual observer would be wrong. There are an abundance of fruit shakes in Chiang Mai, with every ingredient available: pineapples, strawberries, passion fruit, dragon fruit, oranges, apples, carrots… The list goes on. Our favorite fruit shake is made with ripe avocado, juicy mango, and fragrant banana, with ice, honey, and sweetened condensed milk for good measure. The avocado may sound like a strange addition at first, but ripe avocado is so creamy, and that’s what puts this fruit shake over the top. Here’s our shake-barista from Kalare Night Bazaar food market, hers is the stall to look for:


Thai Fried Bananas

DSC06279Another street food dish, these taste like a banana inside of a donut. It’s not just breading, but a thick, spongy sesame seed batter that coats these bananas. Sweet and frighteningly good.

Crema Latte


While lattes are not particularly Thai, this one was too delicious not to share. Crema Café has become one of our favorite spots to relax, thanks to their delicious coffee, friendly owners, and serene setting. The lattes we had there were some of the best-made coffee we’ve had in Thailand, and our only complaint is that we finished them too quickly!

Well, there you have it: our favorite local Chiang Mai dishes to cap off our time in this wonderful city. We’ve had the most enjoyable time living in Thailand, but we head off tomorrow on a train to Bangkok to our next destination of Indonesia. Can’t wait to see what excitement this change will bring!


New Year’s Eve – Ladyboys and Fireworks

To celebrate New Year’s Eve, we decided to check out the local ladyboy cabaret!

Ladyboy with a split personality

Ladyboy with a split personality

The dancers were extremely enthusiastic

The dancers were extremely enthusiastic

The show consisted of elaborately costumed performers lip synching and dancing to a wide variety of songs ranging from old standards to disco hits.

Dramatic closeup

Dramatic closeup

The cabaret was a unique and decidedly Thai experience

The ladyboy cabaret was a unique and decidedly Thai experience

The Thai name for ladyboy is kathoey (highly recommended read), and ladyboy cabarets are a celebration of this gender which is commonly accepted in Thailand.

Since the cabaret wrapped up a few minutes before midnight, we headed to the moat to take part in the city-wide party, complete with constant fireworks and sky lanterns.

Our view of the fireworks and lanterns on the moat surrounding the old city

Our view of the fireworks and lanterns on the moat surrounding the old city

Floating lanterns are popular for pretty much any holiday

Floating lanterns are popular for pretty much any holiday

Some of the lanterns have fireworks or flares attached

Some of the lanterns have fireworks or flares attached

It was an absolutely wonderful way to bring in 2014. Happy New Year!