Farewell, Chiang Mai

We are sitting in the Tokyo International Airport, waiting for our flight to Chicago, and we’re so excited to be on our way home!

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But, we thought we’d take the chance to reminisce about the final week of this incredible journey. For our last eight days in Thailand, our great friend Angelica was able to join us in Chiang Mai. It was so much fun to show her around the city, and to have an excuse to do all of our favorite things in Chiang Mai one last time. We even threw in a few new attractions for good measure.

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We started off the week with some excellent jazz at the North Gate on Saturday night, and the next day wandering around the old city, where Gelli found her favorite food of the trip: glass noodle salad (but not too spicy!). We ate and perused the wares for souvenir bargains at the Sunday Night Market, and on Monday at the overwhelming Wararot Market, both of which were convenient walking distance from our hotel.

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Tuesday we went to the major tourist temple of Chiang Mai, Doi Suthep, which proved to be a little commercial for our taste. That evening however, we returned to the lady boy Cabaret for another amazing show that did not disappoint. We didn’t realize this before, but the dancers perform a different show every night, and this one was just as fantastic as the first. We even went up on stage after the show to join in on the impromptu dance party!

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On Wednesday, we woke up early to catch the local intercity bus to Chiang Dao. We arrived at the cave temple early enough that we were some of the only tourists to be seen, which made it very peaceful. We decided to take the 30-minute guided tour through the caves this time around, which turned out to be very worthwhile. Our guide was patient as we stopped to snap photos, and she was happy to point out rocks in the shapes of three-headed elephants, frogs, lions, and the like. The cave was pretty tight in a few places where we had to squeeze through, but it was mostly large caverns populated by huge numbers of tiny squeaking bats.

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In the afternoon, we went to the mountain temple, where the views were beautiful and serene. As we were crossing the parking lot to head back to the bus stop for our return, a nice couple passed and asked if we’d like a ride back to Chiang Mai. We accepted, and learned that the woman’s son was studying to be a Buddhist monk at that temple. We enjoyed talking with them, sharing our snacks, and listening to the Thai Lanna Folk music they had playing in the car before being dropped off to eat dinner.

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The next day was spent sightseeing in the old city at the Three Kings Monument and museum. We sought refuge from the incredible heat in the air conditioned and beautifully furnished library and enjoyed the few issues of National Geographic that were in English. That evening, we went to a Muay Thai fight at Thapae Boxing Stadium. There were seven fights in all, and although most were fairly one-sided, a couple of the fights went to judge’s decision.

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Friday, our last full day in Chiang Mai, was spent the same way as our first full day: at A Lot of Thai home cooking class. The recipes are original and authentic, and the instructor and owner of the class, Yui, is a fascinating and interesting person. She’s very talkative and her stories about cooking in Thailand and other  countries over the years provide unique insight into Thai culture. She’s also an excellent teacher and an amazingly skillful cook. Since she’s self taught, she prefers the terms food lover or Thai cook to the more pretentious “chef”.

After a long day at the cooking class, all three of us were ready for a calm and relaxing evening. Being the last day of the four month journey, however, we decided to go out and do some karaoke.

The karaoke bar we went to offers rooms for rent by the hour. Each room has an incredibly cheesy theme, a few couches, and a tv with a computer with karaoke software. The English language song selection was fairly small but offered enough fun singalongs from the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Highlights included Spice Girls and TLC.

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And now the trip has come to an end. It’s been a great four months. The saying is that time flies when you’re having fun, but in the case of this trip, it seems like the opposite has happened. These four months have felt incredibly long, in a good way. Individual days can go by quickly, but the weeks and months have seemed like years. When your surroundings are constantly changing and you’re constantly surrounded by different kinds of food, language, currency, weather and people, there’s no way to fall into a rut or routine. We’ve perceived these four months as much longer, but in a great way. This taste of travel has made us want to see more of our own country, too, and the sleek little car we just bought should be the perfect tool for that task. And we can’t wait to get back to our family and friends (and cats)!

Hanoi

Vietnam is a tall, narrow, s-shaped country, and the climate varies quite a bit throughout. In the north, there are four separate seasons, while in the tropical south, the temperature by varies just three degrees year-round. Hanoi, being in northern Vietnam, was actually pretty chilly while we were visiting. The temperatures would reach a high in the low 60s or high 50s, but high humidity made this feel colder than it was.

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Our hosts, Jeff and Kate Caster, were incredibly generous and fun to be with. We had a wonderful and entertaining two weeks spending time with them, making friends, indulging in red wine, and enjoying the best room of our trip in their beautiful French Colonial-style house.

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The neighborhood where they live is known as Tay Ho, or West Lake, and we spent one of the days wandering around the rather large lake, stopping at numerous Bia Hois along the way to cut the cold with a crisp Saigon beer.

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Walking around the streets and exploring on foot provided a nice glimpse of life in Vietnam’s capital city. We spent a few days taxying to different neighborhoods and then walking along narrow streets as the afternoon light turned golden.

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Hanoi-29Traffic, even by the southeast Asian standards we’ve grown accustomed to, was rather insane. The philosophy here is to cross as quickly yet authoritatively as possible, and avoid the motorbikes!

Hanoi-17Bun Cha, a signature northern Vietnamese dish, was a Hanoi specialty that we enjoyed tremendously. It’s made up of chargrilled pork patties with a sweet-savory broth, white rice noodles, and fried spring rolls that are eaten wrapped in an enormous amount of crunchy mixed greens.

Hanoi-6The time we spent exploring Hanoi was delicious and relaxing, and the cloudy, cool, misty days provided a cozy change of pace from steamy Indonesia.

 

Christmas in Chiang Mai

Merry Christmas from Chiang Mai!

Shiny little Christmas tree, very festive

Shiny little Christmas tree, very festive

Specifically, the incredibly delicious American-style diner and bakery, Butter is Better. Walking in feels like taking a short trip back to America, which is quite nice (and rare) in Thailand.

Enjoying a tasty meal at Butter is Better Diner and Bakery

Enjoying a tasty meal at Butter is Better Diner and Bakery

For Christmas dinner, we shared a chicken plate with stuffing and gravy, a muffuletta, and a big bowl of macaroni and cheese.

Chicken and stuffing plate - forgot to take a photo before taking a few bites

Chicken and stuffing plate – forgot to take a photo before taking a few bites

According to Butter is Better, the Muffuletta is New Orleans' greatest contribution to the world

According to Butter is Better, the Muffuletta is New Orleans’ greatest contribution to the world

Thick, creamy, cheesy mac and cheese.

Thick, creamy, cheesy mac and cheese.

And coffee.

Some of the best coffee we've had so far in Thailand

Some of the best coffee we’ve had so far in Thailand

And dessert.

Pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust

Pumpkin cheesecake with gingersnap crust

Merry Christmas from Chiang Mai!

 

 

A lot of Thai

Back from radio silence, guys! We spent the last few days adjusting to the time difference, taking the BEST Thai cooking class, and finding our new apartment (so cozy). Apartment details next time, but for now here’s a gallery of our cooking class with Yui, the teacher for A lot of Thai home cooking class. She’s been cooking and teaching for 14 years, and was so frank and fun to spend the day with. We improved our knife skills, took a tour of the local market, and ate waaay too much. Take a look!

Us and Yui

Us and Yui

Mango Sticky Rice

Mango Sticky Rice

Jane's spring rolls

Jane’s spring rolls

Jane's spring rolls

Jeff rolling spring rolls

The street outside Nong Hoi Market

The street outside Nong Hoi Market

Eggplants that actually look like eggs!

Eggplants that actually look like eggs!

Phad Thai - delicious in two minutes on the wok

Phad Thai – delicious in two minutes on the wok

Assorted Greens

Assorted Greens – including edible mimosa leaves

Tamarind

Tamarind

Dragonfruit and other produce at Nong Hoi Market

Dragonfruit, bananas, oranges and grapes for sale at Nong Hoi Market

Delicious Iced Coffee from Nong Hoi market

Delicious iced coffee being prepared

Sippin on that iced coffee

Sippin on that iced coffee

Nong Hoi Market

Nong Hoi Market

The stations at A Lot of Thai cooking class

The stations at A lot of Thai cooking class

Thai Red Curry

Thai Red Curry

Thai Green Curry

Thai Green Curry

Yui demonstrating cooking form

Yui demonstrating cooking form

Eating Phad Thai

Eating Phad Thai

 

Leavin on a jet plane

All our bags are (lightly) packed, we’re ready to go! And we are now sitting in Lambert airport, waiting for our first of four flights ending in Chiang Mai, Thailand at 8:10 am on November 10th. As you can see below, we have decided not to bring much with us. It feels good to have all of our belongings fit into one small backpack each, although we do plan to purchase some things when we arrive.

Jane's bag and items

Jane’s bag and items

 

Jeff's bag and items

Jeff’s bag and items

A few things we’re also bringing that didn’t make it into the photos: two inflatable travel pillows, our NEX-5n camera (which we used to take these photos), and Jane’s underwear :)

If you have any questions about what or why we packed what we did, please leave us a comment!