A Travellerspoint blog

December 2011

Back to Chiang Mae

sunny 29 °C

After a disappointing night in Pai, we packed up and got back on the road to Mae Hong Son. We knew the roads weren't getting any straighter, but maybe the sites would be better. It was only 130 kms on day two, but it was equally as rough as the day before. The good news was that there was no traffic to speak of and we saw some amazing landscapes when the clouds cleared a little. We checked into our hotel and immediately went into town to find a travel planner that spoke a little english and could arrange our trip to visit the hillside tribes and to the long necked ladies from Burma that now live in this area. The town is pretty small with a little lake surrounded by a market, some restaurants and a few temples. We explored that, booked our trip and found some food before we went and crashed out for the night. The lady that organized our trip was very impressed that we had driven ourselves and asked if we knew that there were 1864 corners on our road trip thus far....we hadn't counted...but we had felt every one of them.

We got up early and noticed how close our room was to a temple, it made for quite the sunrise. There were two other couples on our tour for the day, one from Quebec City and one from Chicago and it was great to have fun people that spoke english along for the ride. In the morning we toured a few local villages to see how the people in the hills lived. It was the first time we have done a tour with no crowds, in fact, we were always the only tourists wherever we went. It made for a really great experience. In the afternoon we took a speedboat down a river to a village where we spent a few hours with a village of Burmese refugees that moved to Thailand generations ago so they could live in peace. I'm not sure Nat is going to need a 20 pound gold necklace for her birthday, but it was amazing to see for sure.

As we finished our day we both agreed that we had had enough of our road trip adventure and we were going to cut it short and get back to Chiang Mai. Really, we want to get back to the beach but our flight isn't until the first so we may as well see some more of the town. Our new friends from Quebec were having similar thoughts so we offered them a ride and we decided to drive the rest of this loop we are on. Maybe it wasn't a great idea to try to do all 270 kms in one day, but we really wanted to be back in the city. The rumors had promised us that it would be smoother and technically it may have been as I did see three small straightaways, but the rain had done way more damage in this area and we found a lot of rough roads. We both were pretty sick, I'm sure the Quebecois couple was wondering how they got stuck in the back seat of two people that could produce so much vomit. They did have a very good sense of humor though and kept us going with their endless funny stories.

We were almost back into the city, driving through the five o'clock bustle, when I ended up rear ending a big pick up truck when he braked to avoid a guy signalling left and turning right. The next thing I know there is a bald, tattooed, giant white guy getting out of his truck and coming towards me. I hear Nat say, "oh great! he's going to speak english" and all I can think is "oh shit, he's going to kick my ass!" To make a long story short, we have a new friend named Stu Skversky, a guy from Philly that went from being a chef in LA to starting his own charity here in Thailand helping kids of the hill tribes. It was not the ideal way to meet, but no one was hurt, it only cost us a couple bucks in repairs, and I'm really glad we did. He is doing some pretty inspirational stuff, his website is www.hilltribeinthecity.org if you want to check it out.

So now we are recovering from our trip and resting up for a big new years eve. Sunday morning we get on a flight to Koh Somui so I think some rest and a few massages now is just what the doctor ordered.

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Posted by colincampbell 14:26 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Even Santa has a smoother ride

overcast 20 °C

There is a fine balance between spontaneity and getting stuck holding an empty bag and we have found that Christmas is hardly the time to be slack when it comes to reservations on anything. We woke up on Christmas day with a road trip planned, hotels booked and no vehicle sorted out. I was sure it wouldn't be a problem and tried to instil the same confidence in Nat as we checked out of our hotel and went searching for a set of wheels. I neglected to realise that it wasn't only Christmas Day but it was also a Sunday so it was a bit of a longer walk than we planned. Just as hope was fading we found our solution that kept us from riding the bus or strapping all of our luggage to a scooter (like a local) which brightened our day substantially. It has been a few months since we have done a road trip with our own rental car so we were really looking forward to six days of winding our way through the most northern parts of Thailand in search of hill tribes, long necked ladies and romantic riverside villages. Our first stop was the city of Pai that was touted as a hub for great food and live music, "a must see" when you are in this part of the world. We loaded the map into our Ipad headed out on the first leg of our trip which was only about 120 kms shortly after lunch.

The roads here are all in pretty great shape considering the amount of rain that has fallen here in the last year, but road signs are not made for anyone who can't read Thai so it wasn't a big surprise when we missed our first turn off and added an extra fifty clicks to our trip. Back on track we got off the main highway and started to wind our way into the hills. I think the easiest way to describe the trip would be to say that we had the front seat in our very own roller coaster ride for nearly five hours. It was brutal, if I had been in a bus, I would have got out about half way and walked back to Chiang Mai, Natalie isn't prone to motion sickness at all and she was happy for any stop I wanted to make. It took almost five hours before we arrived in Pai and found a guesthouse for the night, sounds like a new record for 120kms.

After a quick nap and a shower, we headed to the streets to find out what makes this place so magical. The street vendors were setting up with their stalls of food and souvenirs, I think they had more t-shirts for sale than I can find in St.Maarten. We walked for a few hours and I got Nat into the street food a little bit which we both enjoyed a little. We also found a cable to plug our ipod into the car stereo which was a big score as I still can't understand the Thai news radio stations. But we found very little in the way of unique arts, live music or romantic scenes that this town was supposed to offer. So we headed back to the hotel and got some more rest for our next leg of the trip...hopefully tomorrow will be a smoother ride.

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Posted by colincampbell 13:31 Archived in Thailand Comments (2)

To all a good night....

sunny 28 °C

Merry Christmas from Thailand! We are packing our days full of adventure as there is so much to do here and we really don't have that much time. Last night, after we wrote, we headed out to find some food and to check out the night market here in Chiang Mai. The streets are full of bars, restaurants and street vendors that kept us entertained for hours. Natalie made a few discoveries, the first was an amazing artist that she just couldn't say no to (looks as if we will be making another shipment from Thailand!) and the second was a group of "girls" that were excited to make sure we got to see their show. The show was definitely worth the price (free) price of admission and we have plenty of photos from that one.

We didn't get home until late last night and the alarm went off very early this morning so that we could get to our cooking course today. We were picked up this morning before nine and went with a small group to the local market to pick up some supplies we would be needing for lunch. We also checked out all of the food stalls that smelled amazing...except maybe the critter stall that was serving deep-fried roaches, crickets and worms, we passed on that one. Back on the road, we headed out of Chiang Mai almost an hour to a farm that hosted the course. We walked through the farm to see the veggies and herbs they were growing and using for our meals. It was a tiring full day of five courses, soup, curry, rice, pad thai and stir fry, we even made different types of each dish, so we had quite a buffet to share between the two of us. It was a little less organized than our course in Vietnam, but very interesting none the less.

Tonight we checked out one of the local muay thai gym's as they were hosting a big fight night. There are a couple gyms here in town and they all seem to host regular events, both to give their athletes a chance to compete as well as raise some money to fund their training. The big fights were supposed to be two matches including a couple of french guys that have been training here, but the real show was the other fights, starting with the four year old kids that started off the night. There was also a five round title fight with two local girls that was great and the last fight of the night was two local guys going the distance. A few Tiger beers and bowls of noodle soup made the night complete. We got out around midnight, grabbed some massages (as we are still feeling the effects of elephant riding) and called it a day.

For our friends on eastern standard time (or there a bouts,) we are twelve hours ahead of you now, so while you wait for Santa Claus we are already on to Christmas Day. All the best to everyone, we are thinking of you...

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Posted by colincampbell 12:11 Archived in Thailand Comments (0)

Time for Thailand

sunny 24 °C

The last few days of our time in Vietnam were some of the best and very action packed. The typhoon wind and waves passed for the most part and we got some sunny skies and steady winds for a change. Natalie had a great last day of lessons and got up on the board so we can officially call her a kitesurfer and I had a long day of excellent riding. Originally our plan had been to get the afternoon bus to Saigon on Wednesday, stay overnight in the city and then head to the airport early Thursday morning. When we saw the forecast we made some changes to our plan so that we could be in the water all day and take a bus at 1:30am, arriving in Saigon around 6:30am.

It turned into a long day of travel as we went from the bus to the airport and grabbed a flight to Bangkok and then after a long layover we headed north to Chiang Mai. After a short taxi ride we arrived at our hotel in the evening after an 18 hour trip. We have only done a little homework for this area but we really want to see some elephants, try some cooking and see some muay thai boxing. It is a bit tricky this time of year as a few other people seem to be on vacation, but it still seems to be working out okay. We wandered around a little bit last night, finding some great food and we found the arena for tomorrow night's "saturday night fights," a couple of french guys are in town taking a shot at the local boys title's.

Today was an amazing one, we were picked up early by the elephant farm and taken an hour out of the town to a place called Baan Chang Elephant Farm. They have 29 elephants they have saved, mostly from illegal logging camps near Burma or illegal street beggars in big cities. The morning was spent feeding the elephants and learning the basic commands we would need for our afternoon ride in the jungle. We took a short break for an amazing lunch and then it was time to go for a ride. Somehow I was put on the two year old little trouble maker that was always hungry so usually heading into the bamboo instead of walking on the trail. Nat climbed on one of the full grown elephants and looked a little uncomfortable to say the least. It probably had to do with the fact that there are no stirrups or straps of any sort to hold on to and the trail was winding up and down the hillsides. We switched halfway through the ride and we were both a little more comfortable as we rode back home and into the pond for bath time. Riding an elephant may not be super comfortable, but going for a swim with one is definitely a lifetime highlight. The older ones were rolling and splashing around while we scrubbed and rinsed them while the youngest one had a blast squirting everyone with with water from her trunk.

Great times had by all, back in Chiang Mai now, making plans for our cooking course tomorrow and then heading to the big night market on the other side of town for some serious street food.

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Posted by colincampbell 04:26 Archived in Thailand Comments (1)

Weather Report: Sunny and Windy!!

sunny 30 °C

It's been good to get back to our friends at the Jibe's Kiting School in Mui Ne where the weather has improved for kiting somewhat. That storm that is killing hundreds in The Philippines is sending us some gusty wind and some big waves, but it is better than nothing. Nat got another lesson in before the waves built to the point where she had to stop and I managed to get a few sessions with the crazy wind.

Saturday night was the 10th anniversary party for the beach bar which was a great party. The owner threw a big bash with open bar and a pretty good band. It was a bit funny watching a three piece band with the drummer being the lead singer and wearing a Cincinnati Bengals jersey. Good times had by all and we left in time to avoid any serious hangovers, which I can't say for the rest of the beach staff.

If you get to Vietnam, definitely make a point to try the coffee. We haven't tried their most premium brand, known as "weasel coffee" (because the beans are eaten and excreted by a rodent before roasting), but the regular blend is pretty good. On the beach it is served over ice, usually with condensed milk because it is really really strong and the milk thins it out and adds some sweetness. The teas are also delicious, not just the locally grown leaves but also the various blends they make with ginger and other fruits and herbs. The bars here also keep coconuts in the freezer so you can order a fresh coconut and drink the ice cold coconut water before the waitress opens the nut with a giant cleaver so you can eat the meat.

We are still staying at the same hotel, Full Moon Resort, who have been really good with us even though it is getting hectic here for Christmas vacationers. It was a little unexpected, but every hotel here is strewn with Santa Claus', coloured lights and Christmas trees. From our room, I can here the waves pounding on our steps and it sounds as if the wind is picking up, so we will write again soon.

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Posted by colincampbell 20:01 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

So much to do and so little time

semi-overcast 21 °C

A week ago we laboured over our decision to leave Mui Ne for a few days and make the awkward journey to Hoi An, but after our time there, we are very happy we made the trip. We were so busy and exhausted ourselves so completely that this morning, when we were supposed to be getting on the bus from Dalat to Mui Ne we were catching up on some Zzzzzz's.

Aside from what the ancient city had to offer, we didn't find time to see any historic or cultural sites of this part of Vietnam. But we did manage to eat a lot of great food, find a great local artist, put some talented tailors and shoemakers to work and try our hand at a cooking course. Our schedule was literally jammed from morning to night with nonstop action.

The dining continued to be excellent and our favourite restaurant offered a cooking class that ran from 8:30 am until 1pm that we signed up for on Tuesday. It started with a tour of the local market where we learned about their local herbs and spices as well as how to select the freshest meats and vegetables. Apparently the restaurant staff gets to work very early as the fish market opens at 3am and the regular market opens at 4am and the chef demands the freshest ingredients get into the kitchen long before the sun comes up. I'm glad we weren't shopping for our lunch midmorning as the refrigeration was non-existent and the meats were looking a little questionable to say the least. Back to the restaurant we went upstairs and entered a MasterChef look alike kitchen, they have clearly been doing this course for quite awhile as it was really well organised. The menu we would be cooking consisted of 5 course and started with a cabbage and shrimp soup that had us rolling shrimp dumplings into steamed cabbage leaves. Tricky business but we managed alright, Natalie was immediately the teachers pet while the instructor took one look at my dish and just left her response at "OK...". Next we marinated some chicken with a tray full of herbs, spices and oils and sent that off to be grilled on their open fire. We were eating as we cooked and the next appetiser was a rice paper wrap of pork, shrimp, noodles, herbs and a deep-fried spring roll which we devoured quickly. The kitchen staff had prepped everything we needed to do our cooking which sped things along well. Next we made a crispy savoury pancake that was rolled into rice paper with fresh herbs and greens. Finally we made a mango salad in time to be served with our bbq chicken. I'm glad we skipped breakfast and we definitely didn't need dinner until late.

The shopping was really the central theme of this part of the trip and we didn't really expect it. On the first day we arrived I had remembered seeing people in a hurry with new suitcases as if they realised at the last minute that there was no way that their new purchases would fit in their luggage. In my head I had laughed and asked how such a thing could happen but the answer, it seems, is quite easily. I am happy to say we didn't buy any luggage but that is only because the hotel arranged for the staff from the shipping company to come to meet us, package our loot and arrange for it to be sent via airmail. We ended up having five different shops making us stuff and had a range of experiences and quality. The best was with our new friend "Ti" who has already invited us to her wedding and Nat has assured her she will be back annually to get her new gear. We will see how well everything holds up, but for now it appears to be great work.

Everything went smoothly with our last night from Danang to Dalat. As I mentioned, we didn't quite make our bus this morning to Mui Ne, but we had a really relaxing day here and are all set to get up early tomorrow and hopefully be on the water kiting tomorrow afternoon. We are also making our plans for our next leg of the trip, we were looking at Christmas and New Years in Southern Thailand, but now it kind of looks like we will be exploring the North part of Thailand with elephants!

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Posted by colincampbell 15:46 Archived in Vietnam Comments (0)

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