Ayu-pad-thaya!

1 Comment

Hey everyone! I’m finally outside of the Great Firewall of China and I can freely post on WordPress. I’m about 2 weeks behind on posts, so they’re going to be coming fast and furious. Especially because I’m spending a night at the Bangkok airport where the wifi is incredibly fast and I’m incredibly bored. But more on that later. Let’s get back to… Bangkok?

The view from our hotel room in Bangkok. Not too shabby.

Yes! About 2 weeks ago, Tori and I had our last day in Bangkok and we decided to travel north to see Ayutthaya. This city was the former capital of Siam and has a special place in Thai royalty. King Rama IV loved the area so much, he decided to have his royal summer palace built there in the 1800s. Our little day trip started at this beautiful palace. The palace is very interesting because it was built after the French came to Thailand, so it is a pleasant mix of Thai pagodas and colonial architecture. Take a look for yourself:

A little pagoda in the middle of a lake. Like at all of the French chateaux.

This lighthouse is a great example of the weird combination. I liked it. Tori hated it. Thoughts?

Then we went to one of the most incredibly photographable places I’ve been. The ruins of the former temple at Ayutthaya are incredible. Dating back thousands of years and representing three different faiths and architecture styles, the temple was ruined a thousand years ago in an earthquake or something and no one bothered to rebuild it. The result is the dazzling red limestone ruins overtaken by the lush green landscape. That’s really about all the history there is to this place. The guides just let you walk around and soak it in and soak I did.

This head was once on the ground but has been picked up by and embedded in the roots of the tree. Crazy!

 

Here I am, lurking in the shadows.

We then visited some other uninteresting temple and then Thailand’s 3rd largest buddha. You saw the 2nd in my last post, and this is basically the same thing, but slightly smaller. Here he his:

 

And if your taste buds have been missing my food posts, it’s here! Here is all of the yummy food that I ate while in Thailand – an endlessly delicious country.

A little chicken salad at a gorgeous restaurant in Chiang Mai I’m sure was delicious.

 

The coconut pancakes from above at the floating market.

 

A coconut cream taco garnished with carrots. More delicious than it sounds.

Vegetarian Thai Tofu Salad.

 

Vegetarian Fried Spring Rolls.

 

Something else at the vegetarian restaurant we went to. I should put these posts up closer to when I actually eat the foods.

 

My first pad thai. Excellent.

I have no idea why there are so many spoons for this dish.

 

Some kind of spicy chicken dish. But aren’t they all?

Airplane food. The chicken was really spicy. And yes, everyone gets served water (in the blue), fruit juice (in the green), and tea. ALL THREE! Go Thai Airways.

 

Northern Thai chicken wings. Not quite buffalo wings, but still tangy and scrumptious.

And the award for best thing I ate in Thailand goes to… Massaman Curry! It’s heavy on potatoes and just a little spicy.

 

Wat the Hell? Bangkok Again?

3 Comments

Tori and I returned to Bangkok where she was originally scheduled to fly home. Since Tori was just having so much fun, she decided to lengthen her trip and explore the South islands and beaches of Thailand. But I wasn’t about to let her go without a fight! We had to do Bangkok properly! See the things there are to see!

Which isn’t much. Bangkok is a city that seems to have a lot of allure in the collective imagination of the world – some kind of exotic jewel of the orient. It’s a gigantic city of over 10 million people that is impossible to get around, wholly unattractive, and glaringly cultureless. It’s most salient quality is the amount of shopping malls and 7-11s you pass as you are forced to take a taxi anywhere because of the size. None of the buildings have beautiful architecture, we had a difficult time finding good food, and it is the 2nd most traffic congested city in the world.

Fun.

That being said, we did some lovely things in Bangkok. Actually, we started with a lovely thing outside of Bangkok. About 2 hours outside of the  city lies the Damnoen Saduak floating market. The area is built on a series of canals and all of the buildings in the area are built on stilts to accommodate for the rainy season. The typical way of exploring the market and the region is by boat, so Tori and I hopped in a motor boat and were whisked around the tiny passages, looking in through the back of several Thai homes and passing a few tiny senior citizens, slowly paddling their way through the area. The tight network of canals reminded me of an intercoastal community. At the end of it all, you come to a large market, and vendors boat around from place to place, trying to sell you food and trinkets. We ate some delicious coconut pancakes, and then ran away from the boa constrictors on display.

We pass a corridor of the crowded floating market.

That afternoon, we decided to explore The Temple of Dawn, Wat Arun. Since we didn’t do a guided tour, I don’t know too much about its history, but nor really does Wikipedia, so just look at some of the dazzling pictures. The temple is just these giant pyramids pointing skywards, with some dizzying effects. The detail on the temple was surely not to be beat, with crushed porcelain and mirrors creating mosaics on the outside of the temple.

Wat Arun from across the Chao Praya River.

Tori was forced to rent this beautiful sarong to cover her audacious knees.

 

These are stairs. Stairs. Yikes.

A view of Bangkok from the top of the temple.

On our 2nd morning, we visited two of Bangkok’s most important locales – Wat Pho and the Grand Palace. These two buildings are next door neighbors and right in the center of all of the tourist action, making them easy to visit.  The Grand Palace is a large complex of buildings. Built in 18th century, it is still being used today to host several banquets and official events held by Thailand’s beloved King. As you walk through the compound, never really allowed to enter any of the buildings, it is astounding how absolutely beautiful everything is. A camera can capture one ornate building, but each building is somehow more stunning and bejeweled than the next. AND THEY ARE ALL RIGHT ON TOP OF EACH OTHER.

Every palace has to have a golden temple.

A flower growing in a vase at the palace. Notice the beautiful tile work on the building in the background. It’s everywhere!

The main attraction of the Grand Palace is the Emerald Buddha. The story goes that as some workers were transporting what they though was a relatively unimpressive buddha statue wrapped in plaster, they dropped it. The plaster cracked and they saw the emerald underneath. Now it is revered as one of the holiest buddha images in Thailand! Fortunately, it’s on display to the public at the Grand Palace. UNfortunately, it is the Mona Lisa of Thailand (I think I’m starting a list of these). The little bugger is just a foot and a half wide and two feet tall. That would be fine if he were accessible. But instead he sits at the top of a 20-foot pedestal of gold set back from the crowd by about 15 feet, i.e. impossible to see.

Do you see him? Waaaaaay up there? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Our last major attraction of Bangkok was Wat Pho. This the temple of the reclining buddha. For the first time, it is not my camera that can not capture the beauty of it, but no one really can! The buddha gold buddha, lying casually on his side, is a whopping 50 feet tall and 140 feet long. When the temple was being constructed, they actually built it around the buddha. Since it is enormous and in such a tiny building, it is physically impossible to get a good picture of it, let alone even see it all yourself, but you can try and look at my pictures.

The outside of Wat Pho.

Here’s the two of us by its head.

And here we are at the feet!

 

Each night in Bangkok, we tried to take in something cultural. The first full night, we went to the Siam Niramit Cultural Show. We weren’t allowed to take pictures and I don’t think you missed too much. They heavily advertise the fact that they have the tallest stage in the world, but that’s a pointless superlative. The show had lots of dancing, beautiful costumes, and did kind of sort of tell the story of Thailand’s creation. That being said, it wasn’t my cup of tea.

The next night we went to a Muay Thai Boxing Match. Compared to the match in Cambodia just a couple of weeks earlier, the fighting was more intense, but the crowds were less wild. There were 9 matches, going from least experienced to most. The first fighters honestly look like they are 13 as their mothers and sisters cheer them on from the corners. The most fun part was watching the families cheer. Some of the fights got bloody, but every single match was really predictable – the odds on favorite ended up winning by a landslide.

Our vantage point of the Muay Thai boxing match. You could see the sweat fly.

Sorry for the long post. I didn’t have a lot to say about any one thing and none of it really seemed interesting enough on its own. Enjoy the pictures!

One more of Tori and I, just to be vain.

 

Mai Goodness! There’s too much to do!

1 Comment

Chiang Mai was so fully loaded with things to do that I couldn’t fit it all in one post!

The night after we went to see the elephants and cruise down the river was pretty much a wash. We were both so tired that we napped, ate a delicious dinner, and then went back to sleep. The next day we woke up early, per usual to take a bus up the nearby mountain. We transfered to the local version of a mini-bus, a pick-up truck with a makeshift roof over the bed. You sit on low benches in the bed of the truck and they take you up through the mountains. We arrived at a tiny Hmong village called Doi Pui. The Hmongs, as Wikipedia dutifully reminded me, are an ethnic group of Thailand, originating from the mountain parts of China. They seem to have been persecuted for hundreds of years and always spring back, resilient as ever. The town itself is just one street, winding all the way up the hill, lined with tiny shops and stalls. We passed old Hmong women gossiping and sewing, and the view from the mountain top was incredible. These are the same people that make grow and make hemp as a replacement for their former cash crop, poppies for opium.

The view from the top of the mountain.

We descended the mountain a little bit to reach the majestic Wat Doi Suthep. This temple was built on a holy spot where a rare albino white elephant, carrying a holy relic, trumpeted and died while climbing the mountain. The temple enshrines the white elephants, but it is also one of the most beautiful temples I’ve seen. At the top of 300 stairs at the top of a mountain, you can see the whole city of Chiang Mai and beyond. The golden domes and spires are somehow more brilliant at the higher elevation, and every detail seemed just a little closer to heaven than the rest.

The long stairway up.

Tori in front of the beautiful temple.

We spent our afternoon in Chiang Mai participating in one last Thai tradition, Thai massage. I’ve had my fair share of Swedish massages, but the Thai massage is a different beast entirely. After a quick foot bath in rose petals (something I certainly wasn’t expecting for my massage), they give you loose fitting clothing to change into and then you are told to lie down on a mat on the floor. Instead of a gentle soothing rub, the masseuse grabs your leg and moves it to some angle it has never been moved to before. This series of incomprehensible and sometimes painful stretching is alternated with pressure point treatment and kneading your toughest knots. When my arm moved to some position I didn’t know was possible, the area beneath my shoulder blade was exposed and the masseuse worked out some knots I never knew existed.

A very fancy day spa after a long trip.

This post is hitting VERY late because there was first the back log from being in Vietnam. Now there is a back log forming from CHINA! I’m currently in Dali, China and I finally have a working WordPress, so hopefully the posts will be coming steadily over the next few days as I finally have the opportunity to catch up. I’m about 6 posts behind. Yikes.

One more picture. A beautiful emerald buddha at the temple.

Mai Oh Mai

3 Comments

Tori and I were quickly growing weary of Vietnam. It’s not that it wasn’t that we weren’t having fun, but it wasn’t as jaw-droppingly cool and exciting as Cambodia. The people are pushy, the language is loud, the traffic is chaotic, and the communism is kind of omni-present. No thank you. We went to the airport and boarded our flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand without any regrets (Beside the fact that we didn’t go to Laos. Why didn’t we go to Laos?!?!).

The plane flights were easy and Thailand by far has the least obtrusive customs ever. I swear we just walked through. Literally walked. The security is quick and painless and we had a lovely experience. Thai Airways decorates their planes in a borderline tacky, but ultimately stylish orange, purple, and pink décor. Even on our tiny little hour, hour-and-a-half flights, we got served a beverage, a snack pack of either a muffin, or on the slightly longer one, spicy chicken and a coconut rice cake, AND lemon tea. I’m a big fan of Thai Airways.

The meal for our 95 minute flight. There’s a teacup.

When we arrived in Chiang Mai we could sense the difference already. The pace was a little more relaxed, the streets were cleaner, everyone used the polite tense with us (you’ll hear the word “ka” a thousand times – I think it’s a polite suffix) and people were just overwhelmingly friendly. Our first night there, Tori and I walked over to the riverside, had a great dinner, and then ventured to the Chiang Mai night market. Over the course of the trip, we had been to about four or five other night markets, and we can say with complete confidence that Chiang Mai has the best one. The products are high quality, the market isn’t overwhelming, but still expansive, and needless to say, Tori and I bought out the whole market. We had a blast shopping and went to bed exhausted for our next day.

We woke up all too early for our Elephant trek. I’m sorry if I buried the lede, but this is the elephants post. Get ready for some elephant pics. We made our way North to the Chiang Dao Elephant Training Camp and got there just in time to feed a couple of the elephants some bananas and watch the elephants get their baths. The tribesmen of the area have been working with elephants for centuries and are so comfortable climbing around these gargantuan creatures that the relationship between elephant and owner becomes just like that of a dog and master. They really cared for their elephants, even though sometimes it just looks like they were standing on them. During the elephant baths, the mahout (elephant trainer), would get the elephant to lie down in the river and shower themselves with water from their trunks. Then the mahout would scrub away.

We then watched the elephants perform some simple tricks. It started out with some log pushing, and then some log lifting. The elephants would assist the mahout, by giving them back their hats or giving them a leg up to climb on board. Then things got complex. We watched an elephant paint. They actually take the time to teach an elephant to use a paintbrush and the results are astounding, actually better than anything I could paint. Tori and I then climbed on board an elephant for a trek through the jungle. Our elephant Han was a slow stubborn lumbering lady at a sprightly 45 years old. Our mahout was a scrawny man who spoke no English but was great with charades. He enjoyed fake shooting the caterpillars and yelling at the other slower elephants. The elephants were wonderful, gentle giants, but our time with them was sadly over.

This is a picture of an elephant caring for the environment – picking up a plastic water bottle and putting it in the trash.

Vincele-Phant Gogh. Can you come up with a better elephant painter pun?

Our trek took us into the river on elephant back!

We were then whisked down the Ping River on tiny bamboo rafts. Since we came at the very beginning of the rainy season, the river was still pretty shallow and calm. The ride was long and monotonous and Tori and I were kind of sick of talking to each other, so I decided to take over the paddling job. I am considering taking it up as a full-time profession. Since it is still the rainy season, our “captain” started getting nervous, took the oar from me and started paddling like crazy. We then started to hear some splashing, turned around, and saw that the water looked turbulent. It was weird, because we didn’t steer through any turbulent water… Then hit us. We were literally watching the rain storm come toward us. The classic fight of man vs. nature never ends well and we ended up getting rained on for just a little bit. The raft ride afforded more gorgeous scenery through the untouched lush jungle and we left just a little damp – the “captain” handed us ponchos – and without the rainy season, the scenery wouldn’t be as beautiful and green as we have experienced it.

Tori loves this picture of herself.

You can see the rain in the water coming toward us.

Somehow, elephant riding really knocks the wind out of your sails so we spent the rest of the day napping (I think Tori got a pedicure), eating, and just hanging out. I was going to write about all of Chiang Mai in one post, but there’s still another whole day’s worth of stuff left and all you want are elephant pictures. So here. Have them.

A close up of Han, the elephant, and our mahout.

Han was already back on the trail as we set down the river on the raft.

I forgot to mention we went to an orchid farm.

Around the World in Brady Days is brought to you by Thai Airways.

Good Morning, Hanoi!

Leave a comment

Our final destination in Vietnam was Hanoi, the former capital of Northern Vietnam and now the main cultural hub of the country. Hanoi, unlike Ho Chi Minh City, still retains a little bit of charm and pizazz. There’s a whole lot of chaos on the streets, as motorbikes whizz this way and that. The labyrinthine streets of the old quarter are easy to get lost in, but that’s all the fun. Each street is named for the type of wares everyone sells on the street. This means our hotel was on what must have translated as “Cheap plastic toys and shit Street.” Nevertheless, we managed to do some fun shopping and wander around the city.

One of the more spacious streets in the old quarter.

When our bus from Halong Bay arrived to Hanoi in the afternoon, we soon realized that tickets for Hanoi’s famous water puppet show were sold out. I was not in the least disappointed. After lunch, we went to the Hoa Lo Prison Museum. This prison was built by the French at the very end of the 19th century and was used to hold revolutionary Vietnamese (the communists). After Ho Chi Minh rose to power in the North, the prison became used by the Communist Party to detain run of the mill Vietnamese wrongdoers. The prison wasn’t too interesting in and of itself until we got to the room that discussed the treatment of American pilots POWs. According to the prison, all of the pilot prisoners were treated like Kings. They were allowed to play games, eat good food, roam the campus, and just complete a few simple chores. While I don’t necessarily distrust the information, I certainly question it.

Supposedly, a picture of the Vietnamese troops graciously saving John McCain in the Vietnam War. Weird!

 

The next day I was led to further questioning of the Vietnamese government, as all good trips to a communist country end up doing. We woke up early to visit the Mausoleum where Ho Chi Minh’s body is preserved and open to viewing of the public. Tori pre-described the experience as “the Vietnamese Mona Lisa” (all this hype and not much delivery, see also: Stonehenge) and she wasn’t wrong, but there’s a lot more to it than that. When we arrived on the far side of the compound we could see the part of the line that entered the mausoleum. We traced it back for about 15 or 20 minutes until after a least a kilometer of walking and dodging traffic, we made it to the end of the line. Here, we had to wait for an hour in the longest line (length wise) I’ve ever waited in. We shuffled through the line, having to turn in our cameras, and going through multiple security checkpoints. When we finally arrived at the mausoleum door we were given the rules of viewing his body: keep walking, absolute silence, and no smiling. No one dared disobey as the whole place was populated by Vietnamese military, each sporting rifles with bayonets. As soon as you entered the miniscule display room, you can see about ten feet away in the center of the room a man’s body preserved in a light yellow light. Four guards stood at attention surrounding the body as all of the visitors filed around the perimeter of the room. More guards stood at the corners of the pathway. Even though everyone kept shuffling through, they would grab you and throw you forward, rushing you away from the body. I maybe spent 30 seconds in that room before I was forced out by the inexorable push of more visitors and the guard.

What you can’t see: That guard is walking to reprimand a three year old girl who decided to tear off running out of line. The guard was pissed. I was busy taking a picture of the flag.

The line coming out of the mausoleum.

 

To say the least, it was a very odd experience. It was clearly meant to be reverential, but it was also eerily militant. It left a bad feeling in everyone’s stomachs and we had to take a detour back to the hotel because the police told us we had to. Tori and I spent the afternoon wandering the old city, shopping and eating. We had some delicious fried dough snacks and we went to a little hole-in-the-wall place that served amazing bun, a Vietnamese noodle dish. We spent the whole day just kind of wandering around the city, walking around the lake. It was another relaxing afternoon, before our plane flight to Chiang Mai, Thailand!

Hoan Kiem lake in the dead center of Hanoi.

Beef, noodles, onions, probably some lime, and other delicious things.

They’re doughy and friend and sweet and I have no idea what they are. We bought 6 of them for a dollar from a toothless lady holding a basket.

 

Pho, Bun, Burgers, and Beer

1 Comment

I have to say, we ate quite well in Vietnam. The noodle dishes there are unbeatable and the flavors were always fresh and delightful. You could tell that the fruits and veggies were bought from the market that morning. I’m a big sucker for pho, so I probably had it 5 or 6 times throughout our time there. Look at all of the delicious food I ate and try not to let your mouth water too much.

And I might have already put up some of these pictures, but that’s okay. No one’s counting.

Some uninteresting looking pho on the first night. Still delicious. So much lime and coriander…

A mysterious meat dish. Any guesses?

 

Orange Chicken. Not really a good picture. Really good food.

 

A delicious iced coffee I had in Ho Chi Minh City. It just looked too pretty not to include.

 

Chicken in a clay pot. They make it in a clay pot.

 

This dessert is just sugar and peanuts. Sounds weird, but it’s actually delicious.

 

You can kind of see the peanut inside the gelatinous sugar… Kind of.

 

Cooking Class Pics again: Papaya Salad

 

Egg Rolls. So fresh and crunchy.

 

Sweet and Sour Vegetable Soup. I think.

 

The remains of chicken/fish cooked in banana leaves. I forgot to take a picture before I devoured it.

 

Fried aubergines. I have all of these recipes too if you want them!

 

Vietnamese hot pot. It’s kind of like fondue. You boil everything in the steaming pot of broth and then roll it all up into a little egg roll/burrito. Beef, lettuce, pineapple, cucumbers.

 

A Vietnamese potato skin with a mustard and garlic sauce. Mostly garlic.

A bacon cheeseburger! Happy 4th of July!

4th of July continues. Some of the best onion rings I’ve ever had.

Pizza and the world’s cheapest beer – Huda!

Spicy tofu from our Halong Bay boat cruise.

Chicken and corn soup. Right up my alley.

Here’s a preview of my next post! The delicious “bun” we got in a small ramshackle restaurant in Hanoi. It’s Tori’s favorite Vietnamese dish and we found a good one!

More previews. Delicious street dough balls.

I honestly don’t remember what this was. A salad of some sorts. The carrot flower is pretty though.

Vietnamese duck.

I ordered beef jerky for dinner one night. A great decision.

A walking advertisement for Tiger Beer. I betrayed Huda so quickly.

You were right! The mysterious meat was dog! Dog meat. The answer to your question is kind of like roast beef, but a little more dog-like.

 

From Hue to the Bay (It’s Supposed to Rhyme)

Leave a comment

We left Hoi An by bus, traveling for four hours through the Hai Van pass. This affords some beautiful views of the Vietnamese coast and we stopped for a photo op. We made our way diligently to the city of Hue, where the ancient capital of Vietnam lay, now in ruins. The city of Hue itself is relatively unimpressive, although I will admit that I explored it a little less than some of the other cities. However, no sooner did we get to Hue then we were off on another motorbike tour, this time, through the countryside. We went through rice paddies, over bridges, through the woods, to ancient ruins, up gorgeous hills where an American bunker lay hidden, and finally to the oldest temple in Vietnam.

The View from the top of the Hoi Van Pass.

Everyone on their motorbikes as we bike through a random gate in the rice paddies.

The ancient ruins of the old palace.

The indescribably gorgeous Perfume River.

Tori cruises in on te back of a motorbike.

Child monks playing soccer. It’s as weird and wonderful as it sounds.

 

It was all beautiful and it’s a lot of fun riding on the back of the motorbikes although it can get scary in the tight traffic. Since I have all of the luck, as we were driving through the busiest traffic circle, I heard a crunching noise in our motorbike and we came to a screeching result. My driver pulled over to the side of the road and I was forced to go on without him. Luckily, I don’t have any photographic evidence of being sandwiched between two Vietnames men on a tiny motorbike.

That night we went out for dinner where I discovered 60-cent bottles of Huda Beer, a Vietnamese treasure. Then next morning I decided for the first time of the trip to sleep in and I regret nothing. After eating a leisurely lunch, we boarded another train, this time for 14 hours. The train of course was late, and the accommodations were less than spectacular. The air conditioning was less than powerful, only blowing a lukewarm but much appreciated stream out of ¼ of the vent. Fortunately, it was the quarter right next to my head. Unfortunately, I didn’t fit in the bed and I couldn’t sleep a wink.

Fortunately, once we arrived in Hanoi, I was able to sleep on the bus ride to Halong Bay. After sleeping some more once we arrived, I was ready for the day and good thing too! Halong Bay was my most anticipated location in Vietnam and it was not a disappointment. We took a surprisingly luxurious boat cruise out through the rugged karsts emerging from the sea. Each of the rock formations shot high in to the air and were speckled and strung with greenery, all against a day of gorgeous blue sky and the mesmerizing ocean. Words can’t do it justice, but pictures can come close.

 

We stopped by a cave that was INCREDIBLY tacky. They decided to light every interesting crevice of the cave with neon blue, purple, pink and green. It was offensive. The rest of the day was spent walking through the non-descript city, although the beach was heavily populated. We went out for Italian food because the locals of Halong Bay don’t like tourists so you have to go touristy restaurants. I got to watch Djokovic and Federer square off at Wimbledon during dinner so I was a happy camper. It was nice to have a night and recharge before reaching the hustle and bustle of Hanoi.

The “natural” “wonder” of Halong Bay.

The famous Kissing Roosters rocks of Halong Bay.

Pulling into the hidden cay with the unspeakable cave.

The beach at the city of Halong looks like a postcard.

Older Entries