We Learn to Cook… Chiang Mai, Oh, My.

We were actually a little sad to leave our hostel in Siem Reap — the people were amazing and the bohemian vibe made us feel pretty cool, like those real hardcore backpackers. But as we hopped in the tuk-tuk to go to the airport (no complicated border crossings this time), we were pretty excited to head back to Thailand and get to Chiang Mai.

IMG_2284The flight was only about an hour, and we landed with around five hours before our overnight train. We went straight to the train station to ensure we didn’t miss anything, but soon realized that it wasn’t really a place we wanted to hang out. We should have just eaten at the airport because it’s a well-documented fact: There is never good food around train stations. After a failed lunch at the world’s worst chain (so bad we blacked out the experience and the name of the place), we ended up at a 7-11. Oh, thank heaven. Because we were maybe still feeling more badass than we really are (thanks to the hostel), we purchased a bunch of crazy snacks. The chip flavors are RIDICULOUS. No sour cream and onion or regular barbecue for the Thai — they had flavors like “salmon with dill,” “hot chili squid,” and, our favorite,”lobster hot plate.” We haven’t yet cracked open the lobster chips (GET IT!?)… but we’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

We had second-class sleeper car tickets this time (oh yeah, moving on up) and our seats were pretty awesome and spacious. And, when we were ready to really relax, the seats were converted into bunk beds. Wild. We hung out on the bottom bunk, and the curtains made it feel like a fort. Not a bad way to spend an evening. Plus, when we woke up, we were in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s second largest city that’s located in the northern region of the country.

IMG_2890We found a breakfast place that served banana pancakes before checking out our new hostel. Thank god for the full breakfast, because our hostel was the worst. It felt like the Von Trapp family home… pre-Maria, of course. There were just so many rules and so many signs telling us to be quiet. We had to get out of there, so we spent most of the first day just checking out the old city, which lies within a moat. The day was pretty uneventful, but something major did happen… we had our first taste of real, authentic, pad Thai. We know it’s terrible, but we kind of prefer the pad Thai at our local takeout joint in DC. But really, this was only the first try. There’s more out there.

The next day included an activity that we had both really been looking forward to — our cooking class!

A group of us all squished into a van and headed out with the Thai Farm Cooking School. Right away, we loved our guide/instructor, Embee, a lovely woman with an inimitable laugh and a wicked sense of humor. The first stop was the market, where we learned all about the ingredients we would be using and ogled at some that we were thankful to not be needing.

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After the market, we went to the cooking school’s organic farm and learned more about the herbs and spices we’d be using. Mike, in a display of bravado and upon Embee’s urging, took a bite of a raw Thai chili and spent the next 90 minutes extinguishing the fire in his mouth and regaining the feeling in his lips.

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There were many more chilies to be tried, as we learned how to make different soups, green and red curries with chicken, sweet and sour chicken, our very own pad Thai, and finished up with a mango sticky rice dessert. The class was nothing but good times and giggles, and we ended up meeting a fantastic British couple — Matt and Anouska —  who invited us out for drinks later that evening.

Despite some rain, we had a ridiculously fun time. Anouska had found a bar that was off the beaten path of tourists and more for Thai twenty-somethings attending the local university.  When we first walked in, the live band was playing Thai pop songs. Maybe it was because we stuck out pretty badly, and maybe it was just fate, but the band switched to English songs and our evening really escalated. We heard a lot of Maroon 5, Bruno Mars, and Rihanna. The best though, was hearing Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing” TWICE by two different bands. The second version was way better and we all got pretty into it. It was hard to tell if the singers actually knew the lyrics they were singing, or if they were just mimicking the sounds, but it didn’t matter.

Kathleen had made it perfectly clear that we turned into pumpkins at midnight (because we were being picked up at 8 a.m. the next morning to see the elephants), yet the hours flew by and we made it home — after a late-night trip to an aptly named burger joint called Mike’s — around 2:30. You know what? Maybe we actually are kind of badass.

K+M

[Cross-posted with www.kathleenplusmike.com]

Wat’s Up, Y’all + Siem Reaping the Benefits of Cheap Massages

angkor watAfter one million hours of travel, we were more than ready for our first real adventure. We scheduled a tuk-tuk to pick us up on Sunday morning at 4:45 a.m. so we could see the sunrise at Angkor Wat, which is the world’s largest religious monument and the eighth (yeah, we know) Wonder of the World. Just a heads up, if you choose to visit Angkor Wat, know they take a picture of you and print it on your pass… so maybe brush your hair in the morning. But all vanity was forgotten when we pulled up to the temple.  The first view looked like a post card — and it was wild to think that we were actually seeing it in person. Mike was giddy. The day was slightly overcast, so we didn’t get to see the sunrise, but we did get a head start on most of the tourists.

After navigating the maze of Angkor Wat and climbing its super steep stairways for a few hours, we decided it was time to move on.

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Our tuk-tuk driver took us to Angkor Thom, which is impressive in its own right, but unfortunately has been deemed by tourists as the “Tomb Raider Temple.” Yes, Angelina Jolie was there to film the movie, but this old monastery (built in the 12th century) is home to many famous faces. Stone faces, to be exact. Below is a picture we stole off the interwebz  (thanks, Google), because Kathleen can’t get her busted iPhone to connect to any Wi-Fi networks.

Photo credit: sebastianeking.wordpress.com

Photo credit: sebastianeking.wordpress.com

And then we saw more ruins. And more ruins. And more ruins. (Check out the map here.) Each one was fantastic of course, but after the first few they all started to look the same. The tuk-tuk ride back to Siem Reap was glorious, not only because the day had gotten very hot and the breeze felt AMAZING, but it was also a great opportunity to take in the landscape. We even saw some baby monkeys (!) hanging out by the water. It had been a full six hours of adventuring, but it was only 12:30 p.m. when we arrived back at the hostel. We took a quick nap and then headed out for lunch.

20130708-065931.jpgThis was our first real foray into Siem Reap, a crowded, dusty, and tourist-driven town. It seemed like we couldn’t go three steps without someone coming up to us and asking if we wanted a tuk-tuk, a massage, or a silk scarf. It seemed that they never addressed Mike, just called out to Kathleen, “hey ley-deeeee!” We eventually landed at a restaurant for lunch, but the real draw was the $0.50 beers. You guys, everything is cheap. Like, really cheap. Lunch for two with a few beers? Just $6. We walked around for a bit before finally caving into a call out for a massage place. It was a fairly classy joint, and a full-body massage for 15 minutes cost $3. We walked around a bit more and decided to get foot massages — just because we could. We made it back to our hostel just before the afternoon storm.

Siem Reap in the evening is actually way more fun than in the day. The city lights up and its real charm comes through. Everyone just wants to have a good time, eat and drink, and haggle for cheap prices in the market. We celebrated our bargaining successes with some ice cream and headed to bed with plans to fly back to Bangkok and then overnight train to Chiang Mai the next day.

K+M

[Cross-posted with www.kathleenplusmike.com]

Planes, Trains, and… Tuk-Tuks

We made it to Cambodia, but it’s been a long trip. We left Dulles at 12:30 on Thursday and arrived at our first real destination, Siem Reap, Cambodia early Saturday evening.

20130708-065550.jpgBelieve it or not, the 13-hour plane ride from Dulles to Tokyo was a piece of cake. Or, a better way to put it would be four glasses of champagne. We had a wonderful flight attendant who definitely spoiled us. Additionally, there were no fewer than 50 different movies to watch. We aren’t going to tell you which ones we viewed, because that would be embarrassing (mostly for Mike).

We had a three-hour layover in the Tokyo airport. Like mature adults, we giggled at some of the products being offered in the vending machines. Want to get a little wild? Try a Crunky ice cream bar. Feeling dehydrated? Replenish with a refreshing Pocari Sweat drink. We didn’t try the sushi, because airport sushi — even in Japan — seems sketchy everywhere.

The next leg of the trip was the six-hour flight from Tokyo to Bangkok. It was a little rougher than the 13-hour flight, maybe because there was no champagne involved, but also because we were starting to feel just a wee bit tired and our seats were uncomfortable. We landed in Bangkok at 10:30 p.m. local time. It was hard to justify getting a hotel room before our 5:55 a.m. train — and we’re clearly hardcore backpackers/world travelers — s0 we spent the first real night of our honeymoon sleeping in the airport. Ah, the romance!

20130708-065632.jpgWe were up and out the door by 4:15 a.m., but not after a quick trip to the Bucks. Not going to lie, their pastry selection is slightly better. We took a seat belt-less cab (with a driver who had a need for speed) to the train station, only to find a Dunkin’ Donuts. Fact: Thailand runs on Dunkin’.

We paid $1.60 per person for a third-class ticket (oh yeah) to Aranyapraythet, the jumping off point for those looking to cross the border into Cambodia. After a crowded, six-hour train ride, we avoided one visa scam and managed to get everything in order to cross over to Poipet. Once in Poipet, we took a shuttle to the bus and taxi station. We split a two-hour taxi ride with a mother/daughter duo from Ohio, who were fairly entertaining and had an interesting perspective on world travel. Of course, we ended up getting scammed at the end of the taxi ride. The driver had promised to drop us off at our hostel, but kicked us out at a hotel just after entering Siem Reap so the final leg of our trip was completed via tuk-tuk. Tuk-tuks are essentially motorcycles with little carts attached to back… so really safe, Mom.

When we finally arrived to our hostel, we had big plans to put our stuff down and go explore. But then we napped. And then it rained. The truth is that we were perfectly content staying at our hostel, HI Siem Reap. There’s a great vibe here, as well as a bar with $.75 draft beers. Life is good.

Sorry for a post mostly of travel logistics. It gets better, we promise!

K+M

[Cross-posted with www.kathleenplusmike.com]