Monthly Archives: July 2012
After falling down in the mud several times and being the only one in the group who was sore the next day after trekking Sapa, I knew I had to redeem myself. I generally think of myself as being somewhat athletic, and I often go on hikes back at home- so trekking was at the top of my list of things to do while in Chiang Mai. The area surrounding Chiang Mai is undoubtedly the most popular place to go for a hike in Thailand, and tour operators are numerous.
While many of the tours offer a chance to see a long-neck village or ride an elephant, I had heard conflicting reports on whether these were affecting the community in a negative way, so I chose to abstain. While the issue has many shades of gray, in my attempts to be a responsible tourist I did my research and told the tour company, “No elephants please.”
The tour started off like most tours I’ve done: in a tuk tuk. While I was hoping that an air conditioned mini bus would be carrying me for the hour long ride into the countryside, my wishes went ungranted. The upside to a tightly squeezed tuk tuk? A social atmosphere- I quickly met my trekking partners, including the token Dutch couple (I think I have met more Dutch people in Southeast Asia than I did in Amsterdam), three French Canadians, a fellow California native, and one British traveler. When we arrived at the start of the tour, we also met our tour guide, Simon. Both Pai, my tour guide in Sapa, and Simon were great- another way to be a responsible tourist is to tip your guide, as they are often shortchanged despite the expensive price for a trek.
The beginning of the trek was the most strenuous; an hour hike uphill through the jungle. The mosquitos were hounding us, despite our consistent applications of insect repellent. Luckily when we stopped to explore a cave, Simon lit a fire to disperse the “mozzies”- surprisingly successful! It was nice to take a break in the cooler (temperature wise) cave. Hiking in 90 degree weather with high levels of humidity is not a walk in the park!
I felt infinitely more prepared for this trek: I bought cheap (though ill-fitting) hiking shoes, wore actual fitness gear (instead of jean shorts), and brought a small backpack with two large water bottles (instead of a backpack with my heavy laptop in it). It didn’t hurt that I didn’t need to bring a change of clothes either; as this hike was only one day long rather than two, I was able to travel light. Finally adjusted to the heat of Southeast Asia, I was huffing and puffing way less than the recently arrived.
Of course, the trek was beautiful: while it wasn’t as breathtaking as the rice terraces in Sapa, the green rolling hills and jungle are still extremely exotic to me. We had lunch, steamed rice, chicken, and rambutans, overlooking a farm. Simon pulled down some banana leaves for us to sit on, and it was as Thai of a picnic as possible.
In addition to the cave, the tour also takes you to a waterfall. Unfortunately, this is when the picturesque clouds turned into a downpour. Luckily I was like an over-prepared boy scout: I had brought a poncho and several plastic bags each for my camera, phone, and wallet.
When we finally arrived back at the tuk tuk, I had a huge grin on my face, despite my muddy shoes, bug-bitten legs, and overall sweaty body. Mission redeem myself: successful!
I’m no stranger to cooking classes- I took a 12 week series class in Berkeley, along with many individual classes with my mother and friends. So when it came time to decide which of the many activities to sign up for in Chiang Mai, I knew cooking would be one of them. Adding to my enthusiasm for a cooking class was my love of Thai food; I can’t get enough of it.
While there are many cooking schools in Chiang Mai, I chose
laziness convenience and signed up for one through my hostel. I ended up at Thai Cookery School, and I lucked out: despite a little disorganization, I had great teachers and the food was delicious. There’s several options for what dishes you can make: my picks were fried rice, green curry paste, green curry chicken, sweet and sour vegetables, and fried bananas with ice cream (my favorite of the five).
You start out by walking around the market: the smells were overwhelming, a combination of fish, strong curries, raw meat, and fresh fruit and flowers. While the instructor’s speech is well rehearsed, I enjoyed his corny jokes and learned a fair amount about common Thai ingredients. I was most surprised by the amount of varieties of basil- who knew there was lemon basil, pepper basil, sweet basil? Not me, at least.
Like I said, the food was great. And even better was the social atmosphere of the class; it would have been impossible to leave without making a new friend. You’re paired with small groups that chose the same dishes as you, and some things (like the curry paste) are made as a group. I’ll be honest: I don’t think I’d ever make curry paste from scratch on my own. Way too much effort.
Your ingredients are laid out and all that’s required of you is a little bit of chopping and some stir frying. If you’re worried about your skills, there’s an instructor for each 5 people or so and they watch over you as you cook. Once you’re done with the dish, you wander over to the dining room to feast. Not having to clean up for yourself is one of the best parts of cooking classes, right?
My favorite dish of the class was the Thai take on bananas foster, the infamous Southern dessert. The sauce is made from coconut milk, lime juice, and coconut sugar (can substitute honey). I would share, but… I quickly gobbled it up in about 2 minutes flat. Wondering why the ice cream is so orange in the photo below? Since coconut-flavored ice cream is so popular in Thailand, they make vanilla more orange to differentiate the two.
While I didn’t learn any groundbreaking new cooking techniques, I had fun and ate some good food. And what more can you ask for in an afternoon?
I spent my first day in Chiang Mai, Thailand’s cultural darling of the north, just wandering around. The city is known for an abundance of temples, great food, and street markets. There’s plenty of things to keep tourists busy: from petting tigers at the Tiger Kingdom to learning how to cook Thai food. I can’t say I fell head over heels for Chiang Mai, but I certainly enjoyed the various activities I participated in and relished in the ease of meeting new friends and eating amazing food.
Chiang Mai was filled with flowers; I couldn’t stop photographing the greenery of the city.
There’s a temple on every block in the “old city” of Chiang Mai, though there’s often more tourists touting cameras than worshipping Buddhists inside of them.
A monument outside the police station, and another example of Thai’s love for their king.
Yum: I’ll never get sick of fresh fruit smoothies.
An elegantly dressed tourist stops to look at a map. How come I don’t look this good when it’s 90 degrees?
I found this broken mirror and sweet sign on a random sidewalk.
All of the tours in Chiang Mai advertise themselves as “off the beaten track,” and “non-touristic.” The irony was not lost on me.
I found a ton of cool art decorating the streets of the city. This was one of my favorites: I love the vibrant colors.
Fans for sale and a tuk tuk, the most common form of a cab in Southeast Asia.
Two more photographic attempts to capture the beauty of Buddhist temples.
I loved the street signs in Chiang Mai; much fancier than the plain green and white signs in California.
A tuk tuk outside of Starbucks: two hints of the tourist invasion in Chiang Mai.
Religion is deeply ingrained within Thai culture; floral offerings and monks are aplenty.
I’ve seen these stores all over Southeast Asia- they sell Buddhas and other religious goods.
I walked along the tree lined canals on my way to the night market.
I told you! I can’t get enough of fruit shakes.
There’s was a group of Pomeranians dressed up in school uniforms at the night market, perfectly posed for tourists and their cameras (myself included, obviously). Adorable but definitely strange: another example of how much Chiang Mai caters to visitors.
More night market findings.
The walk home was infinitely more beautiful with the lights lit up.
What’s your favorite photo of Chiang Mai?
I didn’t take my camera out too much this week, as I spent the majority of my time either swimming, sunbathing, or diving in Koh Phi Phi, an island in southern Thailand. Sand, water, and my camera do not mix! However, I decided to bring my camera along with me on the snorkeling trip on my last day, as I couldn’t resist attempting to capture the most beautiful place I’ve ever been. While it’s completely overpopulated by tourists, Koh Phi Phi is stunning- I wish I had the Photoshop skills to make the water look this blue.
As always, click to enlarge
As I’m nearing up on two months traveling in Southeast Asia (how did that happen?!), I realized there are a few ways I’ve changed from the person I was when I left Portland a sobbing mess. While they aren’t huge changes, what follows are ten things I never thought I would say about myself.
1. I like cold showers
I am the queen of hot showers. No matter how hot it is outside, my showers are scalding. The summer that I lived in Washington DC, which has heat and humidity to rival anywhere in Southeast Asia, I could never stomach a cold shower. I’d come home from work or the grocery, immediatly take off all my clothes because I was sweating so much, then take a hot shower. Somehow… this has changed. It might be that I don’t stay in air conditioned accommodation all the time. It might be that sometimes I don’t have the option to take hot showers. Whatever it is, I like cold showers now.
2. I can sleep anywhere
As any of my past roommates can tell you, I fall asleep within 5 minutes of closing my eyes almost every night. As soon as I get under the covers, I’m out. I can also sleep through loud music (necessary when your three neighbors are fraternities) or even jackhammers on my window (my mother can vouch for that one). But sleep in uncormfortable positions on buses, planes, or the floor has previously alluded me. With two months of constant travel under my belt, I have finally accomplished the impossible: sleeping on a crowded bus playing loud Cambodian pop songs while seated in a two person row with a mother and her two children (she was breastfeeding one of them). Best travel skill ever.
3. I drink coffee
Fancy coffee at the Hanoi Sofitel Metropole
This post comes to you from a coffee shop, where I am drinking a iced latte. What?! I used to hate coffee- now I drink it almost every day. I partly blame this addiction on two people: my ex boyfriend, who is obsessed with coffee and forced me to drink it that summer I lived in DC, and Maxine, my former travel partner (come back Maxine!). Maxine is the most efficient traveler in the world; I could barely keep up with her. Luckily I had my new best friend coffee to keep me going when I showed signs of faltering at Maxine’s constant pace. This also leads me to number 4.
4. I get up before 8 am every day
So I thought I had gotten out of that how waking up early thing by not getting a job and traveling instead. Not so much. You know how you have to get up at 4am to make that 7am flight for your family vacation? Yeah, now picture having to get up that early for traveling all the time, whether it’s a flight, bus, ferry, or train. And the other days I’m up early for an organized tour, diving, or just because I’m on that schedule now. I take a lot of overnight trains as well- and while they are great for knocking out the price of accommodation and transport in one fell swoop, they often drop you off at your destination at the awkward hour of 6am, a little too early even for early check in. Naps aren’t really feasible, so I turn to number 3, coffee, to keep me going.
5. I am really laidback
At home, I often had anxiety about something going wrong or not having everything planned out. But when traveling, it’s almost laughable how many things can go wrong. There’s so many things to worry about that I can’t worry! Does that make sense? I am more relaxed and “go with the flow” than I’ve ever been. I’m extremely patient too- in Southeast Asia everything happens about 2 hours after it’s supposed to. I’m great at waiting, whether it be playing games on my phone or pulling out a book to read.
6. I am used to 90 degree weather (with no air conditioning!)
While I did have some experience with heat and humidity (ie: summer in DC), I’ve never been exposed to it without constant air conditioning. When I first arrived in Hanoi, I was blown away by how hot it was. I simply didn’t understand how anyone could handle it, let alone while wearing clothes. I couldn’t stop sweating, I was always dirty. I asked everyone I met, “Do you ever get used to this heat?” I am proud to say I am now used to the heat. I’ve finally acclimatized, and it’s great. I can even stay in non air con rooms and do just fine. Now I am just worried about going home to Oregon in November…
7. I am a fast traveler
Why not drive 8 hours out of the way to see Crater Lake?
Ok, so this is something that traveling long term has highlighted about me, not really changed me. But as I was planning my trip, I budgeted two weeks to spend in certain locations. I quickly learned that’s not my type of travel. I’d rather see more places than get to know one location really well. While I’ve spent the entire month in Thailand, I’ve only spent about 5 nights in each location. Maybe it’s because I’m traveling alone, or maybe it’s because I just anticipate my next location too much. I’d never thought I’d say this, but I actually get bored at the beach!
8. I miss looking put together
Don’t get me wrong: I love never having to worry about what I look like here. I rarely wore makeup my senior year at college- it got to the point that when I actually did put makeup on, one of my friends would ask me if I was going somewhere nice. But I miss having the option to look pretty- I barely brought any makeup and no hair styling tools. I’m not much of a girly girl, but I still think it’s fun every once in awhile to get dressed up. With a limited wardrobe, major humidity, and no ways to improve my hair or makeup, I feel plain. I miss wearing makeup!
9. My laptop makes me happy
My laptop is the one thing that I can always rely on to make me less homesick. I’ve realized that I get oddly happy when I have a great wifi connection at the end of a busy day- it’s the one thing that I need in my accommodation. When I don’t have wifi, I slowly get cranky without even noticing why. My laptop lets me Skype, see what my friends are up to on Facebook, email my parents, and update this old thing. While I’ve always been one to spend a lot of time my laptop, traveling has made me appreciate it as a connection to home.
10. I hate geckos
Ugh, geckos. They’re all over the place in Thailand and they’re constantly mocking me with their weird noise. I don’t think I’d ever heard a gecko actually make noise before- now I know why they are called geckos. The worse ones were in Koh Tao. A HUGE
gecko lizard (too large to be considered a measly gecko) made an appearance in my bathroom just as I was getting ready to shower and I quickly ran outside to ask the front desk for help. No matter how many times they helped me shoo him out, he returned the next day. Just as I was falling asleep, he’d remind me of his presence with his taunting noises and beady eyes… I will never see geckos as cute little reptiles again.
How has traveling changed you?
With doctor’s orders not to go diving (or anything physical), I only had a few options left for how to spend my time in Koh Tao. While there’s tons of things to do on the island, ranging from free diving to rock climbing, the majority of it centers around being adventurous, which was pretty much off limits. So instead I spent a day doing the completely miserable task of working on my tan and swimming in the ocean. Awful I tell you!
Though Koh Tao has many beautiful beaches of its own, a popular day or half day trip is to take a longtail boat over to the small island of Koh Nang Yuan. The island consists of a few upscale bungalows, a restaurant, a diving center, a zipline, and two long sandbars. There’s great snorkeling in the clearest blue water and the requisite white sand to sunbath on. While I was a little too cheap to rent a mask and fin as I had plans to part way with quite a few baht to go diving the next day, I watched others while lying down in the shallow water.
After some major reading and relaxing, my stomach was feeling somewhat back to normal. So I decided to treat my recovering infected stomach with some ice cream. Healthy? Easy to digest? I rationalized my choice by thinking about how I probably needed the calories after not eating for a few days.
Once I got bored of tanning and eating (rough life), I set off to complete the most physically demanding task of the day: hiking to the viewpoint. I had gotten to Koh Nang Yuan in the late afternoon in attempts to avoid the crowds from mid-day, and I was rewarded with the viewpoint all to myself.
At this point, the ominous clouds were threatening to ruin the end of my great day with rain. After being in Southeast Asia during the rainy season for a month, I had learned something important: when it looks like it is going to rain, it’s going to rain. I actually sprinted down the path to get to the pier before the rain started, as I hadn’t brought a rain jacket with me. Lesson number 2: always bring a rain jacket with you.
Although I beat the rain, I hadn’t beat the wind, and the boat ride back to Koh Tao was looking a little choppy. ”You wait ten minutes!” the longtail boat drivers told the small crowd gathered at the pier. I was definitely freaking out- I wanted to get back before the rain and return to the inside of my bungalow as soon as possible. So after a few minutes, when one boat decided to brave the rocky waters, I jumped in, along with 10 or so others.
What followed was easily the worst fifteen minute boat ride I have ever been on. I get seasick really easily- I had even gotten nauseated on the short boat ride over to Koh Nang Yuan. The waves were so rough and big that we quickly got completely soaked (longtail boats do not have overhead covers- see the first photo of this post for an example). While I wasn’t too worried for my safety, as I knew I could swim the distance back to Koh Tao if necessary, I was crying on the inside about my phone and camera I had with me. We all threw on life jackets and the scene became even more surreal when 6 of the other passengers started singing an Irish folk song.
After a few close calls where I was positive the boat would capsize, we finally neared Sairee Beach on Koh Tao and let out sighs of relief that we had made it. When I hopped out of the boat and on to the beach, I looked like I had swam back- my clothing, purse, and me were all dripping wet with saltwater. Nervously looking into my bag at my phone and camera, I realized that I hadn’t beat the rain after all- it started pouring as soon as I got on dry land.
I’m sure you can guess what happened to my phone and camera. :( I’ve filed a claim with World Nomads, my travel insurance, and hoping for some money back. Important life lesson number 3 and 4: get travel insurance and buy a waterproof bag if you’re taking valuables in the ocean. Since then, I’ve been uber careful about bringing electronics with me on boat rides. I’ll be the weirdo on your snorkeling trip who’s wrapped their camera in three plastic bags.
Put quite simply: getting sick while traveling sucks. Not only do you miss out on much of the fun stuff you were planning on doing, but you’ll have to recover in a hostel or hotel instead of your own bed.
Let’s back up. I was reflecting on my first month of traveling, and in an email to my parents I wrote that I had survived a whole month in Southeast Asia without getting traveler’s diarrhea or the stomach flu- yay! Of course, as soon as I sent that email, Murphy’s Law had to make sure my gloating stopped.
It started off as what I thought was the worst hangover of all time, the day of the Full Moon Party. While I didn’t used to get hangovers, time eventually caught up with me and the awful, day long hangovers began right around when I turned 22. But that particular hangover was extremely confusing to me- I had barely drank the night before! I had had one bucket (equivalent to maybe 4 mixed drinks?), which is not enough to make me hungover all day. I was immediately regretting going out the night before the Full Moon Party and doubting whether I could make it to the beach that night. What began as a stomachache shifted to hot and cold flashes and a horrible headache. While I made it out for a short time that night, I definitely missed out on much of the fun of the Full Moon Party and almost fainted at one point, prompting me to give up and return to bed.
When my “hangover” continued to the next day, I began wondering if I was really just sick. And, as it turns out, I was- I’m pretty sure the ice from my bucket that night was what gave me an infection. Here’s my advice on what to do when you get sick while traveling.
1. Wait a few days. I waited three days to see a doctor- it doesn’t make sense to go to the clinic if you’re only hungover! Of course, if you feel supremely awful, yes, go immeditaly. But if you just feel a little worse than the wear, save yourself some money and see if nature (aided with plenty of water and rest) can work itself out.
2. Don’t freak out. Everyone in my dorm room in Koh Pha Ngan was telling me I had dengue fever. Just because you are in an exotic locale doesn’t mean you’ve contracted an exotic disease! I was pretty familar with the symptoms of both malaria and dengue fever, and I was almost 100% sure I didn’t have either. My whole body was not aching, and I didn’t have an extreme fever. Do your homework and listen to your body.
3. Go to the doctor. If you still feel sick after a few days, go to the doctor. For some reason, I really didn’t want to go to the doctor. It seems so silly now! I was in and out of the doctor’s office in 20 minutes and with only a $26 bill, which included the visit with the doc and the medications he prescribed. While I was really nervous I had appendicitis (I had extremely painful stomach cramps), I was diagnosed with a simple stomach infection. The doctor gave me medicine for the infection, cramping, and vomiting. I was all better in about 4 days! Why can’t healthcare be this simple in the US?
The worst part about being sick (besides the stomach cramps)? Missing out on all Koh Tao has to offer. I quickly fell in love with Koh Tao- it seemed to be the perfect balance between laidback and less overdeveloped while still having a built up backpacker and diving scene. I felt like Goldilocks- I had finally found the island that was just right. Koh Tao has so much to do in a gorgeous setting, with a ton of great restaurants and fun bars (but way less party-centric than Koh Pha Ngan). And thanks to the stomach flu, I only got to experience Koh Tao’s claim to fme, diving, for one day. While I’d love to complain more about being sick in Koh Tao, I’ll try and remember that I am still extremely lucky I’ve only gotten sick once and did get to do two dives (at Sail Rock, the Gulf of Thailand’s best dive site, no less). Whine over.
Sorry for the lack of photos in this post- I have almost no pictures of Koh Tao as I spent most of my time there curled up in a moaning ball in my bungalow.
Dear readers: I’ve realized something horrible. Despite the many amazing and strange foods I have been eating here in Southeast Asia, I haven’t been properly documenting it for you. I promised my sister in law some food porn and I have not delivered! I am attempting to redeem myself through this post and will try harder in the future.
I only had a few days in Bangkok between my time in Koh Tao and Chiang Mai, and part of it was unfortunately spent at the mall purchasing a new phone (post forthcoming!). With one day in the City of Angels before taking the train to the north, I was itching to explore the city by night. With no real idea of what I should do, I briefly perused TripAdvisor for some ideas. Bangkok Food Tours came up with over one hundred fifty 5 star reviews. I clicked through to the website and saw the Chinatown Night Foodie Tour. It was perfect! I wanted to see the city at night, I love food, and I’d been itching to see Chinatown. Took me all of 5 minutes to sign up for the next night.
I wasn’t disappointed: this tour holds the spot of one of the most amazing experiences I’ve had over the past two months. The tour guide, Gai, was awesome, learning about Chinatown’s history and culture was great, and the food was unreal. I can’t recommend this tour enough!
I lucked out by being the only person to have signed up for that night’s tour. Private tour? Don’t mind if I do! Gai, my tour guide, spoke excellent English and kept me laughing all night. I enjoyed getting to know a local as well and hearing about Gai’s ambitious plans after he graduates from university. He’s worked in Chinatown as a tour guide for over 8 years (first as a bike tour guide), so needless to say he was very familiar with the area.
The tour begins with some history about Chinatown and stops in a few Chinese temples. Gai taught me how to tell my fortune with Chinese fortune sticks, and showed me a pharmacy with the left side offering Eastern remedies and the right side supplying Western medicine. It wasn’t too long before we arrived at our first “tasting,” where we had dim sum. Gai does all the ordering, so the only thing I was expected to do was open my mouth and eat. My kind of tour!
I’m not sure exactly what everything we had was, but three of the four dishes were pork and the other was shrimp. My favorite? The dish in the top right corner (photo above), with pork and mushroom. Yum! And my American readers might be surprised that the liquid in the small bowls to the right is not soy sauce- it’s black vinegar. Though I always associate soy sauce with Asian dishes, it isn’t really common in Thailand.
The next stop was trying Chinese herbal drinks, including Chrysanthemum tea. I cannot stop drinking this stuff now! It was widely available fresh in Chiang Mai, but luckily I’ve been able to find it in every 7-11 as well. It reminds me of heavily sweetened green tea. Gai told me it’s supposed to make you more balanced, so with my current consumption levels I might be the most balanced person in the world.
After pointing out several landmarks from the Hangover 2, which was filmed mostly in Chinatown, we were on to my favorite dish of the night: steamed BBQ pork buns. Although I haven’t been steamed bun taste testing around Bangkok, when Gai declared these the best buns in the city, I agreed. I would have been happy eating six of those as our six tastings…
The most popular dish of the tour with the majority of people who take the tour, according to Gai, is the peppery crunchy pork noodle soup that we tried next. It was damn spicy! Though I liked it, I couldn’t have more than a few bites without breaking out into a sweat. He said it’s usually the favorite as it’s a very unique dish. The crispy pork was what I didn’t like about it- I’m not the biggest fan of pork, especially with the fat still on it.
Next up was perhaps my most exotic eat of the night: the infamous durian fruit. Durian fruit is the nemesis of many a traveler in Southeast Asia; foreigners think it is extremely smelly. Hotels, airports, and other confined areas ban the fruit as the stench is really strong. I am one of those few travelers who doesn’t mind the smell of durian, so I was excited to try it. The vendor who we purchased it from was such a character; she’s known by locals to only sell the best Durian and won’t sell one if it isn’t ripe enough. She uses a stick to beat the durian and then listens to hear if it is “ready.” The verdict? I didn’t like it. It was the texture that threw me off, way too creamy (in a bad way).
Stop number 5 was a very popular fresh seafood spot. As I don’t really like seafood that much, this stop was my least favorite. While I’ll try anything once, shrimp just isn’t for me (unless I smother it in sauce). The freshly grilled shrimp looked great, and I’m sure seafood lovers would be smitten. Gai once again flexed his tour guide muscles: as they bring the shrimp out very hot, he peels the shrimp for you as he’s used to the heat.
The sixth and final tasting was in a restaurant called “Texas,” a former movie theatre so named as its inception was when Westerns were the most popular films of the day. Ok, so I guess I lied about the durian fruit. This is where my most exotic try of the day was! I tried fried duck cheek. I’ll type it again to let that sink in to my family members who think they know me well: I tried duck cheek. And I liked it! Dessert was also amazing; if you can stuff another dish in you the taro in coconut milk is well worth the full stomach.
Gai’s genuine kindness can be summed up in one action: after telling him I was allergic to nuts (peanuts, cashews, etc.) he grabbed a piece of scratch paper from the restaurant to write down my allergies in Thai. This has allowed me to eat adventurously as I’d like! I simply show the piece of paper to every waiter or street food vendor before I order. I’m so thankful for the opportunity to eat my way through Thailand safely.
If I haven’t made it clear enough, Bangkok Food Tours is awesome! If you like food, learning about culture, or even just exploring a new neighborhood, sign yourself up. I enjoyed my tour so much that I am already dreaming about taking another one of their tours next time I am in Bangkok! And no, they didn’t pay me to say that, but if anyone from Bangkok Food Tours is reading, I will gladly accept payment in steamed pork buns.
Note: I know many scuba divers and environmentalists will refuse to eat at an establishment that serves shark fin soup (see why here). As shark fin soup is so prevalent in Chinatown, I don’t think it’d be possible to do the tour as is and avoid eating at one of the restaurants who serve it. However, the owner himself is against shark fin soup so you do not try it during the tour. It’s worth sending an email to the owner to see if he could work out a slightly different tour that doesn’t stop at one of these restaurants.
I’m always torn when choosing Photo of the Week between picking an artistic, more abstract shot, or one that flaunts the beauty of the places I’ve been visiting. While I want my yearly collection to be creative, I also want it to show the variety of landscapes and cultures I’ve seen over the year. This week I went with a scenic photo: I did a trek in Chiang Mai, Thailand and the views were stunning. While the weather certainly wasn’t perfect, the cloudy skies made for a picturesque background.
Growing up in Orange County, California, shopping malls are the stuff of many of my teenage year memories: there was South Coast Plaza, California’s largest mall, and closer by was the Mission Viejo Mall, where a few of my friends worked. Shopping malls are perhaps the most defining feature of suburban America, as they represent a consumer culture that is based on both a well-functioning economy and the constant need to have the newest, shiniest things. So while going to a mall while traveling might sound kind of weird to some people, to me it made perfect sense; a nation’s buying habits are extremely telling of their culture. Also, I had a few things I needed to get. :)
I can’t say for anyone else, but the vision of Asian malls in my head was something out of the future. Dozens of floors, gleaming escalators, thousands of people. I wasn’t too far off! While in Bangkok, I went to both MBK and Siam Paragon to survey the scene.
MBK reminded me of the open air markets so prevalent in Southeast Asia- instead of distinct stores, vendors spill out into the halls and bargaining is often expected. The smell of exotic food is present almost everywhere. While you can go to Burger King or McDonald’s in MBK, Asian dishes are much more common. There’s a huge photo of the King in the main room, stretching over several floors, another dead giveaway you’re not in Kansas anymore.
The fourth floor of MBK is absolute chaos: it’s where you can purchase any type of unlocked phone or electronic for a non-retail price, given you can flex your negotiation muscles over the loud din of noise. You can buy an Iphone from perhaps fifty different vendors, all with different offerings under their glass cases. However, be warned: without the hefty discount given when you buy a phone with a service plan, phones are very expensive. In addition to phones, there are dozens of cameras, tablets, and electronic accessories (think any type of phone case you could imagine) crowded under the low ceiling.
Siam Paragon, on the other hand, feels decidedly Western. You could easily swap it with South Coast Plaza and it wouldn’t look out of place in Orange County (although it is much glitzier than the decades old design of SCP). The food court is the nicest one I’ve ever seen; almost all the options are sit down restaurants, and it covers the entire ground floor of the building. Confession number 1: I actually got lost in it one day! If you’re craving American food, there’s a Subway, Krispy Kreme, three Starbucks, and Swensen’s Ice Cream. Confession number 2: I ate at Subway one day.
The first few stores you see when you enter Siam Paragon include Louis Vuitton, Chanel, and Hermes. If you’re wearing the garb common on the backpacker trail in Southeast Asia, prepare to feel immensely dirty and underdressed. I didn’t do much actual shopping there (besides a t-shirt on sale at Gap), but I enjoyed the strong air conditioning and a left feeling a little less homesick. You can take the girl out of Orange County, but you can’t take the Orange County out of the girl!