Archive for October, 2010


Siem Reap, Cambodia

Mack’s comment on the last post was quite funny. And yes, the scarcity of blog posts can be read that we are having a good time, but it also means we have been very, very busy.

View of our Riverside Hut in Vang Vieng

First, travels down Laos. We left Veng Viang at 1:30 pm local time and arrived in Siem Reap Cambodia 7 buses and 35 hours later. Bumping down the length of the Lao People’s Democratic Republic was oh-so-fun, and the confusing layovers in Vientiane and Pakse just added to the pleasure.

Scrunched in to the technicolor rave night bus. Yee haw!

Getting across the Laos-Cambodia border was quite a riot though. First came the Laotian customs, $1 please for your exit stamp.

After a 5 minute walk through a sweltering No-Man’s Land of a border, we were greeted with the Cambodian Health Checkpoint, a plastic awning over a card table. Our temperature was taken ($1 please), and we filled out card with our names, addresses etc. that earned us a pamphlet warning us of the dire dangers of H1N1, but reassuring us that Cambodian Authorities had an apparatus in place to deal with any infections. At this point we were also made privvy to the greatest point of connection between Cambodia and California, that there are many Cambodians living in Long Beach and Sacramento. The woman who took our temperature has a nephew in the Marines in Iraq. That was an eye-opener.

Across the street was the Visa checkpoint, ($23 please). Here, we were almost scrutinized before receiving another awesome full-page visa sticker with all sorts of official looking seals and pseudo-communist grain sheaves adorning its edges. After receiving our visa we made our way another 50 feet to the Customs Hut ($1 please), where we were officially stamped in to the Kingdom of Cambodia.

We then had the pleasure of waiting about an hour and a half for some not-too bright Europeans (Spaniards mostly, I think), who failed to recognize that there would not be any ATM’s in the middle of the Cambodian jungle, and no, you cannot pay for a visa in Laotian Kip (despite this fact being constantly advertised on any bus line bearing you towards the border, in every guidebook and reiterated by the bus company upon your departure for the border). We think they were just ticked off that they had to pay in Amurrikan greenbacks and not their precious Euros (“You know, a Euro is worth more, they’d be making more money, I guess they’re just stupid…”).

After that pleasant layover we got on another, if possible- jankier- bus and began chugging our way across Cambodia. Literally. If you look at a map, we crossed the border at Trapaing Kreal, at the South-East corner of Laos, and then spent 10 hours driving to within 60 kilometers of Phnom Penh before heading north again to Siem Reap. Efficient.

Upside- we got to see quite a bit of Cambodia’s beautiful countryside, watch the new Karate Kid movie and get our first Cambodian scam out of the way. ($3 to upgrade to a nicer bus which never materialized, not too tragic).

We arrived in Siem Reap at about 12:30 am, pretty spaced out. Katie was waiting for me to get off the bus and yelled my name across the crowd, a cunning tuk-tuk driver identified who she was calling to, and accosted me by name at the back of the crowd while clamoring for my backpack. “Jack, Jack” he yelled with a welcoming smile as if I was a long-lost cousin. This is how we met Sam, Sam Sam the Tuk-Tuk man (we sing his praises in song), who has been more-or-less our personal tuk-tuk driver these last 3 days.

Sam Sam the Tuk Tuk Man in Action. The Cambodians seem to be bigger believers in helmets than the Laotians or Thais.

I’m running out of battery so I have to speed up the narrative at this point….

Next day, we wake up late (in a massive room, all the guesthouses here have at least 15 foot ceilings.) and spent the day wandering Siem Reap. This is a cool city. We’re in one of the poorest parts of Cambodia, but Siem Reap does a nice business acting as host city to the multitudes (and even though its the ‘height’ of the off-season, there really are multitudes) of tourists who fly in to the specially made airport to visit the wonderful, mind bogglingly large, legendary, boombastamitastic, ANGKOR WAT.

Bum bum baaaa!!!!

Fidel Castro finds the gates of Angkor pleasing.

Angkor Wat itself dates from the 13th century and the reign of King Jayavarman VII, but is part of an extended complex which contains temples and ruins from the 9th century to the 16th century.

Angkor Wat is the largest religious building on Earth. St. Peter’s? Check. Hagia Sophia? Check. Angkor beats them all. As such, its huge. The complex of Angkor Wat is surrounded by a moat with sides something like 1.6 kilometers long. The gates are 30 meters tall and it acted as the religious center of the Angkor Thom, the city just a skip to the North, which housed a million people by 1200. (For reference, at this time London had less than 70 thousand).

Contemplating the sunset atop an Angkor temple.

So it’s big, and it takes at least 3 days to see the big stuff. Which includes at least 10 temple complexes, numerous mebons (lake-sized artificial reservoirs with their own accompanying temple complexes), Royal Temples, kilometers-long terraces and miscellaneous rock piles. A fun fact to keep in mind as one wanders through these massive structures is that the remaining buildings are exclusively religious in nature. They were built to house icons of various members of the Hindu pantheon, no monks, kings or anybody. Only Gods ( and later Buddhas), were considered worthy of living in stone structures, so the entire city that house those one million people, and even the palaces, were all wood and as such have left barely a trace other than the remnants of some truly massive pillars that once were part of one of any number of palaces.

This is a small side building consistently referred to as a 'library', though it was nothing of the sort. It was just a small side temple with its own deity.

It takes a while to drink it all in.

Our first day we went with our big-man Sam. Sam took us on what is called the “Grande Tour”, a 35 kilometer loop that hits Angkor Wat proper, Preah Khan (“sacred sword”-commemorates a big battle) two mebons and two smaller temples.

The second day we opted out of the tuk-tuk and did the “Petite tour” (thank you French colonialism…) on bicycles. This included the central state temple of Angkor Thom, Ta Phrom (the famous temple that looks like its being eaten by trees), the Royal temple, and the Elephant and ‘Leper King’ terraces.

The unconquerable jungle.

These temples were houses for Gods, not places for congregations to worship. As such some of them are quite oddly designed from a mortal's perspective.

On the third day we got back on board with Sam for the 16 kilometer journey away from Siem Reap (I probably should have mentioned that Angkor Wat is 6 k away from Siem Reap) to whats known as the Rolous Complex, which is a set of three main temples and their accompanying mebons that were the first structures built in the area, dedicated around 802 CE.

The pointing man approves of the Strangler Fig.

Books have been written about Angkor (and I read one, does it show?) that can tell you much more than this scant overview. But being such an impressive sight I thought it really worthwhile to try and communicate some of the downright jaw-dropping majesty that we’ve been tramping through these past few days.

As a last note on Angkor- the site is often discussed as having been ‘discovered’. This is, pardon, patently bullshit. The Khmer never ‘forgot’ about Angkor, and Angkor Wat itself has been in continual habitation and use for the past 800 years. People still live there. It doesn’t appear that they’re allowed to engage in much agriculture anymore and most seem to make a living selling paintings, rubbings, bamboo flutes and postcards to tourists. The capitol of Kampuchea was moved to Phnom Penh in the 16th century because it was better situated next to the river for trade with the Siamese capitol of Ayutthaya. We visited the Ayutthaya ruins earlier in our trip and now understand why they were consistently referred to as ‘Angkor style’, really cheap knockoffs. (No offense Thailand, your ruins are beautiful). Interestingly, the French imperial archaeologists stumbling upon Angkor may have been one of the worst things that ever happened to the place, because immediately thereafter Western antique dealers began indiscriminately lopping off the best surviving statues and bas-reliefs, and selling them to punks like W.R. Hearst.

Troop of children from one of the small villages dotted around the Angkor complex. Not a bad place to run amok if you ask me.

One of Vishnu's avatars kicking some tail.

Altar in Angkor Wat. Still functioning after 800 years.

Tower face of Avalokiteshvara, Buddha of Compassion. Interestingly, all these faces bear a striking resemblance to that of King Jayavarman VII himself....

Cambodia, even in the short time we’ve been here, has proven itself to be the most historically alive nation we’ve seen thus far. Despite the wonders of Angkor, Cambodia is widely known for a darker, more sinister history, one that unfortunately lives larger in living memory than the wonders of Angkor- the legacy of the Khmer Rouge regime.

Katie exploring a Russian tank from the Cambodian Civil War at the War Museum.

From 1975/6 until 1979, the Khmer Rouge managed to murder 1.7 million Cambodians, roughly a quarter of the then 7 million people living in Cambodia.

It’s very difficult for me to write about in any way that would do the Khmer people’s plight justice, but two stories must suffice.

The first is our visit to the War Museum. Before spending our first evening watching the sunset from a hilltop temple in Angkor, we ‘stopped by’ the War Museum to catch up on some recent history. We were totally unprepared for Tom, our guide, and his headlong rush through the history of Cambodia, 1960-1999, focusing on the years 1970-79. Tom has one arm. In 1979/80 he was 15 years old living with his family of 6 in the Cambodian countryside, at a time when the nation was trying to return to normalcy despite the fact that the Khmer Rouge were fighting the Vietnamese and Thai armies on the Western border. In order to make some more money that his meager smallholding of rice paddies could provide, Tom’s father gathered and disarmed land mines, taking the valuable fuses, metals and TNT out of them and selling them. Tom’s father believed that his traditional Khmer tattoos would protect him from the mines. They didn’t. One night a mine his father was disarming detonated, instantly killing Toms mother, father, two sisters, one brother and taking off Tom’s left arm and filling his stomach with shrapnel. In the absence of any kind of medical care, Tom retreated to a nearby group of monks who had recently come above-ground following the abdication of the anti-clerical Khmer Rouge regime, who put him in the hands of a local ‘doctor’ who managed to save Tom’s life by taking off the gangrenous stump of his arm, but could not protect him against the soon-to-come ravages of tetanus wrought by the shrapnel in his torso.

16, roughly patched up and without a family in a war torn country, Tom hit the road, soon meeting a Christian church group who became his new family. Tom now speaks excellent English (thanks to a missionary school and a teacher from Denver, CO), is employed as a guide at the museum and has a full belly, something that he didn’t have for over 7 years under the Khmer Rouge and after. He calls himself a Buddhist and a Christian and is, if I might add, a mighty strong shot of reality. At the end of his tour the two of us could only gasp and say thank you. Needless to say the sunset trip had a bit of a pall cast over it.

American Howitzer left behind after the Vietnam War and then used in the Cambodian Civil War. All of the weapons used in the war, and the bullets, uniforms, mines and money, were supplied by either the Russo-Chinese or the Franco-American forces. There was nothing Cold about this War.

Second story.

The next night we attended a documentary on the Khmer Rouge regime that shows every night in the local Night Market. We were the only people there. The documentary was pretty disjointed, a breakneck 41 minutes that shifted between English, French and Khmer and had a narrative that was, to say the least, hard to follow. When we emerged, the one thing we could agree upon was that we needed a beer, and found our way to a bar some 25 feet away. Our waitress, Hani, had seen us exit the theater, and when we sat down came right on up and started talking.

“What did you think of the movie?”

“…uh, it was, interesting, very sad…”

“Interesting? It was terrible.”

“Yes, yes, terrible…”

“I don’t like the Khmer Rouge”

“Neither do we.”

“They killed my father and two brothers, I don’t like the Khmer Rouge.”

Hani then went on to tell us the story of her mother and father, forced to marry by the Khmer Rouge, and of how the Khmer Rouge then ended up killing her father and two of her brothers. Hani was born in 1980, a year after the Khmer Rouge regime ended, and she spent the rest of the evening popping by to fill us in on more details of her life, life in Cambodia in general, and life as a 1st grade teacher. (A cocktail waitress by night, Hani teaches 1st grade 6 days a week at a village school some 25 kilometers outside of Siem Reap).

What struck us (at least me) the most was how completely unprompted Hani came over and was so open in sharing her family’s story, and her story with us. It is obviously a story that needs to be told, and she fortunately has the wherewithal to tell it.

Later in the evening the material became lighter; she told us about the first time she took an escalator, the trials of commanding a room full of 45 1st graders, and we all sang “The Wheels on the Bus” together (Hani feels that song reflects her life, rolling along between teaching and cocktailing, continually rolling and rolling and rolling). Meeting Hani was an amazing experience, but people like her and Tom drive home like a silver stake through the face how the people of Cambodia are really survivors of a genocide, a Holocaust, and it gives you pause as you munch away at your delicious Fish Amok (steamed in banana leaf, a Khmer specialty).

As always, with love and fond thoughts,

Jack & Katie

Greetings from Vang Vieng Laos.

 

After four extremely lazy days in Luang Prabang, we took a somewhat stomach-harrowing ride across the windy mountain paths down to the small riverside village of Vang Vieng. Its overcrowded with backpackers but set in the most beautiful countryside we’ve seen yet. People come here to spend the day tubing down the river, the shore of which is dotted with bars selling BeerLao and drug stuffed pizza. Laos has the death penalty for drug possession yet the bar we went to last night has opium tea, mushroom pizzas and joints on the menu. Its very confusing. We came here to inquire about a woofing spot near the capital of Vientiane, but apparently its not the right season yet. No running water, no electricity, laboring in the rice fields and cooking over a fire. Sounds awesome right? We were really excited but hopefully we’ll be able to do something similar back up in Northern Thailand.

 

Our time in Luang Prabang was nice, though extremely relaxed. The pace of life is so slow in this country that its impossible to do anything. Its like they put opium in the food. We did manage to get out to a waterfall, which was beautiful and very refreshing

One of the swimming pools at the waterfall. This was the first not brown water we've seen yet!

Jack at the waterfall

We also visited some cool temples and had more of that Lao barbecue I told you about.

This is a Lao barbecue in all its glory. Note the giant piece of lard at the top.

An interesting note about Laos: the CIA dropped thousands and thousands of bombs here in the 1970’s. A lot of them are still here. Bomb, shells and guns are in many restaurants and bars used as decoration. Its a little shocking to see.

This is at a rather chic bar. I'm quite sure they're real.

This was on temple grounds

Our next post will probably be from the Thousand Islands, which is a collection of river islands in the Mekong. So until then, farewell.

 

Katie

(more pictures below)

Hey all, thanks for all your comments and birthday wishes. We spent Jack’s 23rd birthday floating down the Mekong River in a cramped wooden boat. It had its ups and downs.

Today is the first day in four we haven’t spent entirely on our butts which is quite a relief. The bus trip from Chiang Mai to the border town of Chiang Kong was uneventful and long with a five hour delay. Once we got to though we made a grand culinary discovery: an all you can eat buffet of do it yourself barbecue. Apparently its a big thing in Laos. Anyway basically you have tabletop grill in the middle of the table with coals in the bottom and a sloped metal top that has two chunks of lard on it and a moat around the side. You get you raw meat, marinade and noodles from the buffet (pork, chicken, beef, liver, heart…the usual), and cook it all yourself in the lard that is slowly dripping down the metal top. It was amazing. We failed to get pictures but we’ll make up for that tonight when we do it again.

The next day we boarded a long narrow boat with horribly uncomfortable wooden seats and about 70 of our best friends. It overcrowded with backpackers who took up the seats while all of the Lao and Thai people had to sit on the floor. We’ve had a number of these experiences so far and their always really uncomfortable, however we don’t really have a choice as the decisions to vastly privilege whitey over the locals are made by locals.

folks on the boat

Katie and Jack on the boat

After about six hours we stopped for the night in Pak Beng at a really nice hotel, probably the nicest we’ve been so far and for the same price. We even had a real mattress. We dined right on the river and it was indescribably beautiful. I wish we were better at photography because we really didn’t do it justice with these photos.

morning mist rolling in over the hills

The next day we did the same thing except it was nine hours. It was a hard day. The people in front of us were incredibly annoying and we couldn’t get away from them. I think a lot of people on the backpacker circuit just come here to party because they seem totally ignorant about the places they are or have been. We’re trying to get away from that scene.

We arrived yesterday evening in Luang Prabang, the cultural capital of Laos, which is the most picturesque place we’ve been. Partially its the setting and partially its French colonial influence. You can see it everywhere: the crumbling villas, the wine, in the food. Its hard to tell what is really Laotian and what is an effect of French rule.

Last night we had a birthday dinner at a real restaurant and had super good Indian food. For dessert we both had the Dream Cup, a scoop of chocolate ice cream floating in a pond of Johnnie Walker Black. It was good.

We’ll probably stay here for a few more nights and then on to Vien Viang where we hope to hook up with a farm to WWOOFat. Hopefully that goes through though we don’t really have any conformation yet.

Bye!

Katie


Limestone edifice over the Mekong

Pictures from Pai and our last few days in Thailand:

 

It's hard to see but opposite the fighting roosters and opium fan, yes, thats a crossbow. Handily hung above our bed. Mosquitoes are a real problem here, but the Thai are suitable armed.

Ah, Thailand's two great contributions to society immortalized in our guesthouse. Two fighting cocks rampant, proudly astride a beautiful fan decorated with....opium poppies? Oh yes.

This farangs happy to be back on a bicycle. About 5 minutes later he popped a flat and became considerably less jolly.

Larissa and Katie biking back from the hot springs.

The swimming pool at the hotsprings resort. biggest hot tub ever, and surprisingly pleasant despite the heat.

View from our Golden Hut in Pai. Not too shabby. By the way, those huts across the river are called the Indiana Village.

Katie next to the steaming pools.

Ollifants Frodo! No one's ever going to believe us back home... (typical roadside sight)

I believe the expression on Katie's face demonstrates the seriousness of the heat out there.

 

Pai and back to Chiang Mai

Note: this post was written under the illusion that we would be able to attach the relevant photos to it. Unfortunately for you and us, WordPress is being a little punk and giving us a hard time attaching the pictures. We’ll keep trying but until then try to enjoy without them.

Greetings from Chiang Mai, again.

We took a minibus (four hours) over the mountains to the small hamlet of Pai for a few days, but we’re back in Chiang Mai because, despite being very cool, Pai was eerily reminiscent of Santa Cruz, and we could do what we needed to do in about a day.

In Pai, we stayed at a bungalow along the riverbank, aptly named the Golden Hut. The Golden Hut was golden due to the palm-frond roofing and a hut because…well, ya know.

We made a real good friend in Pai by the name of Larissa. She’s German, but getting her degree to teach in an English language primary school in Germany. Naturally, communication was never a problem.

Mosquito Net

The main sight in Pai we hit up was the local hot springs. Most people rent motorbikes to cruise around Pai’s beautiful surroundings, but after three too many horror stories and bearing witness to our share of highway accidents, we opted for bikes of the pedal power kind. The hot springs were about 7 kilometers outside of town, but we (as the genii we are) decided to bike out in the heat of the day. At least I got the opportunity to work on my sunburn a bit. The hot springs are nice, and a steamy 80 degrees Celsius, a bit too warm for a dip. We waded around in the scorching hot streams for a while, and then biked back to town. En route we stopped by the Exotic Springs Resort, which is really a collection of bungalows centered around a swimming pool sized tile bath that pipes in the water from the hot springs. Despite the irony that the first place we got to go swimming in Thailand contained extremely hot water, the dip was relaxing, and running back and forth between the hot and cold pools entertained us for a good couple of hours while the sun burned itself out.

The ride back was much cooler, due to some ominous cloud cover, but things heated up when about 3k outside of town I popped a flat. Those who know my flat-tire history in Santa Cruz will surely find it hard to restrain a chuckle at that. Poppin’ tubes all over the world!

Back in Pai, we chilled, hard, ran in to a few groups of travelers we knew from Chiang Mai and turned in early in preparation for the bus ride home (slip of the tongue much? back to Chiang Mai) the next morning. Arriving in Chiang Mai did feel a bit like a homecoming, and we had a few ego-boosting tuk-tuk encounters on our way back to the Old City, sounding like old hands as we discussed which city gate we wanted to be taken to.

This time in Chiang Mai we are foregoing the tourist circuit a bit, and so decided to check out a different guesthouse, looking for something a bit more quiet. Last night we went to a Monk Chat/Meditation Class, which was pretty fantastic. We got to talk in an intimate setting with a 23 year old monk who entered the temple when he was 13, and then received some vipassana meditation instruction from his teacher, a 28 year old Cambodian monk who is getting his degree in Humanities ( I assume a general Liberal Arts track) from Chiang Mai University. The older monk was fantastic, a bit easier to understand and prone to breaking into broad grins over communication breakdowns. My favorite quote of the night came after he was describing the attraction of human kamma to humans of similar kamma (good attracts good etc.) and in a hypothetical situation described himself as a ‘gangsta’. We called him the Gangster Monk for the rest of the class.

The quiet guesthouse we picked out for the first two nights was pretty hilarious. For the same price as Julie Guesthouse we got the privilege of walking around the building to use the bathroom, surly French neighbors and some really fantastic décor (pictured).

We’ve been running around a bit so we’re taking a day in Chiang Mai to collect ourselves, mail some goodies home and brace for the ensuing journey to Laos, which involves a 6 hour bus ride, a tango with Lao border security and then the aforementioned slow-boat down the Mekong.

Love to everyone back home, keep the comments coming.

-Jack & Katie

OK, We’re Back!

Ahoy!

Sorry for the serious delay. It took us forever to find another power cord. We had to go to an Acer store, then the repair center across town who had to order it from Bangkok. We’ve had a very active week in Chiang Mai at the Julie guesthouse (http://www.julieguesthouse.com/), which is really cool. Its the first place where the place we’re staying actually has people in it.

First, we have to give a nod to our host city, Chiang Mai. A real jewel of a city, this is an easy place to get stuck. We started with 3 nights at our guesthouse, then added 3 more, and last night in a slight panic at the thought of having to leave signed on for yet another! As usual, the wats are impressive and the people are kindhearted but the weather is thankfully a bit cooler than the sweltering plains of Sukhothai.

Chiang Mai as seen from Wat Phrahatat atop nearby Doi Suthep.

To get to that view though you must climb quite a ways.

Baan Thai Cooking School

Thai Cookery

My personal favorite activity so far has been the five or six hours that we spent with The Baan Thai Cooking School. We spent fifteen or so minutes cooking and then a half-hour eating, chilling on our mats and talking to the five other classmates, all of whom were very cool. We did this seven times which was way too much. We left feeling fat and happy. We also got a little cookbook with a bunch of classic thai dishes and a guide to fruit, herbs and sauces. We started out the day at the market where our instructor Tam taught us all about the different types of herbs, spices, fruits and veggies commonly used in Thai cooking. It was very informative and made future trips to the market much less daunting. We were also treated to a fruit sampler which was equally as useful as a lot of the fruit here is very confusing and kinda scary looking, like dragon fruit.

Dragonfruit

For our first dishes Jack made stir-fried prawns in curry powder and I made pad thai. Both were delicious and extremely easy. I added a note on wok usage below.

Next we did papaya salad, which doesn’t at all taste like papaya. The base is a handful of shredded carrots and unripe papaya, which is all ground up with chilies, peanuts, fish sauce, palm sugar, tomatoes and some other veggies and fresh herbs in a mortar until its super juicy. It gets really spicy because the chili is totally uncooked. I had it in the night market and it was the first thing I haven’t been able to finish because it blew my face off. The papaya can be replaced with shredded cucumber, which it resembles in flavor greatly.

Papaya Salad of Pain.

Chef Jacque

Both Jack and I made the chicken in coconut milk which gets a lot of its flavor from fresh lemongrass and lime leaf. You really just pour some coconut milk in a pan and cook the chicken, mushrooms and onion together with some spices.

Curry was next. Its quite an involved process that requires pounding a bunch of chilies into oblivion in a stone mortar

Mixing Curry with a Mortar and Pestle.

and a lot of different ingredients. Jack made the Chiang Mai noodle with chicken which includes both fresh and fried egg noodles. The Panaeng curry that I made was by far my favorite dish.

Panaeng Curry with Pork. Delicious and Sweet.

For dessert jack made water chestnuts in coconut milk. The water chestnuts are soaked in grenadine so they’re totally pink and then boiled in coconut milk and tapioca flour. They come out with this really soft, spongy flavor on the outside without loosing their crunch on the inside. I made coconut soaked sticky rice with mangoes. Both were delicious and quite easy.

Some overall observations on Thai cooking:

  • There is an enormous amount of palm sugar and fish sauce in everything. Its not really detectable because everything is so spicy but there is way more sodium and sugar in Thai cooking than there is in any western cooking. The Palm sugar is not dry and powdery like cane sugar but sticky and sold in block form so it disolves better. Its also really really unhealthy.
  • We actually learned how to use a wok which I normally just use as a high sided frying pan. The trick to stir fry dishes in woks is to do it all in one go in different parts of the pan. You mix half of the stuff first and fry it up, then move it off to the side, tilt it up and do the meat, noodles and eggs in the bottom of the wok. The noodles are all either fresh or have been soaked previously which makes them quick to cook. All of this is on fairly high heat.
  • Other than the sugar not a single thing was store bought or pre-packaged. Even the coconut we used for coconut milk dishes was put whole and fresh through a grinder right in the open market. To milk it, the grindings are put in a cheesecloth bag and kneaded in a bowl of warm water, which is quite satisfying.

Our second day in Chiang Mai we visited the legendary Sunday Walking Street Market. Which is indeed worthy of it’s reputation. We got some clothes, souvenirs and mad street food. For your viewing pleasure:

New Duds. Fisherman pants and shirt. While something of a backpacker uniform, these clothes breathe nicely in the heat. We often joke that we must look like 19th century peasants walking around the modern metropolis. Reenactors lost en-route to the Ren Faire.

Katies fisherman pants and tunic.

Katie's new dress. We have a great story about bargaining for these clothes, but it needs to be told in-person.

Sometimes in life you are confronted with a bag of Garlic-Pepper Roasted Locusts...

...And you must feast upon them. For they are crunchy and salty and would make a supreme beer snack.

Rafting

On Thursday we took advantage of the expansive ‘adventure tourism’ industry in Thailand and went on a white-water rafting trip down the Mae Tang River. Streaming out of the mountains like Willy Wonka’s river of chocolate (or other suitable brown substance), the Mae Tang is ostensibly Thailand’s best river for rapids and rafting.

RAFTING! YEAH!

We went with The Peak Adventure Tours (www.thepeakadventure.com) and at almost $40 per head it was a pretty good value monetarily. It was a long day, 2 hours from Chiang Mai to the river, then a 45 minute harrowing, gut churning off-road ride along the slopes up to the launch site. The truck ride over the unpaved, crudely carved road was the gnarliest part of the whole adventure, in my opinion. Once at the launch site we had to wait and unpleasant and rather ‘nervous making’ hour for one of our group to finish the elephant riding portion of her day. After an even more unsettling ‘safety talk’ that was great because I got to watch Katie flail as she paddled the raft on dry land, to the sharp admonitions of the wiry rafting guide, we donned our helmets, were cinched into our lifejackets and boarded the rafts. Kate and I were in a raft with a couple from San Francisco, funny enough considering how few Americans we’ve seen thus far.

Our guide was great, a 3 year veteran with a steady hand on the paddle, and he led us through two hours of rapids, hollers and mouthfuls of fetid river water. It was a blast once we got on the water, despite the extended waiting. Due to it being monsoon season, all the rapids were rated Level 4 (very difficult) and we got tossed around quite a bit. The guides on the other two rafts were younger than ours and quite mischievous, flirting with their charges and performing feats of derring-do such as diving off the raft and swimming through some of the crazier rapids. It was a sight to see them whip those rafts around though. They have a much more cavalier attitude than I have seen in the states, jackknifing themselves backwards out of the boat and pulling hard on the paddle. All very impressive.

Though it would have provided some of the best pictures, we couldn’t take anything lose-able or non-waterproof with us on the boat (including glasses which made the trip all the more interesting for the two of us, being unable to see the course ahead and all). One of the shore-crew (we were followed by a team of 5 with throw ropes and superior swimming skills to save the shweaty farangs) took some pictures though and we’re expecting those in our e-mail in the next couple of days. Afterward we came back to the guesthouse, bathed thoroughly, indulged in the burritos discussed below and went out for a rousing night on the town with the crew of truly mad Irish we’ve been associating with. More on them later.

Farang Food

So, as alluded to above, we’ve now broken down twice out of culinary homesickness and indulged in Western food. The first time was hamburgers, and it was premeditated. We had a long sweaty walk across town during our epic travels trying to find a computer charger and knew our walk would lead us past one location of Mike’s Burgers, something of a Chiang Mai institution.

Mike’s is a funky 50’s diner-styled burger stand that loads you up on beef and grease for about 3 bucks a burger. When we went we were famished and I downed a double-burger and a single, with two orders of fries. I felt suited to playing the role of the American abroad, stuffing my face with quirky facsimiles of our beloved beef sandwich, sweating on a Thai roadside. The burgers were good though, and the milkshakes rejuvenating. Afterward as we ambled down to 7-11 (which has quite successfully colonized Thailand), we couldn’t help laughing at the sneering disdain we had heaped upon other travelers we saw eating Western food when we first arrived. We now understand.

Our second break with Thai cuisine came last night (Wednesday) when after a long day rafting we spotted a bright red BURRITOS sign across the moat (Old Chiang Mai, which means New Walled City, is surrounded by a moat and the remnants of the eponymous city wall), and knew our search for dinner had come to an end. It was, hilariously enough, the single most expensive meal we’ve had in Thailand to date, coming in at about 20 dollars for burritos, chips and guacamole (surprisingly well made) and cocktails. I had a ‘grilled beefsteak’ (carne asada to those in the know) burrito and Katie went with the pork and red chili’s. Hers was too spicy to completely finish (it didn’t hurt that these things were about a foot long) but I positively plowed through mine, and the food-high was so good that we actually made our way to the back of the restaurant to personally thank the owner and compliment his fidelity to a true California-style burrito.

Sadly enough, we don’t have pictures of these two particular meals, but then of course most of our readers are fully familiar with what they looked like.

Chiang Mai and Beyond

In Chiang Mai our social life has skyrocketed relative to the first few stops we made. The common room at Julie Guesthouse is a happenin’ spot and we’ve met interesting people from all over the English- and German-speaking world. From Buddhist masseurs to party pilgrims, they each have interesting stories and tips for the road.

Building off those same tips we have begun to construct an itinerary for our next weeks in S.E.A. Tomorrow the TempleNuts are off to Pai, Thailand. The town is small and mostly a jumping off point for multiple adventure-tourism activities and a place to unwind (as if anywhere here isn’t), but comes highly recommended from sources both at home and on the road, and has been a big destination on our list since we were planning in the States. After that, we’re moving on to the Lao People’s Republic, a country that apparently chills harder than anywhere else on the planet. To get there, we’re foregoing the usual bus ride and signing on for a two day ‘slow boat’ cruise down the Mekong to the Lao cultural capitol of Luang Prabang. After that its off to the political capitol Vientiane. From there it’s anyone’s guess, but we hear that it is relatively easy to secure a Vietnam visa in Vientiane by visiting the consulate (no mailing of passports required, thank god). If this is so, and we feel up to it, we may detour in to Vietnam and use it as a path to bridge our time in Laos and Cambodia. That’s as far as we have planned right now, and the beauty of our travel plans is that there aren’t any!