Monday, February 16, 2015

Thailand and Laos - Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and Luang Prabang

Top left: Ruins of Ayutthaya. Top right: Bathing elephants at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. Bottom left: Monks receiving alms in Luang Prabang, Laos. Bottom right: Mangosteen.


I wish I wasn't a planner.

My husband Mike and I spent weeks booking our trip to Thailand and Vietnam but less than a week before we left, violent anti-China protests in Vietnam spooked us (only me, actually). Thousands-strong mobs in Vietnam took to the streets to protest Beijing's decision to set up an oil rig in an area in the South China Sea that both China and Vietnam claim as sovereign territory. During the protests, Chinese-owned factories were torched, leaving 21 people dead, hundreds injured, and sending Chinese nationals fleeing to Cambodia. In the aftermath, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and China issued travel advisories to its citizens to avoid Vietnam and sent boats and planes to evacuate thousands.

My mom and Mike's dad called us and asked us to cancel our trip to Vietnam. We're Americans - born and raised in California - but we are ethnically Chinese. I was afraid we could be targeted if anti-Chinese protests escalated. It was enough for me to embark on the painful task of changing and canceling flights, hotels, activities, and a cruise. Never mind the Vietnam visas that we'll never use! We also had to pick a new destination and book flights, hotels, and activities within a few days. We tossed around ideas and after doing some research we ended up selecting Luang Prabang, Laos. We really wanted to go to Myanmar but we think we'll need more than just 4 days so Myanmar will have to wait for a future trip.

We traveled in late-May-early June 2014 and our final itinerary was:
  • Bangkok, Thailand - 4 days
  • Chiang Mai, Thailand - 5 days
  • Luang Prabang, Laos - 4 days
  • Bangkok, Thailand - 1 day
Temperatures in June were around 95-100F and humidity was around 70-80%. We wore shorts and tank tops everywhere but had to cover up when we went inside temples. On the days I knew I'd be visiting a temple I wore long pants and a long shirt. I also wore slip-on shoes because you must remove your shoes whenever you step inside a temple. I used a lot of bug repellent to avoid getting bug bites. We were there for almost 2 weeks and I came out with only 7 bug bites. Not bad... Mosquitoes love me so I usually get many more bites!

Something amusing about Southeast Asia in general: the term "same same" is commonly used. It could mean "the same thing," "something similar," or "close enough" to what you're asking for. If you walk into a shop and ask for a blue hat, the shop keeper might show you a black hat and say "same same." I once ordered a chicken Vietnamese sandwich in Ho Chi Minh City and loved it so much that I wanted another one to go. The waitress looked at me in confusion when I said I wanted another sandwich. It took a few tries before she asked, "same same?" I replied "same same" and got another sandwich. The more amusing application of this phrase is when you ask for something and you're presented with something not even remotely resembling what you asked for. This is known as "same same, but different" and there are t-shirts with this saying printed on it. I saw them all over Bangkok and Luang Prabang. :o)

A note about drinking water and ice: We only drank bottled water or water that had been boiled. We avoided ice in our drinks unless it was cylindrical with a hole in it which meant the ice was produced commercially in hygienic conditions. We also found that the ice served in restaurants was pretty safe. So go on, enjoy that Thai ice tea!

Bangkok, Thailand - 4 days
  • Our flight from SFO started off on a positive note, given that it was scheduled to depart at 1:40AM! The flight was full and we were sitting one row apart - each of us in the middle seat. A married couple sat in my row, one on either side of me. They asked if I would take the aisle seat so they could sit together. Sure! Then the woman sitting next to Mike in the aisle seat offered to switch with me so we could sit together. Perfect!
  • We landed at BKK airport and headed to the official airport taxi line. An official taxi service attendant fills out a form so you have a record of the service and the taxi driver does as well. While we in line I ask the attendant roughly how much the journey will be and he quotes me 400 baht. For reference, US$1 = 31 baht. I had no idea if it was a decent rate and the taxi driver never turned on the meter. We didn't realize until later that he should've had him turn on the meter and that it should have only cost us about 170 baht. Even with a 50 baht surcharge for all taxis coming from the airport (which is legit) we should've only paid 220 baht. Scammed already and we had only just left the airport! Anyway, we were scammed out of about US$6 which isn't much but it angers me that someone from the official taxi service is in on this with taxi drivers! There is a complaint section on the back of the form but it seems like a lot of effort when I probably won't even get anything back. LESSON: make sure the taxi meter is on.
  • We got a Rabbit Card, the stored value card for the Bangkok skytrain and metro line. You have to pay a 50 baht deposit and the card can be recharged for a minimum of 100 baht each time. When we left Bangkok we turned in the Rabbit Card and got the remaining funds as well as the 50 baht deposit back. I collect transit cards so I wanted to keep one for my transit card collection but I thought the single journey ticket looked better so I just bought one for 15 baht. :o)
Transit card collection
Transit card collection
Top row L-R: Tokyo, London, Istanbul
2nd row L-R: Hong Kong, New York City, Paris
3rd row L-R: Chicago, Washington DC, Bangkok
Bottom row L-R: Budapest, Boston, Amsterdam
  • We stayed with Mike's extended family just outside of Bangkok so we enjoyed many home cooked meals. And the fruit! We had several helpings of delicious fruit at every meal.
Bangkok - Home cooked meal
Bangkok - Home cooked meal

Bangkok - Lychee and mango and sticky rice
Bangkok - Lychee and mango and sticky rice

Bangkok - Mangosteen
Bangkok - Mangosteen - it was my first time having it. Delicious! It's tart and has the consistency of a really pillowy banana. It turns to juicy mush the moment you try to handle it so you have to carefully remove it from the shell.
  • We went to see the Golden Buddha in the temple of Wat Traimit. At 3 meters tall it's the world's largest gold statue, and weighing in at 5.5 tons it's estimated to be worth $250 million dollars. It was thought to have been made during the Sukhothai period in the 13th-14th centuries. It was covered with plaster to prevent it from being stolen and it remained largely forgotten for hundreds of years. A new building was built at Wat Traimit in 1954 so it was decided the buddha would be moved there and upon moving it, a part of the plaster cracked, revealing the gold statue beneath. In 2010 the buddha was moved to a new chapel in Wat Traimit where it still resides.
  • Mike's family friend accompanied us sightseeing and as a Thai national he didn't pay an entrance fee but foreigners have an entrance fee of 40 baht (US$1.25). Get used to that tourist tax. :o)
Bangkok - Golden Buddha
Bangkok - Golden Buddha
  • We went to see the Reclining Buddha in Wat Po. At 15 meters high and 43 meters long it's so enormous that it's difficult to fit it in one picture. Entrance fee is 100 baht (US$3).
Bangkok - Provided robe
Bangkok - If you're not dressed appropriately for the temple you can cover up by putting on one of these robes

Bangkok - Reclining Buddha
Bangkok - Reclining Buddha

Bangkok - Reclining Buddha
Bangkok - Reclining Buddha. Be sure to check out the feet which are inlaid with mother-of-pearl.

Bangkok - Signs posted around the Reclining Buddha
Bangkok - Signs posted around the Reclining Buddha. I didn't notice any pickpockets but it's good to be aware.

Bangkok - President Obama visited
Bangkok - President Obama visited and signed the visitor book at the Reclining Buddha

Bangkok - This security guard took picture-taking very seriously
Bangkok - This security guard took picture-taking very seriously

Bangkok - We got a picture with most of the Reclining Buddha
Bangkok - We got a picture with most of the Reclining Buddha

Bangkok - Tourists get free drinking water at Wat Pho
Bangkok - Tourists get free drinking water at Wat Pho. Save your ticket!

Bangkok - Wat Pho - Four massive chedis
Bangkok - Wat Pho - Four massive chedis dedicated to the four Chakri kings

Bangkok - Wat Pho - Row of golden Buddhas

Bangkok - Wat Pho - Smaller chedis contain the ashes of the royal family
Bangkok - Wat Pho - Smaller chedis contain the ashes of the royal family
  • We went to a place for an amazing BBQ chicken lunch. I can't find the name of this restaurant in English, sorry!
Bangkok - BBQ chicken and super spicy papaya salad
Bangkok - BBQ chicken and super spicy papaya salad

Bangkok - Exterior of the BBQ chicken lunch spot
Bangkok - Exterior of the BBQ chicken lunch spot
  • We visited the Chatuchak weekend market. The market is massive and it sells almost everything you can think of. There are also tons of food stalls around so bring your appetite! I bought a replacement iPhone bumper and when I show a stall merchant my current bumper I told him I wanted to find something similar. He asked me, "Same same?" I said, yes, "Same same." I love that.
Bangkok - Chatuchak market
Bangkok - Chatuchak market

Bangkok - It was so hot we stopped for some coconut ice cream
Bangkok - It was so hot that we stopped for some coconut ice cream and toppings

Bangkok - Coconut ice cream with sticky rice and lod chong, a tapioca flour noodle
Bangkok - Coconut ice cream with sticky rice and lod chong, a noodle made with tapioca and rice flour and pandan water. Don't they look like green beans?

Bangkok - I love that each aisle at Chatuchak market has a QR code

Bangkok - Food stalls at Chatuchak market
Bangkok - Food stalls at Chatuchak market

Bangkok - Food stalls at Chatuchak market
Bangkok - Food stalls at Chatuchak market

Bangkok - A vendor transporting his goods
Bangkok - A vendor transporting his goods
  • Mike and I met swing dancing so we always looks for places to dance when we travel. We went to The Hop on Silom Road to have a few dances with the Bangkok crowd. Thailand was under martial law at the time so we had a curfew of 10pm which made it hard to enjoy nightlife. We got in a few dances before we had to find a taxi and head back home for the evening.
Bangkok - Lindy hopping at The Hop
Bangkok - Lindy hopping at The Hop
  • We took a day trip to visit Ayutthaya, the second capital of Siam after Sukhothai. It's about an hour north of Bangkok by car. Believe it or not it was even hotter than Bangkok and the recorded temperature on the day we visited was 99F. I used to make fun of my mom for using her umbrella to shield her from the sun but I was desperate. I wore my giant sun hat AND used the umbrella. I'll never make fun of her again because the umbrella was a lifesaver. I used it during the rest of our trip and I'm so glad I brought it! Please read about my sweet Tiger Mom on my other blog. It's full of funny conversations and lots of her advice: http://tigermomknowsbest.tumblr.com
  • There are many ruins at Ayutthaya and it would take several hours to visit them all so we only went to a few. Some temples charge a 50 baht fee for foreigners and 10 baht for Thais. There is no dress code but visitors are asked to not climb on the walls or the Buddha statues (yes, it does happen). There are signs posted about the Dos and Don'ts but just exercise good judgment and you should be fine.
Ayutthaya - Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon
Ayutthaya - Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon - Climb to the top of the structure for great views and make an offering inside

Ayutthaya - Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon - Temple visitors apply small gold leaf squares to Buddha statues
Ayutthaya - Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon - Temple visitors apply small gold leaf squares to Buddha statues

Ayutthaya - Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon - Armed with my hat and umbrella to combat the 99F weather
Ayutthaya - Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon - Armed with my hat and umbrella to combat the 99F weather

Ayutthaya - Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon - View from the top of the large temple
Ayutthaya - Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon - View from the top of the large temple

Ayutthaya - Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon - A dog takes an afternoon nap in the heat
Ayutthaya - Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon - A dog takes an afternoon nap in the heat

Ayutthaya - Sign placed outside of Wat Phra Ram
Ayutthaya - Sign placed outside of Wat Phra Ram

Ayutthaya - Sign placed outside of Wat Phra Ram
Ayutthaya - Sign placed outside of Wat Phra Ram asking visitors not to climb on walls or the Buddha statues

Ayutthaya - Wat Phra Ram
Ayutthaya - Wat Phra Ram. 50 baht entrance fee (US$1.50).

Ayutthaya - Beheaded Buddha statue at Wat Phra Ram
Ayutthaya - Wat Phra Ram was burned and destroyed by the Burmese army when they invaded Ayutthaya in 1767. Many Buddha statues were beheaded and destroyed.

Ayutthaya - Wat Phra Ram
Ayutthaya - Wat Phra Ram

Ayutthaya - Dog paw set in a brick at Wat Phra Ram
Ayutthaya - Dog paw set in a brick at Wat Phra Ram

Ayutthaya - Wat Phra Si Sanphet is the largest temple in Ayutthaya and it's housed on the grounds of the former royal palace
Ayutthaya - Wat Phra Si Sanphet is the largest temple in Ayutthaya and it's housed on the grounds of the former royal palace

Ayutthaya - Dogs trying to stay cool in the heat
Ayutthaya - There are lots of stray dogs wandering around Ayutthaya. Some dogs dig holes in the ground so they can lie on cool dirt near Wat Phra Si Sanphet.

Ayutthaya - Wat Phra Mahathat, known for a tree that has grown around a Buddha head
Ayutthaya - Wat Phra Mahathat, known for a tree that has grown around a Buddha head. When taking pictures of you and the Buddha head, make sure you kneel to show respect, as it is considered holy by Thais. 50 baht entrance fee (US$1.50)

Ayutthaya - Wat Phra Mahathat, the Buddha head attracts a crowd
Ayutthaya - Wat Phra Mahathat, the Buddha head attracts a crowd

Ayutthaya - Wat Phra Mahathat - close up of the Buddha head
Ayutthaya - Wat Phra Mahathat - close up of the Buddha head
  • We stopped for lunch at Pae Krung Kao, a floating restaurant that is known for serving river prawns. The food was good but it was relatively expensive (river prawns run from 400-900 baht EACH). We did order 3 so our bill was pretty high. Lunch ran us 2250 baht (about US$70) for 4 people. Read reviews of Pae Krung Kao on TripAdvisor.
Ayutthaya - Floating restaurant Pae Krung Kao
Ayutthaya - Floating restaurant Pae Krung Kao

Ayutthaya - Floating restaurant Pae Krung Kao
Ayutthaya - Floating restaurant Pae Krung Kao

Ayutthaya - Mixed vegetables and river prawn with garlic at Pae Krung Kao
Ayutthaya - Mixed vegetables and river prawn with garlic at Pae Krung Kao

Ayutthaya - Grilled river prawn with garlic and tom yum goong soup - that was spicy!
Ayutthaya - Grilled river prawn with garlic and tom yum goong soup - that was spicy!

Ayutthaya - View of the river from Pae Krung Kao restaurant
Ayutthaya - View of the river from Pae Krung Kao restaurant

Ayutthaya - Us in front of the river from Pae Krung Kao restaurant
Ayutthaya - We tried to take a picture from the restaurant but it was backlit. You're supposed to see the river in back of us. :o)
  • We made a quick stop at the Ayothaya Floating Market. I was expecting something a little different but this seemed like it was built specifically for tourists. There are merchants selling souvenirs, snacks, and you can pay a few baht to feed fish or... baby goats. If you're pressed for time you can easily skip this.
Ayutthaya - Feed some penned in baby goats at Ayothaya Floating Market
Ayutthaya - Feed some penned in baby goats at Ayothaya Floating Market

Ayutthaya - Feed some fish at Ayothaya Floating Market
Ayutthaya - Feed some fish at Ayothaya Floating Market

Ayutthaya - Ayothaya Floating Market - Merchant selling Roti Saimai
Ayutthaya - Ayothaya Floating Market - Merchant selling Roti Saimai, Thai-style candy floss which you eat wrapped in roti. It's like cotton candy except the sugar comes in threads.

Ayutthaya - The Asian Squat
Ayutthaya - Ayothaya Floating Market - I always get a kick out of seeing The Asian Squat.

Ayutthaya - Ayothaya Floating Market
Ayutthaya - Ayothaya Floating Market

Ayutthaya - Ayothaya Floating Market - Getting some coconut ice cream
Ayutthaya - Ayothaya Floating Market - Getting some coconut ice cream

Ayutthaya - Ayothaya Floating Market - Can't wait to dig into that coconut ice cream
Ayutthaya - Ayothaya Floating Market - Can't wait to dig into that coconut ice cream
  • The next day we met up with Mike's cousin Tim to get a bunch of street food. Tim is from Los Angeles, California but he's lived in Bangkok for a few years so he showed us around. We started at Convent Road near the Saladaeng BTS station.
Bangkok - I bet you've never seen Pad Thai made like this before
Bangkok - I bet you've never need Pad Thai made like this before

Bangkok - Coconut milk custard with various fillings
Bangkok - Khanom Krok - Coconut milk custard with various fillings

Bangkok - Khanom Krok
Bangkok - Coconut milk custard with various fillings (corn and onion). 10 little pancakes for 20 baht (US$0.60)!

Bangkok - I love meat on a stick
Bangkok - I love meat on a stick. This was some tasty pork! 1 skewer for 7 baht (US$0.20).

Bangkok - Grilled meat cart
Bangkok - Grilled meat cart

Bangkok - Mike and Tim buying some jackfruit
Bangkok - Mike and Tim buying some jackfruit

Bangkok - Fresh coconut water
Bangkok - Fresh coconut water

Bangkok - Noodle stand
Bangkok - Noodle stand

Bangkok - Wonton noodle soup
Bangkok - Wonton noodle soup

Bangkok - Tim leads us to the cart that serves the best stewed pork leg over rice
Bangkok - Tim leads us to the cart that serves the best stewed pork leg over rice

Bangkok - You always have to get an egg with that
Bangkok - You always have to get an egg with that

Bangkok - Time to enjoy some pork and rice
Bangkok - Time to enjoy some pork and rice

Bangkok - Stewed pork leg over rice
Bangkok - Stewed pork leg over rice
  • Tim took us to an awesome restaurant called Somtum Der at 5/5 Sala Daeng Road near where we had all the street food on Convent Road. We ordered a ton of meat dishes and they were all very tasty. Read reviews for Somtum Der on TripAdvisor.
Bangkok - Somtum Der restaurant
Bangkok - Somtum Der restaurant

Bangkok - Fried chicken wings
Bangkok - Fried chicken wings at Somtum Der

Bangkok - Coconut milk marinated pork skewers
Bangkok - Coconut milk marinated pork skewers at Somtum Der

Bangkok - Grilled pork
Bangkok - Grilled pork at Somtum Der

Bangkok - Fried larb moo at Somtum Der
Bangkok - Fried larb moo at Somtum Der

Bangkok - Tim's friends Alex and Mam joined us at Somtum Der
Bangkok - Tim's friends Alex and Mam joined us at Somtum Der. Alex and Mam own a restaurant in Bangkok called Vietnamese and More. We went there for dinner on our last night in Bangkok and it was the best food I had the entire trip. Apparently I'm in good company because a ton of people love their restaurant! Read reviews for Vietnamese and More on TripAdvisor.

Bangkok - We make a stop for bubble tea at a nearby mall
Bangkok - We make a stop for bubble tea at a nearby mall

Bangkok - Two teas for me. That's how I do it.
Bangkok - Two teas for me. That's how I do it.
  • As I mentioned above, Tim's friends Alex and Mam own a restaurant called Vietnamese and More. Mam does all the grocery shopping for the restaurant (at 5am!) so she took us to the market she goes to. It's called a wet market for good reason. The ground is all wet so wear sneakers or better yet, boots.
Bangkok - Wet market
Bangkok - Wet market

Bangkok - Wet market vegetable stalls
Bangkok - Wet market vegetable stalls

Bangkok - Wet market meat stalls
Bangkok - Wet market meat stalls

Bangkok - Wet market pork for sale
Bangkok - Wet market pork for sale

Bangkok - Wet market
Bangkok - Wet market

Bangkok - Wet market - the fish is so fresh that it jumps off the table
Bangkok - Wet market - the fish is so fresh that it jumps off the table

video
Bangkok - Wet market - fresh shrimp jumping around

Bangkok - Wet market - Porters set up their baskets in the center of the market
Bangkok - Wet market - Porters set up their baskets in the center of the market. They can be hired if you have a lot to cart around.

Bangkok - Wet market - Hire one of these guys for 60 baht to pick up and wheel your groceries to your car
Bangkok - Wet market - Hire one of these guys for 60 baht to pick up and wheel your groceries to your car

Bangkok - Wet market - baby birds of some sort
Bangkok - Wet market - baby birds of some sort

Bangkok - Wet market - meat stalls
Bangkok - Wet market - meat stalls 

Bangkok - Wet market - people shop by motorbike!
Bangkok - Wet market - people shop by motorbike!

Bangkok - Wet market - mangosteen and rambutan
Bangkok - Wet market - mangosteen and rambutan

Bangkok - This is what mangosteen and rambutan look like when they're peeled
Bangkok - This is what mangosteen and rambutan look like when they're peeled

Bangkok - Wet market - You can buy drinks served in plastic bags
Bangkok - Wet market - You can buy drinks served in plastic bags

Bangkok - You can get a lift on the back of a motorcycle if you're in a hurry
Bangkok - You can get a lift on the back of a motorcycle if you're in a hurry. 40 baht for a ride. We were late for our massage at Health Land but these guys got us there on time!

Bangkok - Motorcycle rides for hire
Bangkok - Motorcycle rides for hire
  • We visited Health Land twice before we left Bangkok. We went to the one at Asoke and one at Ekamai. I got an hour and a half aromatherapy massage for 850 baht (about US$27!) and then a one hour foot massage for 280 baht (about US$9). The facilities are really clean and nice. Reviews of Health Land Asoke on TripAdvisor.
Bangkok - Health Land Asoke location
Bangkok - Health Land Asoke location

Bangkok - Health Land Asoke entrance
Bangkok - Health Land Asoke entrance

Bangkok - Health Land Asoke lobby
Bangkok - Health Land Asoke lobby

Bangkok - Health Land Asoke massage therapy room with shower
Bangkok - Health Land Asoke massage therapy room with shower

Bangkok - Health Land Ekamai location
Bangkok - Health Land Ekamai location

Chiang Mai - 5 days
  • We flew from Bangkok to Chiang Mai (BKK-CNX) on Bangkok Airways. Tickets were only US$40 per person! The flight took about an hour and a half.
  • We stayed at the Dusit D2 on 100 Changklan Road. I booked a room on Orbitz for about US$70 a night (including free wi-fi in the room). The hotel was pretty nice and it was right around the corner from the night market and about an 8 minute walk to the Old City. Reviews of Dusit D2 on TripAdvisor.
Chiang Mai - Dusit D2 lobby
Chiang Mai - Dusit D2 lobby

Chiang Mai - Our room at Dusit D2
Chiang Mai - Our room at Dusit D2

Chiang Mai - Our bathroom at Dusit D2
Chiang Mai - Our bathroom at Dusit D2

Chiang Mai - Our bathroom at Dusit D2
Chiang Mai - Our bathroom at Dusit D2

Chiang Mai - Our first meal in Chiang Mai - pad thai and fried mama
Chiang Mai - Our first meal in Chiang Mai - pad thai and fried mama

Chiang Mai - Our first of many rotee desserts
Chiang Mai - Our first of many rotee desserts

Chiang Mai - Nutella rotee
Chiang Mai - Nutella rotee

Chiang Mai - The Phae Gate - the eastern entrance into the Old City
Chiang Mai - The Phae Gate - the eastern entrance into the Old City

Chiang Mai - I saw a guy giving out free hugs so I had to get one. I love free hugs!
Chiang Mai - I saw a guy giving out free hugs so I had to get one. I love free hugs!

Chiang Mai - Thailand had just gone through a coup so the military were everywhere
Chiang Mai - Thailand had just gone through a coup so the military were everywhere

Chiang Mai - Tourists love taking pictures with the Royal Thai Army
Chiang Mai - Tourists love taking pictures with the Royal Thai Army

Chiang Mai - Okay I had to take a selfie with one of the military guys
Chiang Mai - Okay, I had to take a selfie with one of the military guys

Chiang Mai - Streets inside the Old City
Chiang Mai - Streets inside the Old City

Chiang Mai - We came across a night market but it was mostly food
Chiang Mai - We came across a night market but it was mostly food. Score!

Chiang Mai - Meat on skewers. Good.
Chiang Mai - Meat on skewers. Good.

Chiang Mai - Seating provided in the center of the street.
Chiang Mai - Seating provided in the center of the street.

Chiang Mai - Pad thai for 30 baht!
Chiang Mai - Pad thai for 30 baht (US$1)!

Chiang Mai - Small portions but it was tasty
Chiang Mai - Small portions but it was tasty

Chiang Mai - Noodles for 15 baht
Chiang Mai - Noodles from this stand were 15 baht (US$0.50)

Chiang Mai - Mike digs in. Can you believe we got a seat?
Chiang Mai - Mike digs in. Can you believe we got a seat?

Chiang Mai - There was even a section of carnival rides, games, and balloons
Chiang Mai - There was even a section of carnival rides, games, and balloons

Chiang Mai - Even the monks come out to enjoy the festivities
Chiang Mai - Even the monks come out to enjoy the festivities

Chiang Mai - Uh, does this make anyone else nervous?
Chiang Mai - Uh, does this make anyone else nervous?

Chiang Mai - I love checking out the snacks section in foreign countries
Chiang Mai - I love checking out the snacks section in foreign countries

Chiang Mai - Lay's flavors - salmon, seaweed, sweet basil, and scallop
Chiang Mai - Lay's flavors - salmon, seaweed, sweet basil, and scallop
  • We took a half-day morning cooking class with Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre. It was a lot of fun and the experience was very hands on. Some instructors spoke English really well and they guided us through the whole cooking process. Each student selected dishes they wanted to prepare. The half day course cost 800 baht (US$25) per person and it started off with a trip to the market to pick up ingredients (Mike and I used the opportunity to eat from some vendor stalls!). After the market tour we returned to the center to prep and cook everything. At the end of instruction we got to enjoy our meal with our fellow classmates. The prep/cooking area was in a covered outside location but the dining room was in an air conditioned room. Read reviews for Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre on TripAdvisor.
Chiang Mai - Heading to the market to shop for ingredients
Chiang Mai - Heading to the market to shop for ingredients

Chiang Mai - Shopping for veggies and peppers
Chiang Mai - Shopping for veggies and peppers

Chiang Mai - The market is huge
Chiang Mai - The market is huge

Chiang Mai - Fish and meat section
Chiang Mai - Fish and meat section

Chiang Mai - More coconut milk custard tarts!
Chiang Mai - More coconut milk custard tarts!

Chiang Mai - The lady selling these noodles was nice enough to let us try the noodles before we bought them. The rice noodles were served with a sweet soupy sauce. Delicious!
Chiang Mai - The lady selling these noodles was nice enough to let us try the noodles before we bought them. The rice noodles were served with a sweet soupy sauce. Delicious!

Chiang Mai - Making Tom Yum Goong
Chiang Mai - Back at the cooking school... I thought the process was very efficient. They grouped us based on the dish we were making and here we were smashing lemongrass to make Tom Yum Goong soup.

Chiang Mai - Making Tom Yum Goong
Chiang Mai - Making Tom Yum Goong - After we prepped our ingredients we got set up at our cooking station.

Chiang Mai - We got to control the spiciness of our Tom Yum Goong
Chiang Mai - We got to control the spiciness of our Tom Yum Goong. Mine is on the right, notice that it's not as red as my neighbor's? I'm a wimp and I can't eat spicy food!

Chiang Mai - My classmates and I making Tom Yum Goong
Chiang Mai - My classmates and I making Tom Yum Goong

Chiang Mai - My finished Tom Yum Goong!
Chiang Mai - My finished Tom Yum Goong!

Chiang Mai - Mike making his spicy soup with chicken
Chiang Mai - Mike making his spicy soup with chicken

Chiang Mai - Mincing peppers to make red curry paste
Chiang Mai - Mincing peppers to make red curry paste

Chiang Mai - Mike making red curry paste
Chiang Mai - Mike making red curry paste

Chiang Mai - Making Pad Thai
Chiang Mai - Making Pad Thai

Chiang Mai - Done with cooking!
Chiang Mai - Done with cooking!

Chiang Mai - I made Pad Thai and Khao Soi. It was delicious!!
Chiang Mai - I made Pad Thai and Khao Soi. It was delicious!!

Chiang Mai - We loved our instructor
Chiang Mai - We loved our instructor

Chiang Mai - Leave a message or your name tag at Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre
Chiang Mai - Leave a message or your name tag at Thai Kitchen Cookery Centre

Chiang Mai - I loved khao soi so much that we went in search of more right after our cooking  class
Chiang Mai - I loved khao soi so much that we went in search of more right after our cooking  class. We visited Aroon Rai which we read was also visited by Anthony Bourdain.

Chiang Mai - Khoa soi at Aroon Rai was spicy (for me)
Chiang Mai - Khoa soi at Aroon Rai was spicy (for me)

Chiang Mai - We took a tuk tuk and zipped through town
Chiang Mai - We took a tuk tuk and zipped through town

Chiang Mai - In case you don't know what a tuk tuk looks like :o)
Chiang Mai - In case you don't know what a tuk tuk looks like :o)
  • We wanted to see elephants while we were in Thailand but I didn't want to patronize a place that exploited animals. We specifically chose a sanctuary where we COULD NOT ride, watch them perform, paint, or play soccer. We spent a day at Elephant Nature Park to observe and interact with rescued elephants. It was 2500 baht per adult (about US$78). Read reviews for Elephant Nature Park on TripAdvisor. The conservatory is about an hour away from Chiang Mai (they pick you up) and once you're there you:
    • Feed a few elephants
    • Take a short walk around the grounds to meet and learn the back story of certain elephants. A few elephants were injured while working as logging elephants - one was blinded by her handlers, another had a displaced hip, and we saw another elephant who sustained injuries by stepping on a land mine.
    • Watch a film about Elephant Nature Park's owner Lek Chailert. Warning - a portion of the film shows how elephants are trained (essentially tortured and had their spirits broken) by mahouts. It's hard to watch. :o(
    • Eat lunch
    • Bathe elephants in the river
    • Tour their facilities and observe baby elephants (you can't touch or feed the babies)
Chiang Mai - Getting ready to feed the elephants
Chiang Mai - Getting ready to feed the elephants

Chiang Mai - We had to maintain a healthy distance when feeding the elephants
Chiang Mai - We had to maintain a healthy distance when feeding the elephants

Chiang Mai - Elephant trunks feel funny!
Chiang Mai - Elephant trunks feel funny!


video
Chiang Mai - Elephants eat up to 10% of their body weight a day

Chiang Mai - Elephants gathering at lunch time
Chiang Mai - Elephants gathering at lunch time

Chiang Mai - These elephants are so big!
Chiang Mai - Notice how this elephant is covered with 
a thin layer of dirt? It acts as a natural sunscreen.

Chiang Mai - Lunch at Elephant Nature Park
Chiang Mai - Our lunch at Elephant Nature Park

Chiang Mai - Lunch at Elephant Nature Park
Chiang Mai - Lunch at Elephant Nature Park

Chiang Mai - Elephant with a displaced hip
Chiang Mai - This elephant had a displaced hip so she couldn't move around easily

Chiang Mai - Bath time for the elephants
Chiang Mai - Bath time for the elephants

Chiang Mai - You can get up close to the elephants
Chiang Mai - You can get up close to the elephants

Chiang Mai - You use tiny buckets to "bathe" the elephants
Chiang Mai - You use tiny buckets to "bathe" the elephants. Really it was like throwing a thimble of water on them. They're massive!

Chiang Mai - We observe the elephants coming back from their bath
Chiang Mai - We observe the elephants coming back from their bath

Chiang Mai - Elephants enjoying an after bath snack
Chiang Mai - Elephants enjoying an after bath snack

Chiang Mai - Look at those long eye lashes
Chiang Mai - Look at those long eye lashes

Chiang Mai - Everyone crowded around the baby elephant
Chiang Mai - Everyone crowded around the baby elephant of course

Chiang Mai - We were free to mix with the elephants after they ate
Chiang Mai - We were free to mix with the elephants after they ate

Chiang Mai - Elephants drying off and enjoying more fruit
Chiang Mai - Elephants drying off and enjoying more fruit

Chiang Mai - 9 month old baby elephant
Chiang Mai - This was the youngest baby elephant.
I think he was about 9 months old at the time.

Chiang Mai - 3-year-old feeding an elephant
Chiang Mai - How cute is this? A 3-year-old feeding an elephant.
  • We visited Sukhothai, the first capital of Siam. We bought bus tickets at the Chiang Mai Arcade station for same-day travel. We couldn't find a schedule posted anywhere so we just bought tickets for the next bus which I think left at around 8am. Tickets were 239 baht per person each way (US$7.50). It was a 5 hour bus ride - assigned seats, A/C, but no bathroom on board. The bus does make stops but they were very quick.
  • Tip: bring drinks and snacks. It's a long ride! 
  • Thailand was under martial law at the time of our bus trip. There were military check points and on 2 separate occasions the Royal Thai Army boarded the bus to check IDs. I stupidly didn't bring my US passport - I didn't even have my California Driver License on me! One officer asked me for my ID and I just shook my head, saying I didn't have any. I showed him my hotel key and my credit cards. My husband showed his California Driver License so he was fine. I kept pointing to our wedding rings to tell them we were married but I realized my husband and I have different last names so that didn't prove anything. Drats! I just kept saying in English that I am an American. They didn't know what to do with me so after staring at me for a bit they turned around and left. The Royal Thai Army boarded our bus a second time for another ID check but this time I pretended to be asleep and they didn't ask me. Phew! Lesson - bring your passport or ID when going on a bus journey. Especially when the country just went through a military coup.
Chiang Mai - Lunch near the Arcade bus station
Chiang Mai - We knew we had a long 5 hour journey ahead 
of us so we got lunch at a stand near the bus stop

Chiang Mai - Chicken noodle soup. Nothing like hot soup on a hot day!
Chiang Mai - Chicken noodle soup. Nothing like hot soup on a hot day!

Chiang Mai - Who doesn't love outdoor dining?
Chiang Mai - Who doesn't love outdoor dining?

Chiang Mai - Making a condiment of hot peppers and fish sauce
Chiang Mai - Restaurant making a condiment of hot peppers and fish sauce

Chiang Mai - You know how I said there's assigned seating? These are the seat numbers.
Chiang Mai - You know how I said there's assigned seating? 
These are the seat numbers. :o)

  • We arrived at Sukhothai bus station and were immediately approached by tuk tuk drivers. They offered to take us around the ruins in Sukhothai National Historic Park for 3 hours at a cost of 1000 baht. They were really aggressive so we decided to find our own way around. We read about a friendly local tuk tuk driver named Prajin on Wikitravel so we contacted him (local phone number 0845-777-189). He arrived at the bus station about 10 minutes later and we agreed to a 3 hour tour for 500 baht.
  • We were starving so we asked Prajin to stop off at a restaurant so we could eat a quick lunch. He used the time to fill up on gas and make a small repair on his tuk tuk. Perfect!
  • We paid a 300 baht entrance fee to Sukhothai National Historic Park.

Old Sukhothai - Prajin behind the wheel
Old Sukhothai - Prajin behind the wheel

Old Sukhothai - Wat Mahthat
Old Sukhothai - Wat Mahthat

Old Sukhothai - Wat Mahthat - Check out the wasp nest under this statue's hand!
Old Sukhothai - Wat Mahthat - Check out the wasp nest under this statue's hand!

Old Sukhothai - Wat Mahthat
Old Sukhothai - Wat Mahthat

Old Sukhothai - Wat Si Sawai
Old Sukhothai - Wat Si Sawai

Old Sukhothai - Wat Si Sawai
Old Sukhothai - Wat Si Sawai

Old Sukhothai - View from Wat Tra Kuan
Old Sukhothai - View from Wat Tra Kuan

Old Sukhothai - Selfie in Sukhothai
Old Sukhothai - Selfie in Sukhothai

Old Sukhothai - Wat Sa Si
Old Sukhothai - Wat Sa Si

Old Sukhothai - Prajin caught a turtle for each of us to release for good luck!
Old Sukhothai - Prajin caught a turtle for each of us to release for good luck!

Old Sukhothai - First Mike
Old Sukhothai - First Mike

Old Sukhothai - Then me
Old Sukhothai - Then me

Old Sukhothai - Mike and Prajin with his tuk tuk
Old Sukhothai - Mike and Prajin with his tuk tuk

Old Sukhothai - Wrapping up our day
Old Sukhothai - Wrapping up our day

Old Sukhothai - Wat Chang Lom
Old Sukhothai - Wat Chang Lom

Old Sukhothai - Bus station
Old Sukhothai - Bus station
  • We took another 5 hour bus ride back to Chiang Mai for 239 baht per person.
  • The next day we went to a restaurant called Just Khao Soy. You can customize your order - noodle type, degree of spiciness, coconut milk or not, etc. I loved it because I could order it mild and add more coconut milk. Mike and I each ordered Khao Soy, a drink, and dessert for 424 baht (US$13). I just checked on TripAdvisor and unfortunately a few people posted that Just Khao Soy has closed! :o(

Chiang Mai - Khao Soy at Just Khao Soy restaurant
Chiang Mai - Khao Soy at Just Khao Soy restaurant
  • We wanted to see the monks receiving alms in the morning but we missed it. I think you need to be in the city center at around 6am. We did still see a few monks walking around a little later. 
Chiang Mai - Monks and martial law
Chiang Mai - Thailand was under martial law so there were military trucks and posts set up throughout the city. I thought this was an interesting shot of serenity and military power.

Chiang Mai - A monk gives a young woman a blessing after she gives him food
Chiang Mai - A monk gives a young woman a blessing after she gives him food

Chiang Mai - We were up early so we got ourselves a bowl of breakfast noodles
Chiang Mai - We were up early so we got ourselves a bowl of breakfast noodles

Laos - Luang Prabang (4 days)
  • We flew Lao Airlines from Chiang Mai (CNX) to Luang Prabang (LPQ). It was an hour flight, costing US$122 per person.
  • We got a visa for US$35 upon landing at LPQ. The cost differs for each country. We brought copies of our passport photos but you can pay an additional US$1 and they'll make copies for you.
  • The exchange rate for US$1 was about 8000 Lao Kip so we took our best estimate and accessed the ATM.
  • We took a taxi from the airport to our hotel. The price was set at 50,000 Kip (legitimate) which I read about ahead of time.
Luang Prabang - Airport
Luang Prabang - Airport
  • We stayed at Burasari Heritage which was at one end of the main area in Luang Prabang. I booked a room on Orbitz for about US$87 a night. It had spotty wifi but it was roomy with working air conditioning. The bathroom didn't have a door but the toilet and shower were tucked away a little. Reviews of Burasari Heritage on TripAdvisor.
Luang Prabang - Burasari Heritage exterior
Luang Prabang - Burasari Heritage exterior

Luang Prabang - Burasari Heritage exterior
Luang Prabang - Burasari Heritage exterior

Luang Prabang - Our room at the Burasari Heritage
Luang Prabang - Our room at the Burasari Heritage

Luang Prabang - Our room at the Burasari Heritage with the open bathroom
Luang Prabang - Our room at the Burasari Heritage with the open bathroom

Luang Prabang - Our room at the Burasari Heritage with the open bathroom
Luang Prabang - Our room at the Burasari Heritage with the open bathroom

Luang Prabang - Wat Sene
Luang Prabang - Wat Sene was a block away from our hotel

Luang Prabang - French influenced buildings
Luang Prabang - French influenced buildings

Luang Prabang - I love looking at weather-beaten doors
Luang Prabang - I love looking at weather-beaten doors

Luang Prabang - Doing some shopping at the night market
Luang Prabang - Doing some shopping at the night market

Luang Prabang - Night market
Luang Prabang - Night market
  • Many people say Luang Prabang is one of the best places to witness monks receive offerings from the locals. They are usually offered rice, fruit, and other traditional foods which they eat for their one daily meal.
  • We didn't want to miss the monks receiving alms this time so we woke up at 5:30am to witness the ritual. Luckily the procession took place just a block away from our hotel.
  • Over the years the ritual has become a big attraction which has unfortunately led to some bad behavior by tourists and tour companies. It's okay if you want to participate but do so because you're spiritual, not because it's on your bucket list. If you're just there to watch, observe the procession from a distance. Don't get in the monk's faces and please turn off your camera flash! If you do offer food, just offer food. Don't use it as a photo op.
  • I noticed a few merchants had set up tables of food for purchase. I felt it was similar to buying feed at a feed zoo. I didn't partake and I didn't see any of the other tourists purchase food either. I read that sometimes monks don't eat the purchased food which were mostly packaged snacks. They actually dispose of the snacks in a cardboard box placed along their route. Who knows that happens to the snacks... Resold again?
  • We were waiting on the far side of the street for the progression to begin when I was approached by a woman who stuck up a conversation. She told me what was going to happen and then she handed me a basket with snacks. I took it without even thinking. Then she led me across the street and told me I could kneel on this mat that was laid out, right along the procession route. It was such a smooth transition that it took me a second to realize that we were about to start handing out food to the monks! Probably for some small fee. Mike whispered to me that the monks were heading our way. I stood up and walked away, telling her that I didn't want to participate. Whew!
  • We observed the procession for several blocks, but from across the street.
Luang Prabang - Monks in procession
Luang Prabang - Monks in procession

Luang Prabang - Monks receiving offerings from locals
Luang Prabang - Monks receiving offerings from locals

Luang Prabang - Monks in procession
Luang Prabang - Monks in procession

Luang Prabang - I noticed that the youngest monk usually walked at the end of their line
Luang Prabang - I noticed that the youngest monk usually walked at the end of their line

Luang Prabang - Some monks dumped some of their unwanted food into this cardboard box
Luang Prabang - Some monks dumped some of their unwanted food into this cardboard box

Luang Prabang - Some tourists got really close to the monks to snap photos
Luang Prabang - Some tourists got really close to the monks to snap photos

Luang Prabang - Locals selling food to be given to monks
Luang Prabang - Locals selling food to be given to monks
  • We took advantage of being up super early and hiked to the top of Phousi Hill to take in the view. Entrance fee 20,000 kip (US$2.50) a person. We got there by borrowing bikes from our hotel and also rode around town for a little bit. We started at 7am before it got super hot.

Luang Prabang - Map of the Phousi Hill route
Luang Prabang - Map of the Phousi Hill route

Luang Prabang - Stairway to the top of Phousi Hill
Luang Prabang - Stairway to the top of Phousi Hill. There are some 300 steps to the top.

Luang Prabang - Resident cat of one of the temples at the top of Phousi Hill
Luang Prabang - Resident cat of one of the temples at the top of Phousi Hill

Luang Prabang - That Chomsi pagoda on Phousi Hill
Luang Prabang - That Chomsi pagoda on Phousi Hill

Luang Prabang - 360 degree view from the top of Phousi Hill
Luang Prabang - 360 degree view from the top of Phousi Hill

Luang Prabang - 360 degree view from the top of Phousi Hill
Luang Prabang - 360 degree view from the top of Phousi Hill

Luang Prabang - Monks walking around during the day
Luang Prabang - Monks walking around during the day

Luang Prabang - River view during breakfast at our hotel
Luang Prabang - River view during breakfast at our hotel

  • After breakfast we looked into an excursion to Pak Ou Caves for the next day. Pak Ou is a group of two caves that house hundreds of buddhas donated and discarded by locals.
  • Local travel agents offered a package deal for about 120,000 kip (about US$15) per person which included a tuk tuk ride to the boat dock and the boat ride to Pak Ou. We found out that the boat ride only cost 65,000 kip (US$8) per person if you bought tickets directly from the boat dock. Our hotel was only a 10 minute walk from the dock so it didn't make sense for us to take a tuk tuk. We decided to get our own boat tickets the next day. Entrance to Pak Ou cost 20,000 kip (US$2.50) per person.
  • We had dinner at Tamarind which was just down the street from our hotel. Reviews for Tamarind on TripAdvisor.

Luang Prabang - Tamarind restaurant - lemongrass stuffed with chicken
Luang Prabang - Tamarind restaurant - lemongrass stuffed with chicken

Luang Prabang - Tamarind restaurant - laap minced meat salad with herbs
Luang Prabang - Tamarind restaurant - laap minced meat salad with herbs

Luang Prabang - L'Hibiscus Spa
Luang Prabang - L'Hibiscus Spa


Luang Prabang - Boat dock
Luang Prabang - Boat dock

Luang Prabang - Ticket counter
Luang Prabang - Ticket counter

Luang Prabang - Starting our 3 hour boat ride to the Pak Ou Caves
Luang Prabang - Starting our 2 hour boat ride to the Pak Ou Caves

Luang Prabang - En route to the Pak Ou Caves
Luang Prabang - En route to the Pak Ou Caves

Luang Prabang - We stopped off at Whiskey Village on our way to Pak Ou Caves
Luang Prabang - We stopped off at Whiskey Village on our way to Pak Ou Caves

Luang Prabang - Snake wine
Luang Prabang - Snake wine

Luang Prabang - Scorpion wine
Luang Prabang - Scorpion wine

Luang Prabang - Bottoms up! Sampling some wine with our excursion mates Dominic and Max
Luang Prabang - Bottoms up! Sampling some wine with our German excursion mates Dominic and Max. We chatted with them during the boat ride and they made the 2 hour journey pass by quickly! We enjoyed lunch with them after our excursion and learned that they were in the middle of a 10 week backpacking trip. Ahhhh so lucky!

Luang Prabang - Scene from Whiskey Village
Luang Prabang - Scene from Whiskey Village. As an American 
I noticed the interesting use of this We Americans book...

Luang Prabang - Approaching Pak Ou
Luang Prabang - Approaching Pak Ou

Luang Prabang - The first cave housed hundreds of small buddhas
Luang Prabang - The first cave housed hundreds of small buddhas

Luang Prabang - The first cave housed hundreds of small buddhas
Luang Prabang - The first cave housed hundreds of small buddhas

Luang Prabang - After a short hike you come to a second cave of buddhas
Luang Prabang - After a short hike you come to the entrance of a second cave of buddhas

Luang Prabang - The cave offered a cool break from the scorching heat outside
Luang Prabang - The cave offered a cool break from the scorching heat outside

Luang Prabang - Heading back down to the boats
Luang Prabang - Heading back down to the boats

Luang Prabang - Photo op along the Mekong River
Luang Prabang - Photo op along the Mekong River
  • We returned to Tamarind restaurant for dinner where we tried fried river weed and other dishes.

Luang Prabang - Fried river weed. It was super salty!
Luang Prabang - Fried river weed. It was super salty!

Luang Prabang - Stir fried young pumpkin
Luang Prabang - Stir fried young pumpkin. Can't remember the other dish. :o)

Luang Prabang - Even monks have smartphones
Luang Prabang - Even monks have smartphones

Luang Prabang - We visited a local outdoor market
Luang Prabang - We visited a local outdoor market

Luang Prabang - Meat vendor at a local outdoor market
Luang Prabang - Meat vendor at a local outdoor market

Bangkok (1 day)
  • We took a Bangkok Airways flight from Luang Prabang back to Bangkok for one last day before returning to the US. The 2 hour flight cost US$233 per person.
  • We met up with Mike's cousin Tim again for our last night in Bangkok. He took us to the rooftop Vertigo and Moon Bar at the Banyan Tree Hotel for a drink and a breathtaking view of the glittering city at sunset. Reviews of the rooftop bar on TripAvisor.

Bangkok - Sunset at the Vertigo and Moon Bar
Bangkok - Sunset at the Vertigo and Moon Bar

Bangkok - City views from the Vertigo and Moon Bar
Bangkok - City views from the Vertigo and Moon Bar

Bangkok - Tim doing his best photo bomb
Bangkok - Tim doing his best photo bomb

Bangkok - Night time view from the Banyan Tree Hotel rooftop
Bangkok - Night time view from the Banyan Tree Hotel rooftop

Bangkok - Banyan Tree Hotel rooftop bar
Bangkok - Banyan Tree Hotel rooftop bar

  • After drinks we enjoyed a delicious dinner at Alex and Mam's restaurant Vietnamese and More. I inhaled all the food they placed before us so I only managed to take one photo of the amazing food.

Bangkok - Fresh rolls and salad at Vietnamese and More restaurant
Bangkok - Fresh rolls and salad at Vietnamese and More restaurant

  • After dinner Alex and Mam took us to Khaosan Road which is known as a gathering spot among backpackers. There are plenty of shopping stalls, food stands, restaurants, bars, and places to listen to music.

Bangkok - Khaosan Road
Bangkok - Khaosan Road


If you enjoyed reading this travel blog please check out my other trip posts:
Happy traveling and thanks for reading!