Monday, March 16, 2020

Last day and happy anniversary to us!

For our last day (and anniversary), we decided to do a Thai cooking class at Silom Thai Cooking school. We started the class at 8:40am with a trip to a local market to pick up our ingredients. Our instructor for the day was amazing! She was funny and helpful. So great! After we had our ingredients, we headed back to the classroom space. We made 5 dishes and it was tons of fun! Plus, I learned how to make mango sticky rice!!! We’d definitely recommend this place. They have a different menu each day of the week, so you could learn lots of different dishes. We even got a nice cookbook to take home with us. 

After the class, it was time for a rest and a chance to cool down. Then, we headed to the Bangkok Cultural Center. The museum was changing exhibits, so we didn’t get to see much...just one exhibit from young Thai artists. Still cool. Then, we explored the MBK Center next door (really just another mall). We were enjoying the cool air and trying to kill time until the big markets opened.

Then, we hired a tuk tuk driver to take us to a night market. Mistake. He ended up taking us the opposite direction and tried to sell us some tour of the city. Ugh. Eventually we just got out, paid him, and ordered a Grab (like Uber). We got to the Neon night market and even though it was supposed to open at 4 it was dead. So, note: don’t go to night markets until it is well after dark. No one is there!! 

Since that was a bust, we headed to a craft beer bar near Victory Monument and enjoyed some drinks and people watching from the window. Then, we took the BTS to the Mad Face Food Festival. Rob had told us about this and we’re so glad he did! Lots of great food from local restaurants. Live music. Beautiful views of the river. We were in heaven. It was also pretty dead which was good for us, but sad for all the vendors. We had some tapas, pad Thai, mini pies, lasagna, and butter chicken. Oh and some sangria for me and free beer for Mike. We likely would have eaten more, but with flights the next day I didn’t want to risk eating too much and getting sick. Still...such a great way to end our trip!!

We took the public ferry across the river and took a moment to pack our bags and rest. Then we headed out to the Asiatique market and bought some final souvenirs. Things were dead once again. :/ But they had a cool Ferris wheel and a haunted house thing that looked cool, but we were too tired to do that. 

We so enjoyed our trip to Thailand and know that we’ll be back one day soon. So much more to see...particularly in the Phuket area. 

A tale of two cities

Thursday! We started this day with a morning walk on the beach. Kamala Beach was amazing! And peaceful and scenic. I’m so glad we stayed at the Novotel Beach Resort. Really a great location. Then, we spent some time in the infinity pool overlooking the ocean. So great. I could have stayed here for another day for sure! But, alas, we had a plane to catch, so it will have to do for now. But I’ve noted it as a place to return one day. 

We returned to Bangkok in time to check into our “unique” hotel the House of Phraya Jasaen. Strange. But, cheap. :) 

We settled in and got ready to head to our fancy dinner. Our dinner was at a restaurant called Gaggan Anand (after the chef). This chef had a restaurant called Gaggan that was ranked #4 in the world, but he had a disagreement with the owners/management and decided to open his own place. So, while this place isn’t currently ranked, we have a feeling it may be one day. The dinner consisted of 25(!) courses!! The chef is all about you having an experience with your food. Licking plates, eating things out of the palm of your hand. The vessels were beautiful. The food was tasty and innovative. The best part was that the menu came as a set of 25 jigsaw puzzle pieces that each had an emoji on them. You had to figure out which emoji went with each course and assemble your puzzle as you went. It was fantastic! Obviously made for me. They even gave us a special 26th course for our anniversary. :)

After dinner we stopped at one of Asia’s top bars: Tropic City for a cocktail and a chance to debrief our meal. The drinks and atmosphere were great here!! It was dead (as most places have been), but still a nice place to be. 

Mike dropped me off at the hotel and he went out to explore some beer bars. Another great day! 

Friday, March 13, 2020

So worth 14 days of self-quarantine

We arrived at our hotel in Phuket some time after midnight and were picked up for our full day tour of some of the islands at 6:40. We were tired! But, there was a bit of a drive to the dock so we got a little more sleep.

We chose to do the Exploring Phang Nga Bay by speedboat  tour with Phuket Sail Tours. It was a bit more expensive than some tours, but you pay for a smaller group (there were only 8 of us) and great service. We really enjoyed this tour operator and will use them again next time we visit. 

Our first stop was a walking tour through a cave that opened into a little lagoon with mangrove trees. So much wildlife! Crabs walking in the cave walls, shrimp in the water, a toucan, and mudskippers. A great little stop we could do before high tide came in.

Next, we stopped to do a little canoeing around a collection of islands. This was amazing!! So peaceful and so many amazing bird/nature sounds. Sometimes we had to lie flat in the canoe just to squeeze through an opening. Our guide on this part of the tour was amazing. Such an incredible experience.

We stopped near James Bond Island to take some photos. Apparently this island has been in multiple movies including a James Bond film. We didn’t go ashore as our tour company says it’s become too overpopulated with tourists, but that was fine with us. 

Next up was a trip to a floating village. This particular village is famous for the soccer field they built over the water. This little short film is great!  There is a lovely restaurant there and we had lunch  and explored their village a bit. 

Then we stopped at a beach that is part of a natural park for some swimming and chill time. It was a beautiful place to cool off and get some time in the sand.

Then we had plans to go snorkeling, but the water wasn’t clear enough, so we skipped that. We did go to an area where we could jump off the boat into the water and that was fun.

Then, we stopped at another island to have some relax time. We could CLIMB/hike to the top of this hill using ropes and this path to get a 360 view. Even though many of us had flip flops on (including Michael) we all made the trip to the top (and truthfully the way down was way worse!) and it was so worth it! Beautiful views!!

A really lovely day on the water. 

We got home, took showers, and headed up to the rooftop bar of our hotel for two-for-one happy hour drinks. We got some mango and passion fruit margaritas and enjoyed an amazing sunset and some great love music. I could have stayed there all night. It was like my dream vacation spot. This is what I’ll be dreaming about while I’m doing a 14 day self-quarantine post trip. 

While we were enjoying the views, we were trying to decide on a dinner plan. Phuket has lots of great food, so it was a hard decision. But, both of us were leaning towards Acqua which had a 7-course tasting menu for about $70. We had a big fancy meal coming up the next day, so we weren’t sure if we wanted to do that twice in a row, but the menu looked amazing so we went for it. And we’re so glad we did!!! The food was incredible! The chef (an Iron Chef Thailand winner) was there and even came over to visit with us for a bit. It was exactly what we needed after a long day. 

A truly great day...and possibly my favorite day of the whole trip. 

It’s elephant day!

We had an early wake up call this AM as we had to report for our elephant tour at 8:15. We packed up our bags, said goodbye to Rob and Hang and headed to the airport to store our bags. Once we arrived, we found out the bag storage was under renovation. :( SO, after some hectic moments and knowing the other bag places were either closed or too far away, we decided to chance it and took our bags to the check-in office. They were more than happy to keep our bags, so that was a relief! We found a bakery nearby and had a quick breakfast and then it was off on our 1-hour ride to the elephant park.

We choose to visit the Elephant Nature Park on our trip to Thailand. This was after much research on ethical elephant encounters. I will admit...when I was in Indonesia in 2012, I rode an elephant. I now know that those elephants are not treated well. So, this time we went to a place that rescues elephants from the circus, elephant trekking, logging, and other situations. They give them medical treatment and a forever home on beautiful  grounds. As visitors, we feed the elephants (from a safe distance), go on a walk around the grounds with a guide, got to pet one elephant (but only on the shoulder), and watched the elephants bathe. Our group only had about 8 people (including a couple from Kentucky Lake area)  so it also wasn’t a large group overwhelming the elephants at any one time. This park doesn’t let you bathe elephants as they want the elephants to enjoy that experience with each other as part of their natural social structure. This place also rescues dogs, cats, and water buffalo. While we were there we also had a vegetarian lunch buffet and had time to watch the elephants from afar. It was really a lovely day and were so happy to support them in their efforts to rescue abused elephants. 

After we returned to the city, we needed to check our bags. The baggage storage place at the mall next to the airport was now open, so we found a songthaew driver and showed him the location on Google maps both in English and in Thai. He gestured for Mike to sit up front, but we wanted to sit together in the back and enjoy the ride. But, once we passed the mall and kept going for about 5 minutes, we knew he didn’t know where we wanted to go. So, we got his attention and he pulled over. Mike got up front and helped navigate him using his phone and all sorts of hand gestures. Once we saw the mall, we just had him drop us off on the street across from the mall and made our way inside. I was grateful for Mike’s patience and so happy to be in the mall!

After we stored our bags, we found this place called Memorize Brownie that had plugs and tea and brownies for a snack. We needed to charge our phones and make a plan for the afternoon.

We decided to do a dinner with more Northern Thai cuisine and headed to Tong Tem Toh. We ordered a smaller platter of all sorts of local appetizers including some sausages and some chili dips one of which that reminded Michael of hatch. We also had some tasty grilled pork and some veggie dish. Good stuff in a beautiful outdoor setting.

Then, we headed down the street to Beerlab and enjoyed some nice beets before heading to the mall to retrieve our bags. We did a bit of shopping at the mall and then headed to the airport for our 9:40PM flight to Phuket. 

Thursday, March 12, 2020

A Day in Chiang Mai

Since Rob and Hang flew to Chiang Mai, they had already checked into the Airbnb. So, from the train station, we headed to the Airbnb to take showers. Then, we headed out to get Thai massages!! The plan was to go to the Chiang Mai Women’s Prison. They have a vocational school where they teach prisoners how to do massage so they have a vocation once they are released. However, the prison’s vocational school was closed for renovation. :( But, there was a massage place down the street where some ex-prisoners worked, so we did that. 

All four of us chose to do the 1 hour traditional Thai massage. It only cost about $7.50 for each of us. Crazy!! We all got into these loose fitting clothes and the room had four beds so we were all together as they stretched and blended our bodies in all sorts of directions! Felt nice, but definitely not like any massage I’ve had before! 

After that fun adventure, it was time for lunch. We headed to a place in the Nimman area that Hang had heard about. We ordered all sorts of yummy curries! They were spicy(!) but also delicious. Our favorite was probably the Panang curry. 

After lunch, we did some shopping (more elephant pants!), visited a chocolate shop for a tasting and then had some Thai tea and mango sticky rice at a corner cafe. 

After a little rest time at the Airbnb for the ladies and a scooter ride for the guys, we headed to do some pre-dinner drinks overlooking the river at a restaurant called The Good View. It was nice and relaxing and we all had a good time chatting.

Then it was time for some Chiang Mai night markets. We went to two that were on the same street. Bought more treasures and then had fun putting together a dinner at all the street food vendors. We had gyoza covered in cheese, some sort of omelet, grilled crocodile, some sort of fried shrimp cakes, some pork and veggie dish, and the local Chiang Mai noodle dish (our favorite). And I got boba. Really yummy stuff!!

Then Mike and I took a tuk-tuk back to the Airbnb while Hong and Rob followed us in their rented scooter. The guys went out on the town for the night while Hang and I called it a night. Another fun-filled day!!

Exploring Bangkok

Day two together meant more time in Bangkok. Hang was with us now, so we decided to do something she hadn’t done in Bangkok before. 

Mike and I had our mango sticky rice for breakfast and it was yummmmmmmmy!

We checked out of our Airbnb and dropped our luggage in storage. Then we took a Grab taxi to the Taling Chan Floating Market. This is mainly a food market where the vendors are cooking food on the river. It smelled so good! We got a few things to eat in the walking market leading to the floating market and then put together a lunch of salt rubbed tilapia, scallops, Tom yum soup, some sort of stuffed pancake, and gyoza. All so good and tasty! Mike and I even sat on tiny stools near the ground to eat like the locals. 

Then, we did some shopping at the market and bought a few treasures (including Mike’s new elephant pants!). Then it was time to return to the city so Hang and Robert could catch their flight to Chiang Mai. 

We dropped them at Terminal 21 and Mike and I stopped in a restaurant to have a drink, enjoy the view, and plan out our afternoon. We decided to go ahead and do the Grand Palace today since we had a few hours. Once was crazy hot, but we loved exploring the grounds and spent most of our time in the Temple of the Emerald Buddha. The building itself is soooo sparkly!!! After that we checked out the grounds, watched the guards change, and then headed to cool off and have a cold beverage. We found a nice local hotel bar near the train station and enjoyed a Thai tea and beer before boarding our overnight train to Chiang Mai.

The train was fun! We had two little beds (one above and one below). The train ride was 13ish hours and we certainly could have flown, but wanted a more local experience. We had fun train food and then went to bed early. Slept pretty well. Only bummer was the lights were left on all night, so that made it hard to sleep. We arrived in Chiang Mai just before 8AM on Monday and were ready for more adventures! 

Monday, March 9, 2020

Together again for more adventures!

Michael arrived some time after midnight after his long day plus of travel. Sleep!

We headed out for breakfast with Rob at a nearby restaurant called Breakfast Story. We had breakfast poutine and some mimosas. A great way to start the morning.

Then, we headed to Wat Pho to see one of the many temples in town.  This temple houses the reclining Buddha....and it is HUGE! Really something to see. It was crazy hot, but we still enjoyed exploring the temple grounds.

Then, we worked hard to find the public ferry to head across the river. Way cheaper than the tourist boats and a much better experience. Enjoyed our two ferry rides on the river to get to the Siriraj Medical Museum.

This place was creepy! No pics allowed. Lots of medical specimens of body parts after terrible accidents. Yikes! And an informative exhibit on the most recent tsunami that hit Phuket and surrounding beaches.

After that creepiness, it was time for food. Headed to a Pad Thai place on a list I had found and had some yummy stuff!! So good!

Then, we headed to Chatuchak Weekend Market. This place was insane. Reminiscent of the markets in Morocco. Just huge. We spent a few hours exploring and buying affordable treasures. And more mango sticky rice of course. 

After that we took a rest time at the Airbnb and then did a rooftop bar (Brewski) for sunset and then a beer garden (Craft) for pre-dinner drinks. Then dinner at The Commons food market. This place was super cool! Loved the vibe. But we got some egg dishes from an egg place that were just okay and then some stellar smoked octopus. Tastes like Texas BBQ. So, not sure we’d go back. Or we’d try some different vendors. 

Then, Rob went to pick up Hang and we headed home with a quick stop for mango sticky rice (that we ended up saving for breakfast because we were too tired to eat it that night).