Monday, March 31, 2014

My Thai Food Journey Continues

I took a cooking class while I was in Koh Samui, Thailand, and it was one of the few times I was in the country where I felt like I was actually connecting with the culture. Most of the places I traveled to were overrun with tourism, so it was difficult to find ways to push aside the fake and get to the heart of Thailand. I felt as though I was able to begin to do this through the food.

One of the disappointments about coming home from a trip is that there are things, little nuggets of deliciousness that you just can't find in the states. In Greece it was the tzaziki, France, the pain au chocolat, Peru, the pisco sours, you get the picture. It was really important for me this time around to attempt to bring some of the flavors back with me.

Lots of ingredients!
Thus begins my first attempt at real Thai cooking. I must say that I was incredibly excited because this time I actually had recipes in hand. I went to three grocery stories in search of all of the necessary ingredients, finding most, but still unable to find a couple things on the list. But I found, in my opinion, items that would be good substitutes.

I decided to do all of the chopping and prep in the afternoon. This was a very good idea because it took me a couple of hours to get everything they way it was for my class. I painstakingly cut up the pineapple in just the right way, peeled and chopped the ginger ever so finely, measured all the ingredients just right and neatly placed everything just the way it was in the photos I had taken. My back was beginning to ache as I pounded the spices and herbs in the coffee mug with the honey stick to make the curry paste (stone mortar and pestle were not to be found in my sparse kitchen). At this point it was getting close to dinner time, and the sun was starting to set.
Prepped and ready to go

I took a short break, and soon it was time to heat some oil in a pasta pot because I didn't have a wok either. The oil was hot, and it was time to begin adding the vegetables slowly and in the right order. I followed the directions to the letter. The kitchen began to fill with familiar smells which brought Tim out of his work room to find out what was brewing. There was only one small casualty with some oil splatter while frying tofu, but that's what happens when you get too close to the cook. The sweet and sour sauce was added and all the ingredients were tossed together. With a couple sprigs of cilantro and some fried garlic, the first dish was complete.

Sweet and Sour Tofu with Veggies
After transferring the completed dish to one of my new plates purchased while in Bangkok, I had to move on quickly to the green curry. As soon as the green paste hit the pan it was as if I had been transported right back to the cooking school. Within minutes, the curry was finished and plated and we sat down to feast. I was worried that it wouldn't be the way it was from the class. Everything had happened so fast I wondered if I had remembered everything correctly. Turns out I had. The first reaction from my official taste- tester was "wow." And it was a good wow, not the sarcastic kind of wow. Success. Even though it took me the entire afternoon to prep and chop it was worth all the effort. I still have one more dish to try, the noodle salad, but I'm sure that will go off without a hitch too. The Thai food obsession shall continue.
Green Curry with chicken and potatoes

For recipes and how to videos, visit

Friday, March 28, 2014

What to Eat When Visiting Thailand

If you have never experienced Thai food, find the closest restaurant and get yourself a curry, stat! This food is amazing, so amazing in fact that it becomes an obsession.  It became an obsession for me even before I hopped a plane to Bangkok. So today, in honor of this most appetizing and delightful cuisine, I bring you my favorite Thai food.

Be warned, this post contains a lot of mouth- watering photos of the food that I ate while I was there.

Pad Thai, my first meal in Bangkok.

Pad Thai is probably the best way to get your feet wet with Thai cuisine. It's not spicy, and you can see exactly what is in the dish: fresh noodles, chicken, green onions, roasted peanuts, sprouts and a fresh lime. It's also the national dish of Thailand.
Green curry with some added veggies
Tom Khar Gai, spring rolls and Singha beer

Known as gaeng kiaw waan in Thailand, green curry is one you will find at pretty much any restaurant. With little green chilies controlling the heat and some coconut cream to cool it down, it creates a perfect balance of flavors. The magic is in the green curry paste, and it can be served with everything from potatoes and chicken to eggplant and prawns. I prefer mine on the thick and creamy side with a medium spice level.

I could live off this soup. Tom Khar Gai quickly became one of my new favorites. With shoots of lemongrass, coconut milk and the Thai ginger called galangal, this soup is perfect even on a hot day. That's how amazing it is.

More green's important to compare

What's curry without rice?

Khao Tom

Penang Curry, spicy papaya salad and fresh coconut water!
Massaman Gai (yellow curry)
The khao tom above was a lovely morning soup of rice and chicken broth with lemon grass, ginger, cilantro and fried garlic. The surprise was on the bottom with raw eggs sitting at the base of the bowl waiting to be mixed in. The eggs were cooked from the heat of the broth. Genius.

A couple of other genius meals are the massaman and penang curries. The former is usually a mild and creamier version of a curry with a coconut flavor, and the penang is thinner and spicier using red chilies. Both are fantastic. If spicy is what you are after, then this papaya noodle salad is the way to go. The green papaya has been cut into noodles, and it is hot. I couldn't stop eating it even though my mouth was on fire. That's what the fresh coconut is for. When chilled to a very cold temperature, the water inside is heavenly. I bought one to drink every time I saw one.
Street Food!

Fried rice with veggies

Fried rice is also a staple, and so cheap. This one was from Maddie's Kitchen on Koh Phangan where they use "ingredients for peace." As soon as I saw the menu and the Dalai Lama quote on the front I knew I had chosen the right place for lunch. The food was really good too.

Finally, a conversation about Thai food would not be complete without mentioning street food. Street food in Bangkok is one of the things that I wish I had been more brave to dive into. While I did try one of these delicious meats on a stick and a donut on my last day in the city, there were so many more things I could have tasted. There were elaborate carts serving full menus providing plastic chair seating and ladies with trays full of all sorts of delicacies up and down all of the streets. I'll be honest, I was a bit scared of getting sick, but I know that when I go back, it will be first on my list. It all looked so tasty, and a little fear should never stand in the way of good food.

So what do you eat while in Thailand? Everything!

Before I left Bangkok, I ransacked a grocery store for an assortment of spices to take home with me. Today I attempt to make a green curry using the recipe I learned while I was in Koh Samui at SITCA (Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts). It's tricky to find some of the ingredients, so I will have to improvise. Check back on Monday for an account of how it all went.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

What to do When Travel Goes Wrong

I left you hanging at the end of my last post. I wanted to be safely home before I told the world (particularly my family) how my trip ended. After my amazing afternoon of cooking and learning more about Thai culture, I went to meet my travel partner. He soon arrived with all of his luggage and told me that he was needed elsewhere. I was on my own with a ferry ticket and no where to stay the night. It was a full moon party week on Koh Phangan, so I was worried that I wouldn't be able to get a room for just one night. Many of the hotels will only allow bookings for a five night minimum. Since the ferry ticket was already burning a hole in my hand, and I already had to abandon a night at Ang Thong national park (ah travel, plans can change so quickly), I didn't want to throw any more money away. I said goodbye, and we went our separate ways.

On the way to Koh Phangan
But wouldn't you know, things have a way of working out. As soon as I got on the minibus that was taking me to the port, I met James. He had just escaped from a meditation retreat where he had been silent for ten days; he was glad to meet me too. We got to talking as solo travelers tend to do when they find other solo travelers, and I decided that I would follow him to Hard Road Hostel (the name seemed appropriate for my current predicament)  where he was staying in the hopes of booking a room for the night. It was a risk though because it was pretty far from the port on the other side of Koh Phangan, and if there were no rooms, I would be out of luck. But no risk, no reward, so that's what I did.

As the ferry pulled into the dark port after a very rocky ride, we were bombarded by yelling taxi drivers and many others who were vying to be the one to take the confused white people to where they wanted to go. It pays to walk a bit further out of the mess because we got a ride in a minibus to the other side of the island for about $3 each. Crisis averted. Sometimes you just have to go with your gut when it comes to who to trust. I could tell when I met James that he was a true traveler wandering around the world doing whatever catches his fancy. The same was true with his friend Julien from Germany, also a solo traveler meeting friends along the way. The lesson here is to look for like-minded allies when things go pear-shaped. I didn't know that my friend was going to leave, and if it had happened five years ago, I'm not sure what I would have done. But it happened this year, and I was more than equipped to handle a little bump in the road.

Bonus day in Koh Samui
Alas, there cannot be only one bump. Things tend to happen in threes, and so they did here as well. Feeling empowered by my bravery and solo traveling success, I headed back to Koh Samui for one more night at the Jungle Club (full review forthcoming) before heading back to Bangkok. As I was getting my backpack organized and making my plans for traveling the next day, I noticed that something was wrong with my train ticket. There was a problem, a big problem. The lady at the Bangkok train station who sold me my tickets gave me the wrong ones. These tickets were from Krabi and not Koh Samui where I currently was. A conversation with the hotel staff led me to a quick trip to the local bus station as the sun was going down. After much pointing and nodding I had a ticket to Bangkok for the following day, but I wasn't exactly sure how I was going to be getting there. All I knew was that I had to show up at 4 p.m. the next day. That meant one more day of relaxing and writing on Koh Samui. I'll take it.

The third and final glitch came from my last day in Bangkok. It's the kind of thing that you have nightmares about, or at least I have nightmares about this sort of thing. I was so excited because it was going to be my day of street food. I had arrived from my long minibus- bus- ferry- bus- taxi- metro trip early in the morning, and I was eager to get out into the city again. I wandered around for a while, bought some fried donut- type food and some watermelon and found a bench in front of a building. Just as I was about to sink my teeth into my recent purchases, I was approached by two men. One was a Thai man wearing a security uniform, and the other was a man from an unknown country in plain clothes. The second man spoke to me in English asking to see my passport. He told me that I was in a secure area and that he needed to ask me some questions. At first I thought it was just standard, but the questions kept coming and soon a photo was taken of my passport (for security purposes so they said). I started to panic. I did, however, manage to make sure that my passport never left my sight, and eventually they let me go. I walked quickly back to my hostel to regroup. Many scary thoughts swirled around in my head, and I made the decision to stay close to the hostel in case something was amiss. I also emailed a couple people at home to let them know what happened just in case. Everything was fine, and I was able to leave the country with no issues.

Here's what I learned. Even though I was very aware of my surroundings, I was more on the alert for pickpockets or people who approached me on the street. I wasn't paying close attention to the surrounding buildings or if there was more security in certain places. It's probably not the best idea to stop on the street even if there are benches. I should have found a public park or eaten my food on the go. Looking back, I was the only white person around, and it probably did look a bit suspicious for me to be sitting there. I could have been a spy?!

I don't think I have ever been on a trip where at least one thing hasn't gone wrong. The best thing to do is be flexible and have a plan B, C and maybe even D. The first two issues turned into positive experiences while the third gave me a reality check that I probably needed. And no, I 'm not sorry at all that I was alone. I would do it all again tomorrow if I could.


Friday, March 21, 2014

Cooking the Thai Way at SITCA

Me with the wonderful staff of SITCA
I don't remember the first time I had Thai food, but I know I liked it. Starting with Pad Thai, I eventually worked my way up to the curries, gradually becoming more adventurous and being able to tolerate spicier dishes. So when I decided to go to Thailand I knew I had to learn how to make some of these culinary delights. There are cooking classes given all over Thailand, but I found a cooking school on Koh Samui that I thought would be something special. It was quite a bit more expensive than the others I saw, but you can't put a price on the experience I had that afternoon.  Taking a class at Samui Institute of Thai Culinary Arts  also known as SITCA was one of the greatest  and most interesting travel experiences I have had in a long time.

Leaving my flip flops at the door I entered a well- lit, very clean room, greeted by smiling faces and a glass of ice tea. I then settled in to a couch to watch a short video about fruit carving. That stuff is truly amazing. In just a couple minutes, the woman on the video turned a watermelon into a beautiful flower. But that's not why I was there. Shortly after the video started I met honeymooners Marcela and Horacio from Texas who would join me for the class. It was just the three of us, so it sort of felt like a private lesson.

Beautifully fresh ingredients

Sweet and sour tofu with veggies
Proudly donning our aprons, we moved to the prep area where all of our ingredients were laid out and perfectly portioned. Our lovely teacher, Natsuda told us about each ingredient and what its purpose was as we prepared the three dishes. I tried to take notes the best I could, but there was too much to write down. Eventually I stopped writing and just took it all in. We started with sweet and sour tofu with vegetables. I didn't think I would like this one, but it was fantastic. We started with learning about different kinds of oils and to never use olive oil when cooking Thai food because the flavor is too strong and competes with the other strong flavors. We learned how to fry tofu, and we chopped veggies and some pineapple. The sweet part of the sweet and sour sauce was chili sauce and palm sugar and the sour came from tamarind paste that we made into juice by squishing it together with water and removing the seeds. Throw in some fish sauce for flavor, and voila, you have sweet and sour sauce.

Spicy glass noodle salad with shrimp & pork
I also learned that there is a special kind of ginger called galangal, and galangal, lemongrass and kaffir lime are the holy trinity of Thai cooking. The type of dish will determine how they are chopped. For example, lemongrass is chopped finely in a curry but longer stalks are used for soup. The aromas floating around in that room were heavenly, smells of fresh cilantro and chili peppers, all the ingredients starting to come together. Next up was the glass noodle salad. Here was where we learned about the difference between the red and green chilies and how the larger ones aren't spicy; they're just for a pop of color. The little guys are the ones that add the spice. The red ones are much hotter because all parts of the pepper pack a punch whereas the green ones hold their heat in the stem and seeds. There was more chopping and more sauce making to get ready to put it all together in the wok at the end.

Green curry with chicken
The last dish was the green curry and curry paste. This was what I had been waiting for. I have developed an extreme love of curry after living in Amsterdam (I lived in the Asian part of town and there were amazing Thai restaurants on my walk home). Back to the curry. More chopping was done; this time is was potatoes and chicken. Then the paste, all of the fresh leaves and spices crushed together with a stone mortar and pestle. I did my best to keep all of it in the stone vessel, but some of it definitely went flying. I'm kind of a messy chef. Can you believe this was all done barefoot? Absolutely, even when we went over to the woks to put it all together.

Making green curry paste 

We cooked each dish in a separate room with many woks then brought it back out to garnish. Then it was back to the wok to complete the next one until we had each prepared a feast for a small family. When all the hard work was complete, we all went upstairs to the dining room to feast on our achievement. Everything was amazing, some of the best Thai food I have ever had! It had just the right amount of spice, the curry was thick and all of the flavors were perfectly balanced. Success!  The truth is, anyone who takes this class will be a success because the staff is so helpful and does a lot of the work ahead of time. After sharing stories and our beautiful meal, my new honeymooning friends excused themselves, and I stayed to try to eat as much as was humanly possible. I also got a chance to spend some time talking to Natsuda. What a lucky afternoon for me! I also got a chance to meet some of the other staff and students and try a dish that they were working on.  The lesson here is that if you are going to Thailand, go to Koh Samui and stop in for a class at SITCA and give Natsuda a hug for me. It is worth every penny and then some.

So excited about my new recipe

Me and Natsuda

Walking through the door to my waiting shoes, I smiled from ear to ear with a strong reminder of why I love travel so much. Natsuda was wonderful, and I felt connected to her right away. It was so much fun to learn about the important ingredients in Thai cooking and how it all comes together. The food was amazing, but more than making the food, I enjoyed my time there.

At one point in the lesson, she said that I was a strong lady, and at the time I didn't know how right she was because from that point on I was traveling alone in Thailand...

Monday, March 17, 2014

An Overnight Train from Bangkok

My Train to Surat Thani

One of the things that I really wanted to do while I was here in Thailand was experience the overnight train. I wasn't brave enough to try 3rd class, so I bought a seat in 2nd class instead. The only real difference is that this seat reclined and the 3rd class didn't. Armed with my snacks and plenty of water, we boarded the rickety looking train to Surat Thani. It was scheduled to take 12 hours, but I was expecting more because I was told by several sources that the trains are never on time. I spent at least the first hour glued to the window trying to take pictures. It was wide open, but luckily there was a panel of glass that that could be pulled up when it got too cold. Yes, I said cold; it got really cold on the train overnight. One of the things it didn't have, however, was an above ground toilet. Sure there was a hole in the train meant to be a toilet, but that was not something I was going to attempt on a moving train. So much for having plenty of water and snacks.
Me in the Bangkok train station

The lady with the chicken
The car I was in was filled with mostly Thai people which I really enjoyed because I was surrounded by the language, but mostly it was an uneventful ride. The train was very slow, loud and stopped often, and eventually everyone fell asleep even me.  There was one very cool thing that happened at both the beginning and the end of the ride. When the train stopped at the various stations, people would get on with all sorts of food to sell. I wasn't brave enough to try any of it, but it was so much fun to watch the ladies walk up and down the aisles. I particularly liked this lady with the heaping pile of fried chicken.  I didn't sleep much, but I was very happy to be awake during the sunrise watching the countryside pass by.  The view had changed dramatically from city scene to lush vegetation with skinny cows and small farms dotting the landscape. There were white birds swooping through palm trees of all sizes some short and fat, others tall and slender. The smell of burning garbage wafted through the air. And the sun was a ball of fire inching above the horizon. It was going to be a beautiful day.

Here's a little video of the beginning and the end of the train ride. Feels like you're there doesn't it?

Friday, March 14, 2014

Getting Around Thailand: Public Transport and More

Transport in any country even your own can be daunting to figure out, but once you have the basic idea, life becomes a lot easier and cheaper than flying or taking a taxi everywhere.

Ok taking a taxi and a plane are necessary on many occasions, but for now I'm leaving the airplane out of this conversation. You have just arrived in Bangkok, so now what? If you arrived in the middle of the night like me, taxi is probably one of your only options unless your hotel is swanky enough to provide a shuttle or you have friends there. I had neither, so taxi it was. One major tip with Bangkok taxis is to make sure that not only is the meter on but that it is working. My taxi meter was "broken" for about a third of my trip. I didn't argue because I had been on a plane for the past 24 hours, but for the rest of you savvy adventurers, check the meter.

Taxis on the islands are much different. They don't use meters, and prices can vary greatly depending on the color of your skin and how much you are willing to haggle. Even if the price is printed on a fancy laminated sign, haggle, haggle, haggle. The more people you have with you, the better the price too, so if you are by yourself, make friends with the people standing next to you at least for the length of the cab ride.

Now for the good stuff. Getting around Bangkok is actually a lot easier than it sounds or may look. There are only a couple of metro lines. One is above ground and the other is below. You can use either or both, and they easily connect to each other depending on where you need to go. Everything is clearly marked in English and color coded, so you can go wrong. There are ticket machines for both, but for the above ground train, you need change. Don't worry, there are plenty of booths open, but they won't sell you tickets, they will only give you change and help with information. The machines have English options as well. There is something very unique about taking the underground in Bangkok though. The ticket is a little black chip. Don't lose it or shove it in a bag though, you have to check in and out of all metro stops. There is also an airport connection line that runs the same hours as the metro system: 6 am- midnight.

A couple other options for getting around the city are the water taxi and a tuk tuk. Since many of the city attractions are located along the Chao Phraya River, it would make sense to hop on a water taxi and get a day pass. Beware of really crowded rides and having to stand squished to many other tourists. It is an easy way to get around. For sightseeing purposes take a long tail boat instead (see my prior post about khlong boats).  If you don't want to spend the day near the river or you just happen to be somewhere else in the city and don't have a long way to go, try a tuk tuk. Some of you may know these little vehicles as rickshaws. Either way, expect an adventure of weaving in and out of traffic, driving in lanes of oncoming traffic and speeding through the city surprisingly fast for its size. Always make sure you negotiate the price before you get in, and be prepared to negotiate a bit. Never take the first price offered.

I was anxious to get out of the city and out to the islands, and there are a couple of ways to do this: bus or train to Surat Thani. I did both, and I'll be writing about my experiences in an upcoming post. From Surat Thani there are buses that take you about an hour to the port where ferries take you to Koh Samui, Koh Phangan or Koh Tao. Depending on how much you are willing to pay or what sort of package deal you got at the station will determine the type of boat you will ride.  To get to Koh Samui initially, I took a catamaran type boat that got me speedily to my destination within an hour with minimal rocking. The ferry I took to Koh Phangan on the other hand was very old (see photo below) and very slow and very very bumpy. Thank goodness for dramamine.

One thing to keep in mind not just in Thailand, but anywhere. There's always more than one way to get somewhere when you are in a major tourist location. There will also be plenty of tour offices who can easily schedule ferries and ways to get to ferries. Booking ahead of time may give you piece of mind, but it can be confusing and often much more expensive than waiting until you arrive.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Khlong Ride in Bangkok

Me and my Klong driver
In my last post I was just about to tell you about my boat ride up the Chao Phraya River.  I don't remember exactly where I left off, but the tuk tuk driver left us at a dock where just a couple of employees were milling around. It looked a bit shady, but I didn't have a bad feeling, so after a quick price negotiation from 2,000 bht down to 1800 bht for a private 60km boat ride, we hopped in the khlong or longtail boat. This boat is exactly as it sounds, long and slender, and it has an oversized motor in the back. Great for navigating tight turns and canals, but it's pretty loud and not very eco friendly spewing fumes and gasoline all over the place.

One of many temples
This kind of boat ride is a must do especially if you only have a short time in Bangkok. In just an hour, I saw probably a hundred temples and got a good look at what the city looks like from the river.  The river was a lot of fun, bobbing up and down, nearly missing boats much larger than us, tilting from side to side with fear of falling overboard, all very exciting. But those weren't the most interesting parts of the ride. Once we made that left turn into the canal, life in Bangkok dramatically changed. What I was doing was a very touristy thing to do, but it didn't feel like it at that moment. It was quiet, the water was calm, and I felt as though I was experiencing a part of the city that few tourists got to see (even if that wasn't necessarily true).

All along the canals are homes, small restaurants and who knows what else holding on for dear life on stilts hoping not to plunge into the murky waters below. It wasn't the prettiest trip, but I wasn't looking for pretty. What I got was a lot of laundry hanging out to dry, men fishing from the banks, smells of food cooking in tiny kitchens and the things that people all over the world do every day without even batting an eye. I got life in action. And I got smiles and waves from people along the way. For me, there's nothing better when I travel somewhere than to see what life is really like.

In addition to people, there is also the occasional wildlife like the giant hungry fish that have learned to expect dropping food from passing boats. They thrash about waiting for a tasty morsel. Since I must have been very lucky, I also saw a monitor lizard sitting on the river bank. Unfortunately I  don't have a picture of this robust reptile, but a quick google search will yield some beautiful photos or you can see a photo and learn more here. This guy was big, and I was very glad that I was on the other side of the canal when I saw him. I'm sure he thought the same of me.

People selling items out of their boats

The ride soon had to come to an end, and we were back on the main river coasting along the choppy wake of the larger boats. As we were about to dock, we had to wait for one of the water taxis to pass. It was jam packed with tourists, and it looked like a pretty miserable experience. It may be a cheaper option for getting up and down the river to visit different sites, but I still think that the khlong is the way to go. We were dropped of back in Chinatown which is known for shopping. I'm not much of a shopper, but I enjoyed watching the people cook street food that I have yet to eat. I'm working up to it.

Next overnight train and a long trip to the jungle.

But first, here's a video of what it was all like...

Thai houses along the canal

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Cartographic Disservice- Arriving in Bangkok

I have safely arrived in Bangkok two days after I left. Time changes are amazing things and so is the Pacific Ocean. This may sound ridiculous but that thing is huge! The reason I bring attention to this is because I feel that mapmakers (at least of the ones I have been exposed to in my life) have done us a grand disservice. Separating the Pacific Ocean and placing North and South America in the middle is just bonkers. Because of this, I have not had a realistic understanding of the true size of this massive mer. When I was first booking this trip I thought, Asia is so close because I'm on the west coast now. The truth is, it's not close at all. I was on a plane for close to 24 hours flying across this massive body of water. Deep down I knew this, but the reality of spending that much time on an airplane is a little maddening. But this brings up a more interesting point about how the US views itself. We place ourselves in the middle because we think we are the most important. What about Alaska and Hawaii? They frequently get placed in boxes at the bottom of the map causing children (and probably many adults) to think that they are neighbors. Just something to think about.
Outside the Golden Buddah Temple

But I survived with the attitude of taking each moment for what it is, noticing the details of the journey like the cloud that looked like the happy dragon or the nice lady who asked me about my trip. It's all in the details, and the hostel where I am staying while I'm here in Bangkok could not be more perfect for that. It looks like a wooden junk yard but in the best possible way. There are signs all around with information about what you can't do or where you can go, vines hanging from the ceiling, random wooden bird cages, and all the blank walls have been written on by travelers passing through.

Largest Golden Buddah
Yesterday was Friday, I think, and I had a very full day of taking in the city of Bangkok. What would a trip to Thailand be without a massage, and my first was in grand style. And by grand style it cost me under $30 for an hour and it was in the swanky Ambassador Hotel Spa. More on that experience in another post. After I was suitably relaxed and energized, and after a yummy pad thai and curry lunch, we headed out to find the train station where we would buy our tickets for the overnight train. That was, in itself, an adventure. My friend and I made our way to the above ground metro station, and after a confusing conversation with a man at a booth, we were on our way. What I have determined is that everyone here seems to know just enough English to be confusing. But you work it out because that's what travelers do.

Temple in Chinatown
After securing two tickets to our next destination, Surat Thani, we wandered in search of the river because that's where many of the city sites were supposed to be. Well the river was harder to find than I thought. Eventually, we were approached by a nice expat who asked us where we were trying to go. He graciously led us down the right path, and before we knew it we were at the Golden Buddah temple. This temple is home to the largest golden Buddah in the world according to the little information leaflet that I grabbed on the way in.  It was pretty impressive. Then on to the Chinatown Arch where we found another temple. We took a quick look and were ready to finally get to the river when we were stopped by an old Thai man. He told us to go back to the temple and take off our shoes so we could get more pictures. We did as we were told and headed back in. On our way out we were stopped again by the same man. This time he asked where we were going next. We showed him the map and told him that we wanted to get a boat on the river. Well, we were very lucky to run into this man because he then set up a whole plan for our next couple of hours and wrote down all the prices and directions for the tuk tuk driver. It was a great and somewhat frightening way to see the city, but eventually our driver turned down an alley and we arrived at a deserted dock. Well not totally deserted, there were a couple of people who worked there. We ended up with a private long tail boat, and we were on our way on the next adventure.

Riding in a tuk tuk.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Packing 101: Expedition Thailand

Packing is something I have been doing a lot over the past 10 years. Between moving 9 times and all the travel I have been doing, I have built up an arsenal of techniques for efficient packing for both long and short trips. What I have learned, however, is that there is no one right way. Many factors are involved in how and what you should pack.

Today I focus on my trip to Thailand and Hawaii. In order to do this there are some key questions to ask:

Am I going to check a bag? (factor in airline fees, how you will be traveling in country, how much you will have to be carrying your own luggage, liquids)

You can fit a lot in a quart-sized bag.
I usually decide on the type of bag(s) I am going to bring with me and work from there. In this case I have decided to not check a bag because I have so many transfers. If there are any delays in my flight plan I am sure to have all of my luggage with me at all times. So I'll have my large backpack and a small satchel. Making this choice also works with the amount of in country travel I will be doing. All of my liquids will have to fit in a quart sized bag and be under 3 oz. each, no problem.

Will I have an additional carryon?

The backpack will be my carryon and the satchel counts as my personal item. I'm flying United, so I am allowed to have 2 items.

What is the weather going to be like in both locations?

Thailand is going to be hot, highs in the 90's daily, but there are cultural factors to consider in choosing the clothing to take. A light scarf is a necessity. It can be used for so many things including extra cover for entering religious buildings, beach towel, sun protection, tied around a sweatshirt it makes a great pillow for the plane ride, beach cover up, you get the idea. Hawaii will also be beautiful but a little bit cooler, so light layers are in order.

What sort of activities will I be doing while I'm there?

Hiking- appropriate footwear, breathable clothing
Beach- swim suit, cover up, flip flops
City- casual clothing
Long flights and train rides- light sweat pants or leggings, warm socks (for the plane), t-shirts, something with sleeves (it gets cold on those flights).

This is a very laid back trip, and things will be worn more than once, probably more than twice (sorry Zam, but it's true). Once I get to Hawaii I will be able to do my laundry.

Will I have access to laundry facilities? 

The answer for this is most likely yes unless you will be camping in the desert. A sink and some soap do the trick in a pinch.

How much do I really need for the number of days I'll be gone?

The truth is, not much. Check out the photos to see what I am packing.

What is necessary? What can be weeded out?

Necessary: laptop, electricity converter, camera (with USB cord and battery charger), journal, passport, money (credit cards, etc.), comfortable shoes, large scarf, swim suit, any prescription meds., enough clothing to get by, *twin bed sheet, bug spray

Weeded out: Any shoes or clothing that doesn't have a specific purpose, anything that requires accessories. I lay out all of the clothing that I could possibly want to take, and just start weeding out what isn't something I could wear multiple times.

Some other sweet tips:
Space bags- I don't leave home without them. Great for allowing you to pack more in less space, and perfect for dirty laundry on the way home. Get the ones that don't need a vacuum.

Febreeze- A small bottle of this is great for freshening clothes that have been sitting in the backpack for days or just need a little pick me up. Also great for hotel rooms that may have some interesting smells.

Antibacterial Wipes- When a shower isn't an option, these are a lifesaver. They are also great for wiping down questionable surfaces.

Padlock- this one is a no brainer for those who frequent hostels, but I thought I would mention it here. You have to have a way to lock up your stuff especially if you bring a laptop or tablet with you.

*The reason for the bed sheet is because I will not be staying in high end hotels. Let's face it, there could be bedbugs. I'm not taking that chance, so I'm bringing my own. Gross, I know, but I have heard so many stories of ruined trips. I'm just planning ahead.