Arrived in Hanoi

Train street in Hanoi

I am in Hanoi Vietnam and things are going great. To be honest I am tired but I am still trekking along in my travels.

My original plans had me going to Sapa for a hike and a homestay but instead I break up my Hanoi visit with a Halong Bay crise (actually Bai Tu Long Bay )

My Hanoi visit begins at a Hilton hotel that I booked with some leftover points. It is nice to splurge and stay in a western style comfort hotel every once in a while .

I have only been in Hanoi for a short while and I am already a fan. I mean it is busy and the roads are super crowded with cars and motorbikes but something about it is magical. I am anxious to get to know the city better.

But first I need to take care of the sensor on my “fancy” camera. It has many spots on it. I watch sensor cleaning videos and it seems like there is no way I can safely clean it with what I have with me. I google camera repair shops in the area and find one a couple blocks from my hotel. I arrive at the small shop and there are two men working. They don’t speak much English but I get them to understand that my sensor has spots. One of the men cleans the spots for me. When I ask how much to pay for he says no charge for the service. I never get anything free anymore! This must be a good sign.

I spend the next day or so wandering aimlessly around town. I visit the Ngoc Son temple at Hoàn Kiem Lake. By the lake they have the walking streets (Pedestrian-only hours start from Friday 6 p.m until Sunday 12 p.m.). It is here I first experience school kids wanting to interview me to practice english. It is a common theme as I noticeably stand out in southeast asia with my light colored hair and bigger build. I guess look like a good person to practice with. I oblige as much as possible to be helpful but at one point in my travels it becomes quite frustrating (I’ll talk about that another time).

Ngoc Son temple

The turtle is significant. There is a story about a sword carrying turtle at the lake.

During the walking streets kids get to “drive” these amazing vehicles all over the streets. It is fun to watch the excitement.

Upcoming boxing match near the lake

More shots from around Hanoi

And as part of my series “Instagram ruins everything” I arrive to the famous Hanoi train street to find it blocked off for traffic. It has been closed just weeks prior to my arrival for safety reasons. Apparently people couldn’t stop doing dangerous poses and the government had enough. It would have been cool to see when it was full of life. A guard yells at me while I am trying to to take the photos below, although security is not consistent, a guard on one side of the street is strict and guard on other side doesn’t care how long you stand there to take pictures.

After wandering by train street I go back to my hotel to rest up a bit before my night food tour.

Pai

Breakfast grits with chosen toppings

First full day in Pai (Thailand) is started with amazing breakfast at my hotel.

Day 2 of Pai starts off ambitious. I want to head out to the canyon for a hike but it ends up raining most of the day. I wander around town a bit but I mostly stay in my room and watch movies (I am taking many days “off” of traveling lately).

My hotel looks pretty at night.

When I do hang out in the early evening I am not vibing with the other tourists; there are very few locals to be seen. Visitors are young and vagabond-like and some begging for money to travel. I need to find my tribe of older budget travelers – I guess it is difficult when I choose to stay in a nice villa for a couple nights. I try finding others to chat with but after a couple drinks I give up and go back to my room. I did make a doggie friend.

The next morning I think about renting and learning how to ride a motorbike and then ride to a waterfall. Travel forums say that Pai is one of the best places to learn how to ride a motorbike. A motorbike would be very handy for getting around in most south east asia.

But alas I arrive at the motorbike rental place and chicken out.

Instead I do the two mile walk up to the white Buddha statue.

Walking along the road. I change which shoulder I walk on based on car visibility.

Eventually I come across a set of stairs. I can keep walking up the windy road but it is probably safer as a pedestrian to use the stairs. There are lots of steps.

Once I finish this set of steps there is another set of steps. This set of steps leads to the temple complex.

I walk through the temple complex and arrive at the final set of steps. Here I stop to pay to rent a cover-up because I am dressed in shorts for the day.

Probably the only time I am able to get a photo of myself without other people in the photo.

After I climb up the million stairs up to the Buddha it is nice and relaxing. This is one of the few places I have visited that is not overcrowded with tourists (like me). I will have to remember Pai on my list for when I return to south east Asia.

I start my way down the stairs. I decide to skip one set of stairs and walk down the road since there is no traffic. I fail to notice the mud & moisture on the ground and slide down on my butt. Luckily my palm and butt are just a little sore. It could have been worse (and no one saw me!).

The rest of the walk to town is lovely. I look for the long neck Karen tribe that is nearby but I keep ending up down dead-ends roads. In addition I am hesitant to show up unplanned. Many of these tribes welcome visitors but I didn’t want to be that one tourist that shows up uninvited.

How motorbike fuel is sold on the side of the road.

Once arriving back in the main town I sit down for the best khao soi (Thai Coconut Curry Noodle Soup) at JUST EAT. It is my first time trying it. I am forever changed. It is the perfect comfort food – especially when it is made with fried chicken.

I spend my last evening wandering around town and find some very unique handmade jewelry Thadmala design. I am happy I buy some affordable pieces here and glad they have an etsy shop if I want more.

Back to Chiang Mai

They next day I am back to Chiang Mai overnight for my flight to Hanoi early morning.

I am not happy because I am once again assigned in the very back of the van for my ride to Chiang Mai. Luckily I made sure to purchase some extra motion sickness medicine this time (I mimed motion sickness at the pharmacy). Good traveler that I am I gave some to the guy in the seat next to me because the poor guy looked like he was ready to be miserable.

Some more credit card points are utilized to stay at the lovely Le Meridien Chiang Mai where I get a great view of town. I have a early flight the next morning so it is bed to early for me.

See you in Vietnam!

On my way to Pai, Thailand

The town of Pai

On my last full day in Chiang Mai, Thailand I take it easy. I visit a very clean laundromat down the street to get some laundry done. Then I mostly chill out in my room catching up on shows and people back home.

The next day I have a bus reservation to go to Pai – a hippie-like city a couple hours north of Chiang Mai. It isn’t popular for regular tourists visiting Thailand but is very popular with backpackers for its chill atmosphere. There are waterfalls and canyons to hike so being intrigued I decide to spend a couple days there.

Before my bus trip I get up early to get some coffee and finally try the doughnuts around the block that seem to be so popular at MOOH. I get the enthusiasm. I am not a huge doughnut fan but these are really good.

I gather my things at the hotel and take an uber to the bus station. After I check in at the bus company I get a hand written boarding pass of sorts and find my van. My bag is placed on top and I am told my assigned seat is in the very back. Unfortunately I am unable to choose my seat ahead of time online so the back is randomly assigned. I dread the ride. I don’t think I have motion sickness medicine on me. This ride will not be fun.

Turns out I am correct. The ride is horribly curvy. I am so nauseous. We stop half way for a bathroom break and I find a soda that might settle my stomach for the rest of the ride.

We finally arrive in Pai and it is pouring raining. More prepared backpackers have a special rain cover for their backpack. I only have my rain jacket and poncho to use. But because it is raining too hard and I need my maps.me on my phone to navigate I wait for the rain to die down before heading out. The small bus area is packed and there is only a little overhang to cover all of us who have just arrived. But somehow we all shove under the area. There are taxis but my lodging is too close that I can’t justify the ride. I assume others have the same idea. Once the rain subsides I start my walk down to my lodging which is a bit of a splurge that I gave myself with credit card points.

Typical street in Pai

I arrive at my villa and it is adorable. I have a private villa and it is very homey.

Pai Village Boutique Resort

After I settle in I head out because it is the night of the walking streets in town. It is still early but I am not one for late nights so I head down there.

I buy a couple food items and browse a bit at items for sale. What I really want to do is chill with a cocktail. The first place I find is a very quiet wine bar.

I find a seat outside and have a glass of wine. The bar tender is very friendly and the music isn’t bad. But because it is so quiet I decide to only have the one drink and walk around some more. I eventually walk down to this waterfront restaurant closer to my hotel. It is still very quiet but I decide to get a cocktail here as well before I head in for the night.

After my cocktail I head back. As I head back I hear the street music get louder. A young Aussie working one of the clubs tries to entice me to come in. He is either humoring me or he has no idea how old I really am. Anyway, it isn’t happening tonight. Bed early!!!

Chiang Mai: Thai cooking class

Making sticky rice

One of the things I really wanted to do while in south east Asia is to attend a cooking class. The city of Chiang Mai in Thailand has numerous cooking classes to choose from. One blog I read prior to my trip heavily recommended Asia Scenic Thai Cooking School and after reading reviews I decided it was a good choice for me as well. At Asia Scenic you can choose from a half day or full day program and also have a class in the city or out on their farm.

I chose to do a full day class out on their farm.

Fortunately, like the elephant park tour, a van picks me up at my hotel.

We stop first at kitchen in town for them to collect payment and to wait for those who will be joining us for the farm class.

Kitchen in city

After our entire group arrives and payments are settled we take a van to go shopping at the market. We are given a tour and introduced different market foods.

Market

After the market we arrive at the farm. We are given an apron and a fun hat to wear. We choose which we want to cook and then are given a tour of the farm while the kitchen makes sure we have the supplies we need.

After the tour it is to the kitchen where we are given a snack. We are given instructions on how to eat the snack wrapped in a leaf. Called Meang Kana it can be vegetarian or made with pork crackling. It is an interesting set of ingredients (lime, chili, onion, cashew nut, roasted shredded coconut, ginger, sauce) but they go well together.

Next it is on to prep our first dish – Mine is Cashew Chicken.

Our instructor gives us easy to follow instructions and is able to help all of us even though we have not all chosen the same dish to start with.

We learn the importance of certain ingredients, especially fish sauce and soy sauce. If your dish isn’t balanced quite the way you want then these tools come in handy to modify your flavor as needed.

For our next dish we make spring rolls. This is a group effort. The filling is made by one or two in the group but we each learn how to roll our own spring roll. After rolled it is deep fried.

Next up I choose the glass noddle salad to make. It isn’t too complicated and tastes great.

We eat as we finish cooking each dish so you can imagine we are getting tired and full right now. We take a “lunch” break to rest and lounge around the farm.

The grounds are very relaxing with pillows, lounge chairs and some sturdy hammocks.

In no time at all it is time to go back to work.

We start with the curries. I love Massaman curry so that is which one I choose. I am the only one in our group who chooses to make this curry. I am pleased to discovered that making Massaman curry is slightly more complex than the others. Also the spices are a little more varied and exotic. I need to roast the spices before I start making the curry paste with mortal and pestle.

Of course I am taking too long so I get some professional assistance.

Everyone’s handmade curries.

We use the paste to make our curry dishes. The amount you add to the coconut milk makes the flavor vary.

I am reminded of what a slow cooker I am when my curry takes forever to cook down. I never quite have the temperature at that sweet spot.

We also make a soup. I make a prawn lemongrass soup.

My curry and my soup

Finally, we as a group make the sticky mango rice. It is made with pandan leaves (for flavor) and butterfly pea flowers (flavor and color). It is fun to watch it turn into the amazing dessert. I enjoy the dessert with a glass of butterfly pea tea.

At the end we get a cookbook with all the recipes and some great descriptions of common thai ingredients.

It is an amazing day of delicious food that was worth every penny of the cost.

Chiang Mai Temples Day 2

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

Today I am traveling up to Doi Suthep Mountain to visit the big temple up there.

I heard there are some great nature trails and other places to visit on the mountain but I didn’t schedule my time wisely and missed out on most of that in favor of some downtime (self-care).

I think I am heading up there.

A songthaew needed and I hire one for the trip. Instead of hiring one of the ones down the street I flag one down on another street and negotiate a price with him.

He takes me on the long curvy trip up the mountain. The back is open so I have a great view to see the trip behind me.

Look, another red truck.

We stop on the way up for the view of Chiang Mai below.

When we arrive at the top my driver tells me he will wait for me. As you can see there are many red trucks waiting. He gives me his card and I take a picture of his license just in case I can’t find him.

I climb the first set of stairs where there are a couple of statues.

As you can see, pretty foggy (smoggy) up here.

After the initial climb you will find another set of stairs, this one much longer.

A good number of stairs to get to the temple

Wat Phra That Doi Suthep

I pay the admission and I have to remove my shoes to enter the temple complex. The whole complex is very busy as most places I have visited in south east Asia. It is crowded with people who come to pray and other tourists like myself. I try to avoid as many humans as possible to get unobstructed photos but it is difficult. Even when no tourists are in my photos, a photography sales person will walk right into my frame trying to sell me their version of the photos. It is quite frustrating.

I do get a moment of peace when I walk into this temple, kneel down before the monk and receive a blessing. It is quite nice how accepting they are of visitors.

Holy water splashed on me and received a blessing here

Once I leave the temple complex I walk around and there is a terrace that has a nice view.

Some fun looking tree

I climb back down the stairs to find my driver. I have him drop me off near another temple in town that is close enough that I can walk back later on my own.

Before moving on I stop for a great lunch at Chef Tao’s Thai Cuisine.

After lunch I walk down the street for one more temple for the day.

Wat Chiang Man

Wat Chiang Man is not crowded at all. I can leisurely walk around and check out the interesting Buddhist scenes depicted in the temple.

After the temple visit I wander through town. I happen to walk by a cat cafe which I must stop in.

Cat Brothers Cafe

Picked up some kitty food and a mango smoothie

Shoes need to be off before you visit the cats upstairs and you are required to sanitize your hands before entering.

Once I entered the staff member helped me with some plates and soon I had many best friends. None of the kitties looked like they were starving but they sure acted like it.

It was cute to watch all the chubby kitties eat. Once I ran out of kibbles though they were off to the next person who had food for them.

I sat around and finished my beverage and watched the kitties a bit before I decided to head back down Nimman. Later that evening I try some Pad Thai from the famous Pad Thai Mustache Style.

Luckily I am there early and there is not a long wait for my food. I pick up some good hipster pad thai to end my very good day.