Bahamas

Asia 2012

Since I have been back everyone has asked how the trip was and I hesitate to answer. I am not sure I have a good answer to that. I don't want to complain because I would seem ungrateful. I don't want to overstate because it might be a little gauche. My verdict is sort of out. What I can say is:

We went to so many different places because I travel in fear of never having the opportunity to go back. I treat my travels as once in a life time experiences that I hope one day I will have the luxury of repeating. It is a blessing to be able to travel and to travel as well as we have. But we have worked so hard to earn the points that has afforded us with so many wonderful trips. That said...
Bangkok was a hot, weird trip . We got to see some really great monuments with enough time to look around to imagine the history of where we were. But yet, we were rushed from location to location (because of the weird driver we had) I don't think I ever truly got to appreciate the things that we were looking at, at the time it was happening.

Bangkok was overall not what I expected. It was a lot more congested than I imagined. Not only with the people but all the monuments. It was crazy how many there were and the proximity from one to another.

Khao Lak was exactly what we wanted, a quiet resort away from the crowds of tourists in Phuket. This is where I was most conflicted on my trip. I love the solitude and did not like it when people showed up at the pool (it only happened once), but yet I always felt like there was something missing. The resort was away from "action" of the city and access to the city was not convenient, which made me feel uneasy. I liked being able to walk across the street to get the things I wanted or to go on an adventure at a whim. Or if we were in the states we always have a car. I brought a book, but it was awful. The walks on the beach were nice but got old...quickly. I think it was because I did not bring a camera on one walk and did not bring a pale on the other walk.

For the next resort trip, there will be much consideration and re-thinking how I would want to do it.

Chiang Mai, I don't know if I had expectations for this portion of the trip. All I know is that I wanted to take a class in jewelry making to expand my skills and I was able to meet that goal and in a way that I had hoped for but not expected. This would be the highlight of the my trip.

In Chiang Mai I was able to find a source for silver beads as I had hoped for, but by then I was had already given up on shopping. So I shopped out of obligation to myself.

Chiang Mai will also be the place where I made connections with people that I will carry with me for a long time. For this I am grateful and excited for the future. My memories of this enchanted place will be warm.

By the middle of the trip I was shopped out and I think I had only spent $50. I think at this point I have shopped so much in Asia on my other trips that there was nothing more I really wanted to buy. It was all looking the same. In our daily lives we are no longer accumulating "stuff" so it was hard to buy anything. The fact that it was hard to find a bargain did not help either. And for whatever reason was a little stymied by, well, all of it. I could not make a decision to save my life. Not sure why, but there it was. I was convinced that when I saw that awesome something I would buy it, that never really happened. Much of what I saw I could buy in the US so I gave up.

Throughout the trip we were blessed with "good" weather. We were only caught in the rain a couple of times, while all other times, when it rained, we were conveniently already traveling in a car or inside. The daily threat of rain was to our advantage as it imposed a lot of appreciated breezes and relief from the heat. (Which we NEVER had in Dubai.) This threat of rain also created an overcast of clouds, thank goodness! So for the most part we were lucky!

In conclusion Andy and I both got to see and do things that were unexpected; and our lives are fuller because of these experiences. For that I am happy we went to Thailand. Our experiences in Northern Thailand were so rich that I am anxious to go back to explore the things we did not get to do. I think my wanting to make the most of our time created a sense of urgency that sort of took away from trip. But without it, we would have never seen and done as much as we did.

Returning to the states after almost 3 weeks was a shock to our system and our wallets. It has taken almost 2 weeks for our bodies to get used to eating American food again. But the idea of paying $2 for a bottle of water, this will take a little longer.
Was it a good trip? You decide...

Japan

Long uneventful ride brought us to Japan. First impression, There are a lot of convenience stores.

Our hotel room was amazingly smaller than the Hong Kong one, but the bathroom was bigger. Yes, that is suppose to be a double bed.

Suffering from jet lag, the morning came very quickly so we headed to the fish market, which was on every top 10 things to do in Tokyo list. The market was a complex matrix of seafood stalls, groceries and restaurants. I didn't think I would see the day that Andy would agree to have sushi at 11am, but we did have breakfast at about 6:30am. Can't say we completely enjoyed it. (see food blog below for more details.)

Hotel room or closet?


Fish. Tiny, little dried fish.


Fresh edamame.


Offerings at the fishmarket.

 

 

 


The entrance. Meiji Shrine

The recycle bins.


This man is sweeping the leaves off the gravel. Not really sure why there was not a blower, maybe as to not disturb the tranquility?

Got to watch a wedding in progress. Made it just in time for this snapshot.

The temple the Meiji Shrine.


Wooden plaques that you could purchase to post a prayer.

We ventured to the subway and navigated through a simple system that well, did not take us where we wanted to go. (Was misguided on the map.) So we hailed a cab to take us to our final destination, the Meiji Shrine. What a beautiful setting in the middle of such a metropolis. I could not help but imagine all of the trees that used to be in this area before the concrete jungle started to take over.

The caretaking of this facility was amazing. But as the trip continued, this would be a standard everywhere we went. We were so impressed with how clean it was everywhere we went. Even the markets were clean. The strangest thing was how difficult it was to find a trash can. But yet, there was never trash on the ground. When there was a trash can, it was divided for recycling. Amazingly enough, if you inspected the bins, you would find that they were actually orderly. (yes, I looked inside of several!) You know that if it was the US, there would be garbage in the plastic bin and plastic in the paper bin.

And smoking? Asians are notorious smokers, but we never had smoke in our face. (Unlike Italy, where it was everywhere.) Even on the streets, there were designated smoking areas. And the sidewalks had "no smoking" painted on it. And people actually followed the rules. This was so right it almost felt wrong.

The Japanese mostly were considerate people. I observed every taxi driver checking the car seat for things we may have left behind. When asking a stranger for directions, they would walk you there, even though it was out of their way AND share their umbrella when it was raining and sacrifice themselves. (Why do I get the feeling that they walk through tourist areas with their heads down, thinking, "oh please don't ask me, oh please, oh please don't ask me, I really have to go somewhere...") It almost felt like they were under some obligation to help any wondering tourist. Even a little boy on the train scooted over and offered me the seat next him. He was about 9 and was traveling alone...there was not adult telling him what to do!

The housekeeper in the morning saw me carrying the communal iron and board back to its storage in the hall; very quickly grabbed it from my hands and made an apologetic noise. Oh the shock of a guest having to put something away. The chef at tempura restaurant saw Andy pull out a pill and quickly ordered a glass of water for him.


Another temple. Kanda Myojin Shrine

We got to see another wedding, this one, up close.


What is so interesting about a wedding party taking pictures. The dude in bike shorts on the right...

Walked right up to the temple and did his morning prayers, never mind he just ruined all of the wedding pictures! What was I saying about considerate people? He must not have been Japanese!


We finally made it to the Palace...too late. ugh.

Japanese night life. Just like NYC and HK.


Getting cleansed by the smoke from the incense at yet, another temple. Asakusa Kannon Temple


The lantern in the middle is HUGE.


The shopping arcade in front of the temple. I am sure it is extra busy because it was Saturday. Not only with tourists, but also locals.

The temple and a 5 story pagoda.

The line for tickets at Tokyo Dome. The game was about 4 hours away. I guess they don't believe in getting pre-tickets?

This entire scene at Tokyo Dome was impressive for one reason, the Japanese REALLY love their baseball. Like Really. I know here in the US we love our baseball, but I seriously don't think as a nation we love it as much as they do. This was truly a family thing. The diversity of people going to the game was astonishing. There wasn't just the occasional grandma or girlfriend, there was a lot of them. What convinced me that they were more than just going to be supportive of the boy in their lives was the fact that they were seriously decked out in uniforms and mascot colors. And the look on their faces was enthusiasm.

I get the girlfriend who thinks that she is cute by wearing a jersey, but this was somehow different...


The most unexpected thing I found was the diversity. Tokyo is much like any other metropolitan city. It seemed as if you can get just about anything you want. No matter where you are from, foreigners could feel right at home. And there was no shortage of foreigners living in Tokyo. How do I know? Nothing like listening to a Pakistani speaking fluent Japanese with an accent; or seeing a Southeast Asian girl holding hands with a Japanese boy.

Overall Japan was a great place to visit. There were many places that we found amazing but we were more impressed with the people and the society. Much like Dubai, the people were generous, kind and considerate. We never felt like we were imposing nor did we ever get the feeling that we might be taken advantage of as tourists. No one rolled their eyes when we could not communicate our needs, instead they found a way to help. The politeness that is infamous in Japan was apparent everywhere we went. There was not a place that you could get away from it, even at the McDonalds. Despite the modernist of Japan there were many aspects of the Japanese culture that will always be a standard. We will probably never go back to Japan because of the expense, but if we every do we would head outside of the city.

Thailand

With such a busy work schedule we did good just to book our hotels before we left. So we took a few hours on the last day in Japan to plan our Thailand trip. Yes, we really waited to the last minute, but you gotta do what you gotta do. With a plan in hand we headed to the airport and we were off to Bangkok.

On the ride from the airport to the hotel I felt like I was in Vietnam again. The sites felt very familiar.

After spying the breakfast buffet at the hotel (clearly made for tourists) I felt that it would be best to find something more local. So I took a walkabout around the neighborhood of our hotel on our first morning to look for breakfast. The first thing I found were warm, crispy cups of coconut pudding (for lack of a better description). They were amazing.

The neighborhood we were in was definitely for tourists. Hookah bars, massage parlors, restaurants advertising Pad Thai noodles, tour offices and laundry services. It was obvious we had to leave the area to find better.

After the hardship of getting around in Tokyo we decided to investigate hiring a driver. Our first taxi driver was young and humorous so we negotiated a fee and hired him on. We told him to take us to a place that he liked for breakfast, but somehow we never made it there. The first place he took us to was a commercial restaurant which turned out to be closed. To kill time, he took us to the marble temple. It was amazing.

The marble temple was a prime example of exactly what I wanted to see in Thailand. The traditional architecture was amazing. I could not help but be in awe of the magnificent of the structures. There was so much detail to everything. Nothing was well enough alone. There was always more to the more. I was so excited for the rest of the trip to unfold.


Wat Benchamabophit, the marble temple

The ceiling. I don't remember any of the temple "spaces" that were left "plain". Almost every inch of available space was a canvas for some sort of art.


52 Buddha statues each showing different mudras.

Brought to you by Pepsi?

Spode? in Thailand? I checked, it was real. And it was being sold at a sidewalk vendor

The driver was not very willing to take us to the places we had our list saying that there were too many people there. He stated that he had an idea and wanted to take us somewhere so we went along with it. I am not sure why we agreed to such ideas considering that we had no idea where he was taking us but we did. It is not to say that the hour drive that was taking us past the airport and away from the city was not worrying me. The thought of being kidnapped for ransom kept running through my head, and the Travel Channel show "Locked Up Abroad" was just not going away. I found myself reading all of the highway signs trying get a bearing of where we were going and if it matched what he was saying. When I finally saw a tourist sign pointing to where were "going" I could feel my nerves relaxing.After an hour's drive we arrived, Ayutthaya. Still unsure of the significance of the local our first stop was the king's palace.Unguarded and in the middle of what looked like a park it did not look like much. But I had a look around anyway. There I bumped into two college buddies from NYC and Boston traveling around Thailand for the summer; they had just finished their nap on the park grounds. They told me that they could no longer handle the craziness of Bangkok so they hopped on a train and stopped in Ayutthaya. Thanks to them I was given a little history of the area. It would turn out that this was the capital of Thailand before Bangkok. Huh. This oughta be interesting. They offered me their map and we were off. I wish I had a picture with them.The ride back to Bangkok was the most awkward 3 hours of our entire trip. During our visit to Ayutthaya there was about 30 minutes when we lost each other. Because of a communication gap the driver and Andy got separated from me and well, it would seem that he decided to pull and illegal with the car and got caught by the cops. This did not make him very happy and there was a lot of silence for the entire ride back. As if it was not bad enough, our 1 hour drive turned into an additional 2 hours of stuck in traffic in Bangkok. I wanted to slit my wrists soooo bad. Just when you thought things could not get any worse, at dinner the driver made a full blown pass on me. Like really.It was like a scene out of a bad movie. Before dinner I went to the restroom which was located in the back of the restaurant and was met there by the driver on my way out. There was a squirrelly look in his eyes, but I passed it off. Then he grabbed my arm and said, "Do you like me?" So I pushed him back and said, "sure", and kept walking. then he grabbed my hand, in that funny kind of way, "you like me?" Oh dear gaahhhd. Seriously? Did the driver seriously just propose the unthinkable. Yes, yes he did. Let me just say dinner was a little uncomfortable.So begs the question, what were we thinking when we decided to hire him for the next day? You would have that we were partaking in some those Thai opiates or something. But tomorrow is going to be different. We had a game plan. If he did not take us where we wanted to go we would cut it short.I suppose it all worked out. We went to all the places we wanted to see and got to see things that were not on the list because the driver had his own ideas. So in the end it was all worth it.


Despite how this all looks, I am still amazed at how new they really are.


Wat Phra Si Sanphet - This was built to house the remains of kings.


Wat Mahathat

This was little on the erie side for me. But cool.

Scientists taking readings from the statues.

Everywhere we went there was continuing restoration work.


As old as this looks, hard to believe that it was built in the 1300's

 

141 feet long

A perspective.

Notice the people at the end, and this only halfway down.

The feet. Look at the person at the end.

There are absolutely no pictures in the world that could ever convey how magnificent this statue really is. Nothing can truly prepare you for the overwhelming feeling that you get when walk into this temple. Of all the things we saw in Thailand this was by far the most impressive. I had no idea that I was capable of being that impressed.
I was so caught up in the scramble of people who were there trying eek their way in that was completely caught off guard. Between worrying about taking off our shoes and being considerate of others I suddenly found myself inside the temple. And there it was. OMG. The words "holy shit" actually came out of my mouth...oops. Not good in a place of worship.


Wat Pho


Wat Pho


Restoring the mosaics.


Wat Pho, this was just so pretty.


Rambutan (a tropical fruit)


Ruber tree farm. If you look closely you can see the taps.

 

Wat Arun, one word, HUGE.

View from the top of Wat Arun. Throughout the trip there were always clouds threatening to rian. There's some in the distance if you look carefully. "Bangkok" is across the river.

The scariest descent of the trip. The stone steps were so narrow, my feet barely fit the width. Word to the wise, when climb down, walk pigeon toed!


The Grand Palace


To show respect to the king you must wear appropriate clothing, so they loan it to you for a $10 deposit. I was lucky I got a matcing outfit.


The shear number of structures within the Grand Palace compound was astonishing. if the weather is better I would have spent more time, but the heat was over the top that day and there was little relief from the imposing sun.


The Rosary Church, view from the public waterboat.


A view of the city from the top of Wat Ratchanadda

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This is the driver, he followed me up the temple, then asked me to take his picture, but would not smile. Weird. Did I mention, at the next temple he made another pass at me? Andy put an end to that.

Day 5

This morning we left the craziness of Bangkok and headed to the beach. The flight to Phuket was yet another cultural experience. It was much like the flight to Disney, except with less white people. It became clear that everyone was going to the beach and could not wait to get there as they all clamored around the gate though their number was not up. I hate that. The extra $10 we paid for a premium seat not only gave us little extra leg room (3") but allowed on the plane first which meant that we were not fighting off the hoards of people. It was interesting to watch the people who pushed to get on the plane first, claim seats that did not belong to them, then get booted from those seats. hmmm. Imagine that.

We were greeted at the airport by the nicest mini van to date on the trip, making for a nice 1 hour ride to the hotel. The driver was in a very, shall we say, hurry? Wow. I don't know why I was ok with this guy passing around curves on two lane roads. Maybe I have become used to crazy Asian drivers. I do know that had we been in the states I would not have been laughing.

OMG, the resort is amazing. Pictures can not describe how nice this place was. We were greeted with cold pineapple juice and frozen towels rolled into a ball. I wondered if they would bring those to the pool regularly. We shall see. We were immediately invited to sit down in the lobby to enjoy our drink as the receptionist brought the check-in to us. After which we were taken to our room along the way given a short tour of the property. We learned that the resort had only been open one day after a 1 month hiatus. With only 75 rooms available, they had 7 rooms booked. yeah, we had the whole place to ourselves.

There was virtually no one on the beach or at the pool, and as nice as it is, it has left me wondering if I really liked this. The quietness is a little eerie and there is a bit of guilt that has also played in my head. All of these people are here for just about 20 people.

We settled into our room quickly and headed to the beach which lasted about 30 minutes. Waves too rough for Andy so we headed to pool. I think I lasted about an hour. I was already bored. So I headed to the front desk to figure out some activities for the rest of the week.

We chose not to go to Phuket because there would be too many people and opted for a location that was a little out of the way looking for less of a crowd and quietness. We surely got that and now I am starting to wonder if it was the right decision. The lack of action has already gotten to me. hmmm. What the hell am I suppose to do with myself?... I think we had been here 3 hours.

This is a family owned resort employing the family including the cousins. You would have never known that it was anything less than a corporate owned hotel. The knowledge that it is family owned made us feel really good about our choice. The resort was opened its doors 10 days before the tsunami hit. Holy cow. Luckily, they built the buildings according to the tsunami standards and it survived. After a few days of walking the shoreline, it was evident that it was the only resort to survive on the strip. And to date, only one was being rebuilt but won't even be open until 2013.

The resort lobby, there were doors, this was a completely open area.

The pool, all to ourselves.


I still can not believe that this was only $46/night and included breakfast!


View of beach for lunch at the resort. 


The massage cabanas


I miss these, cold towels. Everywhere we went we were greeted with these. 



Khao Lak City center


A converted pickup truck, AKA taxi?

Day 6

Dear Gaahhhd, has it really only been SIX days??? It feels like a lifetime ago when we left. Not sure what I am going to do with myself for another 10 days of this. Argh. Nothing another massage won't fix.

Morning massages outdoors do not suck. Being in the low season means that there is only one therapist on staff and thus no couples massage. Life is hard. This therapist was better than the last. She understood a little better on how to assess problems areas but only knew one technique. I like my massages in China better. But not complaining.

More coconut shakes and another massage completes our day.

Day 8 - After the storm

Bike number one, chain was broken. Went back to hotel. Bike number two, hmmm, chain was missing. Third one was a charm. This time the girl waited for me to ride away before leaving the bike area.

The sun made an appearance today in time for my bike ride. I thought this would be a welcome sight but it made for the most grueling ride. OMG it was hot. I was completely drenched by my first stop which was only about 2.5km away.

I rode into town looking to book a tour to Phang Nga. But every tour agency was closed. I think they were all napping for lunch. I finally gave up and headed back to the resort.
Stopping at a convenience store for water and soda, the proprietor asked where I was from. After a brief conversation I ventured to ask if she knew of any tour agencies in the area. Of course she replied, "I have a good friend." Leary of what was to come, I fielded it out. To my surprise this was going to work to out. She arranged for a driver from 8-4pm and a private boat tour for Andy and I, with the stipulation that if Andy could not get on the boat we would be refunded. Yeah.

Then somehow the conversation turned to the tsunami. She asked if I spoke Thai. (no) Then she told me that I should try to learn a little at time like she learned English. And that she spoke no English until after the tsunami (6 years ago). From there the conversation began the story of how her life changed after the storm. Apparently it was a turning point.
Before the storm she had only a few close friends, her family was quite poor and her life was about the bubble she lived in. After the storm she lost so many of those friends and family during the storm that she had to reassess her existence. She started opening up and appreciating life around her and all the people that she was missing out on. Now she has so many friends, a thriving business and was happier than she was before the storm.


A remote fishing village in Phang Nga


Our long boat, the driver taking a break on shore.


James Bond island, a great example of a limestone island.


A crocodile. Made the idea of swimming a little scary...


So I jumped in...somewhere else...for TWO seconds.


So cool, we actually went under this island.


3K year old cave drawing under one of the islands.


Prawn farm. They were everywhere.


Wat Sawan Kuha Temple, inside a limestone cave.There are cave
temples all over Thailand.


Life in a fishing village...


May not look like much to us, but people were genuinely happy.


No this was not lunch...


Life in a fishing village...

Does not get more fresh.

We ate at the same restaurant where the king and queen ate. They posted a picture of the event for all to see.

 


Even in a fishing village there is a phone booth. But it was a little out of use. It has been replaced with cell phones and satellites.


Ther market in Khao Lak.

A view from the top. Heading north to Chiang Mai.

We went along with where ever the driver wanted to go to lunch. After a 30 minute ride past prawn farms, rubber tree farms and many villages we finally arrived in a bay where there was a fishing village. We would have never found this place on our own. We were very skeptical upon arrival; it did not look like much. But after a walk over a foot bridge to the end of the docks we were pleasantly surprised to find a waterside restaurant.

The driver negotiated a feast for us and what a nice job he did. The owner even came over and unshelled all of the crab for us. Then for whatever reason, they brought 4 more crabs. yummy.


Remnants of a resort, the land is now for sale. (destruction from the tsunami.)


The only picture I have of an elepant is in the back of a truck. He was getting a bath.


Need a shrine? There were shrine outlets everywhere.

 


Every house and business had one of these in front.


A little narrow? This is a TWO way road.


Doctor fish at the fish spa. Our feet were soooo clean.

We packed it up and headed north for Chiang Mai. A city of over 300 temples. That statistic even surprised our driver (he was young). Our hotel was in the old city, a moated city inside of a city. Sort of interesting. The last time I was in city like this was Avignon, France. What a difference!

In Chiang Mai we were pleasantly surprised by almost everything. It was drastically different from Bangkok. The people there were nicer, the weather was so much cooler and the massages were HALF the price. Whoohooo. Yup, you got it, a massage everyday for $6!

Even though we were really templed out we did squeeze in 4 or 5 more. I just couldn't stand the idea of not seeing the sites when the opportunity presented itself. I am glad we did, the temples in Chiang Mai were a little more humble than those in Bangkok. The one fact that had me really perplexed was that these old structures were really only about 750 years old. For all intents and purposes, this is old, but when you compare them to those in Japan, they really weren't. Considering that Bhuddism is older than Christianity? Where are all of the older temples? I think I am going to have to figure that out for the next trip.


Doi Suthep, the largest temple in Chiang Mai


You can buy a bell, write you name on it and hang it around the temple for luck.


Just pretty.

 


An "Emerald" Buddha. Not really, it's glass.


People were encouraged to write a prayer on a shroud that will cover the temple.


150 steps to the temple.


Donation boxes, you can choose which temple or project you would like your money to be directed.



The Silver Temple (Wat Sri Suphan)


The oldest temple in Chiang Mai, I think it needs a power wash.

 


A secret garden. I squeezed my hand through the gate to snap this pix.

Wang Kum Kam was the capitol before it was moved Chiang Mai due to the numerous floods.This was another unplanned part of our trip. In search of an antique mall, the driver brought us this city, just outside of Chiang Mai. Can we say lost in translation? It was a good mistake. We totally would have missed out on this great adventure. Even though he refused at first, I am glad that the driver decided to come on the tour with us. He ended up being our translator and he had never seen these sights before either. It was so nice to be able to share this experience with him and that he was willing to jump out at every stop to answer all of my inquiries.


Excavation and renovation.


A picture of the temple before they excavated.


Pra that Khao Temple


There were more than nine sites being excavated.


Khan Tom Temple


An umbrella factory.


They actually make the paper. Mulberry trees for the paper.

Boiled in vats.

Beaten to a pulp after boiling.

Pulp goes into a bath.

A fine layer of pulp is washed onto a screen.

The screens are allowed to dry, and the paper is ready.

Umbrella frames are made.

Glue is applied to the frames and the paper is placed onto the frames.


A design is added.


Fans were made in a similar way.

Even the rods are cut from bamboo by hand.


The kitchen and the restaurant all in one.

...and this would be the seating for the above restaurant.


A bead store.

The view from our bathroom.


The moat around the city.


Our driver, he was so cute.


Went to a silk factory. Larva

Cacoons

The cacoons are boiled...


As the silk is pulled from the cacoons onto a spinner.

Each cacoon produces 500-900meters of silk.

The silk is dyed in organic materials, coffee, orange peel, bark, etc.

 


The silk is woven in a loom.

 

My Food Obsessions

One of the best things that came from my ethnic upbringing was my exposure to a very wide variety of food. Not only to Vietnamese food but also other cultures. My father considered himself a bit of a gourmand and mother worked with women from all over the world, which exposed her, then in turn exposed us. She loved trying new recipes and different foods. This exposure has allowed me to open to all of the weird food that we see when we travel. For me it is so much fun to try new things (within limits). Despite what you may think, I too have limits and have no desire to become the next Andrew Zimmern. (He does it for the camera; I on the other hand do it for the experience, hoping to find the next great thing.)
Some of the best adventures during our trip was our hunt for food. Our research took us to many places that would make the rookie traveler cringe, but these would be the best finds. Neighborhood markets that were hard to find that raised even the eyebrows of the locals. We often got perplexed looks from the front desk and drivers when we asked to go to those locations. While there, we turned quite a few heads, but there was always an approving smile when we ate our purchases.
It was always in these out of the way hard to find places that the best treasures were found.

At the fish market we found huge variety of fresh and dried seafood, curiously, there were also numerous vendors selling omelets? And there were lines of people buying it for snacks and taking bags home. What could we do but also partake. That was about all we ate. It was a little unexpected. The egg had a spongy consistency, sweet and served with hot mustard. It was not until we had sushi that it occurred to me what it was for. (At least what I was familiar with.) They use it as an ingredient in sushi.

The freshest sushi can be found at the fish market. I actually got Andy to eat sushi at 10am! We ordered a variety plate and had no idea what 60% of it was. So we closed our eyes and shoved them in. It was indeed fresh, the oysters were some of the best that I have ever had, the fish? It was probably good, but we had a really hard time with it. I jumped into the raw shrimp like it was nobody's business, big mistake. eeks, oh, what it took to get the taste out of my mouth. Then there was the sea urchin. I have heard about this stuff for years and how wonderful it is. Well, there it was, up close and personal; I actually had to talk myself into it. I won't be going back for seconds.

Yes, it took me 10 minutes to talk myself into eating this one. argh.


 

Still hungry after sushi we took in a bowl of ramen on the sidewalk at the market. This food stall was hopping with people. They made one thing for one price, no deviations and the tea was free. They were so busy they ran out of spoons so we sipped from the bowl (just like everyone else who didn't have a spoon.) This was about as simple as it got, two old guys cooking soup, one young guy taking money, and two more guys washing dishes and cleaning the tables as fast as they could. All along a sidewalk. There is a lesson here.


 

On recommendation from Amex, we sought out this restaurant, Tonkesanto. When we pulled up were completely unsure this was even a restaurant. I looked through the windows and started walking around looking for the front door only to find out, that was the front door. Thank goodness someone left while were standing outside. Well then. Again there were 2 main dishes on the menu. So we took one of each. (clueless) It was simply breaded pork cutlets (2 different cuts, one with fat, one without) served with rice, miso soup, a pile of finely shredded cabbage (that kept coming) and some condiments that we squeezed over everything. Kudos to Amex.


Amex did so well for us the first time, we took another try. This time tempura. We really wanted to try all of the Japanese standards. Another winner. Again, all they did was tempura. Several cooking stations throughout the restaurant we sat and watched while the chef, caught dinner out of the tank, killed, butchered, battered and fried our dinner. Even the shrimp were live. Served again with rice, some great condiments, rice and a variety of salts. The head of the shrimps were a particular favorite. The miso soup had a little surprise in it that I have never experienced before.

 

This guy was making mini cakes filled with red beans. This smelled soooo good we bought some.
We each ate one and promptly gave away the rest. I guess we are not red bean cake people.

An unexpected find, this tiny little restaurant was served udon (Japanese noodles) like Chipotle does. You pick your noodle, then there is a self service bar of fried protein and vegetables for you to choose from; then finally you add broth. Altogether this was a piping hot bowl of goodness.


Huan Penn, a popular local Northern Thai cuisine restaurant chosen by the hotel owner. Dishes were picked by the driver. I barely know what we had, except, there was a pork, fish, sausage and another pork dish. They both made great suggestions.


Always on the hunt for meat on a stick. Pork sausage of sorts, with pork fat and lemon grass. Found in all over Bangkok, but this one (coincidentally, our first one) was the best. Found way off the beaten path. $.33 a stick. We went back for seconds.


I love walking into a restaurant and having absolutely no clue how to order. (not really) Best thing to do, look around, see which dish has been served the most and point! Works out about 8 out of 10 times. This was my second bowl of soup for lunch. Though meals are costing about $1-$1.50, by American standards these are really small meals. Kieu standards, these are reallllllly small meals. Thank god they are cheap.

 


We finally made it to lunch where we had our first meal, and of course we had the utmost cliché of Thai meals, Tom Yom Gung. On every self respecting Thai menu in the United States, next to Pad Thai noodle, it could not be anymore expected from the common tourist, but we did not care. And we were so glad we ordered it, as it was the absolute best Tom Yom Gung we had ever had, and even thereafter. Can I just say again how good it was? We can still taste it. For this alone, we would forgive the driver for taking us to such a commercial restaurant and making a stipend at our expense.

Crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside. They were warm cups of coconut goodness. Sort of like coconut pudding.

This "restaurant" was literally on the sidewalk outside of a school at the gate. I wondered if they actually lived there as there was a tv with cable (you can see it at the very back of the picture.) The little girl was my waitress, she was so cute and polite; thinking about her still makes me smile. The meal, one of the best of the whole trip. Someone else was having it at another table so I pointed and ordered one.

Fried pork belly stir fried with mixed vegetables. There was also a yummy fish sauce concoction that everyone sprinkling all over everything. Monkey see, monkey do. It was sooo good. My dinner, $1.


Street food. Corn was everywhere in Thailand. Boiled or grilled, on or off the cob, dipped in a sugar and salt water.


Chestnuts roasting, but only in Chinatown. They come from China, so that is the only place you find them in Bangkok? huh. Oh, expensive, but good.

I didn't know Heinz made more than one ketchup.

I was told this was a Vietnamese noodle house. Close, but not quite. Still good. Less than $1. But a small bowl. I did not feel like being piggish so I went somewhere else for more food. :)


Pad Thai noodle from the most popular Pad Thai place in Chiang Mai. No like.


Last meal in Bangkok. It was a little late (7pm) and the owner was not happy, but she obliged. Stir fried garlic children, basil, rice and a ...fried egg? That was one of the best surprises on the trip. I think I am going to start ordering it from now on.


Perfectly fried basil with pork.

The restaurant at a Muslim fishing village. We ate where the king AND queen had eaton. The restaurant posted a picture of when they had visited, I think in the 80's. (look above the banister)


Before...

After...fruit to cleanse the palate.


Hanging out at school gates when they let out will always yeild yummy treats. On today's menu, popsicles. $.15. The one he is holding up, cocoa. Other than coconut, I could not identify any other colors so we kept it safe. God forbid we choose incorrectly and got durian.


Another great meal suggested by Fron (our driver). We told him we would take him to his favorite breakfast. Way out of town, but worth it. Boiled chicken, a bowl of chicken broth, and the rice was cooked the chicken fat skimmed off the top of the broth. I know this meal all too well. I think everyone in Asia has made a version of this dish. (refer to China trip 2)

I did notice that the driver had a little more on his dish and wondered why I did not get any of the good stuff. (That would be the giblets.) He had not noticed and immediately remedied the situation. Then stated, usually they foreignors don't eat that stuff...to his surprise....

 

For whatever reason papya salad made me a little nervous. So I figured the safest thing to do was have the driver pick the restaurant. We made it inside just in time before the downpour! phew.


Papaya salad. A popular dish in Thailand, ever more popular among the young girls. Low in calories.

 


Must be popular, as this guy was cutting buckets of papya.

 

Things we saw and did not dare eat


This looked and smelled soooo good, but we knew better. Raw shrimp from a stall on the streets? Not the safest. Kept walking.


Larva? all I can say is eeeewwwww.

More ewwwwww.

 

What is Wrong with this Picture????

We see so many things in our travels. And some of them, we can not help but take a picture for the simple fact that it amuses our quirky sense of humor. It may not make you laugh and it may make you wonder, but it's not about you.


We found this guy walking the streets of Omo Tesando in Tokyo. Andy was completely impressed that I was able to get this shot discretely. Do not mistake, this really was in Japan, despite the McD's in the background, just a coincidence. I think wrongness of this picture is just obvious. But I need to put my words to it...And you wonder why Americans have a bad rap...Stop doing this crap!


Translation: 
Thai Trad. Massage $10/hr
Foot Massage $10/hr
Oil Body Massage $13.50/hr
Aloe Vera Body Massage $16.65/hr
Aroma Body Massage $16.65/hr
Swedish Body Massage $16.50/hr
....
do you get the picture? BTW, the prices went to half when we got to Northern Thailand.


Andy was completely amused. This is one of the armed guards the palace. He is on a cell phone and is wearing a mask.



What is missing from this picture? For us who live in the northeast, hard to believe that this car does not come with heat. According to our driver no cars in Thailand come with heat.


How much do you love your king or queen. This vendor has a frame for sale. If you can not tell these are easily 10ft tall.



They take this seriously...

Attention

Passengers who would like to take Durian into the aircraft, please contact airline staffs at check-in counter.


I get the whole praying for a prophecy thing, but put a coin into a flashing machine? It wasn't exactly in the temple, but it might as well have been.


So there I was sitting at the sales counter making a purchase, when I realized that there were things moving in the jar on the table. Upon inspection....they were serious about this stuff.


There are at least three things wrong with this picture.


Ronald does different poses in foreign countries?


These vending machines were all over Tokyo. The two on the left are drinks, the two on the right are cigarettes. Despite the fact that they are all over the city, I don't think we saw a butt on the ground once.


My Class in Repousse
During our trip to Northern Thailand I had the opportunity to take a class. Under advisement of the hotel owner armed with a note written in Thai (also written by her) I headed to the temple to ask if they would be interested in teaching me their craft. To my surprise they said yes.


I was given a pattern to follow.


Handmade tools.

Etch the pattern using a hammer and chasing tools.


Heating the piece...


Helps the shoe polish stick.

Polish.


My classroom


Tar is heated...

Then poured into the piece.


My classmates


Detail is added.

Power polishing.