"Life is either a daring adventure or nothing." Helen Keller

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Learn to Cook Thai Cuisine in Chiang Mai

Love me some Phad Thai

From falafels in Cairo to meat pies in New Zealand to Phud Thai in Chiang Mai, every region of the world offers unique tastes for the intrepid traveler. Adventures in eating is one of the very best parts about traveling; why not take the table one step further and enroll in a cooking course? Continue reading

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Thailand Revisited: Shitfruit, Breaks, and a Jump

Written in October 2008

Ah, adventure! I have three great new ones to tell you about: cooking, dancing, and jumping!


Fresh Coconut Cream Machine

Yesterday I went to the Baan Hong Nual Cooking School where I learned hands-on how to make Phud Thai, green coconut curry, spring rolls, and Tom Yum soup which is kind of like the Thai version of the Vietnamese Pho. The cooking class started with a trip to the hot local market to buy the produce needed including fresh coconut cream pressed directly from the fruit in this big metal machine- it smelled SO good I wanted to slather it all over myself.

At this huge outdoor market they also sold dried fish, jellied coconut, whole deep fried chickens and durian fruit. Durian is a fruit that is banned from most hotels, trains, and buses because when you crack it open,

Finger Lickin' Good!

Finger Lickin' Good!

it smells like shit.

Actually it smells worse than shit- it smells like raw sewage left to rot in the summer sun for a month and then mixed with vomit and dead animals and then left again for another month. I really cannot describe how disgusting this fruit smells. My question is, out of all the wonderful, delicious, mouth-watering fruits in the world that DON’T smell like asshole, why on God’s creation would you eat one that does? I really don’t understand this at all. One shit-fruit, please!

Gotta Go?

Gotta Go?

Another piece of Asian culture boggling my mind is the toilet situation. Besides the ubiquitous squat toilets (which aren’t bad at all), they don’t use toilet paper (though Westerners tend to carry some at all times). By the toilet will be a hose, and that’s it. So you just wash yourself off and then walk around with a dripping wet crotch for a while. It’s this last bit that confuses me, the dripping part. I rarely admit any sort of cultural ignorance on my part, being all travel-savvy and shit, but this is just really bizarre.

The cooking school was great and I am stoked to know how to cook Phud Thai, complete with oyster sauce and tiny dried

Extra Spicy Please!

Extra Spicy Please!

shrimp. I can’t wait to try these dishes out on my friends. Did you know that most spring rolls contain jellied mushrooms? I didn’t even know that they existed- but they do, and they are delicious.

So last night I was bound and determined to find a dance club that didn’t totally suck- and I did! Great success! From a friend of a friend of a friend I heard of an underground bar on a rooftop by the east gate of the old city wall- called creatively, The Rooftop Bar.

I hopped on a tuk-tuk to get there and as I walk up to the front I hear some really sweet breaks coming from above- thank god, BREAKS! Breaks will work. We went in and climbed up several floors of stairs and ladders, surrounded by all kinds of crazy murals, client graffiti, and party kids. I was starting to get really excited and even twitchier than usual.

The Rooftop Bar!

The Rooftop Bar!

Climbing the last ladder with no shoes (‘cuz you take them off everywhere) I popped my head up into the bar and my heart just soared. “I love breaks!” comes screaming out of my mouth and a weird Aussie girl asks me if I like to dance too.

Yeah, a little bit.

The floor of this bar is bamboo and covered with brightly colored mats, making for a bouncy dancing experience- quite fun. Around the edges of the



big room are low tables and cushions holding all kinds of people drinking and smoking as well as a couple of dogs running around. The decor consists of bright paper lanterns, strobing Xmas lights, black-light murals and the Chiang Mai stars and moon. Peering over the edge of the bar you get a good view of the old city wall. There are funny signs all over saying things like Tribal Hertage Conservation (Get it?) and “We do not sell pot here.”

THIS is the place I have been looking for, and the best music I have heard since I arrived in Asia, for sure. Times ten.

The drink special is a passion fruit mojito, and I’m not talking passion fruit flavored rum- the bartendress scoops out real passion fruit, seeds and all, to mix with the fresh lime, mint, sugar, dark and light rums, etc. to make a glorious concoction that tastes like an island sunset and goes down like druggy koolaid.



By the bar the DJ is straight tearing it up and I notice one last CD for sale for 100 baht, or $2.89. The cover is hand-drawn in marker and just says “Breaks Vol. 1.” I was like nah, that’s too expensive…just kidding! I bought that shit for sure! I can’t wait to bring back some DJ Bank to the states! I said hi and told him it was the best music I had heard in Thailand yet; he smiled and kept cutting it up, playing a few familiar tracks and a lot of new ones.

I hung out for a bit dancing and talking to some Brits who had been traveling for a year and still have a year to go. When traveling I rarely meet other Americans; we just don’t travel like the Brits, Canucks, Aussies, Kiwis, or Continentals do. They consider it a rite of passage; travel is just something that you do to explore your world. Of course you have a passport and you travel. Other English-speakers are always SHOCKED to hear that 1) the US has no national health care plan and 2) Americans only get two weeks paid vacation IF you have a really good job and 3) in most states waiters and bartenders live off their tips only.

I love hanging out with new friends, strangers one moment and secret-sharers the next. The best part about traveling is not the temples or the jungles or the ruins or the beaches or the mojitos but rather the people you meet- other travelers, intent on going and doing and moving and shaking. My type of people. And The Rooftop Bar was my kind of dance club. Hell yeah.

Wimpy little crane jump

Wimpy little crane jump

Last night was great and today has been even better. After an American breakfast I headed out for a BUNGY JUMP! My grandmother describes me to people by saying, “she likes to jump off things,” and she is right. The Xtreme sports center is about 20 minutes outside of Chiang Mai and also offers off-road buggies, zorbing, go karts, and paintball- but I was there for the bungy.

I have jumped twice before, once in 1999 from a cable car in the Swiss Alps- at that point it was the highest one in the world. Last year I jumped from the Nevis bungy in Queenstown, New Zealand, the extreme sports capital of the world and the birthplace of bungy. At 134 meters, the Nevis is presently the third-highest in the world (the first is in Macau by Hong Kong, second is in South Africa).



Comparatively, the one in Chiang Mai is a puny 50 meters from a crane. But it is really cheap as far as extreme sports go ($40) and you get to dunk your head in water on the fall, which I have never done. I AM STOKED. There is nothing like bungy jumping; you are sure you are dying and you jump off that ledge thinking, wow, I am fucking crazy, what is wrong with me? I think bungy is a bigger rush than skydiving; something about seeing the ground RIGHT THERE really freaks you out.

I rode out to the sight with a van full of Israeli guys, a real fun-loving bunch who were celebrating the holiest day of the year (today is Yom Kippur, the day of atonement) by “torturing” themselves with the bungy. Once there I volunteered to go first, because I like being in the front and have an irrational love of heights (and turbulence, and airplane food). I was told I was too light to be able to dunk my head, but they would try; the wrapped up my legs and soon I was soon on the ledge with the weight of the rope pulling me forward. Right before you jump they let off an air raid siren right behind you, which really settles your nerves. Yeah right.


And like a fool I jumped off a ledge 50 meters in the air. As you fall things go much slower than they should, and you just plummet towards the ground thinking, this is it. Goodbye world. Also going through my mind was hmmm, I wonder if I will hit the water, I wonder if I will hit the water, I wonder if I will…

A wee bit of water in my ears, and nose, and eyes, and mouth

A wee bit of water in my ears, and nose, and eyes, and mouth

KAPLUSHHHH! I am submerged into the water head-first up to the bottom of my rib cage. Whoa. Water is pushed into my eyes, nose, ears, and brain. My tank top, now heavy with water, almost flies off my head and somewhere in between holding my top on and catching my breath I remember to look up and smile at the camera (because you KNOW I bought the DVD). I bounce and bounce and

I have the video too!

I have the video too!

spin and spin and laugh and laugh. Previously when I bungy’d I screamed, but this time I am just laughing and trying to keep from flashing the spectators.

Bungy is so awesome. You feel free afterwards, buzzing, high. I wanted to dance, to run, to skip to the moon and hug everyone I saw. I am still all psyched out and up and a little shaky; I have a smile on my face that is not coming off any time soon. Back on the ground

The water = 100% clean! Just look at it!

The water = 100% clean! Just look at it!

with my top half soaking wet I celebrate with the guys from Tel Aviv who are eating ham and cheese sandwiches and laughing too. I didn’t think about being so wet so I buy a tank top that says JUNGLE BUNGY for $5. Life is good. You know what I want to try next? The whole squirrel suit thing where you jump off a cliff with no parachute, nothing but a bit of material between your legs and arms and torso, and you fly. Ever since I saw Let’s Go Outside’s video from Italy, I have been wanting to, badly. And don’t worry Mom, I won’t tell you until it is over with and I am safe on the ground! If I was rich I would do this shit every day.

Adrenaline, the best drug

Adrenaline, the best drug

I am back in Chiang Mai now and will catch an overnight train to Bangkok this evening; the trip takes 13 hours- good thing I love trains. Once there I plan to shop like mad and see the sights and go dancing, of course- Bangkok is one big swirling party; then I will head down to the islands for a little more R&R (‘cuz I am SO stressed out). Remember that movie The Beach? That is where I am going in a couple of days. Right now? Time for another massage.

Your world is so beautiful, and much smaller than you think. The people are nice and the food is fantastic. I am already trying to figure out how I can take another trip this spring and where in Asia I want to go- because I have the travel bug, and I have it BAD.

As always much love to you my friends,



Thailand Revisited: Bizarre Bazaar, Johnny Walker, DJ Hungry and I Am Too

Written in October 2008

Every night in Chiang Mai they have a HUGE bazaar from sunset to midnight (the days are way too hot to do anything besides get a massage and have a banana milkshake) and pa070409you can buy all kinds of randomness: colorful carved soap flowers in painted wooden boxes, genuine fake Rolex’s and Chanel bags (and any other name brand you can think of), birds in little straw cages (to set free), shiny gold bikinis, silver toe rings, slick leather satchels, multicolored silk robes, intricate carved teak wall hangings, long strands of beads, embroidered blankets, Fanta baseball caps, egg and banana crepes, and MC Hammer pants (of course).

And then about a billion other things. It is almost so overwhelming you don’t want to buy anything- almost. After a dinner of pineapple and prawn fried rice with a giant Chang, the local beer, I hit up the market and discovered something new about myself (Reason # 898 why you should travel: to discover new things about yourself). I am an expert haggler. Now I am sure these cats are still making money off me, but I get the price I want every time, whether it is for a pair of fisherman’s pants or a ride on a tuk-tuk to a dance club, and it is usually 1/4 of the initial offer. And it really is all about the walk-away. My favorite line that the hawkers use: “GIVE ME MORE MONEY!” It must work sometimes!

pa100009Tuk-tuks are little three-wheeled vehicles with a seat in the back for transporting tourists, named after the sound their sputtering diesel engines make. You can fit six fit females in one. The drivers laze about in the back and as you walk by say, “Tuk-tuk? Tuk-tuk?” Even if you have just walked past a line of fifteen tuk-tuks saying no thanks, the next driver will still say it: “Tuk-tuk?” I will be hearing that in my sleep.

It was a tuk-tuk I took (ha) to track down some techno with some girlfriends last night; I hate to say it but my mission was unsucessful- though NOT for a lack of trying! The clubs here are crazy, of course. You usually have to pay 100 Baht (a bit less than $3) to get in which comes with a free drink ticket for a Blue Hawaii or some shit like that; many are full of tourists and pump out super-crap Top 40 mangled mixes. My recourse in dance clubs like this which seem to proliferate around the world to a sad degree is a failsafe request: “Outkast, please“. It almost always works and I get a little Big Boi or Andre to keep my mind on right.

After several of these junky clubs, we headed to Lonely-Planet suggested “techno club” called Fashion (GOD HELP ME) which was about mile away in the old town area, hiring a tuk-tuk to get there once I got the price down to a reasonable level. This place was in a new hotel and styly-slick, all red and black with a stage up front and a circular booth in the middle. In between were little tables packed with what must be the ‘beautiful people’ of Chiang Mai- hot young Thais having fun and getting ripped. The music, however, was not techno, rather some tropical-trance-hip-hop mutant, a genre which will not be making it’s way across the pond ANY time soon. Let us all hope, anyway.

Even weirder than the horrible music was the fact that I tried to order a vodka-soda only to be told that the bar only served bottles of Johnny Walker. What? REALLY? A second glance around the tables confirned this: sure enough on every table was a bottle of Red Label, surrounded by small glasses- no wonder everyone was freaking wasted. It reminded me a bit of New Zealand where they serve this concotion called ‘Diesel’- premixed bourbon and coke from the tap, served in pint glasses with no ice for two freaking dollars. TROUBLE.

We weren’t quite up for a whole bottle of whiskey (pussies) so I went to talk to the DJ (I never met a DJ I didn’t meet) to see if I could influence his music choices. On a napkin I wrote my laughable requests: Modeselektor? Glitch Mob? Yeah right. So NOT happening. I tried one more, an easy one: Snoop Dogg? DJ Hungry’s reply: “If you want drum and bass, go to Monkey Club.”

I can’t make this shit up, people.

Anyway I was like SWEET drum and bass let’s go!!! I said my goodbye to DJ Hungry and slipped him one more note with the Glitch Mob’s Myspace address followed by: “…will change your life”. Who knows? Maybe Chiang Mai will become the next big center for grimey bass?

I was down to try and find the next club on our adventure, but the other girls were ready to call it a night, and I knew a lone blonde chick really didn’t need to be exploring at 1 AM around a strange city with a few drinks in her. This is the only point ever in my life that I wish I had the guise of a male, because although it is not fair, it is what it is- traveling solo, men have more freedom than women. I usually get around it but sometimes you just have to know when to call it a night. So I did.

This morning I had a horrible breakfast at the hotel which I promptly threw up. Gross but better out than in, right? Called my happy parents for the first time since my arrival in Asia, had another amazing foot massage, bought some baby powder (this honkie’s new best friend- I swear the Thai people do not seem to sweat at all, and it just waterfalls off me) and then grabbed lunch at McShame. I KNOW, I know, but sometimes you just want some deep fried potato sticks and a dinky little cheeseburger in your belly. And it was GOOD.

I am off in a few for a Thai cooking course, and pretty excited because I love Thai cuisine- the spicier, the better. It is kind of cool to be back in a bigger city with all the crazy bustle going on; during my massage this morning I just watched the street scene as grandmas hawked candied papaya slices, men wheeled out booths from the market by grabbing onto the frame as they drove along beside on a motorcycle, Thai girls giggled along in their blue and white school uniforms, and tuk-tuk drivers slept in the shade. I am REALLY REALLY excited about something I am doing tomorrow but I can’t write it or my mom will freak out. Just know Mom that it is nothing dangerous AT ALL- nothing more dangerous than riding in a tuk-tuk, anyway.

Speaking of danger there has been some violent government protests in Bangkok, with pa090004hundreds wounded and one dead- I saw it on the Australian news along with a bit of the most recent Obama-McCain debate (McCain is SUCH a douche). My hotel room is super posh with AC, TV, and minifridge. Anyway, the unrest will most likely be over by the time I return to Bangkok (tomorrow) and besides I am a smart cookie who would never get involved in something like that (in a foreign country, anyway). I will stay very far away from any of it, so nobody worry. My mama didn’t raise no fool. I have felt very safe in this country so far and it is like 100 times more dangerous driving on Interstate 5 in Seattle on any given day. So no worries, yall.

Thank you all so much for reading my updates and especially the great comments (I love you Carter!!!) and Tim: yes, they have a whole lot of happy endings here. Woman and child prostitution is a huge problem all over Thailand. For you however I would suggest The House of Male which boasts “inside-outside service by men for men”– whatever the hell that means.

Much love and peace out! I miss you Seattle! I wish all of you (well okay some of you) could be here with me sharing this experience. Once you start traveling though, it is a complete mind-fuck, you will catch the travel bug and just keep going and going and going- it does not work any other way and you become a rabid avid traveler like moi, insatiably hungry for your next adventure. Mine: how to make the perfect Phad Thai. I’m out.



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Thailand Revisited: Yet Another Best Day of My Life

Written in October 2008

Wow, where do I start? Thailand is amazing. Thailand means Land of the Free, BTW, and man do I feel free right now!

pa040114SUNDAY began with a bicycle ride around the ruins of Old Sukhothai, many of which are from the 13th century when Siam was rollin’. Now I am not Buddhist; though I do appreciate the philosophy, the one piece that always grabs my mind and stops me is the basic tenet that life is suffering. I am a very very lucky girl, that’s why, and have had little suffering in my life, comparitively speaking.

That said, when I stand in front of a centuries-old stone Buddha, it’s pothead eyes gazing down on me and elegant fingers with golden nails beckoning my thoughts, a sense of calm descends upon me that I cannot describe. Maybe it is the smooth curving lines of the stone, maybe it is the ancient handiwork of humans, or maybe it is Buddha on my shoulder but I get overwhelmed. This is Sukhothai.

pa040112It is as HOT AS TEXAS here- no wait, it is hotter. And the hot season does even not start until November. Sweat drips off my ears, my nose, my chin, my elbows, my eyebrows; it pours off in gallons, marring postcards. I stand to buy a coke and walk away leaving a puddle of salty Shilo. It is the tropics, though the Thai people do not seem to sweat at all. Americans do, oh my God. The good news is that having your laundry done is as cheap as everything else. I had a delicious picnic lunch on the grounds of the ancient ruins (along with long-eared cows, kids swimming in ditches, a gaggle of puppies and fishing grandpas in speedos) then hopped a bus further north to Lampang.

pa050180In Lampang I stayed at a guesthouse right on the river, made completely of teak- so beautiful and chocka with bright purple bougainvillas, straw hammocks, and manky little dogs. Looked for some nightlife and was told down the road there was a club playing music. “What kind?” I asked. “Disco crap.” was the reply. I went to bed, sleeping beautifully on a very hard bed which seems to be standard here- my Dad would love it- like sleeping on a plank.

pa050218MONDAY, yesterday, was one of the best days of my life. Breakfast included banana jam and dragonfruit, which has a delicious neon-fuschia flesh, spotted with black seeds. Took a songtaew (the open-air truck) to the Elephant Conservation center where I got thisclose to the elephants, from 4 year-old babies to 50 year-old grandpas. Elephants once were used for logging in Thailand but after the practice was banned, many of the poor pachyderms were abandoned as useless or became beggars in Bangkok or even meth-heads. Now the Conservation Centre is trying to help them. I saw a big elephant bathing party; watched pa050233them show off their logging skills, xylophone skills, and painting skills- no shit. These amazing, ancient, gentle creatures paint flowers and trees. I bought bunches of tiny bananas (the only kind here) to feed them, and of course, took a ride through the jungle where I held on for dear freaking life- my elephant was spastic, kind of like me. I also checked out the world’s only elephant dung paper factory where elephant shit is turned into all manner of notebooks, albums, and gift wrap. I bought my brother a souvenir from the dung factory, and myself a sweet piece of elephant art done by a 14 year-old female who is “naughty and likes to eat.” My kind of girl!

pa050242Next door is the Elephant Hospital where sick or wounded animals from all over Thailand can get medical care for free. Many elephants have been severly injured by stepping on landmines on the Thailand/Myanmar border; it is SO sad. Fucking humans. It always hits hard when I am traveling how you can be so inspired and disgusted by human nature all at the same time- like seeing shit graffiti on ancient columns in Rome.

pa050273Elephants live here in the Conservation Centre with a leg blown off, thanks to this one amazing woman has dedicated her life to providing care for these smart creatures, including prosthetic limbs. The older elephants have a hard go of it, but a younger two year-old named Mosha walks around on her fake leg, painted grey with toenails and everything, like a three legged dog who has no clue something is wrong. I was so inspired by this silly animal, sassy and energetic, who would beg for rice cakes and get them. There were many other elephants there at the center; all with the same life span as humans- they fill your heart and break it all at once.

pa060288I made a quick stop by some mineral pools which were lukewarm; much better was the foot massage I got poolside. The masseurs rub sticks in- between your toes, up and down and twisted all around. It is so good you want to run away screaming!

Then another songtaew trip (many of these songtaews are just pickups with benches along each side) to the village of Mae-Ohn where I stayed with a family in their home, dotted with pictures of outings to the beach, Buddhas with sunshades on, and photos of Elvis. The family pa060300served a feast including pork and tomato curry, zucchini and egg, pork rinds and KFC. During the meal the family played traditional instruments; Dad led the band including nine children. Then even more kids came out, and more- many Thais live in extended families which is SO better than the nuclear family and in fact the way that humans have lived for most of our existence. That way, if your mom and dad turn out to be total freaks, you have options.

After dinner was a music lesson on traditional Thai instruments (I am pretty good on the sunt) then outside to see the girls do nail dancing (as in fingernails). The young boys also performed a dance which translated into: kick your brother in the ass and try not to get yourself kicked in the ass. It was pretty fun, and quite the workout- maybe the next cardio fitness fad? Ass-kickin’ cardio!

pa060338The young girls came back out and started twirling swords! Hell yeah! All the crowd freaked out and scooted back, not me though- because I know when you pick up a sword to twirl it in the air, you know what the hell you are doing. ‘Cuz I twirl swords too, and freak people out on a regular basis.

The night was capped off when uncle #3 lit on fire a giant paper lantern, about 8 feet tall, attached a long tail of fireworks and let it go into the sky, and we all stood there and ooh’d and aah’d like a gang of five year-olds. Everything was burning and exploding and crackling in the starry sky; they obviously don’t have the same pa060344fire codes in Thailand as they do in the US!

I slept under a mosquito net on a mat on the floor, very very well. The mosquitos here are viscious- I have been bitten three times since I have been typing this post, and I have gobs of bugspray on.

Tons of other exciting things happened, of course, like a fire starting outside the home; I saved the day by running over barefoot and putting it out promptly- but I gotta save some stories for when I get home, right?

TUESDAY: Woke up at 6AM, had the most delicious Sanka of my life and then went to the temple to give alms to the monks. The temples are ridiculously ornate and colorful, and even more so inside, with bright murals, big gold Buddhas. and multicolored mirror mosaic altars. The novice monks wear bright yellow and orange robes; alms today were bags of fried rice and pa060366slices of watermelons. Being female and dirty dirty dirty I cannot touch a monk or even hand anything to him; I must place it in a bowl and take care not to touch the rim with my polluted self. It’s all that techno music that has made me so damn filthy, I just know it!

Fried rice for breakfast is the bomb, and food here is so so so good, like Jai Thai except FUCKING GOOD and NOT crap. Pineapple abounds everywhere.

I took a bike ride around the little village I had stayed in past about 3 billion more scratchy little inbred dogs to another temple, this one even more decked out than the last. These Buddhist temples put the Vatican to shame in gaudiness and exuberance, wow. I pedaled past rice fields and distant purple hills, by jungles and more pa060383temples to a mushroom farm (picked some for lunch), a sewing shop (purses for $1-2), then to the best stop of the day: an elementary school, where I helped teach the little five-year old urchins how to speak English.


I don’t know who liked it more, me or the kids! We sung the alphabet song, counted on fingers, did the hokey pokey and the chicken dance, played with blocks and then I taught pa060398them the high-five, a winner with six year-olds worldwide in my experience. It was amazing. Staying with the family was the best experience of my trip so far; they opened their home and shared their food, their children, their bucket shower with me, all with the smiles that characterize the Thai people.

After yet another home cooked meal with the best curry I have ever had, fried bananas, sweet and sour vegetables, and about six other dishes I hopped yet another songtaew to the big city of pa040092Chiang Mai where I write you now. (Funny, one blog post ago I couldn’t remember the name for songtaew; at this point I will never forget it!). I took a shower, shaved my legs and washed my hair and feel like a million baht! Then I had another massage though this one was a little pricey- $7 for an hour. Oh well, city prices.

I love to travel but you know what makes it even better? Having friends at home who you care about to come home to. Thank you.

Tonight we are in the big city and it is time to PAR-TAY. Last night’s entertainment was Jenga so I am ready for some dancing. If Lonely Planet is correct, there are quite a few techno clubs here and I am HELLA excited to sample the Thai flavor of techno- I bet it is spicy!

Much love my friends! I am writing these posts and not even rereading or spellchecking them, so forgive me for any errors.

Have fun and hold it down for me!