Friday, February 22, 2008

Northern Thailand: where the fields smell of garlic and one motorcyclist saved our trip

So from Chiang Mai we took a minivan north through the windy mountains to Pai. En route, we heard a thump, and figuring it was merely a bump in the road, continued on. the back windshield door fell open and we heard a thump (figuring it was a bump in the road). A few minutes later we looked back and saw the back window/door had opened up and one thing had fallen out: my backpack. A complete catastrophe--all my current worldly posessions gone for good. A sheer travesty. Once we finally got the driver to pull over, he walked around to the back and scratched his head, shrugging. He closed the window and was walking back to his door when a mircale happened:

A local Thai on a motorcycle had picked up my (heavy) pack and was holding it (with one arm) for the five minutes it took to catch up with us. THANK GOD!!! We didn't even get to thank him as he just rode off into the sunset...

Just to backtrack, above left and right are pictures from Doi Suthep, a hilltop temple a few miles north of Chiang Mai.

Pai is a very cute hippie village nestled in a valley high up in the mountains. There are literally more smelly dreadlocked hippies than local Thai folk. They came there for a good reason though--the mountains are beautiful, the town is lush and green with a small river trickling through. There is a vibrant night life with music, fire dancers and street fairs, all with a low-key laid-back spirit. Very easy to relax here for a while.

After hanging out with Drew, a fellow New Yorker we met in Chiang Mai, for the evening, we decided to spend a few days in town. The following morning we embarked on a full day's hike to two hill tribe villages (Lizu and Lahu). We walked through garlic fields (you would not believe the smell; Deanna was in heaven!), bamboo forest, waterfalls and other gorgeous scenery. Enjoy the pics below... (the first one is of picked garlic on a truck headed to the market)

After Pai we went to Chaing Rai via Chiang Mai (try saying that ten times fast), further north. We took a great tour of the Golden Triangle (the triple border between Thailand, Myanmar and Laos), the fabled opium-producing region of yesteryear. En route, we stopped at the Monkey Cave, a mountain cliff that falls into a lagoon, with about 200 monkeys hanging around (credit Deanna with that pun). Enjoy the monkey montage below... Open the last picture in a new window and see how many monkeys you can count (be thankful they're climbing the mountain and not jumping in your bed).

From the monkeys we drove to Mae Sai, the very northern tip of Thailand. I crossed the border into Myanmar to do some shopping (it felt like crossing from San Diego into Tijuana) while Deanna relaxed at a cafe. Once back safely in a non military dictatorship, we drove to a viewpoint above the triple border. In the picture below, we're standing in Thailand, Myanmar is behind us to the left and Laos is behind us to the right. A bit reminiscent of the Paraguay / Argentina / Brazil border (sans incredible waterfalls).

And just because we are surrounded by thousands of them every night, below is a fun picture of a little gecko. We're off tomorrow to cross into Laos and take a slow boat down the Mekong River for a couple of days. We'll check back in soon...

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

More Elephants, some Thai Cookery, and some Temples

Now that we're engaged life has changed dramatically -- OK, actually not at all. We are just as happy as can be and really the only thing that has changed is that we are more north.

Below are some more elephant pictures that were too amazing not to put up.

Elephants bathing

Elephants marching while banging on a drum (and some people can't even chew gum while walking!)

Ta Da! Me and an elephant

We've spent the last few days in the ancient city of Chiang Mai. It is a tourist-beaten place but it still retains its charm and provides us with easy access to things like cheap delicious food, great shopping, easy sightseeing, and Thai cooking schools taught in English.

The temples here are adorned with Buddhas in different postures, signifying different times of Buddha's life.

 pretty, so serene.

After spending our days in temples, we decided to follow a Buddhist proverb.

We enrolled in Baan Thai Cookery School for the day.

First we learned to shop for ingredients.

Then with classmates from England, Ireland, and Austria, we chopped, mashed, mixed, and cooked.

We cooked and cooked then ate and ate.

We learned to make five dishes but more importantly, learned the techniques to prepare most Thai dishes. We also learned the secret of Thai cooking, which is fish sauce, oyster sauce, and sugar (of course this can be altered for our veggie friends).

When we get home get ready for some yummy Thai dinner parties!

And just because she's adorable, here's the picture of the two-week old kitten that runs around our guest house. She's tiny, maybe 6 inches long...

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Why today is the best day ever!

Deanna here - today is the best day ever for many reasons:

We rode an elephant through the jungle in Northern Thailand for a good cause.

We watched elephants paint self-portraits.

We are staying at a beautiful wooden teak gueshouse right on the river in Lamapang.

We had an amazing Thai lunch cooked with fresh ingredients from the area.



We got engaged!!!

Aaron bought a beautiful backpacker-friendly engagement ring back in NYC and was waiting for the right time to propose. After the amazing day we had at the elephant conservation center, we went back to the guest house for siesta (still have a bit of South America in us). Aaron set up the ipod speakers to play our song (a Jerry Garcia Band version of "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)") and went out to the balcony overlooking the river all while I was in the bathroom killing a small ant colony. He asked me to come out to see something amazing, and since I was engrossed in my ant-killing rampage, I didnt hesitate to go wearing the Larry's Dive Bar XL bright yellow t-shirt (won at the superbowl party in Bangkok).

When I got outside he was on one knee. I started to cry immediately. He said some very special things and proposed. And of course my answer was YES!

Enjoy the pics below (Note: I changed for the photo shoot)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Jetlag be damned, Bangkok here we come

Hey there! Long day today--woke up at 5am (we surprisingly had no trouble adjusting to the 15 hour time difference) for the Super Bowl. Deanna was thrilled with the outcome and I was thrilled just watching one last football game this season.

So our flight over here was perfect--Thai Air gets a HUGE two thumbs up. Great service, plenty of legroom, good on demand entertainment system and yummy food. 18 hours later and we were in a hot pink taxi cutting through rush hour to get to the Sukhumvit section of Bangkok. We checked into D'Pelican guest house and decided to forgo the nap for some Buddhist temples.

After two taxi drivers said they would not take us to the historic center, we snapped back to our adventurous selves (alright, I'll admit it, we got lazy in the US) and took the sky train to the river boat to get up to the Grand Palace. From what we can tell so far, this city (and probably most other big cities in Asia) thrives on the dichotomy between ancient and ultra-modern--just the idea of taking a quiet, clean and efficient above-ground subway to a long-boat to float slowly down the river impressed us.

Here we are at Wat Phra Kaew, in the Grand Palace, home of the emerald Buddha (which is really made of jade and is spectacular, but alas, no cameras in that temple). We got our first taste of the Heat this afternoon, as the direct sun was just sweltering (and it's the dead of winter, yikes!). So we wandered back home and had a great dinner--despite everyone's warnings, the food here is pretty close to what we get when we eat thai back home, which proves my theory that Faan on Smith Street is legit for thai, japanese and chinese.

The next day we took the underground subway to the train station to book our passage up north. Everything runs very smoothly here so far, very reminiscent of German efficiency. (Note: I wrote this yesterday, so of course it came back to bite us in our ass today--we spent 5 hours in the train stration today waiting for our delayed train...) Tomorrow morning we head up to the ancient walled city of Sukhothai en route to the hippie trail (we had the gringo trail in South America and now the hippie trail here) outpost of Chiang Mai. A quick tuk-tuk ride later put us at Wat Pho to see the largest reclining Buddha in the world--a whopping 46 meters long and 15 meters high. You don't really get that full scale below...

Next we strolled to an outdoor market and tried some new food-- unidentifiable oatmeal-like mushy soup with some sort of meatballs and other stuff in it. It was actually one of the best things I've had here so far. Note the soup dribbling down my chin as I waited, posed, for Deanna to take the picture. Later that night we met up with Russ's and Jordan's uncle, Mark, for dinner and a tour of the red light districts. We had a blast running around Nana and Soi Cowboy areas.

Right now we're in Phitsanulok, after the aforementioned 5 hour delay leaving Bangkok. The train ride up here was breathtaking--palm trees, rolling green meadows, craggity mountains topped with giant bronze buddhas, temple after temple. Tomorrow we will head to Sukhothai to see the ancient walled city. We'll check in again when we get to Chiang Mai. Here's to hoping that either Clinton or Obama (whoever wins today) can and will beat the republican candidate...