Making Food Babies – Chiang Mai, Thailand

The rice fields on the farm at the Thai Farm Cooking School

Have you ever played that game where you ask a person if they could only eat one type of food for the rest of their lives, what would it be? Many people would answer Italian, or Japanese. Every once in a while I have heard French, or Indian, but I have never heard anybody mention English food. If you ask them what their second choice would be, Thai food tends to pop up more than any other kind. Sometimes when hearing this second choice from other people, some may change their minds and make this delicacy their first choice. It is a type of food with rich history, tons of variety, and enough spice to keep you interested for the rest of your life. And if you are ever in Chiang Mai, it is a wonderful way to spend a day, not by hopping from restaurant to street vendor, but enrolling in a day long cooking class.

A wander around the garden requires a sun hot, and not just because it is so stylish

There are many different school offering all day cooking classes around town and it may be hard to pick the right one, but I was happy with the one that we went with, the Thai Farm Cooking School. The day starts early in the morning when they picked us up at our hotel, and drove us out to one of the markets so they could talk to us about some of the ingredients that we could find there, and what would we would want to buy to make the perfect Thai dishes. It was a fun introduction to the markets in Thailand, and the one they took us to was one of the better ones I have seen for produce.

Afterwards they took us out to a farm that they ran. The tour continued as our guide, Gift (yes, Thai names can be weird, but they usually fit the personality of the person that possesses them), took us around so we could try the various flowers, vegetables, and roots that could be found in the garden. It was interesting to see how complicated the process came to collecting the right ingredients to make some of these iconic dishes.

Cooking pad thai

The rest of the day was spent making a dish and then eating it. I had heard about what a test of endurance this could be for even the hardiest of eaters, so I made sure to have a light breakfast before I started on what would be a delightful culinary day. I learned about why my Thai cooking never turned out as good as the food I could have gotten at a restaurant, and I learned how to blend them together to make the perfect dishes. A lot of it had to do with ingredients that can only be found in Thailand, or at least the local Asian market in the United States. Either way, it takes a little more time to collect these ingredients, and then it takes even more time to prepare them so they are ready to be made. This includes pulling out a mortar and pestle to grind up chilis and other spices to make the paste needed for curries.

Tom Yam Kung soup, a great spicy starter

But it wasn’t just about learning how to make the perfect Tom Yam Kung, it was also about learning a little bit about the Thai culture and language as well. Gift was great about telling us about how to eat like a real Thai person, and the language that we could use to blend in a little bit more. She even explained to us all about the complicated wai as a greeting, a sign of respect, and a goodbye. I had heard a lot of this before, but I could see how the other people along the trip would have appreciated hearing all about it.

How to make a presentation out of a yellow curry dish

Thai food is not only delicious, but the really good Thai food also knows how to be visually stunning as well. There are numerous stories about why this is the case, but the most popular one comes from one of the ancient kings, Rama IV. One of his servants would craft the food that she made into some of the most intricate art including ships and flowers that when he saw it he became instantly enamored of her talents. He then required that his wife learn this art while she prepared food as well, and the tradition took off in Thailand. Our teacher tried to teach us some of the finer aspects of this art as she would made some of the most beautiful dishes I have ever seen with what appeared to be the simplest of ease.

A failed attempt at making a presentation out of a red curry dish (Kaeng Phed)

I quickly found out that recreating these masterpieces was not as easy as it looked. And even though I could not make it look as pretty, at least, it still tasted delicious. The meals kept on coming as well. After the soup and curry, we made pad thai, and stir-fried basil chicken. We had a papaya salad, and even ended up by making a traditional Thai desert of bananas in coconut milk.

Chicken basil stir fry as a girl with pigtails

Along the way, I even was able to make one of my dishes appealing enough so a five year old might even want to eat it. There were no five year olds around, so I have to eat it instead. And it was delicious. By the end of the long day, and the five courses that I had consumed, I had created a food baby in my belly, and was verging on a food coma. I had learned a lot about traditional Thai food, and a little bit about their lifestyles. And all along the way, I had a great time. It was a great way to spend the day, and should be placed on anybody’s itinerary who makes it out to Chiang Mai.

Getting Some Culture – Chiang Mai, Thailand

A small Buddha temple made of teak wood and protected by dogs

I know I have been very lazy ever since I have landed in Chiang Mai, and there is a lot that this city has to offer which I have been missing. So I finally pulled myself away from the pool to go out today and see the sights which is a harder thing to do than you would think. It is not easy to leave the comfort of the pool out here to wander around in the confines of the old city walls because Thailand is hot.

I knew this before I moved out here, but I had no idea how oppressive the heat could be. It is even the official end of the monsoon season out here when the temperature outside should start cooling off a bit, but nobody has told the weather that this is what it is supposed to do. Granted, I have not seen any rain since I have been here, but the sun has continued to beat down on me and this might be up there with the hottest temperatures I have experienced since I have been out here. I didn’t want to leave the pool life and explore, but I knew that if I did that for another day I would have regretted it.

A bamboo grove on the grounds of Wat Phra Singh

So I went out to explore a couple of the various wats that can be found in the old city. I started early enough in the day so the heat would not drag me down, and I was able to explore both the Wat Phra Singh and the Wat Chedi Luang. These structures are the ancient temples that house some of the most spectacular buddhas that can be found in Chiang Mai as well as the grounds on which the monks can travel around and meditate. Not only are the gold encased buildings and statues impressive, but so are the well-cared for grounds on which they reside.

Look carefully and you can see the apple in the naga’s teeth

Every temple has a series of steps up to the inside of the building where you are supposed to take off your shoes. The steps are guarded on either side by some kind of creature depending on what part of the world you find yourself in. In Thailand, the common statue is of a naga. This mythical creature is said to live in the rivers, lakes, and ocean waters all around the country, and before the monsoon season, the citizens of the country will squirt water to appease these beasts so they will come out and spit water into the air causing for an exceptionally rainy season. Most of the statues I found at the temples had one head, but the ones at the Wat Chedi Luang seemed to be a hybrid of the hydra from ancient Greece. People do come and offer these creatures gifts, and you can see various fruits, and flowers laid at the ground in front of them. Somebody gave the one I saw an apple and placed it in his mouth.

The ancient temple at Wat Chedi Luang

The temples that hold the buddhas are also impressive. The one at the center of the grounds at Wat Chedi Luang was built in the 13th century, and even though it has seen better days, there are efforts to restore it to the magnificence it once was. The brick building reminded me of the types of buildings that could found at Angor Wat in Cambodia and as I walked around it, I was rewarded with sculptures of not only buddha, and nagas, but also elephants as well. It added to the majesty of this place.

One of the various Buddhas at Wat Chedi Luang

And there are plenty of images of Buddha around. There are many different ways that he is presented from standing, sitting and sleeping, and all of them were present at these temples. The ones that disturbed me the most were on the lifelike wax statues that were created of some of the more celebrated Buddhist monks. At first, I thought they were the actual monks that were waiting to greet visitors as they made there way into these sacred places, but they were just replicas. Why they did that I could not say, but it made for a unique experience as I went into my first temple.

The largest temple at Wat Phra Singh

I will admit that I did not last very long before the pool at my hotel called me from across the old city, but it was fun to endure the heat, and go see these ancient and beautiful places. It made me feel like I had earned the refreshing dip in the cool waters, and I know that I have a few more days out here to go out and get some more culture.

The Lost Horizon – Chiang Mai, Thailand

I came back to my hotel room last night after a great meal and saw that the staff had come into our room to turn down our bed. They also must have noticed my books on the nightstand next to the bed, so they thought that this would be the perfect opportunity to give me a book mark. It had a memorable quote on it that went…

“He was enjoying the pleasant mingling of physical ease and mental alertness which seemed to him, of all sensations, the most truly civilised. So far, the appointments of Shangri-La had been all that he could have wished – certainly more than he could ever have expected.” – James Hilton

At first glance, it might seem that this kind of sentiment should be reserved for the greatest of hotels, a place where relaxation is the appointment of the day, and the greatest need is collect one’s self so they can return to the grind from whence they came. But then it does make sense that the hotel I am staying at takes its name from that mythical place that James Hilton created in his iconic novel, Lost Horizons, the Shangri-La. This is not the typical place that I search for when I look for a place to stay on my vacations. It is considered one of the more luxurious places that a person can stay in, and I don’t usually travel for the hotels, but it is fun to treat one’s self from time to time. It also helped that the room was booked at the last minute so we were able to find a pretty good deal on the room, even though it still was a little bit more of a splurge than what we usually are willing to do.

Because of this, we decided that our first full day of this vacation would be spent not leaving the hotel and getting the most out of the place. Of course, this did not mean spending the day locked in our hotel room, ordering room service and watching bad movies on cable. The Shangri-La has a lot more to offer that we were able to entertain ourselves throughout the day.

And we were in Thailand at the end of the rainy season.

The view from the poolside at the Shangri-La in Chiang Mai, Thailand

This meant enjoying the pool, and they have a beautiful pool here in Chiang Mai. There are numerous lounge chairs all around the deck with the shade of palm trees allowing for a relaxing spot to watch the ripple play in the calm water. There are many other amenities that the place has to offer, such as a spa, and small shops as well as two restaurants, and a couple of bars, but the things that caught my attention was the pool. There is no better way of spending a day than relaxing by a pool, and jumping in the water to cool off whenever I get too hot. It even featured a waterslide that I thought was for children, but soon found out that it could be enjoyed by all ages. I did have to pay attention to the big barrel of water at the top of the slide that would tip over every ten minutes and drench whoever stood up there at that time, but it was still fun to go down every once in a while. It made for the perfect day.

Some would claim that this is a wasted day of vacationing. The purpose of traveling some place new is to experience new things, and see new cultures. Why would anybody want to spend the day sitting by the pool getting pampered? Because vacation cannot be all about going around and seeing stuff. Yes, I do enjoy being a tourist and experiencing different cultures, but I also need some down time. Some people only get to travel a couple weeks out the year, and part of that time is spent visiting family and friends. I find myself very fortunate to have created a life for myself where I get to take these trips on a regular occasion. Just because I go some place does not mean that I do not wish to have some downtime as well. In my profession, I have found that it is a much needed thing to do every few weeks. And though I like to spend my time seeing different parts of the world, I also like the time that I get to spend recharging my batteries. This one day at the Shangri-La allowed me to do that.

James Hilton understood this completely when he said, “The appointments at the Shangri-La had been all that he could have wished.” I needed that day-long appointment with the pool. I will get back to exploring the world again in a day, and go back to the places that are more speed, but for one day, I enjoy feeling like I deserve the others taking care of me. It makes for the perfect way to start any vacation.

I Wonder How Many People Are Named John Here – Chiang Mai, Thailand

Travel days are always interesting. You get to go from some place where you are comfortable to some place you have never been before, and in the process there are a lot of transfers from taxis, buses, planes, and trains. The whole time you can feel the excitement about getting away and seeing that new part of the world, but at the same time you have to squeeze into tight spaces, and spend time with a bunch of your instant friends who are also going through the same experience. And when you finally get to your destination, you want to drop everything off and go explore, but you do not have enough time to really dig into the new location and check out what the place has to offer.

What I like to do with this short amount of time before I really start to enjoy the place I find myself in is to find the center of town and start to wander. Any place that looks interesting is a place I will stop at, have a bite to eat, and a drink, and get a little more comfortable with the area. This brings me to the best marketing strategy that a restaurant can do to bring in those random stragglers, name it after a really popular name.

We have all seen the places. I have seen my fair share of them, and on my first night in Chiang Mai, I ran into another one, John’s Place. I went with my first instinct to get my picture with the sign to show to everybody that I know that I somehow now own a restaurant in this small corner of the world. But then I found out that the place had a rooftop bar, so I had to take the experience one step further, and go upstairs to eat and have a drink.

It wasn’t like the rooftop bars that I can find in Bangkok, but it was the perfect place to spend a part of this cool evening. I was given a place that overlooked the moat that was at one time dug out. I got to watch the other travelers that I had found themselves in a different part of the world as they explored as well, and enjoy some spring rolls. But I also wondered if I would have stopped here if the place was not called John’s Place. I might have, but the fact that I had that small strange connection with the place made the choice that much easier.

I started to look around at the other patrons that night, and started to wonder how many of them shared the same name that I had, and had also fallen for the same marketing scheme. There had to be at least one John at each of the tables. It also made me think how many times I had ended up in places that had the name John in the title or at least JC (there is a JC in Bend, Oregon and I have been there a couple of times, partly because of the name). Would I make the same choice again the next time I came across a John’s Place, or has the realization allowed me to grow as an individual and not be so easily manipulated.

In all reality probably not. So the next time you hear that I am in town, just stop at your local John’s because you know that is where you will find me.

A Weekend on the Coast – Hua Hin, Thailand

An aerial view of Huua Hin looking over the Bintabath section of the town

It had been awhile since I felt like I had gone on a real vacation. I had taken a night or two to spend some time in downtown Bangkok and explore that area, and before that I had visited my family back in the United States, but it had been a long time since I had gone to a new destination and enjoyed the comforts of that place. I didn’t think much about this as I left Bangkok for the first time, and made the three-hour trek down the coast to the town of Hua Hin, but what I found when I finally arrived there was a great city with lots to offer that I was able to enjoy a wonderful experience at this great destination.

The wide open space available on the beaches during the off season months

The most obvious attraction in this city is of course the beach. It stretches all the way down the main strip with many hotels perched above its sandy shores. I went down here during the perfect time. Even though it was a national holiday last weekend, there were still not a lot of people enjoying the beach. I could easily find a spot where I would be comfortable enjoying the sun and warm water, and still feel like I had the beach to myself. I do not know if this would be the case during the height of tourism season in January, February and March, but in October, it was perfect.

The view of the beach from one of the restaurants found there

If got too sunny, I could go to one of the various restaurants along the beach and park myself underneath their umbrellas, and enjoy a drink or a bite to eat. The food wasn’t that great, but the shady spot where I could watch the tide come in and sip on a beer was the perfect way to enjoy the afternoon. My favorite part of this was watching them taking the umbrellas down and replace them behind me as the water threatened to get them wet. I started the time in this shady retreat in the back row, but by the time I left I found myself almost able to put my toes in the water, and I didn’t have to do a thing to get closer to the water than just sit there.

A food stall in the Cicada Market

Hua Hin also has two night markets that it can boast about. The first one is the older market closer to town that has most of the traditional things that you can find at a market in Thailand, clothes, various household items, and street food. The nice thing about this market is the restaurants that line the street behind the vendors. They have set up places along the street where you can sit down and watch the various people shop while enjoying some of the street food that you have found.

The dining area in the Cicada Market

I liked the Cicada Market on the southern end of town a lot more. It was a little more upscale, and most of the people working the booths were the artists that produced the items that they are selling. If you are looking for that unique gift or memento from this part of the world, this is the perfect place to find it. They also have to amphitheaters where bands or acts will play to entertain you in between the moments of shopping. In the center, you can also find various stalls selling their versions of Thai street food. This place had some of the best street food that I have fond in Thailand, and it was still pretty inexpensive. I had a hard time stopping myself from eating too much because there was too much good smelling food that was being offered.

The Black and White platter from Prime Steakhouse

This isn’t the only place to find good food in the city. There is the bar section of town Bintabath. This is a fun place to go barhopping because they all seem to be located in this area. Besides finding a good drink or a nice pool table, you can also get an amazing sit down meal. My favorite place was the Prime Steakhouse. It was a little pricey, but the meal could easily have been in my top five for steaks I have eaten on all of my travels in the world. It also has a beautiful, relaxing and comforting atmosphere that makes the time you spend here just as good as the food.

A marching street band I came across on my last day in town

I only got to spend one weekend in Hua Hin, and every corner I turned there was a new site to see, or a new experience to be had. I know that I had barely scraped the surface of what this little corner of Thailand had to offer, but after spending a couple nights here, I know that I have found a gem that I want to return back to soon.

A view of the sunset from the bar on top of the Hilton Hotel along the beach

Most of my attention was directed towards the shore while I was out there, and it was only the sunset on my last night there that allowed me to see that there was another side to this place that I had not even seen, the mountains and the fun hikes that hid themselves over there. I know I will be back someday because it is so close and the perfect little retreat for those long weekends I get, but until then, I will have to explore the rest of Thailand and see what it has to offer me.

 

Being Indiana Jones – Hua Hin, Thailand

I know that there is only one Indiana Jones movie that takes him into Asia, and for most people, it is not the best installment in the series, but thanks to recent efforts, it is not longer considered the worst by some people. Despite this fact, I had a great morning adventure that made me feel like I was Indiana Jones, exploring the wilderness of some forgotten forest in search of a secret temple. It made me feel the magic that I have heard about the country of Thailand for the first time since I have moved here, and it is truly one of the hidden gems that the country has to offer.

I have taken a weekend trip down to Hua Hin, a beach resort town on the eastern coast about three hours south of Bangkok. And even though the town has a lot to offer, and I have had a lot of fun exploring its nightlife, it is this morning side trip that will probably stick in my mind longer than any other event, and be the thing I remember about the place. I got up early and grab a taxi to go see the wonder of Phraya Nakhon Cave, and I do not regret the decision.

Basically, the forty-five minute cab ride from town costed me 700 baht, and took me down to Sam Roi Yot National Park which is the entrance to a path that would take me to this hidden cave. For another 200 baht, I was able to buy entrance into the national park, and I had a choice to make. I could take a half an hour hike over a rocky out cropping to get to the trailhead, or rent a boat that would take me there in ten minutes.

I went with the later choice, and I am glad that I did. There is a big collection of water taxis that sit on the edge of the beach, and the take people back and forth to the beach on the other side of the mountain.

They were constantly going back and forth, and I didn’t have to wait for a second to catch a boat either way. It always fun to travel by boat as well. Smelling the fresh salt water as the boat skims over the mild wake helps to build up anticipation for the experience that is going to follow.

When the boat landed on the other beach, it took a little while of walking through the sand before I reached the trailhead. This is where the ease of the boat ride really paid off. I had gotten to the trail head at about 9:30 in the morning, and even though it is starting to cool off a bit in Thailand, it is still really hot and humid as I traversed up the rocky stone path that took me to the entrance of the cave.

It was also nice that I went early. There were a couple of people that were on the path as I went up, but they were far enough between that it made it feel like I was out there by myself. On my way back, there were a lot more people coming up, so I was glad that I had started early so I would not have to deal with these crowds as I made it to the treasure at the end.

As I went through the trek, I was amazed by the natural surroundings. I was definitely in the tropics as the foliage crowded in around me, and the humidity made me sweat. Monkeys jumped from above in the trees, and every once in a while they got close enough where I could see them. Rock formations poked out from the overhanging recesses that I found along the trek, and I really thought that I was getting some place where very few people had ever seen. From time to time, I would come across something that would remind me that this was a sacred place for the people of Thailand as I would see a statue or a sign indicating that I was still going in the right direction.

As I made it further into my decent, the landscape changed even more. I found myself in a natural cave carved out by the wind, rain and spraying ocean water. It started to cool off a bit more as I found myself surrounded by the cliff faces, and I could marvel more at the natural way that things were carved above, around and below.

Finally, I turned a corner, and for the first time I could see the treasure that I had come down here to see in the first place. It was like Indiana Jones standing at the edge of a long hallway in which the end of it stood the golden statue bathed in a shimmering light. What I had found was a lot bigger, and only pictures of it would be the things that I would be able to bring back with me. And I wouldn’t realize how stunning those pictures would be until I made that final turn.

There it was, the temple that was framed in the morning light from the opening of this cave out in the middle of the hills in Thailand. It was the perfect time of the day to come out here to see this as well because the lighting was perfect. I could see how an hour later, it would not be as dramatic, but it really stood out during the time that I was there. The strange thing was not that many people were out there to look at as well. I could move around and pick the perfect shots and not have to worry about some random tourist getting in the way of me snapping that picture. I couldn’t understand why this was true except for maybe the fact that it took about an hour and a half to get to from Hua Hin, and it would take people away from the comfort of the beach and convenient bar street. And even though it does require some physical exertion and does take away the whole morning, it was completely the trek that I made. It is a must go see if you ever find yourself in Hua Hin, but you do have to plan ahead for it because it is best experienced in the morning. I am glad that I made the voyage.

Chatachuk in the Rain – More from Bangkok

The view of the rain from the BTS

I have been told that the month of September in Thailand is part of the rainy season, and even though, I have seen more rain storms during the short time I have lived out than I would ever experience in five years in Colorado, they have been short bursts of heavy rain that moves on, and I can go back outside to enjoy the heat. Yesterday was the first time that I saw the day-long deluge that I envisioned when I heard about the term rainy season. The rain started early in the morning and continued all day long, and it wasn’t a little drizzle that I get to experience in Portland during the holidays. It was a dumping

The main road that winds its way around the market

But I am on my first three day weekend since school started almost two months ago, and I wasn’t going to waste it watching bad television in my hotel room or playing Exploding Kittens on my tablet. I wanted to get out and explore this city that I have lived in and learn more about what it has to offer. One of the things that this city is well-known for is its street markets, and the biggest one sit on the edge of town and draws in tourists from all over, Chatachuk Weekend Market. It is a crazy maze of tiny shops that sell everything from fresh food and clothes to iPhone cases and Thai art. It is a must come to place for anybody that is visiting the country, and it was my plan for the day. I wasn’t going to let a little rain from allowing me to enjoy this experience.

The view from one of the many aisles

I have been to this market once before, and there are many ways to get down there. I would recommend either taking the BTS to the Mo Chit station on the green line, but you can also take the blue line on the Metro to the Chatachuk Park station. Both of them drop you off right there. You can also take a cab down there, but cab drivers will try to play with tourists to get a little more money out of them. Make sure that they are using their meters, but they still might try to take the long way around to get you there. The best way is by train.

When you get there, know that there are different parts of the market. The fun one takes up four city blocks and has a big ring that you ca follow on the outside of the market, but if you come you want to venture into the skinny aisles that take you to the insane part of the market. It is designed to keep the like things together. They have a section for clothes, a section for gardening supplies, and even a warehouse where furniture designers can show off the new creations that they have made. But as soon as you walk down the aisles, you do not know what you can find. If you see something that you like but you don’t know if you want to get it, make sure you find out the section and the soy it is in because it is really easy to lose the little booth, and it makes it almost impossible to find again.

The strange things that sellers put in front of their shops to attract shoppers

But the real treasure of Chatachuk is not about what things you can go out to buy; it is all about the weird things that you will find that sellers will do to have their place be distinguished from the one next to them. I did not come to the market to buy anything. I am still trying to unpack all of my stuff from moving here, and I do not need to add to the collection yet. I came down here to laugh at the weirdness, and to be a part of the Thai experience. I saw t-shirts with saying that still make me laugh. I saw some incredible artwork, both 2D and 3D. And I enjoyed watching the people as they ate, got massages, shopped or got a haircut. It is a market alive with humanity, and this is the reason that it becomes a must-see place on any visit to Bangkok.

There is even shopping for hip teddy bears.

The rain did not take away from the fun. If anything, it made it more fun. The crowds that would usually come down to experience the market stayed home to avoid the mess that was being dumped from the sky, and it opened up the streets, and the aisles to make it easier to get around. The sellers were still there, and my fun could still be had by the cheap purchase of an umbrella. I would recommend coming down here on any visit to Bangkok, but more so when it rains.

Downtown Bangkok

Entrance to one of Chinatown’s various market streets

I have been in Bangkok for over two weeks now, and I have spent most of my time comfortably in my little suburb, Samakorn. I do really enjoy this place. There are some great restaurants, and great neighbors. I have still a lot of exploring to do in my own neighborhood, but I thought it was about time to fight the traffic of this great city and take in the sights of the downtown area for a night. I landed in Bangkok’s busy markets of Chinatown, and started to see some of what makes this one of the biggest tourist destinations in the world.

A water bus on the Chao Phraya River

The easiest way to reach Bangkok’s Chinatown is by hopping on one of the many boats that move up and down the Chao Phraya River and getting off at the five stop. The vast sprawling markets and street food is directly down the street from the station. You can also grab a cab but expect to sit in traffic a lot of the time, and be patient before you get to where you are going. I have found that this is just the way of life in Bangkok. If you fight against it, you will always be stressed out, and you still make it to your location at the same time as if you just went with the flow of traffic and quit worrying about it.

Artwork on the wall outside of the Tep Bar in Bangkok

During the day, the markets are the most interesting things to see. The small alleyways of this part of town are packed with shops filled with all of the cheap plastic, and junk that you never really wanted to have. But it is an interesting place to people watch and the shop owners are not pushy. It is also another place where you just need to go with the flow because you will find yourself within a stream of humanity as it winds its way through the various stalls, and every once in awhile somebody will stop to check something out, stopping the flow. When this happens, there is nothing you can do but wait it out until it starts flowing again. If you are looking for fresh vegetables, and fruit, there are great sections of the market where vendors are selling these as well as making various forms of street food.

Live music on a Sunday night in the Tep Bar.

At night, the shops close up and people head inside to the various restaurants and bars that can be found. A lot of these places offer entertainment, and even on a Sunday night, I was able to find a live traditional Thai band playing for the amusement of the patrons there.

The view from the roof at Wallflowers

The places are wildly decorated as well. My favorite that I saw on my short visit downtown was called Wallflowers. During the day, it is a cafe and flower shop, but at night it transforms itself into a five story eatery. The tables and chairs are a collection of whatever they could find which would make it seem like a chaotic mess, but actually gave it some charm. I had to walk up five flights of narrow stairs to get to the roof where I was able to enjoy the night’s sky and the atmosphere. The food was good, but nothing fancy. It was more just a place to avoid the bustle of the city down below. It was not one of the famous rooftop bars that I have heard so much about from Bangkok, but I think it was the perfect speed for me on my first venture out to the more exciting parts of the city.

I know I will make it to this part of the city again soon because I do not live that far away, but I am glad to finally get out and experience why Thailand is on a lot of people’s bucket lists of places to visit. I know I didn’t hit the touristy spots yet, but I will eventually get down to those place as well. Until then, this was the perfect adventure as I ease myself more into this city’s lifestyle.

Until next time.

The Arrival – The Move Final Day

The living room in my new place as I start to unpack

I know that a lot of people move everyday, and I don’t want to sound like I am complaining because it is a stressful situation no matter how big or small the move might be. My goal is to empathize with those people that are going through with the process because I understand how many trials and tribulations they need to go through until they can get to that moment where they find themselves in the new place and can start unpacking all of those boxes and bags and start living their lives in their new location.

My process started way back in early December when I finally said yes to taking a job teaching at a different international school in Thailand. I started to pack up my stuff while getting together all of the paperwork to get a visa so they wouldn’t kick me out of the country when I finally got there. The list got pretty long with all of the stuff I needed to accomplish along the way, and it seemed like it would never end, but after all the steps forward intermixed with occasional setback, I finally landed in Thailand, signed my lease on my new place, and started moving in.

Even though the square space in the house is not much more than what I had in my apartment in Korea over the last four years, it is nice to find myself on a street with my own driveway, my own small front patio, and my own mango tree. I love the fact that I now live in a neighborhood and not a complex, and all of the charms that come along with it. Just this morning as I stood out on my front patio and sipped from my cup of coffee, I was able to wave at the father and his young daughter as they walked down the street this morning. It gave me a sense of community that I never really felt when I entered my apartment complex every evening. I never got to know my neighbors there because they were packed so close together that I never really saw them more often than once a month. It might just be the optimism of living in a new place, but I do not believe that I will have that problem here.

A vegetable vendor on the street market

The neighborhood has a lot more to offer than just neighbors, too. There are tons of new restaurants I am going to be able to try out with a bunch of variety to them, and also a street market every weekend if I would prefer to get some fresh produce and make my own meals. It is these cultural experiences that I am also looking forward to in my new home. The first few weeks that I live in a place I feel like I am always wandering around exploring all the nooks and crannies until I can find out everything that the place has to offer. The weekend market alone should provide me with enough corners that I won’t get bored with it for a couple of months.

Some interesting tile work in the bathroom at my new place

And of course with any new place you move into, there are always a couple of strange surprises that you never thought you would encounter. Mine came in my new bathroom. Behind the toilet, painted into the tiles is this wonderful piece of artwork. It is not small either. It is a good three by four feet, and it is ready to greet me every morning as I get ready for work.

For the most part, it feels very nice to start to put things away and make those small adjustments so we can make the place feel more like home. Of course, it will take a little bit of time before we get to the point where I won’t have to rearrange furniture and try out new locations for all of my stuff, but it is nice to know that when I unpack something, I don’t have to put it a suitcase again because I have not reached my final destination. I have finally arrived, and I can start to quit living in the limbo between two places. I can now take in the sights and start to enjoy my new home.

The Things I am Excited About – The Move Day 24

I have spent a lot of time this summer talking about the place where I came from, and mentioning the place where I am moving to, but I have not really talked about it, and why I am excited about moving there. So I thought I would give a little time to talk about the things that I am looking forward to about the relocation to Bangkok.

First of all, I am looking forward to the food. I know that Korean food is the trendy thing worldwide, but I have never been a fan of this kind of food. I like the spices and I do enjoy the community spirit that is created by going to a Korean bar-b-q, but it has nothing that I have ever craved. I do enjoy what they have done to fried chicken, and I do not think that any culture can compete with this improvement on an American staple, but I cannot eat that every night unless I want to end my life by exchanging cholesterol for the blood in my veins. Basically, for the last four years, I have struggled eating.

My wife and I would always talk about our favorite foods in the world, and if there was one type of food that we had to eat for the rest of lives what would it be. Of course Italian always comes up for me because it has always been my favorite style of food, and my wife always talks about Japanese food because of the variety and the unique flavors that they explore in that country. And even though we both agree with each others’ main choice, we both agree whole-heartedly with Thai food. On my recent trip out there to scout out places where we would end up living, I even experienced new flavors that I did not know existed with this cuisine and it turned into one of my favorite Thai dishes. This just means that I have not tried everything that Thai food has to offer. I am excited to explore these options even more.

Which brings me to the next thing I am excited about, the street markets. There is a big one right next to the place where I will be living. It is not as big as the Chatuchak Market in central Bangkok, but it will still be a nice addition to the neighborhood. Apparently, it is only open during the weekends, but it will be the perfect place to pick up fresh fruit and vegetables. And the amount of fresh fruit that will be out there excites me a lot. I was able to get fruit in Korea, but it was heavily dependent on the growing season. When I arrived in the summer was when I could get green apples, but they disappear soon after I got out there. Berries would not be available until late in spring, and yes, I could get a watermelon, but I would have to spend up to $30 for it.

The fruit should be more readily available in Thailand, and the variety should always be there available at the markets and delivered that morning from the groves. I look forward to going to the market and searching for the perfect fruit and vegetables of the day and creating a meal with them later in the evening. I will not always have to wait until the weekend to make this happen either. Where we are moving has a mango tree in the front yard, and twice a year I should have a supply of fresh mangoes in which to eat and cook with. I see myself perfecting the best mango salsa by the end of the first year.

A lot of this is due to the thing that I am having a love/hate feeling towards, and that is the weather. It is going to be hot and humid, and this will never change. My two favorite seasons in Korea were autumn and spring. If you are ever visiting Korea, this is when you want to go because the weather is perfect and the changing of the trees, whether it is the shedding of the leaves or the blooming of the cherry blossoms, is spectacular. I will really miss that about Korea.

What I will not miss about Korea is its bitter winter. I have seen my fair share of bitter cold winters, but I have never experienced anything like the ones in Korea. The temperature drops and stays there. I used to look at the outside, not wanting to venture out because I knew it meant bundling up so my skin would not be ripped away by the dry frigid wind. It wasn’t even pretty because it rarely snowed in the winter to hide the dead tree and lawns. It was just cold. I will not miss that.

But I am not also a fan of extreme heat. I am a runner, and trying to run while it is hot and humid is harder than when it is cold and bitter. It just saps all of the energy from me, and I feel like I am wading through the air rather than slicing through it. I know I will eventually acclimate to this because it is never going to change, but I will miss the colder times of the year. I know this even before I make it out to Thailand  because as I said earlier, the milder times of the year are my favorite. It is still not enough to dissuade my excitement for this move, and it is this weather that makes all of the other things I am excited about possible. It is just a minor thing, and I know that I will be able to make the adjustment.

So as the time pushes closer when I will finally get make that last leap, I am starting to get excited about what the changes will be for me, and I can’t wait to share them with the rest of you.