Archive for April, 2009

Thai cooking class

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

Today we decided to do something different, and take a Thai cooking class. We both enjoy Thai food, and we both enjoy cooking, so this was the perfect opportunity to learn a little bit about how authentic Thai food is made. After a short investigation, we signed up for the daytime class at Baan Thai cooking school.

The rest of this update feels a bit like a powerpoint presentation gone bad, but it seems like the best way to share our experiences at the course (other than the photos of the yummy food of course!)

Our class began with a tour if the local market. Among other things, we learned:

  • what a Kaffir lime (the fruit of the tree that makes Kaffir lime leaf) looks like,
  • how coconut milk is made,
  • that eggplant comes in a variety of sizes and colours including ones that look like large peas
  • that the difference between the white tofu and yellow tofu is that the yellow tofu has been marinated in turmeric.

In the class we prepared:

  • a stir fry (Becky: fried cashew nut with chicken – kai pat med ma maung him ma pan, Scott: fried noodle thai style – phad thai)
  • an appetizer (Becky: Papaya salad – som tam, Scott: spring roll – pho pea thod)
  • a soup (Becky: Hot and sour prawn soup – tom yum kung, Scott: Seafood in coconut milk – tom kaa koong),
  • a curry paste (Becky: red curry paste – namphrik gaeng phet, Scott: Panaeng curry paste – namphrik gaeng hung lay)
  • a curry (Becky: Chiang Mai noodle with chicken – kao soy, Scott: Panaeng curry with chicken – pha naeng kai)
  • a dessert (Becky: Water chestnuts in coconut milk – tub tim krawp, Scott: Mango with sticky rice – kao neeaw ma muang)

Some of the fun things we learned from the class include:

  • That Thai food isn’t that hard to make when you have a team of invisible (and visible) helpers there to ensure everything runs smoothly.
  • A controllable gas flame for the wok makes wok cooking much easier.
  • Coconut milk can be boiled vigorously without harm (note that the coconut milk we used here was much thinner than the canned stuff from home).
  • Proper wok implements make stirring/mixing easier (curved metal spoon and spatula – not wooden spoons).
  • An extra-large mortar and pestle (and wooden elephant stand) work great for making curries.
  • Deep fried cashew nuts are really yummy!

After the class, we learned from Maddie, one of the students in our class, of an inexpensive and really nice set of bungalows centered around a beautiful courtyard garden. We rode over to check it out, and ended up visiting with people there for a few hours. We will move over to the Gong Kaew Huen Kum tomorrow. It’s on Singharat 3 Soi if you’re looking for it. They have nice air conditioned bungalow rooms for 680 Baht per night, including Internet (wireless and a couple of kiosks), coffee, and toast. The people are really friendly, and there is definitely a backpacker culture there. The Sira Boutique was nice, but felt a bit too upscale for our “style”. It feels weird saying that, since we both used to like nice hotels!

Overnight train to Chiang Mai

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

25 km

The train from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was 13 hours, so we decided to take the night train. Unfortunately, first class was full, and the only second class option available was upper bunks across the aisle from each other. Fortunately, the folks on the lower bunks were together, so during the daytime we were able to sit with each other.

Since the train started in Bangkok, loading the bikes was a much less stressful process – the price was different too – only 148 baht for both instead of 200. Most of the time it seems people pay 90 per bike, so we aren’t sure what the difference was. We found it strange that the staff of the cargo car always want us to load the bikes ourselves, but will unload them for us.

Similar to the Chumphon-Bangkok route the ride was anything but smooth. This and the fact that they never turn the lights off in second class, meant that neither of us got a particularly good night’s sleep – even though we went to bed by 9:00 pm and didn’t get up until 6:30 am! In addition, only the bottom bunks have windows, so you can’t see anything or sit anywhere while the folks down below are sleeping. For our cross China train, we will do our best to get a “soft sleeper” (aka first class) cabin. The train from Kunming to Beijing is almost 40 hours, including two overnights (and that’s for the fast train!)

It did not take us long to discover that we really like Chiang Mai. The city is a much nicer size (about 200,000 people), and is a great place cycle around. Cars and scooters are even more friendly than usual, and the old city is a nice size, and filled with interesting places to see and visit.

We found ourselves a room at the fancy Sira Boutique Hotel (a bit of a splurge at 1200 Baht a night – discounted from 2200), dropped off our bags, and spent the morning riding around town. We saw many beautiful Wat’s, but in our cycling clothes we aren’t dressed appropriately to visit. We also stopped by a couple of bike shops, including “Top Gear”, which is owned by a Canadian.

An elephant ate our blog posts!

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

So, it has been 4 days since the last time we wrote anything for our blog. Becky overheard a discussion about “the dog ate my homework” and how that in Thailand one could use elephants as an excuse. So, our excuse for a lack of blog posts is “an elephant ate our blog posts!”.

Other than our Friday adventure out to Wat Pho and Wat Arun, we spent most of our time in Bangkok at Jenny and Jay’s place chilling out. We definitely needed some down time where we did not feel the need to see all the sights or ride someplace.

On Monday night, Jenny invited over two pair (that is 4) other cycling tourists that were also in town. We enjoyed catching up with Katrina and Mike who we met in Malaysia, and meeting Elise and Zack. It was nice chatting with a group of native English speakers (we were all either Canadian or American). Becky’s extrovert needs were definitely met – she is now fully charged and ready for our next adventure.

We’re planning to catch a train to Chiang Mai, then get back on the bikes for some riding in the mountains. We’ll see how that goes…

One night in Bangkok

Friday, April 24th, 2009

Becky has had this song going through her head since we arrived in Bangkok:

One night in Bangkok and the world’s your oyster
The bars are temples but the pearls ain’t free
You’ll find a god in every golden cloister
And if you’re lucky then the god’s a she
I can feel an angel sliding up to me

Lyrics by Tim Rice, from the musical “Chess”

Scott is not sure what that says about Becky, but he’s keeping an eye out for any bar girls sidling up to her. Running through his head is the proto-rap about chess which surrounds the sung portion. An excerpt:

I don’t see you guys rating
The kind of mate I’m contemplating
I’d let you watch, I would invite you
But the queens we use would not excite you

So you better go back to your bars, your temples, your massage parlours…

An amusing counterpoint, and very much still true in the bar districts of Bangkok. Becky noticed the girls behind glass holding numbers as we went looking for dinner with Jenny and Jay. Unfortunately Scott missed out – he was too busy keeping an eye out for “farang traps”; low awnings and wires at a perfect height for locals, but just the right height to hit a tall westerner right between the eyes when he isn’t paying attention.

On Friday, we decided to venture out to explore a couple of the famous temples of Bangkok before the weekend crowds. We took the Skytrain and a boat up the Chao Phraya River (the “old muddy river” from the song) and visited Wat Pho. Wat Pho is the oldest and largest Wat in Bangkok, and contains the largest reclining Buddha (also referenced in the song) and the largest collection of Buddha images in Thailand. By that point it was getting quite hot, and we decided to skip the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew. Instead we crossed the river and wandered around Wat Arun. It is centered on an extremely large and impressive chedi/stupa. It has steep steps up much of the side so we climbed it and got a nice view of the city.

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No missing posts via email

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

For those subscribing via email, it looks like you won’t receive the missing posts from the two weeks when we broke the feed – you’ll need to go to our website to check them out. Sorry for any inconvenience!

Thai trains and bikes

Thursday, April 23rd, 2009

51 km, 3h 45 min

Over the last few days we have been feeling progressively more tired. We decided that it was time for a bit of a break, so rather than riding further along up the coast, we hopped on the train to Bangkok to visit with Jenny and Jay, folks from http://warmshowers.org who kindly agreed to host us in Bangkok for a few days.

We rode to Bang Saphan Noi and asked at the train station about trains to Bangkok. We hoped to take a train on Thursday morning; however, that turned out not to be possible. The only option we were given for trains that take bicycles was the 10:30 pm overnight train. For that night, all second class was sold out, so we booked a first class cabin, at roughly twice the price. Initially we were stressed by the 2000 Baht price, but quickly realized that this was only $60 CAD – not really that bad (that is $60 for both of us).

With the train arranged, we headed down to the beach to check out the various resorts. We hoped to find Internet and possibly a place to shower and hang out for the afternoon. Our inquires into the resorts were not fruitful – no one at the beach had Internet, so we headed back to town. Just before town, we found a nice clean hotel with wireless. We negotiated a room on the main floor for 300 Baht – and were able to roll our loaded bikes directly into the room. A quick shower, nap and some time on the Internet and we were ready to spend the night on the train.

When we arrive at the station, 45 minutes before the train, the attendant tells us that our train is not the next one, but the one after it. A train arrives in the other direction, stops briefly, and continues. Then a train comes, about one minute before our scheduled departure. Scott asks the cargo attendant “Bangkok 86?” The attendant replies “Bangkok.” Perfect, Scott thinks, and starts loading the bikes. Becky looks around and starts to panic. She was told that the second car would be a first class car where our cabin would be located; however, the second car is actually a second class car. So, Becky starts to wonder, “is this the right train?” She asks Scott, he shrugs and continues to load the bikes. A different train attendant runs up to Becky and asks to see the tickets. He quickly confirms that this is the wrong train. Argh! Becky yells to Scott and he quickly pulls the bikes off. Our adrenaline is pumping while we await our actual train. It is the next train to arrive, about 20 minutes later.

Now to be fair, the train had no indication as to which one it was. The announcements were only made in Thai. After the fiasco, the ticket seller who had been helping us confirmed that the next train would definitely be ours. He gave Scott a piece of paper with a 20 Baht note attached and asked him to hand it to the guys in the luggage car. This was the confirmation regarding our bikes and a “tip” for the luggage handlers – which was built into what we were charged for the bikes (100 Baht each).

Our bikes were loaded with minimal bags into the luggage car – which turned out to also be the car where the off-duty train crew slept. Most of our bags went with us into our cabin in first class. In the end, we were glad to have the private cabin and did not need to worry about the safety of any of our stuff while on the train.

The train ride to Bangkok was very bumpy – however, we were both able to get some sleep. We arrived shortly before 6:30 am, reloaded our bikes, and headed out to meet Jenny. We found riding through the streets of Bangkok to be surprisingly simple as we had been warned about much chaos. Becky votes for Aleppo, Syria as the most difficult place we have ridden, and Scott votes for Athens, Greece.


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Dog! no … Chicken?

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

92 km, 6h 10 min.

Warning! Santa's sleigh has crashed into a tree, caught fire, and the reindeer have escaped! (or that's what we think it says...)

Warning! Santa's sleigh has crashed into a tree, caught fire, and the reindeer have escaped! (or that's what we think it says...)

One thing we can confirm after riding in Thailand for a week is that Thai’s are definitely dog people. Almost every house we pass by has at least one and sometimes many dogs associated with it. They are seldom tied up, and often wonder at us as we pass.

We find it interesting that the dogs ignore the motor bikes, but find us particularly interesting. Scott thinks part of the issue is that we are so quiet we sneak up on them. When he makes scooter sounds the dogs seem less likely to bark. (It’s difficult to run a properly controlled experiment, but dogs seem much more interested in me when we ride up silently.) When they do bark, Becky shouts back at them “GAI!”, which is Thai for “chicken”. So far this has worked for her. We must seem like quite the odd farangs (foreigners) as we ride by on our funny looking bikes making motorcycle sounds and yelling Chicken! at barking dogs.

Seaweed and Popeye drink (100% fruit/vegetable) - powering Becky through Thailand

Seaweed and Popeye drink (100% fruit/vegetable) - powering Becky through Thailand

Today’s ride was long. We are definitely feeling the cumulative effects of riding 7 weeks in the heat. We still enjoy the little things we see in the day and all the cheerful people saying hello, but we are not that enthusiastic about riding the distances anymore. We definitely are ready for several days off the bikes visiting new friends in Bangkok.

We are staying in a lovely little beach town Hat Bang Boet. We have not seen any other foreign tourists in this town, although there are at least 4 hotel/resorts. The standard rate for rooms appears to be 800 Baht, however we were able to negotiate an “expired” promotional rate of 580 Baht. We enjoyed our dinner at a beachfront restaurant as the sun was setting and kids were playing with small boats in the sheltered bay. Very pleasant!

Fishing boats off the beach at Hat Bang Boet

Fishing boats off the beach at Hat Bang Boet

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Emails and feed now fixed

Tuesday, April 21st, 2009

I discovered this morning that I had broken our email notifications and RSS feed back around April 9. Sorry about that!

Anyway, it’s fixed now.

For those subscribing via email, your next update will probably be a bit big… It will have some fun photos from our Songkram (Thai New Year) celebrations though!

(For those interested in the details, it appears the Geopress plugin, which we use to add geographic location info to each post, started to generate invalid XML in our RSS feed. Since the email messages are based on the RSS feed, that broke them too. I haven’t had time to figure out the cause yet, instead I just turned off Geopress data in RSS feed for now. Suggestions are welcome!)

The Metropolis of Chumphon

Monday, April 20th, 2009

70 km, 4h 20 min, max temp 36

Our day started out slow, with a huge breakfast at the Tusita Resort (included with our room). We enjoyed a first course of toast, followed by a protein course (eggs, bacon, ham, and sausage), followed by an Asian course (Scott had a soup and Becky had Dim Sum). It fueled us well for the first three hours of our ride.

The weather was perfect for cycling. It was overcast and looked threatening, but it only rained the occasional drop or two. When the sun is covered, the temperature is a full 10 degrees cooler. It was nice to ride in comfortable 33 degree Celsius weather. It will be amusing when we get back to Canada to see what feels hot!

We took many side roads on the way to Chumphon. At one point we ventured back to the main highway (highway 41) and were reminded why we were avoiding it. We ventured back to the side roads, and arrived in Chumphon 5 km sooner than we would have had we stuck to the main road. It is always a bonus when the side road actually gets you there quicker.

Part of the huge "wet market" near our hotel

We are staying at the Chumphon Palace Hotel for 490 Baht a night. The room is pretty large with air conditioning. As an added bonus they had a working elevator, so we did not need to carry bags and bikes up stairs. Lonely Planet describes it as “budget-prices rooms .. masquerade as midrangers” and we agree. The place has more amenities that our normal 500 Baht room (includes fridge, TV, hot water, and wireless in the lobby). It is slightly off the main road, so it is pretty quiet too.

We wandered around Chumpton looking for a place for dinner, and realized that this is the first Thai city we have been in that hasn’t felt like a major tourist destination. We haven’t seen any other foreigners here. The streets were crowded with stalls selling fresh vegetables and fruit. We found a wonderful little restaurant and the lady there whipped us up a chicken vegetable soup and vegetable stir fry – a little bland but perfect for Becky’s unsettled stomach. With a large beer and a soda water, dinner came to 130 Baht ($4 CAD). We continue to realize just how much we overpaid for food when we were traveling near Krabi in the more touristed areas.

Schedule update

Sunday, April 19th, 2009

We are behind on the schedule we put together shortly after leaving Kuantan. As a result of spending an additional week in Malaysia and a desire to spend more time in Thailand, we will not be going into Laos or riding much in China. The longer we spend here, the more we discover things we want to do, and realize we don’t have time. We’ll just have to find some way to come back…

Our plan now is to take a boat from Northern Thailand to China (two days on the Mekong).

For now our schedule looks roughly like this:

  • 20 – 27 Apr: Ride the South Eastern coast of Thailand – take train/bus to Bangkok
  • 28 Apr – 11 May: Ride some part of Northern Thailand
  • 12-15 May: Take boat from Chiang Saen, Thailand to Jinghong, China
  • 16 May: Bus Jinghong to Kunming
  • 18 -20 May: Train Kunming to Beijing
  • 20 May: Bus to Tianjin
  • 21-22 May: Ferry Tianjin, China to Incheon, South Korea
  • 23 May – 1 Jun: Ride Incheon to Pusan
  • 3 Jun: Board ship Pusan to Seattle

We’ll see how quickly this changes…