Goodbye Asia

Koh Chang was a little too busy for us so we only spent one night and then got a speedboat (thank god for Thai sea sickness pills) to Koh Maak. It’s a tiny island just a few hours away and so far wins our award for being the laziest place on earth. The island is only fully open to visitors for around four months a year due to the weather. Some of the accommodation is a little tired so get there early and eyeball huts rater than book upfront. We split our time between a place on the main beach and then another resort on the other side of the island which we really recommend.

Buri Natural Resort
Buri Natural Resort

Buri Hut Natural Resort is a cheap resort made up of about 20 bungalows, pool, bar and restaurant. There were about four other people staying whilst we were there, but we never saw any of them very much. The next few days we spend doing nothing by the pool (except getting a little sunburnt). The staff are great and food excellent and there are even a few pets to keep you company: a cat that never shuts up, two great dogs and two tame boars. The boars like a tummy rub and massage, just make sure you wash your hands afterwards.

The pet Boar

So that’s it. Asia over. The plan was to wind down, forget work and stop talking in PowerPoint. Job done. We are going to keep up the blog. We’re not great writers but it’s fun and a great record for us to keep of our travels and hopefully it’s at least a little interesting for anybody else who’s reading,Thanks for all the emails and comments and feel free to ask us any questions about Asia if you’ve organised a little trip yourself.

What next? Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, down the Amazon into Brazil again, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, Honduras, Guatemala, Belize and Mexico. Should take us around one year.

Looking forward to meeting up with visiting friends along the way… Rich & Leah.

Pai – goodbye to Thailand

Pai is a well-trodden Northern Thailand backpacker destination, historically known for guitar-clad, wheatgrass-drinking life escapism

Pai is a well-trodden Northern Thailand backpacker destination, historically known for guitar-clad, wheatgrass-drinking life escapism. It’s still there, but now you will also find the grey American tourist market and the gap year kids bar crawling their way round the world. About five years ago the generators were abandoned as Pai was hooked up to the grid. With the reliable electricity came an explosion of guest houses, increasing from around 70 to 350(ish). It’s managed to (just) hold its own and is still a fantastic retreat from the manic-paced and overcrowded Thai South.

Pai sits high near the Myanmar border and is reached usually by a three hour (and 762 bends) minivan ride from Chiang Mai. It’s a queasy ride and sometimes fatal.  On our way up it started to rain and we saw three accidents within half an hour. Going off road here will mean a 1000ft+ drop. One car was left hanging in a tree just metres off the road, we hope the occupants made it out ok – we couldn’t see as the army had just turned up to help out.

There is not a lot to do in Pai apart from a few waterfalls and the ubiquitous elephant treks. We hire a motorbike again and go sightseeing on our own. The rest of our few days we spend drinking the best chai and not a lot else ( except for some piranha fishing and a massage).

From Pai we say goodbye to Thailand and prepare for a 12 hours minibus journey into Lao. We’re looking forward to some new sights and smells.

Here are a few pictures from our time in Pai.

Pai, surrounding hills
Pai river, downstream from the town
Pai, views from our motorbike trip
Pai, accommodation on the river
Pai town
Piranha fishing

Pad Thai and sweet sticky rice with mangoes (Khao neeaw Ma Muang )

Here’s a few recipes learnt at the cooking classes in Chiang Mai.

Pad Thai

Ingredients:

50g         Rice noodles (fresh, or dried noodles almost cooked)

50g         Slices chicken or beef/pork/mixed seafood

2 tbsp.     Cooking oil (Sesame, vegetable or soya. Olive oil not suitable)

1-3          Chive stalks

1             Egg (optional)

1tsp         Dry shrimp (optional)

1 tbsp      Garlic (crushed, no need to remove skin)

50g         Hard Tofu (alternately just add more meat)

4 tbsps    Water

2 tbsps    Oyster sauce

1 tbsp      Fish Sauce

1 tsp        Sugar

1 tsp        Soya sauce

1 tsp        MSG (optional only outside Thailand tourists restaurants)

Method:

  1. Fry garlic, tofu and chicken (or other meat) on high heat until golden-brown.
  2. When almost cooked add egg ( just crack egg into wok and scramble) on high heat (and shrimp if used).
  3. Add 2 tbsps. of water and noodles, cook noodle through.
  4. Add fish, oyster, sugar and soy sauce.
  5. Cook until noodles ready.

**Add some ground peanut, ground dried chillies to taste. Serve with quarter lime to squeeze over if wanted.

Eat

Sweet sticky rice with mangoes (Khao neeaw Ma Muang )

The Thai equivalent of rice pudding, you should find the correct dry rice from an Asian supermarket but this can be attempted with normal rice.

Sticky rice preparation

Soak sticky rice in water for about 6 hours or overnight. Then clean the rice until the water runs clear, this removes the starch. Steam the rice for ½ hour, the rice will become sticky and clear. Let cool.

Sauce:

185g     Cooled cooked sticky rice

7 tsp     Sugar

1 tsp     Salt

350ml    Coconut cream (not milk)

1 tbsp    Palm sugar (or other if not available)

Method:

  1. Heat coconut cream; add sugars and salt stir well.
  2. Add cooled sticky rice mix and leave off heat for 5-10 minutes.
  3. Stir one more time and serve on plate with large slices of mango.

Change mangoes for any other sweet fruit. (banana, pineapple, peach etc.)

Chiang Mai – tigers, elephants and a monster hangover

Ok, it’s been a month. Enough tanning, beach bars and moonlit walks, it’s time we started to actually do something. We leave Koh Phangan a few days after the New Year’s carnage, booking the last few seats on overnight trains to Bangkok and onward to Chiang Mai. Although we kept saying we must book the trains in advance, well, we didn’t and are lucky to get seats.  

I love the overnight trains in Thailand. It’s about twice as expensive as the buses but I think it’s worth it. Usually sleeping is not a problem unless there are some Farange (tourists) insisting on having a party. First class gets you your own little cabin.  

Getting into Bangkok at 6am, we check into a cheap hostel right off platform 3, and dump our stuff. We opted to get another overnight train to Chiang Mai, saving us two days accommodation but leaving us with 12 hours to kill in Bangkok. We decide to be productive and head to MBK, a huge shopping centre with an entire floor devoted to technology, awesome. To fund our next few days activities I manage to sell our old iPhones at the market for a whopping 19,000 baht.  

Chiang Mai – Day 1  

Motorbike hired, we take the anti-clockwise ring road two (1096) around the town. It’s about 150km and takes around four hours but we make a full day of it and stop off at various attractions along the route.   

Lake on Route 1096

First stop is a large lake just off a side road, which is completely deserted. It looks like a local Thai holiday destination, with many shack-style restaurants lining the water. We follow the shore, stop for a few pictures then are on our way again. 

Next stop is Tiger Kingdom, which initially left me feeling a bit uneasy. A chance to get hands on with a bunch of tigers in a reputable breeding program.  

Big Tiger

 But we did our research, the cats are not drugged and are well looked after, although purists would argue these magnificent animals should not be raised by hand. So, motorbike and morals parked at the side of the road and a sizable ‘donation’ to the program later we spend an incredible few hours playing with the cuddly fellas. Check out the Thailand  gallery for more photos.  

 
Route 1096

The rest of the day was spent winding our way up into the mountains overlooking Chiang Mai, ears popping and stomachs churning through incredibly steep roads and continuous hairpin bends. Even on our little 125 the ride was loads of fun and the scenery just incredible. 

Chiang Mai – Day 2  

After some more research we find a local elephant sanctuary which takes in elephants that have been mistreated, abused for tourist shows or are simply no longer wanted by their owners. They offer the chance to spend a day with the elephants, feeding and washing them and learning to ride them. Leah liked the idea of this….quite a lot…so despite the steep price tag we decided to give it a go.  

Elephant Driving

We learn quite quickly from the mahoots ( personal elephant keepers) that most of the elephants we have seen in Thailand are not well treated, They should not carry tourists in huge cushion seats atop their backs, and they should not be taught to play football or paint pictures whilst smoking cigars etc.

We listen attentively and nod and murmur in agreement as we patiently await the chance to get up close to our adopted Asian elephant called ‘KumJan’.  By the end of the day we have sore bums, sore legs and are soaking wet from standing in a river full of elephant poo but a great day has been had by all and I would thoroughly recommend it, although it’s not really in your average backpackers’ budget. 

We finish the day with a few drinks and a bucket in the roof top bar overlooking the old town gates. After getting much more drunk than we’d planned, at closing time we head out looking for some clubs. Don’t, whatever you do, think of going to Spicy’s. It’s a hideous dive full of ‘uncle’ types picking up locals and letching on holiday makers. 10 minutes in and we leave, picking up a rancid hot dog on the way home. Still, a fun night. 

Chiang Mai – Day 3 

We decided to go for a half day cookery school rather than a full day, which is lucky because we both have monster hangovers so getting up and cooking at 9am would not have been humanly possible. We learn four dishes each, including Pad Thai, spring rolls, stir fried dishes and curry. During a break I get taken to a local cock fight whilst Leah sleeps off her hangover – definitely not an experience for the faint hearted – and then it’s back to the guesthouse having eaten our own weight in food.  

Cooking didn't go to plan...

After a great meal at Lemon Tree and having to endure a very loud and very boring American at the next table, it was off to bed for an early night.  

So, overall impressions of Chiang Mai? It’s a great little city, lots of fun, a huge tourist destination and there are plenty of activities to keep you occupied (although these cost money), but after four days we were looking forward to a bit of peace and quiet and getting away from loud Americans. Pai is next on the menu, a fun three hours minibus ride up north towards the Burmese border, an old backpacker hippie haven which was discovered by the masses mid 00’s. 762 hairpins bends and sheer drops – Pai here we come. 

Us, Rooftop bar