Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The travel bug

Day 89: London layover

Our flight had an 11.5-hour layover in London, and since we still have the travel bug (we may be infected for life), we ventured out into London to see some sites. Unfortunately, it was pouring rain and freezing cold! But we weren’t phased (as we had brought our ponchos in anticipation of this), and we walked around town, by the river, to the parliament buildings, Westminster Abbey, and Buckingham Palace. Well, Gaurav went to the palace while Rachna – who has already been to London – sat in the palace gardens (she couldn’t walk so much). We had lunch at a small café, and then went back to the airport to catch our flight home.

We arrived in Montreal on August 23rd, 91 days after leaving here on May 25th. Wow! We cannot believe it’s over. It feels like a dream, but we don’t want to wake up. It’s like we blinked and three months passed, but we have been to so many places and seen so many things in the past three months that this trip has already left its mark in a way we may not yet fully grasp.

We’ll post some reflections on our trip soon, but for now, we’ll revel in being with family, resting, and eating mom’s home-cooked food.

Thank you, Universe.

Standard London shot of the phone booths


 Buckingham Palace

The final countdown

Days 85-88: Singapore (well, Kyung and Nate’s apartment)

Since Singapore is our last stop before going home, and since we already saw some of the city, we pretty much spent our last four days here doing absolutely nothing. Otherwise, we went to the grocery store to get some snacks a few times, and that was it. On Day 86, we did manage to make it out for a drink (after midnight, so technically Day 87, i.e. our one-year anniversary).

On Day 87, our one-year anniversary, we went with Kyung and Nate to Underwater World (definitely a tourist trap) and to Little India for a late lunch.

It was definitely nice to relax and recuperate before we head back home to reality. We packed our bags, and on Day 88, we took our midnight flight to London.

Thank you, Kyung and Nate, for being our hotel, our chef, our bartender, our travel companion, fellow tourists, but most of all, our friend.

Bye Bye, Kuala Lumpur

Day 84: Our last day

Today is the last day of our trip... well, kind of. This is the last destination before we return to Singapore. So Gaurav got up at 5am to get tickets to go inside the Petronas Towers. The ticket office only opens at 8:30am but the tickets sell out so quickly that people line up starting around 5:30am! (Yes, Rachna slept while he went and did this!). The time passed by quickly, as he chatted with a Ukrainian woman in line who was buying tickets for her family.

So he got the tickets and came back to the hotel. We had breakfast, packed up our bags and left them at reception, and then went back to the towers for our appointment (they give you a time slot for the visit).

We first went up the Sky Bridge on the 41st floor (which took us exactly 41 seconds to reach), and that connects the two towers, and then up to the 86th floor at the top of one of the towers to see the beautiful view of the entire city. We thought it befitting to end our trip at the top of a tower, which is where we began our trip in Auckland, New Zealand some three months ago.

After our visit through the towers, we went to town to have lunch, and then went back to our hotel to pick up our stuff and head to the airport. The staff at our hotel was so attentive and kind the whole time we were there – always asking after Rachna’s health and making sure we were enjoying our stay. 

We got to the airport, checked in, and took our flight to Singapore, sad for our trip to soon be over. We arrived in Singapore and went to Kyung’s place – our final stop on the way home. 
Sky Bridge

 View of Kuala Lumpur from the top of the tower

Hinduism in a Muslim country

Day 83: Our last city

We got up this morning, had breakfast, and then, contrary to the suggestions by the hotel staff (considering how little Rachna can walk), we took public transportation (the monorail and train) to the Batu Caves.

We got off the train to the sight of two humongous statues: one of Lord Hanuman and one of Lord Shiva. We saw a few temples and then walked up the 270-some steps to the caves. We bought coconuts to drink the water on the way up, which was a big mistake because all along the way there were monkeys on the steps. And since Rachna was walking really slowly, they targeted her (the easy target). Gaurav tried to defend Rachna but the monkey hissed and almost jumped on him, so Rachna threw her coconut, and the monkey ran to grab it!

When we got to the top of the steps, the entrance to the cave was nice, but there were not many statues in the cave. We walked around once again realizing we got suckered into the tourist trap! We did find out, though, that almost a million people gather here to celebrate various Hindu festivals during the year, which must be cool to experience!) We left the caves and went to the main part of town, where we grabbed a quick bite. Rachna was exhausted from walking so we went back to our hotel and rested. 

In the night, we went over to see the Petronas towers, the famous twin towers of Kuala Lumpur. They were completely lit up and looked nice against the night sky. They were gigantic and the architecture that captured the old and modern art was fantastic.  We had some dinner in the area and then went back to our hotel for the night. 
Huge Hanuman statue

Massive Shiva statue next to the steps to the cave

 Petronas towers at night

Giving alms and departing

Day 82: Bye Bye Laos

Sadly, we bid farewell to Laos today. So this morning, as a parting gift to a town we loved, we woke up at 4:30am to go to town to give alms to the monks. Our hotel took us to town and arranged a spot for us to sit and provided us with the sticky rice that we would offer. The monks began their procession and all walked by us, opening the top of their bowl to allow us to put in small portions of rice for them. It was a bit hard to get it in all the bowls, as they walked by pretty fast, but we did it! We ran out of rice fairly quickly (we were supposed to give less to each one) but we were happy to have had this be our last act in Laos.

Because of Rachna’s accident, we were thinking of just ending our trip early and going back to Singapore directly, but Rachna didn’t want us to lose out on our last destination, so we took our flight to Malaysia, as planned.

We spent the entire day in airports getting there, with Rachna being wheeled around in a wheelchair the whole time! With this experience, we certainly learned to appreciate how challenging it must be for people who have disabilities throughout their life, and were extremely thankful that Rachna’s condition was just temporary. We arrived in Kuala Lumpur at night and took the hour and a half taxi ride to the city, checked into our hotel and went straight to sleep!
 Giving alms to the monks
Rachna in the wheelchair section at the airport (in much better spirits)

Of hospitals and not giving in

Day 81: Injured

Rachna still can’t walk or use her hand, and is still in a lot of pain, so the hotel employees offered to take us to the hospital to check her knee and wrist out. The hotel staff stayed with us and talked to the doctors for us, which was so nice of them to do. The nurse cleaned out Rachna’s wounds and checked her wrist and thumb, which seem to be ok. Rachna is not a fan of pain as she has a very small threshold for it, and she was holding back her screams as the nurse was cleaning the wound. There was another individual in the next bed getting basic surgery on his ankle out in the open, but you wouldn’t know it as he was very relaxed (without anesthetic!).  There were some other tourists there who also were hurt but seemed lost so we were especially thankful for our hotel staff to help us.

The X-ray machine in this hospital was broken, so we paid our (very cheap) bill, and the hotel shuttle took us to the other hospital, where we had her knee X-rayed (for a whole $3). Everything seems ok. We are so fortunate that the accident wasn’t worse than it was – even though Rachna is in a lot of pain, we are so thankful to have only minor healable injuries.

After our hospital visits, we went back to the hotel and rested for a bit before Rachna decided she didn’t want to lose out on our last day Laos. So Rachna took a crutch from the hotel, wrapped up her wounds, put on her arm sling, and we grabbed the shuttle to town. We found a tuktuk to take us to the waterfalls that we didn’t see yesterday. We saw what the ride would have been and knew we could have done it had it not been for the accident! The waterfalls were spectacular, and we were so happy to have gone to see them. They were enormous and formed pools of water on the way down, which people were swimming in. Gaurav ended up swinging on the rope and jumping into one of the pools, which was incredibly fun (Rachna watched on from the sidelines). 

When we arrived back to town, we walked (well, Rachna hobbled) to a restaurant, had some dinner, and did a final walk through the night market before going back to our hotel and resting. 
In pain, but not giving in!

 Passing by the scene of yesterday's accident

Kuang Xi waterfall

 Gaurav jumping from the rope into the pool

Of Bicycles and Accidents

Day 80: The waterfall that wasn't

This morning, we had breakfast and decided to follow through on our decision to rent bikes for the day and bike the 30km mountainous ride to a huge waterfall outside of town. We were excited, albeit a bit nervous, because we heard the ride was extremely difficult and would take at least 2-3 hours in the intense summer heat.

Still, we went on our way, and rode through beautiful mountain scenery and little villages with children waving at us as we rode by. The uphill parts were particularly difficult, and we sometimes had to get off the bike and walk it up the hill! At one point, a tuktuk drove by and stopped to offer us a ride to the falls (we think he saw how tired we looked), but we politely declined – hoping to conquer this trip on our own.

We made it about 11km of the ride, and were on a downhill portion of the mountain, cruising along, when it happened. Rachna, normally extremely cautious, was riding down the hill pretty fast, and hit a pothole before a bridge, slipped off the tire planks of the bridge, fell sideways and slid across it. Gaurav, who was ahead, came back, and some locals stopped to help. Rachna was in shock and the pain hadn’t kicked in yet, so she was still trying to convince Gaurav that we could continue on to the waterfalls.  We waited until the shock subsided and the pain sunk in before she admitted we had to turn around and go back to the hotel.

As we waited, many people stopped to check on Rachna, and two tourists and their guide helped bring her off the road and to the side and gave her some painkillers. We flagged down a pickup truck with a family and asked if they could give us a ride to town (they didn’t speak English but we managed). They were very nice to oblige, and Gaurav climbed into the back of the truck with the bikes and some of the family members, while Rachna rode in front.

Once we got back to the hotel, Rachna couldn’t walk on her left leg and didn’t have use of her right hand, as both were extremely bruised, scraped up, and swollen. She had scrapes and bruises everywhere, and that was pretty much the end of the day. We sat in the hotel room all day, because Rachna was in a lot of pain. We had lunch and dinner in our room, and just rested.  We hoped the swelling and bruising would settle down tomorrow, and from what we could see, nothing seemed broken. That was a bit too much of an adventure for us.

Beautiful people

Day 79: Monks

This morning we woke up at 4:30am, got ready, and grabbed the bikes we rented from our hotel to bike 20 minutes to town. Every morning in Luang Prabang, the monks walk in a procession from their monasteries through the town with their alms bowls, and the townspeople sit along the sidewalk on their path, and offer them rice and other foods and money for their daily sustenance. The monks walk from all directions through the town to collect their food for the day, so they are dependent on the generosity of the town’s people.  It is such a beautiful tradition to begin the day donating to the monks, and really shows the character of the people here.

Once the procession was over, we walked through the morning market where all the sellers had their fruits, vegetables, and various animals (some alive, some dead) and animal parts for sale. Since it was only 6:30am by the time we were done, we biked back to the hotel and had breakfast before going back to bed for a few hours!

Once we re-awoke, we hopped on our bikes and biked back to town to start visiting all the temples (there are tons of them) around town. The heat was already blistering as we visited the temples, and after a few of them, we had to stop to rest and regain some energy with lunch.

After lunch, we continued visiting temples, including one at the top of a mountain (although we realized afterwards that we completely missed the main statues on the other side of the mountain)! We saw the royal palace museum, with relics from the various kings’ reigns, and then, utterly exhausted, biked back to our hotel to relax for a few hours. 

At night, we went back to town, and walked down an alley full of people selling food. We had dinner at a buffet street stall, which made us feel like locals, and then walked through the night market again, before taking the shuttle back to the hotel and sleeping. 
Monks' procession through town

Morning market

Frogs for sale at the morning market

Temple in town

 Dinner buffet at the night market

Travel day

Day 78:  Quietude

After breakfast at our hotel, our tuktuk driver dropped us off at the airport for our next destination: Laos. After a full day of travelling, we arrived in Luang Prabang and made our way to our hotel, which was a little out of the centre of town and former residence of the Prince of Luang Prabang. We dropped our stuff off and took the hotel shuttle to town to walk around a bit. The night market in Luang Prabang is so extremely different from anywhere else in Southeast Asia. The people have their storefronts laid out on the ground but you don’t hear a peep out of anyone! No one hassles, no one bothers – you could hear a pin drop! It was such a nice change from the constant bombardment of sellers we’re used to. We could actually walk through the market and just look at stuff without feeling any pressure to buy! 

After we walked through the market, we went for dinner in town, which was equally and as unbelievably quiet as the market. We had heard about how peaceful Laos was but we didn’t know it was this quiet! It was such a wonderful change from everywhere else we’ve been in Southeast Asia. Another different thing about Luang Prabang is that the town has a curfew! So after dinner, we took our shuttle back to the hotel and went to bed. So far, even with just the little we have seen in Luang Prabang, we love the feeling of this town, and its peaceful and quiet energy. 
 Quiet night market

Even more templing...

Day 77: The countryside, waterfalls, and temples

This morning we had breakfast and headed out early again on our tuktuk to a few places a bit further out of town. We drove through a lot of beautiful countryside, where we watched people just living their daily lives. We drove by rice fields where people were picking rice, and villages where families were were all sitting together outside, people sleeping on hammocks, kids of all ages running around playing in the streets, and people just enjoying life. It was inspiring.

We arrived at our first stop, where we hiked up about 1.5km to a small waterfall and river. The cool thing about this waterfall was that there were Shivalingas carved into the entire riverbed on which the water runs – as such, it was called the River of a Thousand Lingas! We walked along the river and saw other ancient carvings along the riverbed, and then walked down to the foot of the waterfall. Then, we hiked back to the tuktuk and went to our next destination, an old red sandstone temple. The temple was in pretty good condition considering the ruins we have seen before and the restoration work that was done on it was impeccable! We walked around the temple grounds and saw some rice paddy fields, had some lunch, and then headed back to our hotel.

We relaxed a bit, and then went to town and walked around the night market before having dinner and going back to our hotel.
Picking rice in the rice paddy

River of a thousand lingas

Temple ruins

Intense heat

Day 76: More templing

This morning we had breakfast and headed out for the day on our tuktuk to see… more temples! We went to two places we hadn’t gone to before, and walked through old temple ruins with huge trees growing inside, on top of, and through them! The trees were so big, and we could see their roots finding their way in and around the ceilings and walls. It was spectacular and just what we had come to Cambodia to see! The temples we saw were beautiful and made us wonder how they must have looked at their prime. The sense of awe was back. It was also interesting to learn that countries around the world had each, in essence, “adopted” a temple to restore to help with restoration efforts. It shows the importance of these temples and their historical significance.

We went back to Angkor Wat to see some of the ruins we missed yesterday and afterwards, returned to the hotel, had some lunch, and rested after walking around all day in the intense heat. 

In the evening, we went to town, where we walked around the shops and the touristy area. We had dinner at a cute little restaurant and then walked around the night market before going back to the hotel. 

 Trees growing around the temple ruins

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Old glory

Day 75: Temple ruins

This morning, we got up and had breakfast at the extensive buffet at our hotel, before getting bicycles from our hotel and biking over to Angkor Wat, the temple ruins that we have come here to see. We parked our bikes and walked over to the temple grounds. The ruins were huge and quite amazing. We wondered what it all must have looked like in its glory days. It must have been so beautiful. On our walk back, we managed to see a video shooting of an “Apsara Dance” being performed by five traditionally dressed girls, with the temple ruins in the background. They looked magnificent!

When we were done with these ruins, we decided to go back to the hotel just as it started pouring! So we put on our raincoats and biked back to the hotel. Needless to say, we still got soaked, but it was kind of fun to be carefree and biking in the rain. We had lunch at the hotel, and then realized there were many more ruins than we first thought there were, so we grabbed a tuktuk and went to Angkor Thom, our next set of ruins. We walked through all of the ruins there, which were equally beautiful, and we still couldn’t imagine what this all must have looked like right when it was all built under the rule of a king.

Once we were done, we headed back to the hotel and got ready for dinner. Our restaurant sent a car to pick us up, and took us to a cute little restaurant in a really quiet area. The restaurant was owned and completely family-run, which was nice. And the food was amazing – some of the best we’ve had! 

When we were done, they dropped us back to our hotel, and we went to bed, nice and full! 

 Apsara dance

Bye bye, Vietnam

Day 74: Luxury

We had breakfast this morning, grabbed our luggage, and walked over to the bus station where we caught the bus to the airport. Today, we leave Vietnam for Cambodia!

We arrived in Siem Reap, where we were picked up and taken to our hotel. We decided to stay at a nice resort for once, and was it ever! When we got into our room, there were rose petals spelling out “Happy Honeymoon” with a rose on the bed, and the bathtub was full of water and rose petals too! It was so nice of them to do that!

We decided to stay in our hotel for the evening, since we will be here for another few days and have enough time to see everything. We had lunch and dinner here and after dinner, the hotel sent up a “Happy Honeymoon” cake for us! The people here are so nice! We spent the evening relaxing and then went to bed! Nothing much to report today.
 Nice message awaiting us :)

Back to the city

Day 73: Last day in Vietnam

Our time in Mui Ne is done (all too soon), and we grabbed our bus back to Ho Chi Minh City this morning. We arrived in town, and walked around looking for a hotel, finally finding one around the corner from our last hotel.

We dropped our stuff off and went to walk around town to check it out on our last day in Vietnam. We walked around, had some lunch, and checked out some art shops. Then, we dropped our stuff off at the hotel and went to get some dinner in town.

An interesting thing we learned about Vietnam is that at restaurants and bars, the shorter and more uncomfortable the chairs available, the cheaper the food and alcohol will be! It was cool because we actually saw all the different sizes and levels of comfort of the chairs! So we grabbed a few drinks at the cheapest chaired bar before coming back to our hotel and going to bed. 

We really enjoyed Vietnam. The people have been so nice, and we would have loved to have spent some more time here. But alas, tomorrow, we leave! 
 Short plastic stools = cheap beer

A quiet little town

Day 72: The Sahara in Vietnam

We woke up this morning around 4am for our jeep pickup at 5am to catch the sunrise but completely missed it! In any case, we headed over to the white sand dunes that this area is known for. When we arrived, it was amazing – it looked like the Sahara desert! The sand dunes were so vast and it was peaceful walking along them. There were not that many tourists (we may have missed the sunrise rush) so it was nice and quiet. Gaurav decided to run down the sand dunes and when he got to the bottom, the camera that was in his pocket wouldn’t turn on because sand had gotten into the lens. Sigh.

After the sand dunes, we walked over to a lake that was full of lotus flowers, aptly named Lotus Lake. Then we went back into town to the yellow sand dunes, which are sand dunes that are more centrally located (and where there are therefore many more tourists). We walked along those as well, and then our driver took us over to a fishing village, where we watched fisherman on the waters catching fish and bringing their catch back to shore, where the wives waited for them. The wives would then sort through the catch and take it up to the town to sell. It was cool to see the whole process.

Our final stop was a shallow stream that we walked all along in the ankle-deep water, with hard sand formations on either side of us, and red sand (almost like quicksand) in some areas. As with everywhere else, some kids tried to act like guides and convince us the water was really deep because you cannot see the bottom, when in fact it was ankle-deep throughout! Cunning little fellas! The entire stream was quite breathtaking and we walked on for a while before returning to our jeep and going back to our hotel.

Since it was still really early, we had some breakfast and then relaxed for a bit before heading over to the beach. Gaurav enjoyed the water and the waves, and then we sat on the beach for a while. After that, we went for dinner at a restaurant nearby, booked some stuff online, and chatted with the very sweet receptionist, Hang, for a while before heading to bed. It was a nice, relaxing day and we were happy we came to this little town.
Sand dunes

Fishermen bringing in their boats

 "Fairy stream"


Day 71: Trying to get to the town by the water

When we were on a tour in Chiang Mai, we met a girl who told us about a little town on the coast of Vietnam that we should definitely visit. So we took her advice and decided to go to Mui Ne. The bus only goes three times a day, so we tried to get on the morning bus but it was completely booked, so with difficulty, we got tickets on the afternoon bus when a passenger cancelled at the last minute. By 8:30am, the heat was already becoming unbearable! We were on the hunt for a cord for our camera, but were warned that everything in Vietnam is a copy, so we took the risk and bought one since we really needed it! 

So we had breakfast, rested in our room, and then walked around Ho Chi Minh. We had lunch at a restaurant and then picked up our bags from the hotel and got on the bus to Mui Ne. The bus ride was over 6 hours long with three stops for snacks and a meal. By the time we arrived in Mui Ne, we checked into our hotel, walked around for a few minutes and arranged tomorrow’s activities before heading to bed. 

Bye Bye, Thailand

Day 70: Communism!

This morning, we bid farewell to Thailand and to Kyung. We took a taxi to Bangkok airport, which has the third largest airport terminal in the world! We checked in, had a quick breakfast, and then waited in the ridiculously long immigration line to get to our flight. It took so long that we almost missed our flight! Luckily, we got on the flight and made our way to our next destination: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam – our first communist country on this trip!

We arrived and took a bus to town, thankful to have only a backpack each to carry! We had lunch at a restaurant with wifi so we could book a hotel for tonight. We booked one, walked over in the intense heat, checked in, and went to sleep for the entire day. Over the past two weeks, we haven’t been sleeping enough, and today it didn’t matter what country or what city we were in, we were sleeping as much as we needed to!

In the night, we walked around town, had dinner, walked around the night market, and then went back to the hotel to sleep! Our first day in Vietnam, and we had a great feeling about this country because the locals have been so nice so far!
 Bangkok airport

Motorbikes in Vietnam

Gaurav's birthday

Day 69: Learning patience, being Buddha

Today is Gaurav’s birthday, and we rented a car and driver to take us to the renowned Floating Market and to Ayuthaya, the site of various temple ruins. Both destinations are quite far and also in opposite directions, so we started off early on our day.

The day started off relatively well, with us getting along with our driver and heading over to the Floating Market. When we arrived, boat companies tried to sell us a boat ride for exorbitant prices, but since we had done our research, we knew how much it was supposed to cost so we moved on to the main part of the market. When we arrived, we started haggling for a reasonably priced boat. This is when things went sour. For some reason, our driver took great offence to our haggling, but we would only find out how bad it was when we got back.

We walked around and found a boat for a much more reasonable price, so we got on and started floating through the floating market. All around us were floating shops selling knick knacks and souvenirs for tourists. It all felt very commercial, and the original traditional beauty of the market with boats selling fruits and veggies and food felt lost to tourism. We were lucky to have arrived before the hoards of tourists, because we missed the intense traffic jam and all the craziness, and were able to have a quiet ride down the market.

When we arrived back at our car, our driver was no longer on speaking terms with us, but we didn’t realize why or how bad it was. He backed out the car, and we hopped in and started on our way to Ayuthaya, a two-hour drive away.

About two hours into the drive, with our driver driving ridiculously and dangerously fast, we figured out he was completely lost, though he wasn’t divulging this information to us (seeing as how he wasn’t speaking with us). When he finally stopped to ask for directions, he told us it would be another hour, and he in no uncertain terms tried to blame us for his getting lost.

We finally arrived in Ayuthaya after about four hours, and headed to our first temple ruins. In the extreme heat of the sun, we walked around the ruins, and then went to a temple to see a beautiful and huge seated Buddha. Then our driver begrudgingly took us to the next location, where we walked through a second set of ruins. When we came back, he told us he would only be taking us to one more stop (even though we were paying him for the entire day), so we went to a third temple, which was quite beautiful, with a large reclining Buddha in one location, and the walls outside the temple lined with hundreds of seated robed Buddhas.

We hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch, so after our long day in the sun, we were templed out. We headed back to town in a dangerously fast ride, with the driver weaving in and out of traffic (and not the kind of organized traffic of North America, but rather the crazy chaotic traffic of Southeast Asia) and passing every other vehicle along the way. He clearly wanted to get rid of us as quickly as possible, and we were eager to leave him as well – thankful to still be alive after his crazy driving. He also tried to say we owed him more money, but we made it clear we did not.

When we arrived back in Bangkok, we paid him, and thankfully and very angrily left his company. Especially after visiting so many temples and being around Buddha so much (not to mention the slew of Buddha statues the driver had in his own car dashboard), we were hoping that the essence of His teachings would permeate our day, but unfortunately this was not the case, and what could have been a great day (and Gaurav’s birthday) was somewhat tainted by the driver’s intense and unwarranted anger.

We went back to the hotel and let off some steam before heading out again to the restaurant (the same one as last night) to see the show. When we arrived, we found out they cancelled the show again! Needless to say, we were angry, especially the way our day had been going.

So we left the restaurant and went to walk around the night market close by, which also took us through the red light district – an interesting place, indeed! We went back to the area around our hotel, grabbed a quick bite to eat, walked around, and then all of us got a final massage in Bangkok before heading to bed.

The whole day was definitely a test of our patience and we tried to learn to be “Buddha” – unphased and peaceful about it all – though at some points, it was much harder than at others. Well, we tried. 

In any case, happy birthday, Gaurav! I (Gaurav) had a great birthday celebrating half a world away surrounded by ancient temples under the bright sun with my beautiful wife! 

Traffic jam at the Floating Market

Buddha head engulfed by roots

 Buddha galore

Budding chefs

Day 68: Cooking class

Seeing as how we all love Thai food so much, we decided to take a cooking class while we were here and learn directly from the source! When we had called to book the class, we were supposed to do it tomorrow (every day has a different menu and we liked tomorrow’s better), but they suggested we come today instead, so we requested to make a few of the dishes that we really wanted to learn, and they said they would be happy to oblige.

So we got up and went to the meetup point for our class, from where the teacher took us to the market to buy our ingredients for the day. The market looked like a little open factory, with tons of ingredients (meat, coconut, spices, fruits, veggies) and machines turning those ingredients into whatever you needed them to be. We bought a bunch of stuff from there, and then went outside to the veggie store where we learned about all of the different vegetables that go into Thai cooking. It was really interesting to learn about protein, fragrant, and filler ingredients and the methodology that is used in cooking.

When we got all our ingredients, we walked over to the cooking school, which consisted of three rooms and a long balcony located at the top floor of an apartment building. We washed our hands and got straight into it. Some people cut the meat, some washed the veggies, and once everything was prepared, we started learning how to make everything from scratch – from actually squeezing the shredded coconut to make coconut cream and coconut milk to grinding the spices to make the curry pastes.

Since we had asked to make some specific dishes, they just tagged them onto the menu instead of replacing others so we were extremely lucky (as were the other people in our class) that we got to learn 10 dishes instead of 6 – and all for the same price! Also, since we were learning 10 dishes in the same amount of time as they had allotted for 6, we were learning everything at the same time (and the three of us were doing the work for our dishes while the rest of the students simultaneously did the work for theirs).

We learned all the techniques to make the dishes, which we never knew about, and that make a big difference in the taste, and the dishes we made were phenomenal. It was so easy to make everything, and it all turned out so good! We were so excited to finally learn the secrets to amazing Thai cooking! When we were done, they gave us booklets with all the recipes, and since Gaurav recorded everything we were doing, we hope to be able to recreate the recipes when we’re home. Thai dinner party! 

It was a half day class, so when we were done, we went back to the hotel and walked around the market a bit, and then decided to go to a restaurant for dinner that had a traditional Thai show every night. When we arrived, we had dinner and waited for the show, only to find out it was cancelled! Disappointed, we went back to the hotel and Gaurav and Kyung went to get a massage, while Rachna rested in the room. 
Wok setup


Friday, August 19, 2011

The rain won’t stop us now

Day 67: Group templing in the rain

We allotted today to walk around and see the sites around Bangkok, so we started up in the morning and walked to our first stop: the Jade Buddha and the Royal Palace. The grounds of the temple were majestic, and everywhere you looked, there was beautiful traditional architecture to see. Inside the main temple, we saw the Jade Buddha, which is actually called the Emerald Buddha because it was originally thought to be made of emerald instead of its actual jadeite. The Royal Palace was nice, but we weren’t allowed to go inside because a funeral was going on, so we only saw it from the outside. It was raining while we were there – the first time it has rained on our trip when we were doing an activity (we secretly blame Kyung for this, since our luck has been really good so far)!

After this, we walked over to the next temple, where a man suggested we go visit two other temples first. So we took his suggestion and went to see a few other Buddhist temples in town, which were quite nice. One of the temples was quiet and peaceful, without the throngs of tourists, and held a beautiful white marble Buddha, which we were happy to have seen. Our tuktuk driver asked if he could bring us to a few shops for foreigners, where if we purchased something, he would get a commission. We obliged, though we didn’t buy anything so unfortunately, he didn’t get anything either.

On our way back to town, it started pouring heavily, so we sat down for lunch at a restaurant across from our next stop, and had a little break. When the rain subsided a bit, we walked over to a temple with an enormous Reclining Buddha. It was huge and just magnificent. We walked around the temple grounds, where all the inner and outer walls were lined with tons of Buddha statues everywhere. It was quite the sight! So far, the temples in Thailand have been beautiful, especially compared to Bali, mainly because we could actually see the statues!

By the time we were done, the temples had all closed so we walked back to our hotel and tried to plan the rest of our stay here. After a short rest, we walked around the market in our area, had dinner at a restaurant close to our hotel, and just enjoyed being in the centre of all the action.
 Statues along the edge of the temple

Jade Buddha

Marble Buddha

 Reclining Buddha

Bye Bye, Chiang Mai

Day 66: Templing

It was our last day in Chiang Mai, so we rented a car to take us around to all the temples, which we have not yet had a chance to see, with all the tours we’ve been doing! The morning started off with rain, and we almost had to cancel our visit to the biggest temple at the top of the mountain, but right before our car arrived, the skies cleared up and we were able to make our way up the mountain. The fog was thick, so we couldn’t see the views of the city on the way, but we arrived at the mountain and walked up the many steps to the top, where the temple sat. The temple was beautiful, and we walked around the grounds, and offered a lotus flower, some incense, and a candle, and said a little prayer with a monk blessing us by tying a protective string on our wrist.

We walked back down to our car, and drove over to a small waterfall before going for lunch at a small local restaurant. We then drove around town, visiting many different (but very similar) temples. By the end of our day, we were templed out! 

We made our last stop at the Sunday market just as the rain started coming down in buckets! The market was rained out, and although all the street shops were still open, we walked around a bit before deciding we were done! Our driver took us to the airport, and we caught our flight to Bangkok. 

We arrived at night, and grabbed a taxi to our hotel, where we met Kyung, who decided to meet us in Bangkok for our visit! Our hotel was in the middle of all the action, so we went out, had a quick drink, and then rested up for tomorrow. 

 Doi Suthep temple at the top of the mountain
Buddha statues at one temple