This week I split my time between Chiang Mai and Vientiane. I had about half a week left with Veronica before I needed to leave Thailand because my 30 day visa was almost up. She had a couple more days in Thailand after I was going to leave and she was going to spend those in Bangkok. We arrived on our flight from Koh Samui and took a taxi straight to our hostel. We stayed at a hostel called Big&Oh Hostel 2 which was right outside the south wall of the old town. It was a nice hostel and the people working there were so friendly and helpful. The beds were all single beds with no bunk beds and were decently comfortable. The appeal of this hostel was definitely the people that worked there.
The first day we arrived we were trying to plan out the activities that we would do for the rest of the our time together. We decided to take a cooking class that night where they would pick us up at 3, take us to a market, show us their organic garden, and then teach us how to cook Thai food. Since it was only 1 we were happy to have a 2-hour nap before the cooking class. The cooking school that we went to was called Smile Organic Farm and it was amazing! They picked us up from the hostel and at first there were just 6 girls in the back of the truck and we were joking that a cooking class would be a very female dominated activity until we stopped and 5 Dutch guys got on. They were all chefs together at home and we joked that they were going to show us up.
Our first stop was a local market where our teacher, May, showed us around and explained to us some of the local food that you could buy at a market. We tried a couple of different curry pastes that they were selling and learned about different fruits. We hopped back onto the truck and then went to their farm. First, May showed us all of the plants on the organic farm and I had never seen or heard of most of them before. We picked some of the vegetables for our cooking including chili peppers and their version of an eggplant. They showed us how the grew bean sprouts and we had fresh bean sprouts. May told us eating a lot of bean sprouts is the best way to cure a hangover.
Then, the cooking part began. May was hilarious and I am so glad that she was our teacher and not the other lady teaching next to us because she was so energetic and had a joke for everything. At the end, we told her she should start her own youtube show on how to cook Thai food. We started by making spring rolls. We used wheat paper instead of rice paper and she said to put the rough side on top and the smooth side on the bottom. She equated the rough side to being a man and the smooth side to a girl and saying that man has to be on top in order to make babies. We rolled them and then fried them in oil. Next, we made Pad Thai. I was most excited about learning how to make Pad Thai because I had tried before and it never turned out great. She talked about cooking with emotion and emotion would tell you how much oil to put in. She also equated the amount of spice you could handle with being sexy. She asked if we wanted baby sexy, medium sexy, or Thai sexy since the more spicy the redder the cheeks. After we finished the Pad Thai, we ate both the spring roll and Pad Thai and it was delicious! The only problem is trying to find those ingredients in the US.
Next, we made curry paste. We had our choice to make massaman, panang, red, or green curry paste. We cut up the ingredients and crushed them with a mortal and pestle to make the paste. I really enjoyed the crushing process. Then, we took our paste over to our cooking stations to make the curry. May told us what ingredients to put in at any given time and I made Massaman Curry. It wasn’t very hard once you had the curry paste. After the curry, we made Tom Yum soup as well. We could decide on the level of spice that we would like. Then, we ate the curry and soup. At this point I was so full and they even wrapped up the curry and soup so we could take it back with us. Overall it was an amazing experience and they even gave us a cookbook with all of the recipes.
The next day, Veronica and I decided to rent scooters and drive them up to a nearby temple. Veronica had never ridden a scooter before so the guy at the hostel showed her how and she did really well! The drive up to the temple was beautiful and had lots of twists and turns. We stopped first at a viewpoint of the city and then continued up. Outside of the temple was a whole village of shops selling various souvenirs. Veronica and I of course did a bit more shopping here. Then, we headed into the temple. It was cheaper if you walked up the stairs, but they also had an elevator that you could pay more to use. The temple was very beautiful, but it was also very crowded and an obvious tourist attraction. It was called Wat Phra That Doi Suthrep. We stayed for about 30 minutes, had an iced coffee, then walked back down to our scooters. We then tried to scoot up the mountain because I saw that there was a palace on the map further up. Unfortunately, when we arrived at the palace it was already closed.
Wat Phra That Doi Suthrep Temple
So, we turned around and headed back down the mountain. We said we would stop at a certain intersection before the city to see if we had time to go to a canyon nearby. Well, we started going down the mountain and when we got back to the touristy area I lost Veronica. I think she got stuck behind a bus and I had nowhere to pull over so I kept going until I saw an overlook where I could pull over. I waited for her at the overlook for awhile and I never saw her and became worried that she had crashed her scooter above so I drove back up looking for her but didn’t find her. At this point, I was really worried because I had no idea how to find her and we had no wifi away from the hostel. I decided I would just go to the intersection we talked about earlier and see if she was there, but when I got to the intersection there was nowhere to pull over and I ended up getting really far away from where I needed to be. I tried to get back and got lost and went in circles for awhile and finally made it back to the intersection. I walked to all four corners and couldn’t find her. So, I tried to go back to the hostel and see if she was there, but I got lost again on the way back to the hostel since it was not on the map and it took me another 45 minutes to get there. When I pull in, she was there and I was so relieved!! She must have passed the bus as she was passing me and I never saw her. Everything worked out in the end so that was good. That night took the scooters to go get dinner at a brewery and the food was very good.
The following day we signed up for an elephant sanctuary called Elephant Family Sanctuary. I was expecting an experience like I had in Cambodia, but I think the elephant experience is a bit different in Thailand. I am glad that elephant tourism is going in the direction of elephant sanctuaries instead of elephant riding, but it was still not quite as humane as I experienced in Cambodia. They picked us up in the morning and we had about and hour and a half ride out to the elephants. We hiked in and I saw that all the elephants lived in a stable. They were not just roaming free like I saw last time. They each had a mahout, but unlike last time the mahout was with the elephant the entire time telling the elephant was to do. To feed them, they were placed behind a wooden beam and were not allowed to walk around it. It was just a bit harder for me to swallow because it still seemed a bit of a gimmick and they posed us for a lot of pictures that the elephants didn’t want to take.
The best part of this sanctuary was that there was a baby elephant named Joy. Joy was a male elephant about 3 years old and acted like a toddler. Joy’s handler was really great and you could tell they had a strong relationship. He used positive reinforcement with Joy like you would with a dog. He even had him give kisses where Joy would put the end of his trunk on your cheek and suck in to make a kiss sound. It was adorable. Joy had his run of the place and they kind of just let him go. We fed the elephants and then we all went up to a mud pit with them and they rolled around in the mud and we smeared mud all over them. Finally, we had a bath in the river with them and it was cute to see the elephants really get down in the water and roll around.
After time with the elephants, we had an ok lunch, but we were still all preoccupied with watching the elephants. We left and they took us to a waterfall for about a half hour with was really pretty and it was nice to sit on a rock in the sun and watch the water pour over. I still enjoyed my time with the elephant because elephants are really amazing animals and are highly intelligent. I wish I could spend a couple of days with an elephant. Yet, this experience was very different from Cambodia and it was hard to digest the fact that these elephants are still being used and they were not allowed to run free in their own environment.
After seeing the elephants, they took us to a waterfall for about 30 minutes. We had to hike down into see the waterfall, but it was very serene. The water was a bit too cold to swim, but we all just sat on rocks and enjoyed the sunny day.
In our hostel, we had met a really cool girl named Bex and that night we all went to the night market together to get some food. I found a dumpling stand and maybe ate a few too many dumplings because they were so good!! We then took a tuk tuk over to a bar called the THC bar. It was a really cool bar with blacklight paint on all of the walls and small tables with cushions on the floor. It reminded me a bit of the Amsterdam Bar in Koh Phangan. Next to us were a big group of people playing Uno so we joined tables with them and had a giant game of Uno going. It was really fun and it was nice to meet some more travelers. At midnight the bar closed and we met another guy who frequents Chiang Mai often and he said bars open and close at a certain time to spread business around and he would show us the next bar. This one was more like a club and it was so packed! People were dancing everywhere so we found a back room for smokers just to have some more space. At 1am they clear out the main area of the club, but open doors to the back room where if you know about it you go there. We were there a bit early and had a nice spot at the bar. I spent the night just talking to a bunch of different people, but when that part of the bar closed at 2, I was tired and wanted to go home. Veronica continued on to the next bar and I decided to walk home.
Girls night out with Veronica and Bex
The following morning I had a relaxed morning and went to the bakery across the street to get an amazing sandwich. I worked on my blog a bit and started researching Laos for the next part of my journey. Veronica and I wandered around old town for about and hour because we had yet to enter the walls of the city which is kind of ironic. We came back and I decided to get some exercise since it had been about 2 months since I had done anything like that. I ran around the outside of old town and it was a really nice run and it felt so good! I got back, showered, and we went back to the market so I could get some food for my bus ride. I had to say goodbye to Veronica who was leaving the following day for Bangkok and head to the bus station.
I got on the bus around 8pm and it was surprisingly a pretty comfortable bus. I seats leaned back pretty far and I got a decent night sleep. We arrived in Nong Khai which is just on the other side of the border from Laos. I had to catch a tuk tuk to the Thai immigration office where I met an American girl named Bri who was living and teaching English in Thailand. She was on a visa run and she became my best friend for the next couple of days. Once we got through the Thai immigration office, we were trying to figure out how to get across the bridge to the Lao immigration office and finally figured out for a cheap price we could catch a little bus across. We filled out the immigration paperwork and paid for our 30 day Laos visa and then took a tuk tuk into Vientiane. I was staying at a place called Hive Hostel which was a new hostel and more pricey than anything else, but it had comfortable beds with privacy curtains and I knew I would be spending several days here just relaxing.
I was using Vientiane as my chill out city to recover from the last couple of weeks. Between Christmas, yacht week, the job conference, and traveling with Veronica, I had been on the go for awhile and I was so tired and needed a couple of days off the road. This was the perfect place for this because there is almost nothing to do in Vientiane. I spent my days wandering the streets and going to cafes with Bri. In between those times, I was napping or working on my blog. I exercised every day here which was a nice change. I even found a game of pick up ultimate frisbee with the local team of expats and dragged Bri along with me. I have missed Ultimate so much!! The following night I worked out in the park and that was a hilarious experience. There was a lot that happens there at night. A lot of people were playing badminton or soccer. Then, there was there large exercise zumba like classes that took place so close to each other that the music would overlap. Each had an instructor up on a platform and anywhere between 50-100 people following along, mostly women. They just down the street closest to the river and lots of people were walking and running along this street. There was also a night market nearby. One bizarre thing I saw though was a huge fire right along the river. I was so glad to be able to experience all of this.
I really liked Vientiane for its relaxed pace and I am surprised it is the biggest city in Laos and the capital because it was very small and very laid back. I was there for 3 days. I finally got to eat some more western food and drink a lot of coffee. I was so happy to have met Bri and spend a couple of days with her on her visa run.