Asia Day 40: Reflection – Thailand 

Asia Day 40: Reflection – Thailand 

Photo of the day: Pad Thai on the streets of Yaowarat. Photo credit: Aaron.

I am very sad to say that this brings us to our last day in Thailand, as well as our last day in Southeast Asia. We will be heading north to acclimatize our bodies to the cold winters of Canada; however, we were reminded that there will still be plenty of good food to look forward to, to warm our bellies! The food adventures will continue!

It’s time to do a reflection of our time in Thailand:

Culture and Tourism

I’ve been told that Thailand is the land of smiles. I think this might have changed over the years. Perhaps the tourism industry has boomed too much over the years and the locals are starting to get annoyed with the huge influx of tourists every day. Compared to the relatively new tourism industry in Vietnam, I definitely found that the people here were not as friendly or warm, particularly in the hospitality business. 

On top of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep.
On top of Wat Phra That Doi Suthep. It was difficult to get a shot without tourists in it.

The types of tourists are also different. I saw mainly tourists from China, Russia and France while we were here compared to more Japanese and Korean in Vietnam. You can also tell which tourists are most popular by just looking at the signs. At the airport, all signs were in Thai, English, Chinese and Russian.

There is one word to describe the food here. It is “more”. More spice, more flavours, and more complexity. They really like their coconut milk here and use it in a lot of their cooking. Like a lot of other Southeast Asian countries, they also like condensed milk, so be prepared for deciously sweet and creamy drinks. If you are one to like spicy and rich food, Thai food is the right cuisine for you. If you cannot tolerate spice, be cautious

Religion plays a huge part in the lives of the people here, specifically Buddhism. I paid extra attention to my dress and actions particularly in temples, which were found throughout the cities. Offerings are given not only in temples but there are little altars set up in front of businesses as well. Buddhist holidays were observed as national holidays. In southern Thailand, we also saw a large population of Muslims as well. 

Statue @ Wat Pha Lat.
Statue @ Wat Pha Lat.

We could definitely feel the respect the citizens had for their King while we were there. You can see posters of their King almost everywhere you looked. A lot of people continued to wear all black or a black ribbon to mourn for the King’s death. Although we did not go, I read that many locals visited the Grand Palace everytday to pay their respects to the King. He must have been a very good King in order to gain the respect of so many people.

Weather
Again, we had great luck with weather during our time in Thailand. Other than the one day I was melting at Wat Pho, because I was wearing jeans, the weather has been very pleasant, mostly in the low 30’s C. There was only 2 days of rain, and even that did not last very long. It’s definitely warmer than Vietnam, so I wore shorts and a t-shirt most days. Because it is warmer, mosquitoes and other insects are more prevalent here. Luckily, both the picaridin and DEET repellents that I used appeared effective for the most part.

Language

I definitely did not pick up too much of the Thai language here. Because they did not use the same alphabet, I couldn’t even try to read the characters. It is again, a tonal language, making it more difficult to pick up. However, even at the local places we ate at with no English menu, once we got over the fact that we are not actually Thai, we were able to communicate with pointing and simple English words.

Menu @ Rod Yiam.
Menu @ Rod Yiam.

Top Food Picks

  1. Khao Soi @ Tourism Festival, Bangkok
  2. Soft-shelled crab curry @ The Never Ending Summer, Bangkok
  3. Khao Soi in Chiang Mai
  4. BBQ chicken in Chiang Mai
  5. Chicken with cashew nuts @ Zabb E Lee Thai Cooking School, Chiang Mai

Top Sights

  1. Maya Bay
  2. View from top of Doi Suthep
  3. Snorkelling around the Phi Phi Islands
  4. Sunrise over Phang Nga Bay from our villa @ Paradise Koh Yao

Firsts

  1. First time trying Thai Iced Milk Tea – addicted!
  2. First time successfully snorkelling
  3. First time kayaking to a beautiful untouched bay 
  4. First time experiencing an overnight train in Thailand
  5. First time eating Khao Soi – love it!
  6. First time joining in on a free fitness class in the park
  7. First time getting a traditional Thai massage
  8. First time taking a meditation course
  9. First time going to a train market and floating market
  10. First time eating curry so many days in a row
  11. First time celebrating Chinese New Year in Asia
  12. First time taking a leap of faith and staying at a Airbnb with no previous reviews and it worked out!

And that’s it! We will see you in Korea!

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Asia Day 37-39: Ko Yao Noi

Asia Day 37-39: Ko Yao Noi

Photo of the day: The view from our villa @ Paradise Koh Yao. Photo credit: Aaron.

Exploring cities have been really fun and exciting, but we wanted to plan a little 3-day getaway during this part of our trip before heading to vibrant mega-cities. It also gave us a chance to celebrate our anniversary/valentine’s day/Aaron’s birthday.

Taking a break from the city.

The Resort

The resort we choose was Paradise Ko Yao. It is a boutique resort, which was on the northern tip of Ko Yao Noi, a small island right in between Phuket and Krabi. It is more remote compared to a lot of the super-busy luxury resorts on the Andaman coast, resulting in a lot of people complaining on TripAdvisor about how inaccessible it was, but we kind of liked that. The resort tries really hard to employ mostly people from the island and it’s slogan is “Back to nature in comfort”, so it really allows you to feel away from the cities and back into nature.

The view from our balcony. Photo credit: Aaron.
The view from our balcony. Photo credit: Aaron.
View from our room. Photo credit: Aaron.
View from our room. Photo credit: Aaron.

The Transfer

Looking like a local can often cause some confusion. At the beginning of our transfer to this resort, the driver to the marina did not think to ask us whether we were waiting to be picked up, because we “looked like the same type of people”. Eventually, we figured it out. It was a windy day today and the 1 hour speedboat ride felt like forever. I am usually a big fan of boat rides but I just wanted this crazy bumpy ride to stop. Those negative thoughts immediately left my head when I disembarked on this lovely, secluded resort and got to see our gorgeous villa with the amazing views.

The speedboat taking us to the resort. Photo credit: Aaron.
The speedboat taking us to the resort. Photo credit: Aaron.

The Food

The food here was surprisingly good. I was expecting to pay for overpriced, mediocre food but the food were quite tasty, although probably not as authentic as the street food you would get in Phuket Town. We did realize that their Thai food is better than their western options, so we mainly ordered Thai food after the first few meals. There are only 2 restaurants at this resort, and we only ate at the one with the Thai food options but we felt there were enough options to keep us happy.

Chicken Pad Thai @ Paradise Koh Yao. Photo credit: Aaron.
Chicken Pad Thai @ Paradise Koh Yao. Photo credit: Aaron.
Thai Pizza. Photo credit: Aaron.
Thai Pizza. Photo credit: Aaron.
Thai Milk Tea. Photo credit: Aaron.
Thai Milk Tea. Photo credit: Aaron.
Tom Yum cocktail. Tasted like Tom Yum... Photo credit: Aaron.
Tom Yum cocktail. Tasted like Tom Yum… Photo credit: Aaron.

The Service

The service has been the best I’ve seen in Thailand so far. Everyone was smiling and polite. I guess you really can’t be grumpy on such a beautiful island. Language could be a problem at times, like when we tried to tell them the wifi was not working in our room, but for the most part, we were understood and it is probably better for us that we disconnect a little bit, so we can truly enjoy this paradise.

 

The Spa

The spa experience was spectacular. Again, I was just expecting to pay an overinflated price for the same service but this was so much more. We were given voucher for 30 minute free back and feet massage on the beach but it can also be applied towards a select number of 60-minute massages at the spa. We decided to get a 60-minute stress relief massage recommended by the lady at reception, who felt we both needed some deep tissue massage for our tight muscles. She even demonstrated the different strengths on our neck/shoulder to allow us to make a more informed decision. The experience started with a quick rinse where they poured coconut shell-ful of cold water on us. Then a steam bath in an cave-like chamber. We came out and took a dip in the cold plunge pool with waterfall right outside this chamber. Then we drank some tea changed out of our suits into a cute sarong they provided. They even made us fill out a medical consultation form – first on this trip! Next we took a walk into the jungle into a covered hut to get our 60 minute of amazingly effective massage. It ended with another hot towel and tea, then it was all smiles and wai’ing to send us off.

 

The Activities

In terms of activities, we mainly beach-bummed and enjoyed the views on lounge chairs in front of our plunge pool, but there were excursions that you could take to go to other islands, to go biking around the island or to go to the village. We were quite content just being at the resort. We took a free yoga class one morning (we were each given one voucher) and it was a really nice way to start the day, especially with the sunrise and beach as the backdrop. We also did some kayaking and it was probably one of the best kayaking experiences I’ve had. I saw some people complaining about needing to pay for rentals but it was only 300 THB (~$12 CAD) for half a day, so it really reasonable. The turquoise green water, sunny skies and ocean breeze made the experience amazing but the best part was finding an isolated bay and just parking our kayaking on the untouched beach and taking a dip in the ocean. I was saying how in a few years a resort will likely pop up here and it will become Maya Bay #2. Coincidently, when we were leaving this hidden treasure, we already heard something that sounds like they are starting to cut down the trees. Maybe it wouldn’t even take a few years.
P.S. I finished Karma for Today’s Travelers given to us by Phra KK in Chiang Mai. It is a practical and easy read for those who are interested in an introduction to Buddhism.

The beautiful, remote bay that we found on our kayak trip. Photo credit: Aaron.
The beautiful, remote bay that we found on our kayak trip. Photo credit: Aaron.

The Entertainment

Don’t expect any grand cruise boat or super resort entertainment here, but what we found more impressive was the fact that the performers were actually the regular staff who worked here. For example, the receptionist, Joe, who checked us in, did a fire show performance one night! We were more than impressed.

Fire show. Photo credit: Aaron.
Fire show. Photo credit: Aaron.

The Value

There were quite a few reviews complaining about the price of this resort. I found that you got what you paid for. The standard rooms are actually very reasonably priced. And if you wanted a more special experience, you can pay more for an ocean view, private pool, private jacuzzi or all of the above at a much more reasonable price than at a 5-star luxury resort, which can definitely start at $1000+ per night. The additional cost of activities, spa, food etc. is most definitely high for Thai standards but pretty much North American prices. You really have the option to spend little or a lot by taking on upgrades, not taking advantage of the happy hours, signing up for classes and excursions, and choosing to eat at the fancier restaurant etc.

Option to spend 6000 THB ($225 CAD) on a romantic Valentine's Day dinner on the beach, but we didn't do it.
Option to spend 6000 THB ($225 CAD) on a romantic Valentine’s Day dinner on the beach, but we didn’t do it.

We really enjoyed our time at Paradise Koh Yao and were really sad to leave. We basically stayed at our villa for as long as we can, enjoying the views until housekeeping came to clean out the place. We were also offered the spa showers to use if we needed it after we checked out of our room. After enjoying our last Thai meal at the restaurant, we were on the boat again, back to Phuket, this time a much more pleasant ride.

The sunrise from our villa. Photo credit: Aaron.
The sunrise from our villa. Photo credit: Aaron.

Asia Day 36: Phuket 

Asia Day 36: Phuket 

Photo of the day: Red curry with chicken @ Krua Charifa. Photo credit: Aaron.

It was time for another rest day! We spent most of the day making good use of the co-working space and pool at the hotel.

Working hard in the co-working space @ Blue Monkey Hotel and Hub
Working hard in the co-working space @ Blue Monkey Hotel and Hub. Photo credit: Aaron.

For lunch, we wanted to give Krua Charifa another try since I watch Mark Wien’s video on it this morning and he made it seem really good. When we arrived, we realized again that there will be no English menu. I just pointed at my phone and the big pots of pre-made curries to order our food. Unfortunately 2 of the 3 dishes Mark Wien’s loved was not available. The only one that was, there was only a bit left. We arrived there past 2 pm so perhaps it was too late. So we each got a portion of the Gaeng Gari Pla (fish curry) with rice. Aaron also ordered a steak of fish on the side to add more to the meal, which worked out at the end since there really wasn’t much fish in left in the curry by the time we got there. I was overall underwhelmed by the curry. Perhaps, by this time of the day, a lot of the key ingredients of the curry were gone and what’s left isn’t much – only some eggplant. The fried fish steak was a bit dry as well. Aaron thought this wasn’t enough food so ordered another red curry. To our surprise, it was a chicken drumstick curry and it was really flavourful! It was my favourite type of flavourful, sweet curry. I love it when we randomly pick great dishes!

Gaeng Gari Pla with rice @ Krua Charifa. Photo credit: Aaron.
Gaeng Gari Pla with rice @ Krua Charifa. Photo credit: Aaron.

I saw a little boy drinking some Thai Milk Tea during lunch, so I really wanted some as well. Aaron found a place across the street from our hotel which is supposed to serve really good milk tea, so we stopped by. They did not seem to speak English and luckily, I learnt how to say Thai Milk Tea in Thai, so I just mumbled “Cha Yen?” and the young lady asked an older lady from behind to come out just to make the tea for me. It did not disappoint and we brought that back to the hotel to enjoy while doing some more work.

It was spitting when we left for dinner, so we just stopped by a cool-looking restaurant around the corner called OOy Street Kitchen. It served both Western and Thai food, so we knew it might not be one of those authentic meals, which was ok with us. When we sat down, they immediately placed the Thai language menu in front of us assuming we were Thai. We politely flipped it over to the English side. I thought I needed a break from those tongue-numbing spicy curries. Aaron felt that the chef here really puts an effort into making good food just by looking at him cook in the open kitchen. Aaron had the Magga Burger and I had the carbonara. Both were nicely presented and tasted pretty good. The bacon in my carbonara, somehow tasted like pepperoni, which I didn’t mind since I prefer pepperoni over bacon. The onion rings with Aaron’s burger was very nice and light. The pulled pork in it was perfectly seasoned with a lovely, tasty sauce. I almost forgot to mention that the mango smoothie here was also very amazing! Almost as good as Five Boy in HCMC!

Magga Burger @ OOy Street Kitchen. Photo credit: Aaron.
Magga Burger @ OOy street Kitchen. Photo credit: Aaron.
Carbonara @ OOy Street Kitchen. Photo credit: Aaron.
Carbonara @ OOy Street Kitchen. Photo credit: Aaron.

And that ends our last day in Phuket! I guess this was a nice way to ease into our resort getaway tomorrow!

Asia Day 35: Phuket (Phi Phi Islands)

Asia Day 35: Phuket (Phi Phi Islands)

Photo of the day: Long tail boat on Maya Bay. Photo credit: Aaron.

One thing was missing from our trip so far – beach time. So we decided to dedicate a whole day to it. We joined a Phi Phi Islands (pronounced Pee-Pee) tour organized by Phuket Sail Tours, again based on thousands of excellent Trip Advisor reviews. We started our day early at 6:30 AM. They arranged a private transfer for us to the marina since we were in Phuket town. Those staying in the beach towns would have gotten there by a minibus with other travellers. We were pleasantly surprised by the breakfast provided, especially the delicious ham and tomato sandwich. Our speedboat set sail around 7:30 AM. It took approximately 1 hour to reach the Phi Phi Islands. They provided anti-nausea medication prior to departure, if needed, but you can expect have a nice drowsy ride to the islands.

Early start at the Ao Por Pier. Photo credit: Aaron.
Early start at the Ao Por Pier. Photo credit: Aaron.

Our first point of interest was Maya Bay. This bay is famous after the movie “The Beach” was filmed here. I have not seen this movie but reading the plot with lying, blackmailing and killing, it definitely does not match the paradise-like scenery you would see here. We arrived here early to try to avoid the crowds but the beach was already very busy. Aaron found it very ironic that there was a line-up on an island. Nonetheless, the line-up was worth it to see the surreal view overlooking Lo Sama Bay. We then spent some time enjoying and taking pictures of the view of Maya Bay. It’s a postcard everywhere you look! Although, your postcard would have many tourists in it. If this is considered not busy, I cannot imagine how it would look as the day progressed.

Entering Maya Bay. Photo credit: Aaron.
Entering Maya Bay. Photo credit: Aaron.
Maya bay at 8:30 AM - already so busy. Photo credit: Aaron.
Maya bay at 8:30 AM – already so busy. Photo credit: Aaron.

We left before the crowds starting rolling in and passed by Viking cave, where bird’s nests are harvested. Then we jumped off the boat for a quick swim in Pi Lay Lagoon. After we got back on the boat, we found out there were plenty of cold drinks and snacks on board for us to enjoy. Note: there was no beer on the boat. Aaron was disappointed to find out that you needed to pre-purchase it at the tour company’s office prior to departure. Then we stopped for some snorkelling. I have not had good luck with snorkelling in the past, and was not really looking forward to this part of the tour. I’ve tried it in Hawaii and St. Martin and found it very difficult to breathe and did not end up seeing anything in the water. This experience was much improved! Our tour guide did a good job in finding a good spot for snorkelling, where we were swimming with hundreds of fishes. I thought I would crash into them but they did a great job with swimming right passed me. Aaron was having a ball because he loves aquariums and this experience is so much more “hands-on”, not literally because he failed to touch them, which is probably a good thing.

Viking Cave.
Viking Cave.
The water is so clear here, you can easily see all the fishes!
The water is so clear here, you can easily see all the fishes!

Next, it was time for lunch! We went to Phi Phi Don (the largest island). Let us remember that this is where the 2004 December hit and destroyed a large part of the island. They have done a great job in restoration of the island as I would not have known just looking at it. The restaurant here served some surprisingly good Thai food – including green and Massaman curry, Tom Kha Goong, various stir-fries, as well as not-so-Thai food such as fries and chicken wings. We were overall, pretty impressed with the meal but did not over-fill our stomachs since we had more snorkelling to do later on.

View from Phi Phi Don. Photo credit: Aaron.
View from Phi Phi Don. Photo credit: Aaron.

After lunch, we stopped by Monkey beach. It was a pleasant surprise since we previous read the monkeys were too aggressive and we were not allowed off the boat. We were able to take some pictures with these active animals, but remember to keep our distances, especially from the big alpha male of the group. Apparently, one the of crewman tried to lure a monkey with a cigarette and was chased.

View from Monkey Beach.
View from Monkey Beach.
Monkeys!
Monkeys!

Next, we stopped at Bamboo Island to do some beach-bumming. Aaron and I found a quiet spot passed the rocky area, and had pretty bunch that whole section of the beach to ourselves (well and a few girls who were taking a million pictures of themselves lying on a rock, looking sexy. P.S. It did not look comfortable. I don’t know how they did it).

View from Bamboo Island.
View from Bamboo Island.
A more quiet beach area of Bamboo Island.
A more quiet beach area of Bamboo Island.

It was time for more snorkelling. This time I was really looking forward to it. Our guide was good at pointing out interesting finds, including a school of clown fish, at which he shouted “Nemo”!

All good things come to an end because it was time to head back to Phuket. We were very happy with our choice of this tour. It was probably pricier than some of the other tours you can get from the agencies in town but we were impressed by their expertise and how they used this to change the schedule around and avoid crowds as necessary.

We cleaned up and relaxed a bit more at the hotel before heading out for dinner. We decided to give another try at eating at Hong Khao Tom Pla, the Thai Chinese restaurant we tried to go to the first night here and it was open! We sat down right in the front to witness the chef in action and was given a menu all in Thai, so I whipped out my phone and started pointing to pictures on Mark Wien’s blog and wished for the best. I pointed at 3 dishes but luckily only 2 came because the portion sizes here are massive. The first dish we got was the Tom Yum Pla Nam Sai. When it arrive, I knew it would be spicy. It was red in colour and was filled with fish, mushroom, tomatoes, whole shallots and other vegetables. The soup definitely had a kick. I am usually not a Tom Yum fan as I usually find it too sour but this was full of flavours. They were not stingy with their fish since the whole bowl was filled with big pieces of perfectly cooked fish. Next, came the Talay Pad Pongari. I was very happy to see that this dish arrived since I was really looking forward to having another egg-based curry. Again, this dish was not lacking in ingredients, as the packed it with various seafood (including fried fish, shrimp and squid), as well as onions, tomatoes and other vegetables. Overall, we thought this was authentic as it gets. The spice level was definitely Thai spicy and we ended up just eating most of the contents of the soup and not really drinking it as a result. I could no longer taste the actually food half way through the meal and just tasted spicy. We both ended up loading up prophylactically on Rolaids after the meal to prevent major heartburn.

Tom Yum Pla Nam Sai @ Hong Khao Tom Pla. Photo credit: Aaron.
Tom Yum Pla Nam Sai @ Hong Khao Tom Pla. Photo credit: Aaron.
Talay Pad Pongari @ Hong Khao Tom Pla. Photo credit: Aaron.
Talay Pad Pongari @ Hong Khao Tom Pla. Photo credit: Aaron.

Aaron wanted to have some ice cream to cool down our taste buds, so we headed to Snow Wave for some shaved ice. We ordered the coconut milk shaved ice with corn and mangos. The shaved ice was really good. Just like the one we had in Kuala Lumpur, it wasn’t just ice chips with syrup on top. It was actually ice-cream in a snow-like consistency. I would skip the toppings next time though. It took away from the tasty shaved ice. And that’s how we ended our perfect day full of sunshine, swimming and good food.

Asia Day 34: Phuket (Old Town – Traditional Thai Massage)

Asia Day 34: Phuket (Old Town – Traditional Thai Massage)

Photo of the day: The streets of Phuket Old Town. Photo credit: Aaron.

We started the morning enjoying a pretty good breakfast at the hotel. There was a good selection of Thai stir-fries, served with plain congee. They also had western selections, such as banana bread, toast and croissants. The most interesting section was the “street food” section with various sticky rice. I particularly enjoyed the sweet red sticky rice. Apparently, this hotel is owned by a group of architects and we saw a couple of them in action, working on some architectural designs by the pool. Pretty cool stuff!

My breakfast along with my triplet chopstick (came out of the package like that) @ Blu Monkey Hotel and Hub.
My breakfast along with my triplet chopstick (came out of the package like that) @ Blu Monkey Hotel and Hub.

Sweet red sticky rice @ Blu Monkey Hotel and Hub. Photo credit: Aaron.
Sweet red sticky rice @ Blu Monkey Hotel and Hub. Photo credit: Aaron.

Banana bread. How appropriate for a monkey-themed hotel. Photo credit: Aaron.
Banana bread. How appropriate for a monkey-themed hotel. Photo credit: Aaron.
We, then, took a walk into the Old Town. It reminded me of Hoi An with the small stores selling textiles and the red lanterns outside. We spent some time in Bookhemian Cafe, getting some work done, while enjoying some lemon soda and coffee. This cafe was a bookstore, art gallery and cafe all-in-one. There was a lot of seating and lots to explore on their bookshelves.

The interior of Bookhemian Cafe. Photo credit: Aaron.
The interior of Bookhemian Cafe. Photo credit: Aaron.
Time flew by and it was already close to 2pm. We decided to try another Mark Wien’s recommendation. It was called Lock Tien – an outdoor food court. We grabbed a seat, ordered from the menu, then individual vendors would bring us our dishes and we would pay them directly. It was confusing at first because we did not know we had to pay them when the food was given to us. They would just say something in Thai and then waited around. We eventually figured it out. The problem with not looking obviously foreign is that they automatically speak Thai to us and confusions like this would often happen. The first dish that came was the pork satays. The tasty peanut sauce definitely made the dish. Aaron, the satay snob, having eaten terrific tasting satays in Malaysia growing up, states that the meat itself wasn’t as fatty as he liked. I thought it was pretty good. It was not as good as the ones we would get on the street but definitely better than the one we got on the boat cruise the other night. Next came the Mee Leung Pad Hokkien Sai Kai (Fujian stir-fried noodles). First impression was the smell. The smell of good Chinese stir-fry filled out nostrils as soon as it was placed in front of us. The sauce was really good and there were various toppings (char siu, sliced up meat balls, Chinese veggies) in the noodles making each bite unique. We chose the option with the egg and it was still slightly runny so I just mixed it all up with the noodles. It added to the texture of the whole dish. The portion-sizes were definitely modest and we probably could’ve had another one to share. Instead, we were hoping to get some Kahnom Ahpong (coconut crepes) around the corner at Ahpong Mae Sunee, also recommended by Mark Wiens. Unfortunately, they were closed.

Satays @ Lock Tien Restaurant. Photo credit: Aaron.
Satays @ Lock Tien Restaurant. Photo credit: Aaron.

Mee Leung Pad Hokkien Sai Kai (Fujian stir-fried noodles) @ Lock Tien.
Mee Leung Pad Hokkien Sai Kai (Fujian stir-fried noodles) @ Lock Tien.
We proceeded to get some beach/pool towels in preparation for our adventures tomorrow and also to avoid the same pool towel incident back at the hotel. It was a good way to explore the various stores in Old Town. We ended up get some at the shopping mall, which was surprisingly cheaper than the independent mom-and-pop stores.

We figured it was time for another massage. I still have yet to try the Traditional Thai massage so we opted to get one at Kim’s Massage and Spa. Aaron wanted to get the 2 hour package with an aromatherapy oil massage as well, so I added on honey and cucumber mask. The experience started with a foot rinse. I would have to say it wasn’t as nice as the “foot ritual” we had Hanoi Ciel Spa but I still appreciated it over no foot rinse. We proceeded to get changed into loose fitting clothes in preparation for our massage. Thai massage is done without oils or lotions on clothed bodies. It was done on a futon and not a massage table since there was a lot of maneuvering of the limbs involved with the masseuses assistance. I was prepared for a painful experience but my masseuse probably looked at me and thought she would break me if she used too much force, so it was actually not that bad. The massage consisted of a lot of firm, sustained pressure by using her palms, forearms, elbows and even feet. There was also a lot of stretching. At one point, she was holding one leg straight, the other one at 90 degrees and then pushing really hard on my inner thigh using her feet. The most uncomfortable part of the massage was probably when I had to lie on my belly and there was no hole to put my face so I ended up putting my neck in a weird position. Nonetheless, I actually quite enjoyed my first Thai massage experience. I felt it was more effective in working my muscles compared to the usual Swedish massages I would get. My nasal congestion also cleared up after the massage. Was it a coincidence or because traditional Thai massage was supposed to have medicinal properties? Next, came the facial. I can tell this was not their expertise because there was a lot of waiting around for her to grab supplies throughout the process. I was expecting the facial to be a cream infused with honey and cucumber but I was wrong. I think she literally massaged layers of honey onto my face then placed another few layers of cucumber on my face. It was quite refreshing. I was just hoping I wouldn’t become an ant trap. It was still a nice experience though since every product she used smelled so nice. She even ended the facial with a nice head and neck massage since I was lying in the same position for so long. Aaron had a male masseuse for both massages who gave him very firm pressure. Aaron felt that the oil massage was just another Thai massage, but with oil, not what he was expecting.

Feeling relaxed (well for me, since Aaron was having major calf aches afterwards), we headed home to chill for a little more before heading off for dinner. Aaron found a nice restaurant called One Chun Cafe and Restaurant. It was supposed to have a similar menu as the famous higher-end restaurant Raya, but at a lower price point. We entered and saw that most of the patrons were locals – always a good sign. We ordered the crab curry with coconut milk, the green mango salad and the steamed pork with garlic and pepper. They confirmed with us that spicy is ok for the mango salad. I said sure! I later regretted this because I bit into a chilli seed and then couldn’t eat for a full 5 minutes after that because my mouth was burning. The curry was very creamy and tasty. If I had to compare though, I still would prefer the soft-shelled crab with egg curry at The Never Ending Summer in Bangkok. The green mango salad was good but spicy! If you just eat it as a whole, it tasted like a papaya salad but if you eat the individual strands of mango, you can taste the mango. Now on to my favourite dish of the meal. When I ordered it, based on Foursquare reviews, I did not know what to expect. Steamed pork sounds kind of bland. I was so wrong. They definitely misnamed this dish. It was more like a braised pork belly. Each bite was sweet, flavourful soft pork belly melting in my mouth. It reminded me of a more delicious, refined version of the Chinese 東坡肉. I was in disbelief how tasty it was. I’ve had many versions of pork belly but this was definitely one of the best. We saw a lot of people were orderly this bright red dessert so we got one too. It was called “Banana Jelly” dessert but there was no banana taste it in. It was a pile of mounded shaved iced, red bean, watermelon balls, gelatin and immersed in a red syrup. It wasn’t our favourite dessert but interesting to try. This was definitely our best meal in Phuket so far and was a great way to end our day with!

Crab curry with coconut milk @ One Chun. Photo credit: Aaron.
Crab curry with coconut milk @ One Chun. Photo credit: Aaron.

Green mango salad @ One Chun. Photo credit: Aaron.
Green mango salad @ One Chun. Photo credit: Aaron.

"Steamed pork with garlic" @ One Chun. Photo credit: Aaron.
“Steamed pork with garlic” @ One Chun. Photo credit: Aaron.

"Banana jelly dessert" @ One Chun. Photo credit: Aaron.
“Banana jelly dessert” @ One Chun. Photo credit: Aaron.

Asia Day 33: Chiang Mai – Phuket

Asia Day 33: Chiang Mai – Phuket

Photo of the day: View from plane of the southern islands of Thailand. Photo credit: Aaron.

We are ready for yet another travel day. Even though we are not moving around as much as in Vietnam, it still gets tiring. Inertia is real. I really enjoyed my stay in Chiang Mai. I would say it’s probably one of the most livable cities we’ve stayed in during this trip. It is not too crowded, the weather (at least during this part of the year) is perfect, and most importantly, good food and activities are very accessible. I will miss Chiang Mai, as we embark on the next part of our journey. But before we go, I must have another bowl of that beef noodle soup from Rod Yiam. We had an 1pm flight so we tried to get there as soon as they were open at 10:30am. We both ordered the egg noodle with streaky beef and tendon this time. To my disappointment, it did not taste as delicious as it did the other day. Perhaps because it was still the beginning of the day and the broth did not have time to fully gain its richness? Aaron appreciated how it is tasted different depending on the time of the day, while I was less impressed. So if you want to try this noodle, maybe try coming later in the day?

Egg noodle with streaky beef and tendon @ Rod Yiam. Photo credit: Aaron.
Egg noodle with streaky beef and tendon @ Rod Yiam. Photo credit: Aaron.

After the noodles, we walked back to the condo to check-out, then off to the airport in an Uber. The domestic terminal was not too busy and we were at the gate in no time. After another short 2 hour flight, we were looking over a surreal scene of turquoise blue water with a cluster of gorgeous islands (see photo of the day). It was a definitely a nice way to welcome us to the southern islands of Thailand. And our point of interest: Phuket (pronounced Poo-ket). We decided to stay in Phuket town for a few days, which may come as a surprise for a lot of people. Most tourists would choose to stay along the beach resorts to just enjoy the sunshine and lovely waters. However, we read that there was actually really good food to be tracked down in the town, so we could not miss this opportunity.

There were several options to get to the Phuket town (or the beach towns). Since uber was not an option in Phuket, we had to choose an alternative. 

  1. You can take the big orange airport bus. It would cost only around 100 THB per person and would take 1 hour and 20 minutes. The downside is that the bus only comes every 1 – 1.5 hour, so if we took this option, we would have had to wait for the bus for at least half an hour.
  2. You can take the cheap mini vans for 100 THB per person. There were stands for it everywhere in the arrivals exit. What a good deal we thought! There is, of course, a catch. We read they would detour to travel agencies to gain some commission along the way. The travel time is also unknown because they will have to drop off passengers along the way to their hotels.
  3. The most direct option is the hotel can provide airport transfers for a fee. For example, our hotel was charging 1000 THB per way.
  4. Another direct option, for a lower price was to get a metered-taxi. There will be many people offering taxi services, but the official one requires you to go to a orange stand at the far right side once you exit the arrivals hall. You will then get a number and a complaints slip in case the driver overcharges you, doesn’t drop you off at the right location, etc. It is supposed to be the most reliable taxis you can get at the airport. They will charge you a 100 airport fee and will use the meter for the trip. Our trip cost 690 THB but he was honest to give us a 20 baht discount because he went the wrong way and had to rely on our phone to get to the hotel, which is evidently not very well known.

Our accommodation was Blu Monkey Hotel and Hub – a hotel (but what I would call an upscale-hostel) and co-working space. It had an awesome design with large and comfortable co-working/board games/hang out space, a big breakfast/snacks area, as well as a modest gym and pool. The rooms were again very modern with a small balcony attached. I later found out that this hotel hosts a lot of Chinese tour groups, which explains why most of the signs were not in English or Thai but in Chinese. 

Breakfast area @ Blu Monkey Hotel and Hub. Photo credit: Aaron.
Breakfast area @ Blu Monkey Hotel and Hub. Photo credit: Aaron.

Nice decor @ Blu Monkey Hotel and Hub. Photo credit: Aaron.
Nice decor @ Blu Monkey Hotel and Hub. Photo credit: Aaron.

I was getting really hungry, so we were on a hunt for some food. It was around 5pm and the streets were so quiet. Aaron had a place he found on Foursquare but it was not yet open for business. We did not know whether the other restaurants were just not busy because it was early or because they were not good, so we decided to just grab some snacks at 7-11 instead. We tried the Mama brand creamy Tom Yum cup noodle. It was as delicious as the usual Mama brand Tom Yum instant noodle I ate growing up. We also munched on some bananas and brownies provided by the hotel.

What is a monkey-themed hotel without bananas.
What is a monkey-themed hotel without bananas.

We still had some time before we expected things to get busy around here, so we took a quick dip in the pool. It was quite refreshing. There were no pool towels provided so we just used our room towels expecting that we could get fresh ones later but apparently housekeeping went home, so we will need to wait for tomorrow for fresh towels. At the end, we had to be creative with the small hand towels they provided.

Pool area @ Bly Monkey Hotel and Hub. Photo credit: Aaron.
Pool area @ Bly Monkey Hotel and Hub. Photo credit: Aaron.

Finally, it was dinner time! We headed out again at around 7pm, but this time towards 2 restaurants Mark Wiens recommended. I figured, if one doesn’t work out, we would have another option. We first tried to find Krua Charifa Restaurant for some halal food. It wasn’t easy to find since the address on google maps was wrong. The key was to search using the Thai name instead. We got there but it did not look too busy and we were not too interested in the food options, so we decided to go to the second restaurant. Again, this was tricky to find but when we finally found it, we found out it was closed. Luckily, we passed by the Talad Kaset Night Market, so we just went there instead. Aaron was eyeing a fried chicken stall, so we went back there. Again, they were speaking us in Thai and were surprised when we opened our mouths and spoke English. We had the option to choose fried chicken, roast pork, BBQ pork and duck to go with rice. We just ordered two fried chicken plates. It came with some soup as well as some cucumbers on the side. We had so many sauces to choose from at our table to add to our chicken. I liked the sweet soy sauce the most. The chicken was extra crunchy because they added extra crunchy batter on top after chopping up the chicken. The portion sizes were modest but I was content after I finished my meal. 

Fried chicken!!! @ Talad Kaset Night Market.
Fried chicken!!! @ Talad Kaset Night Market.

Fried chicken with rice @ Talad Kaset Night Market. Photo credit: Aaron.
Fried chicken with rice @ Talad Kaset Night Market. Photo credit: Aaron.

We ended the night just getting some work done at the nice co-working space back at the hotel.

Co-working space @ Blu Monkey Hotel and Hub. Photo credit: Aaron.
Co-working space @ Blu Monkey Hotel and Hub. Photo credit: Aaron.

Asia Day 32: Chiang Mai (Zumba in Thailand – BBQ chicken – CAMP Co-Working space – Ping River boat cruise)

Asia Day 32: Chiang Mai (Zumba in Thailand – BBQ chicken – CAMP Co-Working space – Ping River boat cruise)

Photo of the day: the smoky BBQ chicken @ ไก่ย่างวิเชียรบุรี. Photo credit: Aaron.

I finally found a convenient place and time to take a Zumba class! It was Fitness Thailand, just a 15 minute walk away. It was a decent-sized gym in a shopping complex. The gym pass was 200 THB/day (~$8). There was a large change room with sauna and showers. There was a yoga room as well as an aerobics room. The class consisted of a good mix of locals and foreigners. I love how Zumba is pretty universally standardized, so it was nice to hear familiar tunes played as well as similar choreographies. This was definitely an excellent way to start the day!

After doing some laundry, we headed to get some lunch. We have walked by this restaurant multiple times since it was just down the block from us. Every time, we were tempted by the barbecue lined with whole chicken, but we would already had another restaurant in mind. Today will be the day. Again, there was no English menu (always a good sign), so I just said, “Can we have one chicken?” He nodded then came back to 2 plate full of chicken. We figured we needed something to accompany our chicken so we ordered some rice and Som Tam (papaya salad). Aaron feels like it was probably one of his favourite meals in Thailand! The chicken was perfectly seasoned and cooked. It wasn’t a huge chicken so we ended up ordering another half chicken. The Som Tam was probably the best I’ve ever had. There was the perfect combination of spicy, sweet and salty and the papaya was perfectly ripe. They also were super generous with peanuts, which made the dish that much better. We would definitely give this place a 10/10. We overheard another customer worrying that he will smell of BBQ afterwards, since the place was just covered with smoke, but another customer was like “it wouldn’t even matter”. And it doesn’t. I definitely was not thinking about how my hair smelled after this meal.

Half a BBQ chicken @ ไก่ย่างวิเชียรบุรี. Photo credit: Aaron.
Half a BBQ chicken @ ไก่ย่างวิเชียรบุรี. Photo credit: Aaron.
Som Tam @ ไก่ย่างวิเชียรบุรี. Photo credit: Aaron.
Som Tam @ ไก่ย่างวิเชียรบุรี. Photo credit: Aaron.

After lunch, we were hoping to mail back some spices and sauces we bought the other day at the market, so we wouldn’t have to bring it along with us. It turns out it costs ~$60 CND to ship it back! I couldn’t justify spending that much to ship back a few things worth ~$10 CND, so into our suitcase they go. 

There was a very cool co-working space at MAYA Lifestyle Shopping Center, so we went back there. It was such a neat set-up. There were normal desks, some cubby hole-like seats, meeting rooms, “tree house” spots, a terrace looking at Doi Suthep and a multi-level seating area. You would order your drinks and food and then your number will appear on the monitor when it was ready. I don’t know if it was because of the Zumba class this morning, but I got hungry again while we were there, so I ordered their garlic pork with rice, which was not bad. Their honey lemon frappe is also not a bad alternative to the usually honey lemon drink I would get at a Hong Kong style cafe. We spend quite some time here just catching up on work.

CAMP Co-working Space @ MAYA Lifestyle Shopping Centre.
CAMP Co-working Space @ MAYA Lifestyle Shopping Centre.
Today was our wedding anniversary, so Aaron made reservations at the Riverside Restaurant. Apparently they were the only restaurant who did dinner boat cruises. We were first seated on the boat parked just in front of the restaurant, ordered our drinks and food, then after all the food and drinks arrived on the boat for everyone, we set sail! It was nice that we were the only boat on the river, compared to the party boats we saw in Bangkok. During the cruise we saw quite a few other waterfront restaurants. I wonder why they haven’t implemented a cruise option as well. For dinner tonight, we ordered some Chiang Mai hors d’oeuvres, Penang curry, morning glory and chicken satays, along with some nice Chilean Cabernet Sauvignon. The hors d’oeuvres were quite interesting. It consisted of different types of sausages (fermented, herb-infused, deliciously-marinated), vegetables (cabbage, cucumber, green beans), fried dough, as well as a super spicy green chilli dip. My favourite was the deliciously-marinated sausage. (Sorry I don’t know what it was called). My least favourite was the fermented sausage. The Penang curry was quite tasty, even for the Aaron, who is from Malaysia. The morning glory of course was delicious as always. The satay was found on the “international menu” and it made a lot of sense when it arrived. It did not look too authentic. It does not compare with the ones we got on the streets of Bangkok but it will do for now. It also came with cut-up roti, which we found interesting. Overall, it was a nice way to spend our anniversary. The food quality was in general not bad, but I wouldn’t order from the international menu. I was surprised not more people elected to eat on the boat since it was only 150 THB (~$6) extra per person compared to eating at the restaurant.     

Our dinner on the Riverside Bar and Restaurant boat cruise. Photo credit: Aaron.
Our dinner on the Riverside Bar and Restaurant boat cruise. Photo credit: Aaron.