Heading West…again

IMG_4821

The warm rays of the sun draw me back. Into a place of peace, excitement, joy, abandon. I close my eyes and try to remember. The feeling of leaving. The feeling of going. To leave the cares and the constant. The constant flow of thoughts and to do lists. I am sitting here, back home in Tennessee, with the gentle breeze softly dancing across my bare skin as I sit under the hot sun. I cannot help but want to go. The stirring which I thought had stilled remains. Always the temptation. Always the dream. Of places yet traveled. Of places so little explored. My list keeps growing. The more I see, the more I want to see and explore and soak in. I want to feel the sun’s rays from a million different places. To smell. To taste. To listen to the world and understand its differences.

IMG_4894

My heart seems easily wooed these days. One city after another captures it, if only in that moment. For mine is a fickle heart. Or maybe my love is not really love. Only infatuation. Only a crush.  The thrill of the moment.

IMG_4959

LA won my heart.  So much so, I was ready to pack my bags and leave my life here in Tennessee behind and start a new.  To find a new home.  To make a new life for myself.  But for now, I am here.  Learning a lesson in choosing contentment.  Sitting under the blue skies of Tennessee dreaming of our drive across the country and through the southwest.  A drive to move my little sister out west.  To her new home.

IMG_4826

Our Route: Dayton, TN to Los Angeles, CA

Summers are not really the best time of year to take road trips through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and Southern California, but that is exactly what we did.  Being the shortest route, there wasn’t much debate.  We didn’t want to spend all day driving.  We wanted time to see and do and explore.  We didn’t want to feel rushed.

Day 1:  Dayton to Memphis

We hit the road late in the day.  Of course.  We knew that we weren’t going to make it very far that day, so we didn’t feel pressure to head out early.  First pit stop, Nashville.  Dinner and conversation with my aunt.  Followed by the first of many latte stops.  Steadfast Coffee turned out to be one of the best stops during our trip.  Not because of the delicious lattes, but more for the conversation had.  We left happy and high, with a list of coffee shops to hit down the road and people to connect with in LA.

Day 2:  Memphis to Stillwater, OK

So, our plan.  Stop by 8pm each night and hit the road by 10am the next morning.  Don’t think we ever really accomplished that, but we tried.

Memphis surpassed our expectations.  The customer service and hospitality at the Double Tree in downtown was wonderful.  Sincere service.  And conveniently located, just minutes from the river walk which was perfect for a pre-drive exercise.

But, we couldn’t leave Memphis without two things:  coffee and BBQ.  First stop, City & State for lattes and some shopping.  Then to Central BBQ for a brunch made of a BBQ sandwich, BBQ nachos, and ginger beer.

IMG_4645

Pit stop:  Little Rock, AK…we weren’t fans.  Please, tell me what we missed and what we should have explored.  We did take the time to walk across the pedestrian bridge and run the steps to get our blood going.

IMG_4668

IMG_4666

Final destination:  It is amazing how quickly a day can pass.  We only made it to a small town outside of Oklahoma City and late at night at that.

IMG_4800

Day 3:  Stillwater, OK to Santa Fe, New Mexico

IMG_4809

IMG_4816

Albuquerque was on route.  However, we were so close to Santa Fe, we all thought an hour detour out of the way was worth it.  Who knows if or when we will be back this way.

IMG_4701

But first, pit stop in Amarillo, TX at Palace Coffee.  Definite recommendation from Steadfast Coffee.    Seriously such sweet owner and staff.  Wish we weren’t running behind schedule because we could have spent some serious time here.  But, we were hitting the road again to try to make Santa Fe before the sun went down.  Which we did, but barely.

IMG_4713

Day 4:  Santa Fe, New Mexico to Phoenix, Arizona

IMG_4763  IMG_4737

IMG_4762

IMG_4702

We spent the morning in Santa Fe exploring the little compound we were staying at.  Santa Fe is wild and natural.  So much smaller than I expected, especially for a capital.  We were happy to stay outside the city as it was way more touristy than expected.

Before hitting the road for Arizona, we made one quick stop at Iconik Coffee.  I opted for tea.  I am a tea girl first thing in the morning, and was thoroughly pleased.  However, my sisters did vote the lattes as some of the best on the trip.  So, definite recommendation.

Next stop:  Flagstaff, Arizona and the meteor crater.

IMG_4877

IMG_4868

IMG_4847

IMG_4901IMG_4888

Pit stop:  who knows where…we made a pact to stop every two hours no matter what to switch drivers and to do a set of five exercises.  We didn’t want anyone to ever get burnt out or struggle with sitting in a car all day.  The first couple of times might have been slightly embarrassing doing jumping jacks at a gas station but it was worth it.  Definite recommendation for any road trip.

So, our trip got pretty wild at this point. We were headed to the meteor crater when we hit our first massive storm.  Now, if we were at home, cozied up with a cup of tea, it might be one thing, but to be driving straight into a lightning storm in a seemingly deserted desert, pretty much we felt like we were either storm chasers or in some scary horror movie.  None of us actually felt like staying at the crater, let alone pay, to be out in the middle of a massive storm.  So back in the car and on the road we went.  Maybe the one time I longed for a bit more civilization and humanity (maybe also when we tried jogging in the back country of New Mexico).  There is something about feeling like we were the only ones out in the wild, that made us all a bit tense.  There were some definite screams as the lighting crashed down around us, and as I was driving, some very white knuckles.  But, then there was peace.  Even amidst the storm, we finally embraced the storm and waited for the beauty of each lightning strike.  God’s creation is amazing.  Powerful and mighty.  And so seemingly uncontrollable even though He is in complete control.

Final Destination:  The Boulders outside of Phoenix

IMG_4939

IMG_4929

Hand down my favorite stay and probably my favorite stop on our trip.  If only we have had more time.  Such a peaceful respite.  We spent the evening lounging at our abode and the morning swimming in the pool, along with enjoying all the spa amenities.  This is a must return to.

We didn’t see much of Phoenix as we were on route to Joshua Tree and Palm Springs but we did stop at Cartel and loved it.  Definite recommendation.  Like I would take a trip to Phoenix based off of the vibe there.

Pit stop:  Joshua Tree.  How we thought this could just be a short pit stop, I am not sure.  But we hit it at just the right time.  Right before sunset.  Enough time to take a hike and then watch the sun light up the sky as it slowly sank between the hills.

IMG_5038

IMG_5037

IMG_5036

IMG_5078

IMG_5077

IMG_5052

IMG_5050

IMG_5083

IMG_5159

IMG_5179

IMG_5190

IMG_5194

Final destination:  The Avalon in Palm Springs.  A perfectly cute boutique hotel.  The morning was spent lounging poolside once again.  Oh, if only more time, we would have been so sunburnt.

IMG_5305  IMG_5298

Day 6:  Palm Springs to Los Angeles

Our final leg.  And once again, L.A.  Oh, just as good as the first time around, just more cozy.  More like home.  And lots of new favorites and recommendations.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Coffee:  Verve

IMG_5335

Food:  Kitchen MouseLeo’s Taco Truck, and Van Leeuwen Ice Cream Truck

And then it came to a crashing hault.  Back to life in Tennessee.

 

Passing through Thailand Part 2

It feels like Thailand is a faint dream.  The passing of time has loosened the hold that it had on my mind, my spirit.  I knew it would.  That it would fade.

Thailand changed me; it affected me.  More than I imagined it would.  I went to Thailand for adventure, for something new, for the experience, to be with my sisters.  I came back feeling distant, as if I did not recognize what I had left behind.  My friends, my work, the regular jaunts.  Nothing felt right.  But now, months later, I can look back and barely remember those feelings.  I have settled back into life, this life.  Yet, I don’t feel the same. There still is a stirring in my spirit that was not there before.  I feel that the life I was leading will never be the same.  I feel like I need it to change.  I want it to change.

I don’t think Thailand itself is what made me feel distant from my own life.  I think it was the passage of time.  It was disconnecting completely from the life I was leading.  It was stopping admist the ciaos…stopping after spinning around and around, dizzy, disorientated, unable to get my barrings.  Maybe that is just age.  I don’t transition as easily as when I was young.  But I don’t think that is what it was.  I think leaving everything behind enabled me to let go more than I have in years, since I began my business. I had hit a breaking point before I left.  I realized there was too much in my life.  I was not able to do what I loved admist the necessities of the day.  I had taken on too much and was not doing anything well or enjoying any of it.  My dreams had begun to fade.  I was surviving.  I am still surviving, if it can be called that….But that is a story for another day.  Soon.  Not yet.  This is about Thailand and the wonderful time there.  So, without further ado, part two…

Koh Lanta 

IMG_7203

Before leaving for Thailand, my sisters and I did do enough research to select the two places we would spend our trip, Chiang Mai and Koh Lanta (you can read about part one here).  We would have loved to have seen more, explored more, but we just had two weeks.  If there is anything I have learned over the years, don’t try to do too much.  Otherwise, it won’t feel like you did anything.  Or maybe that is just what it will feel like.  That you did things rather than experienced them.

So, we skimmed over blogs and guide books to know what island or beach to go to.  Pretty much we wanted confirmation that the place would be one, not touristy, two, not a party scene, and three, beautiful.  Koh Lanta was just those things.  It was perfect for us.  Underdeveloped and beautiful.  It had secluded beaches, awesome food, motorbikes for rent, gorgeous vegetation and topography…everything we could ask for.  We booked the flight like a day before we flew (not the cheapest way to do it) and ended up getting in pretty late into Krabi.  The guide books made it sound as if it would be too late for a ferry so that we should stay the night.  However, there were not too many options listed for places to stay in Krabi and we did not know how big a place it was.  What to do?  Instead of showing up at 10 or 11 at night with no place to crash and having to figure it out, we decided to book one night at any place we could find with private transfer to their hotel on Koh Lanta.  There were only two.  Baan Laanta for around $100 a night plus an extra charge $30 for the hotel transfer or the Pimalai, which was around $300 a night and free airport transfer.  We were definitely tempted but figured we would be just crashing and then checking out in the morning to find someplace cheaper to stay.  So, the Baan Laanta it was.

IMG_7863

Where to Stay:

Baan Laanta:  Small.   Quiet.  Quaint.  Perfectly situated.  We arrived ridiculously late (it was about a two hour transfer from the airport by van, driving and on ferries).  But when we got there, we were kindly greeted and shown to our room.  And what a room.  We weren’t able to appreciate it in the night, as it was late and we were exhausted.  All we cared about was it had a beach view, a gorgeous bed, and lots of character.  We quickly got into bed and crashed (we ordered an extra cot, but the three of us could quite comfortably fit on the bed).  Upon waking in the morning I was able to fully appreciate where we were staying…

IMG_7708 IMG_1925

IMG_7185

an excerpt from my journal on that first morning …

“We woke this morning to one of the most breathtaking views – truly stunning.  The bay surrounded by the jungle.  Unbelievable how vast the jungle is – how wild it is.”

Koh Lanta is a very mountainous island and everything was built into the hills.  The hotels all were terraced along the bay.  Ours tucked into the trees but with direct beach access. 

IMG_7861 IMG_1970 IMG_1969 IMG_1992

IMG_2090IMG_7924

IMG_7355

There are only about 15 rooms at the Baan Laanta, so if you are wanting an intimate, private, relaxing stay, this is definitely the place for you.  We only saw 2 or 3 couples the whole time we were there (but it that was because we were traveling during the shoulder season – which meant reduced rates and less people, but risking bad weather).  The setting was perfect.  The view from the pool was fabulous, not that we used it much at all.  With the beach and the ocean literally right down some steps, it was hard not to pick the beach.

Next time:  Honestly, after exploring the island, I loved our little bay and thought it the perfect place.  The only other recommendation I would give would be the Pimalai.  However, there were a lot of great looking places on other parts of the island.  But I liked our location so much that I wouldn’t want to stay anywhere else.

Pimalai:  We were really tempted to stay here for one night.  It was just up the beach from our hotel and it looked amazing.  We did go check out the grounds and thought they were gorgeous.  Seriously.  However, upon viewing the rooms, they lacked the character that the Baan Laanta had.  It might have been worth the splurge, but we were content staying where we were so we opted not to upgrade.  But if you want to be spoiled and stay some place grand (for Thailand), this would probably be a good pick.

Where to Eat: 

Gosh.  You just had to walk up the street for fabulous food.  And I mean fabulous.

Kampung Restaurant:  We ate here almost every night.  It was fabulous, and when you get awesome food and an awesome experience, it is hard to want anything else.  Such sweet sweet owners.  It is owned by a young couple.  She is from the UK (we assume) and he from Thailand.  Both were so kind and sweet and just made you want to come back both for the food and to support them.  It was mango season and she talked of getting mangos from his uncle’s tree up the street.  Awesome.  And the food had just the right amount of heat.  Enough to intimidate but not kill your taste (but they were willing to accommodate anyone’s palate).

IMG_7865 IMG_7342 IMG_7900

The neighbor’s cat.  He totally knew who had food and he was not shy about trying to get some.  Love how relaxed Thailand was about sitting on the floor, eating dinner, and having a neighbor’s cat hanging out in your lap.  Definite recommendation:  everything!  The banana in warm coconut milk – yum.  All the curries we tried – so good.  We really loved everything we had here.

IMG_7499

Okay.  So I forget the name of this place.  But if you head from the Baan Laanta up toward the park, you will pass it on the right.  It is Sunset something.  We were riding our motorbikes passed this spot, which claimed awesome views, and the sun was just setting so we figured we would stop for some cocktails.  The view did not disappoint.  It was perfect timing.  I mean, drinks while watching the sunset on the ocean.  How much better can it get?

IMG_7502

Same Same but Different:  Another pick just because of the location.  We could walk here from our hotel for dinner and drinks on the beach.

IMG_7717

Loved the sculptures at night.  Even if we did not get a view of anything else, it was pretty phenomenal with the sound of the waves on the beach.  Just wish we had had a flash light for the walk back.  We came back during the day for drinks on the beach and thoroughly enjoyed the view.  The food was good enough but we had much better, and it was a bit pricier here.  You are paying for the location.  Definite recommendation:  coconut lassi or smoothie

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset IMG_7798 IMG_7789 IMG_7810 IMG_7808

Another place I cannot name…located up the road from the Baan Laanta on the left, was a developers office with a coffee bar.  I don’t quite know if they were open or not when we stopped by but they were so hospitable and gracious.  We ordered lattes and ice cream.  The best coffee we had in Thailand.  And such a gorgeous setting.  The office itself was dream home worthy (there was even a moat with fish around it with a little concrete bridge).  We wandered up to look at their development and again, gorgeous.  Very modern; totally stunning.  (It was still being built though.)  It was all so delightful we had to come back again.  The kind of place that makes your heart happy because of your interactions and the genuine kindness of the people.  I feel as though words cannot express them.

IMG_1994 IMG_1995

On the other part of the island, in the old city, there were a slew of places right on the water.  I don’t know how we lucked out, but we did.  All I wanted was a whole fish, but how to choose.  We picked one that was not busy.  Usually not the best sign.  And the owners kept calling us to come in.  Doesn’t typically woo me, but we entered.  I think we were all just so amazingly hot and hungry that we weren’t thinking straight and just needed someplace to sit.  We ordered the whole fish and were so delighted.  It was delicious and totally what I had been dreaming of before coming to Thailand.  Seriously, the best whole fish I have ever had.  It had just the right heat, a perfect balance of flavor, and melt in your mouth fish.

IMG_7449 IMG_7451IMG_7422IMG_7407

Next time:

Drunken Sailors:  Closed for the month.  Literally the day before we got there was their last day.  It had a hammock on the porch and looked like the most perfect lounge hangout.  Sad to have missed it because it was given rave reviews by other travelers we met.  But, it did seem more geared to tourists.  I don’t know if we would have really felt like we were in Thailand.

What to Do:

IMG_7850 IMG_7840 IMG_7832 IMG_7817 IMG_7811 IMG_7757

…other than swimming and walking along the beach and relaxing under the hot Thai sun…

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 preset IMG_7486 IMG_7397 IMG_7370  IMG_7374IMG_7866

IMG_1996

Rent motorbikes:  A definite recommendation.  We only rented them one day and wish we had been able to ride more.  It is the only way to see the whole island and without having seen the whole island, I feel my view of Koh Lanta would not have been accurate.  To see where the locals lived and how they lived (and to interact ever so briefly).  To view the treatment of the elephants.  To see the roads less taken.

IMG_7686 IMG_7679 IMG_7535 IMG_7528

Snorkeling:  We booked a trip to Koh Phi Phi through our hotel.  Since we were going on the off season, our choices were limited and honestly we had to just take what they would give us.  We were at the mercy of the hotel to book us a trip.  And again, felt so blessed. We wanted the speed boat trip but had to opt for the ferry.  In the end, we were totally happy.  They transferred us to a long boat once we got to Koh Phi Phi and that is when we got to experience Thailand truly.  Not with a fancy fast boat.  But with a rough, loud, long boat.

IMG_7676 IMG_7672 IMG_7654 IMG_7641 IMG_7638  IMG_7619 IMG_7614 IMG_7609 IMG_7589 IMG_7573 IMG_7570 IMG_7543

We were with a small group of other internationals and one Thai family.  We were the only Americans.  Loved that.  We took the ferry to Phi Phi Don where we then transferred to the long boat, which took us to two different locations to snorkel.  The first was an intimate cove.  Just us and the water.  It was shocking at first.  I had never been snorkeling and was not used to the constant prick and sting.  After exploring for a bit, they took us over to the main attraction…Maya Bay.  They brought us into a little cove and told us to jump out, swim across to the rope ladder and climb up.  Once at the top follow the path to the beach.  Let me just say…awesome.  So much fun swimming up to the ropes and climbing up them.  Loved how relaxed and casual they were.  No questions or instructions.  No warnings.  When we got to Maya Bay we almost immediately wanted to turn around.  People were everywhere.  It was crazy.  Did not expect that.  We got in the water and then headed back to the boat for lunch.  And did they serve lunch.  Two different curries with rice and pineapple.  And it was delicious.   So delicious.

Next time:

the national park on Koh Lanta.  We got there right when it was closing.  But after talking to a guy who lived in America but was visiting his family in Koh Lanta, we realized we weren’t up to trekking.  He thought we were crazy when we said we wanted to.  He said you really need to go with a local who knows.  And I think he was probably right.

Cooking class.  We didn’t give this much consideration but after the fact figured it might have been nice to have taken one.

IMG_7257 Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset IMG_2030 IMG_2027 IMG_2017 IMG_2054IMG_2065IMG_1966IMG_1931IMG_1933

Things of Note:

Going on the off season felt a bit unnerving at first.  I mean it was deserted on our end of the island.  The first morning, literally the only humans we saw were the people working at our hotel.  It felt like we had woken up on the set of Lost.  But we soon adjusted to the lack of human beings and deserted surroundings, the emptiness.  And maybe it was just too early in the morning.

In the middle of the night the first night I was awakened by the most deafening noise.  I had no idea what it was.  All I knew was I was exhausted and just wanted to sleep.  And wondered if I could live in that noise.  Just as quickly as it started, it stopped.  Turned out to be insects.  They would start up periodically throughout the day.  But like everything else, I began not to notice as much.

Traveling on Koh Lanta: the taxis were charging ridiculous prices.  We hired rides through our hotel, which ended up being more affordable than if you sought out transportation independently (unless you are really good at bargaining).  Once booked into a place, motorbikes are the way to go, but the cost of gas can add up quickly if you are not careful.

Phone service:  I added an international plane before leaving for while I was there.  Just in case.  And so I could do business.  Pretty seamless.

Weather:  I have never been in such crazy powerful storms.  Or maybe it is just that I felt more vulnerable.  Thankfully they were at night when we were tucked safety into bed.  But even that did not feel totally safe.

Walking:  We were the only ones who seemed to walk.  And understandably so.  We didn’t realize how spread out the island was.

Cost:  I still have not figured out how much I spent all together but it was between $1500-2000.  The plan ride to Thailand cost $1050 and in Thailand $250.  I budgeted around $300 for expenses in Thailand and could have stuck to that but we started splurging toward the end of the trip.  $1500 is totally doable during the shoulder season when places are cheaper.  We just decided to say someplace a bit nicer and spend the extra money.

Overall, Thailand is a place that is wonderful and was beyond my expectations.  It is the kind of place you have to go to experience for yourself.  It is a definite recommendation!

 

Passing through Thailand Part 1

Thailand.  Where to begin.  Thailand was on my “yeah, I’d like to go” list (it literally was on a list I had made in high school or college of countries I wanted to see one day), but not on my “oh my gosh, so want to go” list.  How I underestimated Thailand!  Seeing a culture and a country for the first time always holds a certain thrill and wonder.  Everything is new, everything is exciting, everything is interesting…everything is a first.  But I did not love Thailand for all the excitement of a new country and a new adventure.  I loved it for the people, the beauty, the food, the simplicity.  It was my first trip to anywhere in Asia. And I think it was a pretty good start to travels on a new continent.

So, part one…

My sisters and I were planning a sister trip to Sicily, but when we started looking at tickets and the prices, we started opening the trip to other possibilities.  We thought about swinging by England, Italy proper, France with the whole familia (all places we had all been), and then I got a call.  “How about Thailand?”  Totally not Europe and totally not the original intent of our trip.  But it sounded just right, so after much debate and discussion, Thailand it was.

Chiang Mai

IMG_6992

IMG_1807

First stop, Chiang Mai.  My sister, Stepheny, had connections in Chiang Mai that she wanted to visit, so we figured it was the perfect place to fly in and out of.  Plus, none of us had a pressing desire to go to Bangkok, and with the ticket prices more expensive to fly there rather than flying to Chiang Mai, it was pretty easy to agree the first half of our trip would be spent exploring the cultural and international city that is Chiang Mai.

IMG_8059

IMG_8056

IMG_6753

IMG_6696

IMG_6751

Where to Stay:

Thailand is definitely a country that you can show up and figure it out as you go (which is such a good thing because I pretty much started researching on the plane ride).  However, with that said, we did travel during the shoulder season and I don’t know what peak season would be like.  Our flight got in late – like around 10:30pm – so we figured it was best to book a hotel the first night rather than try to figure out where to stay when we got there.  We were given a list of recommendations from Stepheny’s contact and ended up going with the Mountain View Guesthouse.  It was pretty easy just to hire a taxi inside the airport and was around $4 to get to our guesthouse.  The ones outside the airport definitely tried to get higher prices.  But if you take a tuk tuk or public bus, it is cheaper.  It might just take a while to flag one down depending on the time of day and you may have to negotiate a bit.  Always confirm the price before if you are hiring one.

 IMG_1498

IMG_7126

Mountain View Guesthouse:  Nothing fancy.  Just a good, simple, authentic place to stay.  It was located at the Changpuak Gate along Sriphoom Road, which turned out to be a perfect location for us.  It was a quick taxi ride from the airport, feet from Phrapokklao Road (which was one of the major roads in the old city), and was on the less touristy side of town.  (www.mountainview-guesthouse.com)

IMG_7130

IMG_1479

IMG_1509

We pretty much ate breakfast there every morning.  Not that we typically would choose eating at the place we were staying, but the food was actually really good and we wanted to support them. (Plus, we always woke up starving and could not imagine heading out without any food in our bellies.)  Not only were they super hospitable, sweet, and Christians, but we were paying roughly $12 a night between the three of us ($4 each!!).  We got the cheapest room with a fan and no air conditioning, but it was all we needed. The room was hot during the day, but we weren’t there.  At night, we opened the windows, turned on the fan, and slept with only sheets.  We always seemed to spend more on breakfast then on our room.  On average I think we spent around $13 for breakfast between the three of us and let me just say we were feasting like queens! We always had a hard time finishing it.  Recommendations:  the fruit plate, milk tea, and banana pancake.  We could not get enough fruit.  We lived on fruit.  It was the one craving that never seemed to be satisfied.  I mean, it was mango season.

IMG_1785

Next time:  Walking around the city, we passed so many great looking places to stay.  These are some of the ones I would look into staying at next trip, but there is a plethora of great places.  (And these are all in the old city):

  • Chiang Maan Residence:  An old wood house that was renovated into a boutique guest house.  We had drinks and breakfast here one morning.  Unfortunately, we only had one night left by the time we found this place and had already paid for our room, but we were really really tempted to take a loss on the room we already had, and just stay here (I mean $12 loss…not that big of a deal).  The proprietor had lived in NY and worked at a restaurant and came back to Thailand to open her own guest house.  This place was gorgeous, quaint, and so welcoming.  Just thinking about it now makes me wish we had stayed at least one night.  (www.chiangmaanresidence.blogspot.com) *Pictured above.
  • 99 The Gallery Hotel:  Oh My Gosh.  This place looked amazing – gorgeous – stunning.  We did not see the rooms, but it looked like the most beautiful modern hotel!  It was a good picture of what Chiang Mai is culturally today.  (99thegalleryhotel.com)  I think this would be up there with the Chiang Maan Residence for where to stay.
  • The Rim Resort:  Another gorgeous hotel.  The architecture, the entrance, the ambience.  This was impressive from the outside.  However, we did not walk in, and I have no clue what the interior is like.  (www.therimchiangmai.com)
  • Tamarind Village:  This definitely was a good mix of traditional Thailand with modern amenities.  It looked like a peaceful oasis amidst the city.  Long quiet corridors, bamboo lined walkways, soft lights glowing long into the night. (www.tamarindvillage.com)

Outside the old city,  I would recommend trying to stay around Nimmanheamin Road.  Casa 2511 looked interesting (casa2511.com).

Where to Eat:

IMG_6739

IMG_6741

IMG_1583

IMG_6747

IMG_1591

IMG_7004

IMG_1748

We ate a lot of street food in Chiang Mai and it was all so delicious.  You just need to use your eyes, nose, and gut to guide you.  Supposedly the vendors set up outside the Changpuak Gate along Mani Noppharat Road were more authentic and where the locals would go.  We pretty much tried to steer clear of areas that just internationals were eating at.  We went way too early in the night the first time – better to go later after everyone has set up and walk up and down to check out all the vendors and their customer base.

Mango Sticky Rice – The best was sold by a street vendor on Ratchaphakhinai Road right across from a noodle restaurant

Sunday Night Market – Definitely fun to get food here, although we did not find anything amazing.  It was for the experience.

Beer – Singha – the best Thai beer in our opinion

IMG_7159 IMG_7154

As for actual food establishments:

IMG_6895

IMG_6882

IMG_6879

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Siam Celadon Tea House:  We celebrated my birthday with a little tea party Thai style.  It felt very British colonial, even though Thailand was never colonized.  The “lemon” soda (really lime – they called all limes lemons) was delicious but the food was just okay (and pricey compared to everything else we had been eating).  Still, a perfectly relaxing and enjoyable afternoon.  We wanted to sit outside on the covered porch, rather than in the air conditioning where everyone else was seated.  They seemed to think we were crazy.  They brought fans out.

IMG_1846

IMG_7098

IMG_7052 IMG_7080

IMG_7077

IMG_7090

IMG_7067

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

IMG_7053

Mixology:  Oh my gosh.  That is pretty much all I said during our meal (a million times).  Seriously.  So delicious!  We couldn’t get enough it was so good.  And the atmosphere was pretty right on too.  Very eclectic and a good mix of vintage, hipster, British, Thai, industrial…. Loved all the quotes around the place and “Junior”, their dog who just hung out.  While we were there, two other neighborhood dogs stopped for a visit.  They just pushed the door open and came in to visit Junior.  And if they were not awesome already, they give 10% off to people who bike there.  The toilet had lime wedges by the sink to squeeze while washing your hands.  Made washing your hands an experience.  Interesting and beautiful.  This is a must in Chiang Mai.  Seriously.  If I lived in Chiang Mai, this would be my top pick for places to eat.  Definite recommendations:  For food, the pork burger on rice patties and the traditional northern Thai curry with fried rice balls.  For drinks, “love me, love my dog” – couldn’t resist a drink with that name.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

The Only Planet Cafe:  Our go to place.  It was right around the corner from our guesthouse and had the best roti.  Banana roti, curry and roti, the list goes on and on.  Plus, the guy there gave us free drinks.  Frequented this place quite a bit.  Definite recommendations:  banana roti, milk tea, bubble tea

IMG_6808

IMG_6807

IMG_6810

Stand right outside Doi Inthanon National Park:  I know that is not a name, but it is worthy of noting.  The lady was so sweet and friendly and made us sit down and have Som Tam (spicy green papaya salad).  Literally, she made us all sit down.  Valerie tried to just buy some lychee but she was like you must have some Som Tam too (this being a very loose translation, because we don’t really know what she was saying).  Stepheny and I were over talking to the rangers, trying to figure out how to get a ride back to town (talking, meaning not understanding each other at all but surprisingly still communicating)  The proprietor started calling and waving for us to come join Valerie.  We thought Valerie must not have money or something.  Nope.  She was making Valerie sit down to eat and wanted us to too.  You don’t just take things to go apparently.  So glad she did.  It was our first time trying Som Tam and it totally did not disappoint.  We paid less than $3 for a ton of lychee and the salad.  Lychee was one of those things that I thought was just okay before.  Totally wrong.  When you eat it freshly picked from a tree right below where you are eating, delicious.  We couldn’t get enough of them.

IMG_6826

Juice bar on Ratchadamnoen Road:  We loved this stand and ended up frequenting it quite a bit.  It made the perfect afternoon pick me up.  You chose any three ingredients and she juiced them for you right then and there.  We typically ordered watermelon, cucumber, lime because it seemed the most refreshing.  But I did branch out and get orange, pineapple, mango one day.  Oh, so good!  Again, this is a must!  (And the girl was the sweetest!)

IMG_7986 IMG_7966 IMG_7957 IMG_7954 IMG_7961

Rustic & Blue:  Outside the old city, Rustic & Blue is a modern teahouse.  Perfect and delightful in so many different ways.  The aesthetic, atmosphere, location, baked goods, tea selection…We had so much fun and would have gone back if we had not discovered this on our last day.

IMG_7993

Ice cream shop off of Nimmanheamin – don’t remember the name but loved the lychee ice cream

Next time (in the old city):

IMG_7029 IMG_7010

Happy Espresso – we didn’t get to try any drinks because the water line was broken but they were so sweet and we took a million pictures and bought bag after bag of their coffee they roast in-house.

Outside the old city:

Kafe Roubaix:  Looked super awesome but we had already had too much that day.  Another café dedicated to biking and all things bicycles.

That’s Wine:  cute little wine bar we didn’t try, but would be fun if in Chiang Mai for a longer period of time

What to Do:

IMG_1646

IMG_6793

IMG_6791

IMG_6788

IMG_6784

IMG_6782

IMG_6768

IMG_1643

Trekking (or hiking):  Lesson learned.  You don’t go off on your own.  Or not easily.  We realized quite quickly why everyone goes with organized services.  However, with that said, it is still doable.  Just easier if you have your own transportation (or speak Thai).  It was easier getting a bus and figuring out how to get where we wanted then we thought it would be.  There are a couple of national parks in relative close proximity to Chiang Mai and we decided to head to Doi Inthanon for a day trip, as it is the highest peak in Thailand (but close is relative…it took an hour and a half one way to get to the neighboring town, then we still had to get to the park entrance which ended up being the hard part).  Once we arrived at the entrance, it was still a considerable distance to the peak.  Way farther than we had time for unfortunately.  We ended up ditching our taxi, and just started walking up the mountain to see what we could find.  Again, not a good idea.  Felt pretty uncomfortable with the situation.  Oh well.  We learned a lot of lessons that day about traveling in Thailand. (But that was the only time I felt uncomfortable and nervous – other than the earthquake.)

IMG_1884

Massages:  So, Thailand is notorious for their massages.  Of course we were going to get them while there.  The girls splurged on me as part of my birthday festivities and we decided to go to a fancy modern spa for our first massage in Thailand (my only).  When we arrived to book our massage, they brought us tea while we looked through the catalog of options (nice start).  We booked the traditional Lana massages and opted for the “mild with no stretching”.  Let me just say, a Thai massage is an adventure and an experience.  We came back for our two hour massages later that evening and were shown to our mats, separated by wood shutters.  At first, I thought I was going to fall asleep, and then things started to crazy.  It started with an earthquake.  Yep, we were in the middle of the massage and my first thought was that something crazy must be going on upstairs or next to me but then the shaking continued and increased.  That is when in my head I thought “this can’t be an earthquake”.  But then, when my masseuse got up and ran out of the room, I realized, “yep, this is an earthquake”.  My sisters and I were all in the same room, just separated by dividers.  We were like, “what are we supposed to do or where should we go?!”  Tons of thoughts were running through my head… Should we just stand in the door frame or should we exit the building?  How sturdy is this construction?  It seems safe enough.  We were just about to leave when the masseuses came back and were just chill and told us to lay back down, like no worries.  Needless to say, I was no longer relaxed during the remainder of the massage.  But, even if there was not an earthquake, I don’t think anyone could have relaxed during my massage.  Let me just say,  when they said full body, they meant it…probably 97% of my body.  It literally contained hair pulling and I was lifted completely off the ground at one point, like she got under me and lifted me into the air with her legs.  My body was stretched and twisted in crazy ways (I don’t know what a massage with stretching would have been).  Afterwards, we went down stairs and were given hot tea, almost as a transition back to the real world.  Turns out neither one of my sisters got quite the same treatment I did…no hair pulling or lifting in the air or quite as extensive.  I was definitely sore the next day and not in a good way.

The girls did end up getting massages again later in the trip that were not so intense.  Also, we found some for only $7 an hour.  Crazy good prices (we did not take advantage of those ones).

IMG_1775

IMG_7995

IMG_7991

IMG_1577

Walk:  And I mean just walk…walk the streets to see and explore and stumble upon things you would not find otherwise.  The old city of Chiang Mai is a labyrinth that would take ages to thoroughly explore.

Next time:

Visiting a tea plantation: apparently we went during the time of year they are burning the fields…better luck next time

Elephant Trekking:  We ended up not doing this.  The only advice I have is it seemed worth paying more to go with a group that treated the elephants well.  And plan in advance.  For girls that like to just wing it and wait to the last minute, it does not work.

Where to Shop:

Gosh.  We were so distracted by everything else in Thailand that shopping was the least of my priorities.  Honestly, I forget the names of so many of the places we loved and bought things from.  I could give vague descriptions, but I am sure they would not be of much help.

Definitely head out of the old city to Nimmanheamin Road.  Best place to do some serious shopping.  A days activity.  The side streets off of Nimmanheamin were the best.  Nimmanheamin itself felt a bit like M Street in Georgetown.  M street has all the major brands but the unique boutiques are tucked off on side streets.  Same with Nimmanheamin.  We didn’t even take time to explore anything on it.  Just spent all our time wandering up and down all the other roads.

Adorn with Studio Naenna:  Beautiful!  Amazing!  The textiles woven with indigo were some of the most stunning pieces I have ever seen, have ever touched.  I loved the abstract, modern interpretation of traditional techniques and designs.  Gorgeous.  A must.

Srisanpanmai:  The most beautiful embroidery work.  I brought home a hand woven piece, white, with no embroidery, but longed for the embroidered work.  They make clothing from their material and it is stunning.  Seeing the shop girl just sitting there stitching…amazing.

Mesimu:  Such a sweet clothing boutique.  Had the sweetest children’s and women’s clothing.  This was one store that the length of the dresses did not seem too short and seemed to fit American bodies better.

In the old city…

I would spend most of my time exploring the shops along Phrapokklao Road.

Sequin and Suede:  Awesome…just way too small.  No way we could possibly fit into anything.  But if you are a petite girl, you might have luck.

Siam Celadon: for Celadon pottery.  We got a little carried away with bringing home pottery.

Mengrai Kilns:  Has more variety then Siam Celadon in colors and styles.  A vast store of pottery with pretty cheap prices.  We arrived 10 minutes to closing and just blew through the store putting things on the counter.  Good thing we didn’t have more time, because I don’t know if we could have fit another thing into our bags (opted to only have carry on bags – aka not much space for buying things).

Things of note:

Architecture:  LOVED the new builds.  Very modern, clean, light filled spaces.  But I mostly fell in love with how most places had only one wall and a roof, the rest open air.  Life was hot and sweaty, but raw and beautiful.

IMG_7982

English:  In Chiang Mai, most people knew English and communication was easy even when they did not.  However, nothing was spelled the same.  Looking at maps, guide books, and road signs was a bit confusing… they had hilariously different spellings.  It made navigation a bit difficult at first till we caught on.

Assumptions:  Don’t make them.

Drinks:  Sweet.  Everything was super sweet.  Way too sweet.  Especially iced drinks.  I couldn’t drink coffee.  It was too much for me.  Kind of made me lose my taste for it and still have not quite gotten it back.

Food:  Try everything.  Loved going to the market to discover fruits I had never heard of or tried before.  We had to have the vendors show us how to eat half the things we bought.  New foods we loved (or foods we didn’t love until Thailand)…lychee, mangosteen, morning glory.  I fell in love with curry and spicy food.  I only had a mild tolerance for spice before, but now I say bring it on.  Seriously had the best curry of my life (no surprise).

IMG_1813

Motorcycles:  They were everywhere and were the primary means of transportation other than public transport.  Only tourists seemed to walk.  Made me tempted for a motorcycle or moped…just tempted though.

Crossing the street:  Crazy

Airlines:  If you have to travel in Thailand by flight, highly recommend Bangkok Airways.  Procrastination ended up being a blessing on this trip.  Waited until the last minute to book our flight from Chiang Mai to Krabi (via Bangkok) and am so glad we did.  We had to fly Bangkok Airways.  They know what it means to be a boutique airline.  Every passenger has access to a complimentary longue.  Preflight, you can register for meals of a million different dietary restrictions (not really).  I picked Raw.  My sisters picked Hindu Vegetarian.  And how fabulous a choice I made!  Best plane food ever (even though half of it was not really raw, which I didn’t care.)  Just fresh fruits and vegetables for the most part, with a side of vanilla yogurt and bread.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Overall, Thailand is a beautiful country.  The people are so gentle and sweet.  So kind and hospitable.  They made the country what it is.  They are the reason I am in love.  I am so grateful for the trip, being able to spend 2 weeks with my sisters traveling, discovering, and exploring.  It was so hard to leave.   Only left me wanting more.

IMG_7998

 

 

Passing through Beijing

Oh, the glories of a long layover.  I never before have escaped from an airport to wander the streets of a city, but when my sisters and I had half a day layover in Beijing back in May, we figured it was just enough time to see a slight glimpse of China.  Literally, that is all we had time for…just walking the streets and trying street food.  Here is a bit of our day in Beijing…

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset IMG_1473   IMG_6585

IMG_1436 IMG_6617 Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset  IMG_6618

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset IMG_1472 Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with t1 preset IMG_6596 IMG_6598

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Processed with VSCOcam with m5 preset   IMG_8094