From Gringa to Farang (ฝรั่ง)

Full disclosure– my sister’s-friend-turned-my-new-friend, Clayton, wrote the Thai word after “farang”, which almost like the equivalent to calling someone a gringo/a. Clayton has been really generous with his time, showing me around Chiang Mai and speaking impressive Thai to order us delicious food or explain things in markets. Shoutout to you, Clayton, you’ve been a champ!

Thai Potty

Little hose to the left of the potty!

One of my favorite things, right off the bat, is the little hoses right next to the toilets that you can use after using the potty. It’s refreshing after walking around in the hot sun, and it feels less wasteful than all that toilet paper. I would move to bring this to Chicago, but I could see this getting unpleasant in the winter months…

Other than the potties, temples and food have defined my walking experience in Chiang Mai. Up the mountain, around the corner, down the alley, there is another Wat, or Buddhist temple, gleaming against monks’ orange robes. I have removed my shoes and sat on my heels, staring at giant Buddhas at upwards of 10 different Wats. They are all remarkably beautiful, detailed stories in building form. IMG_4066

As for FOOD… well, my tastebuds have been rocked. The first day I had orange Thai iced tea at one shop, spicy papaya salad (seriously so spicy that I could only eat a few bites– lesson learned that “medium” is actually a Hannah HOT) for lunch, a sampler of northern Thai dishes with sticky rice at dinner, and a regular ol’ Chang beer at the Cabaret show (I would equate it, probably inaccurately given the different gender identities in Thailand, to a Thai drag show. You might have seen an example on Anthony Bourdain’s show Parts Unknown with the episode showcasing Chiang Mai).

My second day, I went to cooking school with the best teacher, Yui at A Lot of Thai cooking school, who has been invited to cook in countries all over the world and has pictures in her home with Gordon Ramsey! It was a day of making and eating Pad Thai, Penang Curry, Tom yum soup with prawns (left to right in the photos below), and mango sticky rice (and yes, family and friends, I will try and replicate what I learned for your taste buds too). I was entirely too full by the end of class, but my mouth and belly were also entirely too satisfied.

The next day, I scoped out a spot known by locals for excellent Khao Soi, essentially the dish of Northern Thailand. I went to a spot called Khaosoi Maesai and spooned away at this beauty until the bottom of the bowl was visible:

IMG_4060

I ordered Khao soi gai, which was this soup with chicken. Thailand has been an unashamed reinsertion to intentionally eating meat at meals. The environmentalist in me would urge me to avoid meat consumption, but the sustainable traveler in me, eager to experience all aspects of Thai culture, recognizes meat as a fundamental part of enjoying Thai cuisine. I’m all in.

Beyond food, which I could probably talk about for endless paragraphs, I went on a jungle trek with Pooh Eco-Trekking, known for more responsible travel than other companies. On our day-long trek, it was just me and a kind French couple away from their small children for the first time. We hiked to two waterfalls, deftly donning and removing our rain ponchos with frequency as the weather decided to keep our feet wet. Also, there are TRAIL LEECHES. I just can’t talk about them, but they are pretty gross green-ish equivalents of the black-slimy buggers I knew from camp growing up. I pulled 3 or more off during the hike (actually, I had someone else do it, I couldn’t handle it).

BUT, despite the leeches, we had mango sticky rice for a snack, which was brilliant. Also, because everything is wrapped in banana leaves, there is no need for plastic containers/plates, and everything is entirely biodegradable. We ate our snacks and left the leaves for the jungle to use as organic matter later. IMG_4086

The above picture shows 1/2 of the French couple and our lunch! Veggie rice with a fried egg and chicken. Not pictured are the tomatoes and cucumber and fresh pineapple. Our guide really did well for us in the market, and I think I left the hike more full than if I hadn’t done any exercise that day.

To prepare for the Superior Hiking Trail, which my friend Anne and I will hike two weeks after I get back, I’ve been trying to figure out how to keep strong while traveling. Today, I ran to this gem of a park with great exercise equipment around the perimeter (see one example below). If I sweat twice as much in subtropical air, does it count twice as much?

IMG_4092

Next week, I start my Thai massage course! I am eager to have a routine, at least for a week, and drink more Thai iced teas, eat mango sticky rice, and try a less-spicy papaya salad.

Advertisements

Prepping for SE Asia and Itinerary

Planning a solo trip to Southeast Asia has been a dizzying experience. I leave in just two weeks, and am only just solidifying my itinerary. I have actively sought out alums from Smith College and Fulbright to connect with along my path, and have greedily devoured advice from anyone who has been to the countries I am passing through. I highly recommend connecting with alumni networks before travel– they have always been wonderful connections, and some even provide couches for short-term stays.

My itinerary follows, with some fun activities and places I will try to stay in each area:

Thailand

I’m starting in Chiang Mai, in Northern Thailand, where I’m meeting a good friend of my sister and starting my journey in Lanna Hostel while I scope out the scene and get settled. The first full week I’m in Chiang Mai, I’m taking the Level 1 Foundations of Thai Massage with the Thai Massage School of Chiang Mai.

I hope to take cooking classes that a chef friend recommended to me one free day before massage school kicks in…

From Chiang Mai I’ll take a sleeper train to Bangkok, where I’ll spend a day before flying to Trang, in Southern Thailand, where I’m meeting up with some other friends.

Malaysia

After a week in Trang, I’ll take another bus (or two– from Trang I have to bus to Hat Yai and then take a bus to Penang) to Penang and check out the food scene in George Town for a day or two. I’m crashing the AirBnB of some friends who I am overlapping with. From Penang, I fly to Kota Bharu, and take a boat to an idyllic snorkeling paradise Perhentian Kecil, where I’m meeting yet another friend. We’re trying to stay at Mari Mari after a good friend insisted that it was the best place she stayed in all of her travels in SE Asia. Woah!

Thailand

After a few days on the island, I’m flying out of Kota Bharu to Bangkok. I might spend a day in Bangkok, then fly out to Yangon.

Myanmar

It will be sweltering in Myanmar at the end of May. After watching Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, I can’t pass over Myanmar, and time in El Salvador has prepared me for the level of sweat I might experience. Still, I’ve made friendly connections in Yangon and Naypyitaw, which are en route to Inle Lake and the 3-day trek from Kalaw to Inle Lake. I’ll spend some time around Inle Lake, staying at Zawgi Inn, and exploring the beautiful scenery. Time permitting, I’ll bounce to Mandalay and Bagan for some incredible temples. This time of year, I’ve been warned of sweltering heat in Bagan, so this leg of the journey will become weather dependent.

Laos

I want to hang in Luang Prabang for a few days. This leg of the journey is the most wishy-washy, and I hope to plan it out more once I’m already in SE Asia. I have friends who will have gone just before me, so I look forward to milking their brains for ideas and places to stay. Mostly, I want to go trek in the jungle. From here, I’ll fly to Hanoi in Vietnam.

Vietnam

The trip will end with a 3-4 day homestay in Hanoi. I wish I had more time to explore the full beauty of this country, but I’ll tempt my pallet to hopefully establish a craving for a return trip one day.

Tokyo, Japan

I have an old flatmate from studying abroad in NZ that lives in Tokyo! I hope to take a long layover and eat some ramen with her. From there, it’s a direct flight home.

Whatcha Packin’?

After reading dozens of blogs about lightweight international travel, especially as a single female traveler, I have fully packed my 40L REI Lookout Pack complete with a travel yoga mat attached to the outside. After extensive reading and research and obsessing, here’s my packing list:

Packed

Spread of everything that will fit in my 40L bag

Clothes

  • 1 x Long dress
  • 4 x Leggings
  • 1 x jean shorts
  • 2 x athletic shorts
  • 6 x tank tops
  • 2 x nicer t-shirt
  • 1 x long sleeve travel/UV protection shirt
  • 1 x long sleeve fleece
  • 7 x underwear
  • gym socks and hiking socks
  • 1 x bikini
  • 1 x rash guard
  • Keens (running, hiking, they do it all! I’m trying these out as my sole ((Hah! shoe pun)) shoe).

Non-Clothes

  • Silk sleep liner
  • camping pillow
  • Bug repellant lotion
  • sunglasses
  • buff
  • cards
  • contacts + solution + case
  • glasses
  • Dr. Bronner’s travel size
  • Yoga Mat and Yoga Towel (also will be used as towel for beach.. etc)
  • Toothbrush + toothpaste + floss
  • Small first-aid with bandaids, wipes
  • Lonely Planet SE Asia on a Shoestring (heaviest single thing in my pack)
  • Kindle and chargers
  • Passport, printed itinerary, printed insurance copies, passport copies, shot records
  • water bladder– 2 L. Figured it would come in handy in Myanmar where it will be hot as heck!

I packed clothes in packing cubes which many blog posts raved about, and which I really like for the organization. I can see them coming in handy. I also probably missed some critical items, but this is pretty much it! I will have a small over the shoulder bag too, for the important items and day trips.

For my flights, I used skyscanner almost exclusively, and then 12goasia for busses and trains. Lodging I have mostly covered, but I will be booking on the fly for the most part, and staying in places my friends/people I meet recommend. Adventure on, champs! Updates will be posted depending on access to internet/computer.