Month: October 2016

Chiang Mai Day 5: Blogging Day

It is Thursday as I begin this, although I cannot guarantee that it will be finished. I let Matt and Jennifer enjoy another day at the cooking school on their own, so that I could have a little me-time and work on these blogs. (Revision: it’s now Sunday 30 October, and I’m just finally getting around to putting these posts up.)

I had hoped to visit various friends, but of course when you only have 1 day available, it may not be the best day for them. I dropped in on Loi Kroh School, though, and it was great to see Pare even for a couple of minutes and spy a little on Napa teaching in the Ruesri Datton pavilion. The atmosphere there is so peaceful and welcoming. I have loved it since the first class I took there. I had a cup of tea, used the facilities, and headed off for a quick errand I’d been hoping to run.

Errand completed, I continued my day in a series of cafes and massages. When Matt and Jennifer finished up their cooking class, I met up with Matt at the tailor’s to finally pick up all of our finished products. Then we had a rest and a swim before going out for dinner at the Chiang Mai gate market again.

I keep buying as many mangosteens as possible, and having them for breakfasts and snacks. I’ve also bought several other types of fruit that I have not tried before, for better and worse. This night, for example, I bought a chunk of durian. It had occurred to me that although I very much enjoy durian chips (yum, yum, yummy yum), and have tried durian ice cream, dried durian, and various other durian products, I’d never eaten it fresh. I didn’t find the smell very off-putting at all (Jennifer couldn’t stay at the same table with it), but didn’t like the texture. Very mushy. I like a bit of bite to my fruit, even though I love slightly overripe peaches. Anyway, back to the mangosteens!

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Chiang Mai Day 4: Sankampaeng Hot Springs

One of my favorite destinations in the area of CM is the hot springs at Sankampaeng. The first time Matt had come to Chiang Mai, we had hired a guide for a trip into hills for a few days, and on the way back, he took us there. We hated it. The pool was overcrowded, and we didn’t know what we were supposed to be doing. We also didn’t have any towels. The guide insisted we go to the pool, dip our feet in the meandering hot streams, and suggested we cook eggs in the hottest part. He followed us around and we felt very uncertain. We had hated him already, and this was just icing on the cake.

Somehow, though, I eventually gave it another chance, and have loved going there ever since. I just take it easy, going right away in the morning, enjoying the pool, then a foot massage right beside the pool. This time, we started like that, but we also were 3, so it made enough sense to cook some eggs and buy some papaya salad and juices to drink.

 

After lunch, I went to the massage building and had a 1-hour massage while Matt and Jennifer relaxed and chatted in the shade.

 

We had hired a driver for the day, and he was quite surprised at how much time we’d spent there. I think he’d hoped to sell us several other tourist destinations on commission (since he tried really hard anyway), but we’d already agreed to one, and that was enough.

I have never been to one of the craft “villages” that I’m always heard about. We went to the umbrella factory, which was on the way back towards the city. I honestly had a picture in my head of a small town with lots of independent artisans. The reality was a very interesting handicraft factory. Different stations handled different aspects of the making of umbrellas, in many different sizes. There were also fans.

Once you’ve viewed the fabrication areas (no charge), you are directed into a gallery/factory outlet/gift shop. Right before that, you pass all the people trying to sell you handpainted designs on your hat, your phone case, whatever you like. Those people were kind of aggressive, and I wasn’t in the mood to shop, so I went inside, looked at the awards and important visitors gallery, then went outside for a Thai iced tea at the cafe. The taxi driver was also there waiting. He tried again very hard to sell me on more places we could go, either on the way back, or on another day, or even that evening. We were all so tired, that even if we had wanted to, I don’t think we could have.

Matt and Jennifer each bought an umbrella, and Matt bought some other various gifts. I didn’t really see what, since I was already outside by then.

We had another fitting at the tailor that evening, before going for dinner at a small restaurant nearby the hotel. Unfortunately, it was a disappointment, so I won’t bother describing it here.

Chiang Mai Day 3: Doi Suthep

One of the must-do things when visiting Chiang Mai is Doi Suthep, a temple on the mountain overlooking the city. I recommended we get an early start, so we caught a songthaew, the red trucks that serve as slightly flexible taxis/buses over to the Chang Puak Gate Market, where we could catch another up the mountain. There were 2 other tourists, French-Canadians, already waiting, but the driver would only go when there were 10 waiting. So we all waited until we collected more. We offered to pay for the empty seats when the wait got long, but instead they tried to sell us a 2-way where they’d walk around with us and we’d have to come back very soon. We tried to say we were happy to just pay extra for the 1-way, but somehow this drew some hostility from the driver who was waiting with us. Oh well. Luckily, 2 groups of Thai tourists showed up soon after, and they didn’t want the 2-way deal either, and everything was fine.

The journey to Doi Suthep begins with a drive up the mountain, winding past overlooks and smaller temples and shrines, and if you have private transportation, even waterfalls. The songthaew dropped us off right at the beginning of the giant dragon staircase. There were little girls in Hmong cultural dresses offering to pose in photos. I’m not sure if people then pay them… we were more interested in the stairs and dragon. I’ve been to Hmong New Year celebrations and danced with my students and their families… the little ones and their greetings were cute, though. 😀

I also love the alligators (crocodiles? who knows the difference?) with the donor information.

The temple of Doi Suthep has many many beautiful statues of Buddha, monks and many other deities. On a clear day, the view of the city

I borrowed the nice camera back from Matt for part of the time we were up there. I need to make new birthday cards for my business, and both of the previous ones came from there as well. It’s honestly hard not to take more pictures of all the beautiful bells, though. I struggled to take other pictures.

 

 

It turned into a pretty hot day, so when we were done with the temple, we enjoyed a cold ice cream in the shade then went straight for the songthaew and a return to the city.

The ride back refreshed us, so we decided to walk around the other corner of the old city (the northwest corner), since none of our other days’ sightseeings had taken us there. Of course this plan overheated us again, so we rested over lunch at a small little restaurant on one of the side streets.

There’s a little bun shop where one year I’d stopped every morning for buns for my breakfast. Since we were going that way, we went there too. I had the black bun with black sesame filling and tried the Thai tea cream one which I didn’t love as much. Matt had a peanut butter one, and I don’t remember what Jennifer had. And we carried on to the park in the southwest corner. There’s an air-conditioned coffee shop there, so we enjoyed another iced drink while we watched kids play in the park, and admired the scenery.

Finally, we went back to Pha Thai House for the swimming pool and a rest. It’s not a big pool by any means, and not suitable for any real attempt at exercise, but it’s a great pool for cooling off and splashing or floating around in.

Our next order of business after a lengthy rest period was to go back to the tailor across the street for the first fittings.

 

Oh, from our walk around the northwest corner of Chiang Mai:

For dinner, we took a tuk-tuk to Anusarn Market, my favorite part of the Night Market, for fresh seafood and artistically-made ice cream (photos are in some previous blog post from another trip, so I’ll skip that this time). The lobster was fantastic. In the market, afterwards, I found my favorite tea again (Morning Dew) and bought out most of the seller’s stock, so that I’m all set for quite a while. It was a late night, and I was glad that the next day should be an easy one.

Chiang Mai Day 2: orientation in the old walled city

Monday morning, we discussed the plans for the day over breakfast. Matt had some tailoring he also wanted done, and we decided to use the recommended tailor near the hotel instead of the one I had found across town. 

Before I begin, though, here’s the view from our hotel room. At night, I’m pretty sure it’s Doi Suthep that is visible up there, but I’d have to double check the map.

We spent the entirety of the morning at the tailor’s. Matt was hoping to have a favorite shirt copied, a new suit, some accoutrements, and I wanted my dress copied and some matching short pants made for it. It was quite a challenge of decision-making and negotiations. We were hungry at the end, and headed off to a khao soi specialty place not TOO far away. It was closed, but we enjoyed the street art on the way, before finding another wonderful place (Mr. Kai’s), where they also had a really good recipe for it.

After lunch, we all wanted a rest, so we went back towards the hotel for a swim and a nap.

I left a little early, because I wanted a 2-hour massage, which was very good. Matt and Jennifer went for 1-hour massages also nearby, so we were all finished about the same time. Unfortunately, I left my beloved bat necklace at the massage salon, and they haven’t found it. It’s worthless (wooden, pretty cheap), but I liked it. It will be missed.

All relaxed from massages, we went to Dash House restaurant, which I had remembered from last year as being really cozy. It was, again. Here’s part of our meal:

So I guess we didn’t get much done on Monday. It felt very busy, though. There was a lot of walking around and orienting Matt and Jennifer to the old walled city, which is what we’d meant to do the day before, had it not been raining.

Chiang Mai Day 1: rain, tailors & fabric

Last night, I managed to score some mangosteens at the Chiang Mai Gate market (one end of the Saturday walking street market). I didn’t think this was mangosteen season, and I definitely missed it last year, so I am super happy. We ate them with our breakfast.

There are few things yummier than mangosteens!

It was rainy when we woke up on Sunday, though, so Matt made the last-minute decision that he and Jennifer should go to the Chiang Mai Thai Cookery School, where we had also gone several years back. The van picked them up after breakfast, and I was on my own. It was great!

My first order of business was to head for a tailor shop I’d read was highly recommended, near the opposite end of Loi Kroh Road. Unfortunately, although they were very helpful in general, they are not able to copy my beloved favorite dress. They recommended how I could get the right fabric near Wararot Market, so I headed out again.

Wararot Market is always an adventure, but I didn’t stay there long. I only stopped in each fabric store I found around it, until I finally found some fabric that seemed similar enough to what I needed.

Since my dress is black, one store manager wouldn’t even look at what fabric I was needing. He said, “because of what has happened,” and I know that he means the King, but I didn’t really understand why he wouldn’t sell me black fabric. I thanked him and continued on, though. 

I found the fabric, and then I needed to find a tailor who would copy my dress. That turned out to be harder. I found one in the end, just as I was needing lunch, and he recommended a khao soi place nearby. 

Khao Soi (spelled various ways), for those who’ve never been to CM, is a delicious soup (sort of) specific to this area. It has a red curry/coconut base, soft noodles in it, and fried noodles on top. It is usually served with fresh onions, lime, and pickled vegetables, although it sometimes isn’t, and sometimes has other things too. At some point in the next few days, I will be sure to get a picture, but I didn’t think to on Sunday. Instead, I took pictures of the rain outside, since a major downpour happened while I ate.

So much rain came that the street filled with several inches of water. After considering my options, I decided to slosh over to the next strip of sidewalk. As it warmed up again in the next hour, shopkeepers swept excess water down drains. Soon you could hardly tell it had been there! This is the end of the rainy season, just as the temperatures start to cool off for winter. I find it a pretty good time to be here, having gotten here just a couple of weeks later last year. There are fewer crowds of tourists, but it’s pretty easy to manage the temperatures and the rain.

Here are some lovely pictures from a bit of the day’s walking:

Near Wararot, where I had to return for more of the same fabric that I had purchased, there’s a very comfortable upstairs cafe called Thanel Coffee, which feels like an oasis of calm in the business of that area. I learned about it last year, so when I needed a break, I went there for passionfruit juice (another favorite, and in season right now).

When I was all done with the day’s errands, I returned to the hotel for a cooling swim in the pool while waiting for Matt and Jennifer to return. 

Everyone rested, we headed out later for the Sunday walking street, for more street food dinner and general shopping. 

Edit: I forgot to mention that at the beginning of the market, we first partook of one-hour Thai foot massages. It was one of those typical market stands, lots of people, everyone chatting and on their phone, people walking by constantly and commenting or chatting with the people giving the massages. Jennifer said it was so different from what she thinks of as “massage environment.” 😀 I love it. 

You may notice that pictures in the Chiang Mai portion are not as great as before. That is because I made a deal with Matt. Since I have been in CM many times before, he can use the new fancy camera while we are here. I am using my phone, and mostly forgetting to. Sorry.

We were exhausted when we returned to the hotel, looking forward to the next day of adventures!

Leaving Japan Behind, Hello Thailand!

The timing of our trip to Thailand has turned out unfortunately. King Bhumipol Adulyadej has just died in the hospital where he has lived for the past years. 

I first learned about this king from the owners of a Thai restaurant I used to frequent in Spokane, WA, in my first few university years. My then-boyfriend and I went there as often as we could. We chatted with the owners after a while. We asked questions about the pictures hanging on the walls. 

At the time, I considered their deep regard for the Thai king as nostalgia. They had moved to the USA and respect for the monarch was one of the ways they felt connected to their culture. It also suited the atmosphere of the restaurant.

But many many years later, when I first actually traveled to Thailand, I spoke with many people. At any opportunity, Thai people were willing to explain their country and sometimes their politics to me. I never heard anything but love and respect regarding their king. In his younger days, he had been very involved in governing, and was considered to have been a force for good in the world. 

Anyway, the king has passed away, and the country mourns. Official mourning will continue for a month. Entertainments are closed. There is some confusion as to which things constitute “entertainment,” so I’m not sure which markets may not be open, for example. My favorite restaurant and the cooking school where Matt wants to go again are both open, and of course most businesses must continue, or people will go hungry. So I go with an open mind to our personal plans.

Matt and I woke up very early this morning for our journey to Narita, where we met up with his mom, Jennifer. She will be joining us this week, and is of course also very excited. We had coffee and breakfast in the airport.

I am so happy to be in Thailand again. Japan was wonderful, and I will definitely go back, but I feel happy just sitting here on the plane.

Pha Thai House, which I discovered on my last trip, and which is a very comfortable retreat in a good location in the old city.

So we checked in, and then ran to the Saturday night walking market, which is nearby, to do our eating. We had already seen that it was open from our taxi ride.

It is good to be back. I know some parts of this city really well, and the area around CM gate is one of them. It feels like home.

Back to Tokyo, final full day in Japan

On the Wednesday that I had failed to get Michelin-star ramen, Matt had gone to the Google office. Through a series of mishaps of his own, he’d ending up losing the entire day in the office, only joining the rest of us for dinner that night. As a result, although Friday was starting out lovely and Mt. Fuji was starting to appear through the clouds, we took a relatively early bus departing for Shinjuku Station.

We arrived in the world’s largest station around noon, dropped our bags off at the hotel, where of course we briefly met up with Max & Guido, who had checked in there a few days before, then went for lunch. They’d had excellent sushi downstairs in the station, and were amazing at navigating it, so showed it to us before heading out for their own last day.
Lunch consumed, we went on the Matt shopping excursion he had hoped for the week before. A 7-floor men’s clothing mall was directly across from the station, so we started there. He tried on some things, and bought one. In one of the shops, which did indeed have some really cool stuff, the goth-boy clerk was so aggressive in his sales technique that I felt violently inclined. We got out of there without buying anything, and replenished our resources with coffee then a short visit in a shop with some very nice chilled out music. Music tames the aggravated savage beasts!

Walking up Cat Street, we enjoyed various shops and sites. I bought yet another hat. I’m not sure where exactly these pictures were taken, but are representative of a very full day.

We ended up at the bottom of Harajuku, where the interesting designers we had noticed our first day were located. We enjoyed these shops more, and even found a gothic shop with original design items that we’d seen in a stand at the Dark Castle party. We had such a nice welcome in that shop – one of the store clerks had been one of the party’s DJs, and she was happy we had enjoyed ourselves so much. They took a picture of us in the store. 

In the end, we had no choice but to walk up the horrible Harajuku shopping street to get to the Yamanote line. We walked it as quickly as possible, and were soon back in Shinjuku Station, where tunnels lead off everywhere but are so very hard to navigate. We needed to buy tickets for the next morning’s express train to Narita Airport, and were lost trying to find the correct ticket booth, but an elderly Japanese man came up to us and helped us find our way. Thank goodness for him, because I was getting rather frustrated with the fluorescent-light rat maze. 

After a rest, the gang met up about half a kilometer away for dinner. We reserved a table at a gyoza (dumplings) specialty place and went to a basement punk bar to wait. 

The bar was great. You order a drink then order your music. There’s a list of bands. You choose the band and she brings you the jewel cases to look at. You then choose the track. We had a great time, starting with Alien Sex Fiend, one of my personal favorites (Matt selected, the sweetie), which turns out to have quite impressed our awesome bartender. We had a good chat with her, and left just after some other tourists arrived with music tastes that didn’t really correspond to the music on selection. She looked a bit aggrieved at their selections, and we bid her farewell.

The gyoza place was so much fun. We ordered a lot of gyoza: steamed and pan-fried, both of which seem “normal,” but also tempura-battered and fried and katsu-battered and fried.

Matt hungrily waiting for food:

After the gyoza locusts hit:

And after a quick walk around the neighborhood and goodbyes, it was bed time of the last night in Tokyo! Tomorrow: Chiang Mai!

Lake Kawaguchiko Day 2: caves and forest

Our morning bath-tub view of Mt. Fuji was non-existent on Thursday, as the clouds from the night before had fully solidified. I was even sure it was going to rain. We checked out of our care hotel and took a taxi to our next hotel, where we left our bags for the day.

Luckily, there are other beautiful ways to spend time in this part of Japan. There are several caves, forest walks, and many cultural sites and small museums. We decided to go for nature, and took the bus out about an hour to visit the caves.

The Ice Cave was our first stop, a very small cave with narrow parts you almost have to crawl through. Ice forms there, but it was also used as a storage for ice, so it was very cold. Hard hats were provided and signs cautioned about slamming your head into rocks.

There were also two shrines inside the cave. They were very small, but quite unique. 

After the Ice Cave, we walked about 15 minutes to the Wind Cave, another old lava tunnel. This one had also once been used to store silk worm cocoons  as well as tree seeds. I found it fascinating, although also quite short. I wish there had been more to read in the exhibits. 

We missed the bus as we came out of the cave, so we decided to hike through the forest trail to the next tourist area where we could catch the bus. The forest was lovely, and I think the 20-30 minute walk turned into about an hour and a half. We took lots of pictures of trees.

 

This one was the coolest, because the parasitic vine had grown so well that it had eventually ripped the tree apart! The vine still lived, but that tree was toast.

When we got to the next bus location, there were stands set up selling foods and various souvenirs, and the apples were enormous, so I had to buy one. We shared it while we waited.

By the time we were returning, Laura and Denis had arrived in town and had checked in. We rode the bus further than necessary in order to meet up with them, and enjoyed a nice walk along the lakeshore.

When we were getting hungry, we caught the last bus heading in the direction we wanted. For tourists, this area has a bunch of retro school buses. This one was late, and as she drove up, she opened the door and started shouting in the cutest voice: “Sorry sorry! Get in, very cold!! Sorry sorry so late! Get in, get in! Oh sorry, very cold!!” She was so funny. Of course we got right in. She was also right; it WAS very cold.

Out of the bus again, we got lucky enough to find a restaurant serving Hoto Fudo (Ok, that’s the name of the food/restaurant for real, and means something other than “hot food,” but we had a lot of fun with it. It was a big hot pot filled with vegetables. I think the broth may have been miso. We also had a side of pickled veggies and a plate of raw horse sashimi, which had been sliced while raw to preserve the perfect shape for sashimi.

After dinner, we went back to the hotel, enjoyed a bath in the hotel’s onsen (not traditional, just private large bath rooms, but still nice), and then met up for drinks and later live music performed by our host. The hotel was a bit bizarre, I must say, but we had a good time anyway.

Travel to Lake Kawaguchi and a view of Mt. Fuji

The most delicious bento boxes yet were found Wednesday morning at Himeji station before boarding the shinkansen for the first part of our journey. When we booked yesterday, we unfortunately were not able to book seats together, so sat one behind the other in the middle of 3 seats each. 

Look! An entire quarter of mine was devoted to dessert! 🙂 Yum!

Our first leg was about 3 hours, to Mimisha, for a transfer to a 2-hour bus. We made it with plenty of time, and arrived safely to our destination around 14:30. 

A view from the bus:

We saw this awesome group of roller coasters from the bus, but this picture was taken elsewhere. We really wanted to go, but it wasn’t possible. 

Our hotel looked very posh online, and we were excited to experience it’s luxurious onsen and our private bath with view of Mt. Fuji. In truth, the service and dinner have been excellent, but the onsen at Hotel Dormy was more atmospheric. Perhaps in the morning, with view, our private bath will make up for that! Our room is spacious, though. Because of the light, you can’t see it, but in view of our terrace (and outdoor bathtub) is Mt. Fuji. We will leave the curtains open tonight to allow early morning to wake us up. We want to see the view!

We freshened up from travel, and headed back into town to take the cable car to a viewpoint.

It was getting on towards evening, so our views were dark, and it is pretty cloudy, but “Hello, Mt. Fuji!”

In the morning, weather depending, we may seek out more views of Fuji, or we may go enjoy some of the local caves. Something is wrong with my right ankle, so I will also try to keep off of it as much as possible (I have already applied pressure to the pressure points and done line work relevant to where the swelling and pain are). I don’t remember twisting it or anything, so it’s a bit of a mystery.

Dinner was a rapidly served but delicious series of almost every Japanese specialty one could imagine. We chose not to wear our provided yukatas, because we weren’t sure if we’d be sitting on the ground. Neither of us is particularly adept at keeping them closed while sitting on the ground. 

After dinner, we enjoyed the less luxurious on-site onsen. There was a large group of reduced mobility folks there with their nurses, so while they mostly used the indoor pool (better access), I was alone in the outdoor pool.

Himeji Day 2, Part 2: Japanese Toy Museum

When we were finished with the gardens, we decided that our best option was to visit the Toy Museum, and Matt consulted his maps. There should have been an easy bus to get there, but at the bus stop, we had some trouble figuring out which bus came and when. We decided to take a taxi.

The taxi driver was very confused about where we wanted to go. We handed him the pamphlet from the tourist office, but he consulted his own maps at every stop light. When we found it, tucked away in a residential neighborhood, it almost seemed to sneak up on us.

It was a cute sprawl of buildings and rooms dedicated both to a history of Japanese toys but also toys around the world. It was charming and lovely, and although the exhibits could have used more explanation, there was enough, and we enjoyed playing with many of the toys.

At that big fancy grocery store in Tokyo, we’d bought some conical things with, we think, some sweet inside. It turns out they are basically Japanese Weeble-Wobbles! Does anyone else remember Weeble-Wobbles? “Weeble-Wobbles wobble but they don’t fall down!”

Exquisite paper lantern toys:

I love the idea of puppet sets packed like this for a particular story.

And these are a little creepy, with their movable eyes.

The people at the museum were so nice. They let me charge my camera battery while I wandered, and even insisted on driving us to the local train station to get back. The downside of this was that Matt didn’t notice right away that he’d put on someone else’s shoes! Luckily, the young lady hadn’t finished driving off from dropping us off when he realized, so we drove back, switched shoes, and she dropped us off again. 

For our last night in Himeji, we decided to skip late-night ramen in favor of another ramen house recommended in TripAdvisor. It was great fun, with a lovely host. He had signs up about no photos, but enjoyed explaining that he means Japanese people, and that we could take them if we wanted. Here’s his kitchen:

And then it was home again, home again, for a little more time in the hotel onsen. Yay! Hot hot baths!