Thursday, January 31, 2013

How To: The Journey from Thailand to Laos

January 11-13, 2013

You have three options when traveling from Thailand to Laos.

1. You can fly. If you wait until the last second to try to buy tickets like us then you'll be forking out $400+ to fly from Chiang Mai to Luang Prabang. When trying to travel on $30 a day, this isn't really your best option.

2. You can take a 24 hour minivan ride to Vang Vieng. Despite the crazy minivan ride we took to Pai we almost chose this option. We had actually purchased tickets for this but our new friends convinced us to change and take option #3.

3. The slow boat option. To begin this journey you hop on a jam packed minivan and spend the next 7 hours on the windiest, craziest ride of your life. Your driver will be borderline mentally crazy and will speed up on the turns instead of slowing down. The first 3 hours will be a repeat of your drive to Pai, containing 762 consecutive curves. The second half of the journey probably doubles this figure.

At the halfway point, you will pull up to a remote 7-11 where a second van full of Korean tourists will disembark their van and try to steal your seats while you're inside buying Ovaltine cookies and cheetos for dinner. After a lot of head shaking, frowning and shuffling people around you will get back on the minivan and continue your journey. The best way to survive without having a panic attack is to pop some Dramamine, anti-anxiety pills, close your eyes and hope that the back and forth motion of swaying into your neighbor, then crashing into the window will put you in a semi coma.

At 3am you will arrive in a small border town where they have prearranged sleeping accommodations for you. Your bathroom will probably smell a little funky which you will gladly take in exchange for the hot water coming out of the shower. You will fall asleep to the sounds of the local pteredactoyl squawking, wondering why there is a pteredactoyl living at the border. Tomorrow you will find out it was a rat.

Four hours later you will be woken up and enjoy a free breakfast overlooking the Mekong, your road for the next two days. You'll smile in anticipation of cruising down the river past local villages and bonding with your fellow passengers.

The beautiful Mekong River.

Getting on the slow boat will be a 3 hour process. First there is the ubiquitous ride in the back of a pick up truck where you hold hands with the person sitting on the ledge across from you so you don't fall out. Then you will pass through Thai immigrations, take a boat across the river, go through Laos immigration, then you sit around for 2 hours.

Just riding in the back of a truck again.

And then you will finally get to board your vessel; a beautiful, distressed long boat with huge open windows. You keep walking allllll the way to the back of the boat to the engine room, to your makeshift we-will-fit-as-many-people-on-this-boat-as-possible seat. Any hope of relaxation and talking to your neighbors will quickly fade as the engine roars to life. You might try to dance to the beat of the sputtering engine to keep yourself entertained but that's only fun for a few minutes. Your iPod full max will not be able to compete with the noise and the only way to communicate with your neighbors is with sign language.

These are the first class seats.  Pictures of our steerage seats are at the bottom of the ocean.

So what is a girl to do? Fortunately safety standards are non-existent in Laos so the retired bus seats that you are sitting on aren't actually attached to the ground. Simply pick them up, turn them around so they're facing the window, and ride with your legs dangling outside the boat. This will help keep you cooler because the engine makes the back room quite toasty. It is also acceptable to start drinking Beer Lao at 10am so be sure to do that.

When you get tired of dangling your feet out the window and yelling at the person sitting 2 inches from you, make your way to the front and ask every person next to an empty seat if it's taken. Eventually you will find an empty one and you can spend the rest of the trip in cool peace and quiet. The next day, make sure to get to the boat 1 hour before it departs as there is no assigned seating on the second day.

Once you manage to get a decent seat on the boat, the 2 days pass much quicker than anticipated. The entire ride is extremely beautiful as you are surrounded by beachy shores and mountains on both sides of the river. The boat stops at small villages to pick up large bags of rice and other goods and all the local children come running out to wave at you. There are tons of cows grazing along the way, and actually, after dinner last night, I think they might have been water buffalo. And you get to drink lots of beer and eat lots of chips, the only food they sell on board. If you are lucky, there will be fun backpackers sitting next to you to play DIY boggle with. In all honesty, I think I would rather spend two days on a slow boat again then 24 hours on an airplane. Option #3 is definitely the way to go.


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For Pai-Scream

January 8, 2013

Our friend E-Moe works for this awesome company called Light My Fire. A few days before Ashley left he asked us if we wanted to take a few items with us, maybe some sporks that we could give to strangers in exchange for other goods. If you know us at all then you know we jumped at the chance to have a silly reason to approach strangers. And so Eric showed up at the airport 1 minute before Ashley went through security and bestowed upon us 100 sporks, 1 lantern and....1 ice cream maker.

If you've ever backpacked then you know lugging around an ice cream maker the size of a soccer ball may not be one of the most practical things you could be doing. But Kyle, our photographer/sherpa was with us and did all the schlepping of our treasures. Then he left. And while we had taken full advantage of our lantern due to little/no electricity in our bungalows and given away several sporks, we'd yet to make ice cream and wondered why we were still carrying this contraption around.

When we got to Pai and met our three new besites, we knew it was time to shake it till you make it. Armed with no recipe and no understanding of the Thai written language, we headed to the 7-11 in search of what we assumed would be the ingredients for ice cream.

We spent 5 minutes deciding which carton of milk, if even milk, might have the highest cream content. We picked up some salt to keep the ice cool, some coconut milk for flavor and since we couldn't find sugar, we decided to try sweetened condensed milk. All for only $2.50. We headed to our usual starting point, High 5, where the bartender gladly provided us with ice.

Our original recipe for coconut ice cream:

1 kiddy sized milk w/straw
1 small can sweetened condensed milk
1 small carton coconut milk
1 giant bag of salt (give the leftovers to your bartender)
Lots of ice
1 Light My Fire ice cream maker
1 spork

Pour all the milk into the inner canister. Add some coconut milk and sweetened condensed milk. Taste. Keep adding coco milk and sweetened condensed milk until everyone is happy with the flavor. Seal it up. Put ice in the outer compartment. Add some salt, seal it up, and start shaking.

You can play catch with it, dance with it, make a drinking game out if it, just keep it moving for 20 minutes. Strangers will approach you and offer to shake it in exchange for a bite later.

We were all unsure if our experiment was actually going to work but 20 minutes later when we opened the ball we had the most delicious coconut ice cream we've ever tasted. Something about our unique mix of ingredients caused the outer layer to freeze pretty hard but we had our sporks and were able to scoop it all out after a few minutes of thawing.

We are reusing this picture because all the other ice cream pictures are at the bottom of the ocean. The red ball is the ice cream maker.

Our first ice cream attempt was a huge success and we managed to make some new friends out of it. We are now on the look out for chocolate chips for our next batch.

Thanks for the presents, Eric!


Monday, January 28, 2013

Tragedy In Paradise

January 28th, 2013

**This post is out of order**

A few days ago we met up with our friend, Kim #2, to spend time on some Thai beaches. One of our stops was Ko Tao, a beautiful diving island on the east coast of Thailand. Since Ash and I can't dive we decided to go fishing instead. We were determined to catch, at the very least, a 4 ft barracuda so after 2 hours and only 1 of us catching a tiny fish, we jokingly asked our Thai captain (Kim #2 would like us to note he looked like an oompa loompa) if we could go to another fishing spot where the barracudas were. We are pretty sure he told us to go f*ck ourselves in Thai, told us in English he wasn't a magician and that we could find barracudas in an aquarium, then took us to the roughest part of the sea where they filmed the movie the Perfect Storm.

And then.....Ashley dropped her phone (our main camera) into the ocean. You are probably as surprised as I am that she didn't throw herself overboard as well. In lieu of flowers please send donations to We thank you for your kind thoughts during this dark period.

Kim and Ashley

P.S. Posts will be light on pics for awhile.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

On A Steel Horse I Ride

Ashley and I have been toying with the idea of renting motorbikes for 8 years. When we were in Greece we went into 10 different shops and tried to rent one. They either said no as soon as they noticed we were girls or said no as soon as they found out we were American. We ended up crawling along the roads on a 4 wheeler instead. In retrospect this was probably a good thing.

Despite the You Tube videos we've seen of the traffic in SE Asia, particularily Vietnam, and the many backpackers covered in bandages from accidents, we still really wanted to try riding motorbikes. So when we got to Pai and saw how little traffic there was, we decided to give it a try. Our hotel owner suggested we take classes first and since we figured our lives were worth the $3, we marched down the hill into town to sign up.

Our driving instructor, Alan, was awesome. He drove us to a back road and taught us how to stop, go, turn and start from a complete stop on a hill. After an hour he deemed us good drivers and sent us off to explore Pai.

Smartest $3 we ever spent.
Passing the turn signal test.

There is nothing as wonderful as being on a motorbike with the wind in your face. The closest thing I can think of is being on a jet ski. Getting motorbikes opened up a whole new world of exploration as we could drive out into the mountainside without relying on a tour or tuk tuk.

These helmets kept making me think of Strongbad and Trogdor.

We drove to a waterfall, through hilly resorts, past fields of cows, to some hot springs, the Pai Canyon, a Chinese village and allllll over town. We even drove if we only had to go one block because we loved it so much. The only thing we didn't like was riding at night. We tried to take a night trip to the hot springs but after 10 minutes of swallowing bugs we decided to wait until the next day.

Just trying not to die tonight.

After several days of riding we had become really comfortable on our bikes. We were at dinner with Neil, Hannah and William when we heard a loud crash and we all went running outside to see what had happened. Two Thai men had had a head on collision in the middle of an intersection because one of the men had been texting while driving. This is when Neil gave us the best advice we'd received yet. Do not get too comfortable on a motorbike. You may feel like a good driver but you always, always have to watch out for other people. So we spent the next few days riding around always on full alert but still having the times of our lives.

Steering three people on a motorbike is easy once you master it on an elephant.


Sunday, January 20, 2013

We may have picked up an accent

Jan 9th-ish 2013
Ashley here

Who do you hate more than those people who walk around talking with weird accents, and you're like oh where are you from?  And they're like who me?  Oh I'm from Cincinnati, love.  And you're like....???

That's us now.  I mean if not us it's definitely me-  I won't speak for Kim, but I will say that I've heard her mention how excited she is to go to Oz in a few months and that she'd fancy another beer a time or two.

What happened was...we met these 3 awesome new British friends here in Pai on our second night, and have pretty much not left their sides for 5 days straight.  It's a couple from England, Hannah and Neil, and a Scottish dude named William who I can understand most of the time, except for when he's talking to another Scottish person and then there's no way.  He insists they're speaking english but I don't think so.

After the first day we spent with them I was like oh how novel!  They call a jacket a jumper!  And a truck a lorry!  Isn't that nice.  And now while I'm riding down the road on my motorbike I catch myself literally thinking with an accent.  I'm like maybe we should have a cheeky little snack at that restaurant before we head back.  Or oh no! Mind that dog in the road! Etc etc etc.  It's embarrassing even when I'm the only one hearing myself think.
Anyways, just felt the need to confess.  Thanks for listening :)  Cheerio mates! -Ash

Kim and me with our 3 new besties having a barry night out!  (Barry = awesome in Scottish)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Riding the bus to Pai is like being on the teacups ride at Disneyland for 3 hours straight

January 6th, 2013
Ashley here

After 6 days in Chiang Mai we decided to bus our way to a nearby mountain town called Pai that we'd heard good things about.  Kim was especially eager to go there because it was supposed to be full of hippies and you know that girl likes to get her hippy on from time to time.

Here's a sneak peak of just how hippy the town turned out to be
The one problem with deciding to go to Pai next was that we'd heard the bus ride there was pretty awful.  We can now confirm these rumors are 100% true.

Riding the bus to Pai is like being on the teacups ride at Disneyland for 3 hours straight.  You're crammed in there, all sweaty and annoyed, sliding back and forth between the window and the person next to you every time the bus goes around a corner, and unfortunately this road has exactly 762 corners.  It's so bad that people have counted and they make t-shirts saying "I survived the ride to Pai".  I honestly think I hit my head on either Kim or the window about 760 was pretty terrible.  Thank god we were warned before the ride about the road and were able to take some Dramamine before we left, otherwise we may have suffered the same fate as the girl who spent the entire ride puking into her Cheetos bag until it almost overflowed.

<just imagine a picture of a little Chinese girl neatly puking in a bag of Cheetos here>

All smiles before the journey starts.
To make matters worse- almost 3 hours into the trip our crazy driver still had not pulled over for a bathroom break and I was pretty sure I was going to pee my pants.  He didn't speak English and I was in the very back of the bus so I wasn't sure how I was going to get him to pull over.  Right as I was about to start yelling "TOILET" towards the front of the bus, the only Thai lady riding with us managed to convince the driver to pull over at a rest stop.  Every girl on that bus literally dove out the door and we all ran towards the bathrooms.  That's when I saw it.  My first squatter toilet.  Nothing I could do about.  I couldn't hold it, I couldn't try to find a different place to go, I just had to roll with it.  All I'll say is thank god I was wearing closed toe shoes. :/

At least they had a sink?  Even if they didn't have soap.  Or toilet paper.  OR  anything you might actually want.
We finally got to town in mostly one piece and were then picked up by the owners of the hotel we were staying at....on a motorcycle with a side car.  Kim got on the back of the bike and I sat in the side car with our backpacks.  At this point any type of transportation was better than being on that bus to Pai.

Our VIP ride to our hotel in Pai.  Note- This photo was taken from a side car.
We fought over who got to ride in the sidecar and I won :)

On a happy note, the city way exceeded our expectations!!  It was definitely the cutest town we'd seen so far, with the markets, and mountains, and shops, and we were super excited to start exploring.

That first night we had an amazing dinner for $3, we got our first Thai oil massages which definitely wouldn't be our last, we tried squid jerky from a street vendor which definitely would be our last, we met some people from Colorado who also were obsessed with Macklemore's new CD and they let me play the whole Heist album on the bar's sound system, and we froze our booties off in our bungalow because we had no idea how cold it was going to be in this new city!

This mixed veg was like 5 cents!! Made me want to be a vegetarian for at least 10 minutes.

This is the bar where they let me play Macklemore on their speakers and we had a dance party with our new friends.
Here's me dominating pool.  Stop judging my tennis shoe/dress combo.  I'm traveling ok!  I can't explain it!

Kim pretending to like dried squid
Me pretending to like dried squid

Lots more on the lovely city of Pai to come! :)

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Sawatdee, Kyle!! (That means goodbye)

We sent Kyle off on a 40 hour journey back to Seattle where he had 1.5 days to recover before starting busy season. Hope that worked out well for you my friend.

The last of many delicious fruit smoothies at our 'Farewell to Kyle' dinner.

Ashley told Kyle to join us just a month before we left and since he does everything she says, he agreed to purchase a high priced ticket to fly to paradise during Christmas/New Year's Eve. If that isn't love I don't know what is.

His last day on the trip. Have you ever seen someone look like more of a tourist? His shirt says 'My city is filthy- Seattle'.

About to send him off on his million hour journey home.

The past two weeks were filled with many hilarious anecdotes, jokes, dance moves and monologues that had Ashley almost peeing her pants on many occasions.  Despite your two week long eye infection, your bout of food poisoning, and that other time you puked, we hope you had as much fun as we did. :)

Don't worry, Ashley stopped crying a few days after you left.

We miss you Kyle!!

Kim and Ashley

Chiang Mai, Thailand

Chiang Mai, Thailand - December 30th - January 5th

Ashley already touched a bit on Chiang Mai and we left over a week ago but we have to fill you in/record it for our own memory so here goes...

We loved Chiang Mai. It kind of feels like you aren't in Thailand because there seem to be almost as many tourists and expats as there are Thai people. But everyone is friendly and smiley so we were happy. Also, Chiang Mai is a lot cheaper than the southern islands. Considering we haven't maintained our budget at all, this was a good thing. Instead of going over budget by buying beach chairs, food and ridiculous clothes and musical instruments we didn't need, we went over budget by riding elephants and taking cooking classes. We spent our days and nights walking through the many street markets, getting a lot of massages and exploring the different areas of the city.

We have a one hug a day policy. We believe a hug a day keeps homesickness away.
The buses in town, songthaews, are actually red trucks with two long benches in back, no door to stop you from falling out, and inconveniently placed windows you can't see out of unless you are 4'10". Despite this, they are really fun to ride in. Every single one advertises for the Tiger Kingdom, the place where you can pose with drugged out tigers, and unfortunately, ads for the Sn@ke Farm as well. Ash happened to turn her head to see a huge cobra staring at her and her uneasiness for the rest of the ride was palpable.

Metro system Chiang Mai style.
We took one of these buses up to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep, the most famous temple in town. This required walking up over 300 steps lined with people selling food, tiny Buddhas and bracelets. We sampled some of the most interesting food yet here- sketchy sausages on sticks and pickled mango with chili pepper. Can't say we were overly impressed with either item and the sausages may have caused some problems later in the day.

Exploring one of the hundreds of wats in town.
Made it to the top!
Covering up for the temple (but not hiding the cleavage).
Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep
One thing that became very apparent to us in Chiang Mai is how much Thai people love their King (and don't like his son). Firstly, his picture is everywhere around town. I'm pretty sure vandalizing one of these  photos would get you into more trouble than being caught with marijuana. Secondly, we were at the very crowded night market, bargaining a fair price for a necklace Ashley wanted, when a song came over multiple sound speakers in the street and everyone instantly stopped moving and talking. It was like in a movie where someone stops time and walks around repositioning things. We almost took a bite of someone's satay standing next to us. The song may have just been the national anthem but we will pretend it was in relation to the King to prove our point. Lastly, we went to see a movie (for only $3!) and after all the previews, a video montage of the King started and everyone in the audience stood in silence while this aired.

Sneaking ice cream into the movie theater.
We are so classy.
The only hiccup we had in Chiang Mai was our lodging. We decided to be social and stay in a hostel for this part of the trip. We found a super trendy looking hostel called SoHo and booked it on a whim. In a room meant for 7 we only had 1 other roommate, a Canadian who slept, no lie, for 1 hour a night. He'd sneak in at about 6 in the morning then leave at 7. And he'd been adhering to this schedule for 2 weeks. It was at this point I really appreciated being able to use my age as an excuse to go to bed early.

So all was going well in the lodging department until NYE. We came back to our hostel in the afternoon to discover an "Out of Service" note on the elevator. We were sleeping on the 7th floor. We accepted this inconvenience as a way to burn off the extra calories we'd be drinking later in the night. Then more "Out Of Service" signs started appearing. On the computers, on the washing machines, on the bathroom doors. And then.....the whole hostel lost power AND RUNNING WATER.

 The fact they had at least 50 of these on hand (no power, no printing) led us to believe this wasn't the first time this has happened.

We'd started drinking already so didn't think of how this would affect our future and took off to celebrate NYE. Cut to the next morning. Woke up with a hangover. Foot was covered in dirt from walking home barefoot. May have vomited in one of the "Out of Service" bathrooms in the middle of the night. All I wanted to do was wash my hands, my feet and brush my teeth. But  there was no running water to be found anywhere. And so while Kyle and I slept off our hangovers, Ashley not only negotiated a refund for the previous night, she also found us the fanciest hotel in town (obviously at a super discounted rate), with a glorious swimming pool, that we promptly moved into for the rest of the trip.

From no water to this.

Full day recovery. We didn't eat a bite until 1700.


Monday, January 14, 2013

Thai Cooking Class!

Chiang Mai, Thailand - Jan 4th
Ashley here

One of the things we were most excited about doing in Thailand was taking a cooking class, and we found a great place to do it in Chiang Mai!

I think it was called Thai Cookery
So excited to start cooking!
For $30 each we were able to pick 6 dishes to learn to cook, got to stuff our faces, and got to walk around a local market with a really cute basket where we picked out our ingredients. It was awesome!

Shopping in a local market with a basket.  Dreams really do come true!
The only lame part was that we had to spend the entire day hanging out with an eclectic group of semi-annoying fellow travelers.  All of these day long excursion situations are super hit or miss.  For example- the elephant thing was extra awesome because we were in a group with a bunch of really fun people who made me cry laughing the entire time, and cooking class was only a regular amount of awesome because we were in a group with some too cool for school Americans (some of the only Americans we've seen actually!) and one of those really annoying people who is constantly adding in extra facts when you're not even talking to them... 'Oh yeah! This is Thai basil-you probably haven't seen it before. Did you know the Thais and the Vietnamese went to war over a dispute involving ginger?'  Blah, blah, blah.  It was really annoying!  But aside from our classmates the cooking school was really great.  The teachers were awesome and everything was super clean and the food all ended up tasting delicious!  And this wouldn't be social media if we didn't post tons of pictures of it, right?

My "green" curry (no spice)
Kim's green curry- super spicy!

Sauteing baby bananas for dessert
Add caption
Chicken fried rice- even easier to make than the soup!
Making chili paste from scratch
Kim enjoying the fruits of her labor
The most important thing we learned is that Thai food is super easy to cook.  I know!!  I was shocked too!!  Now put down that take out menu (or popcorn and wine you were about to have for dinner) and chef yourself up a delicious Thai meal instead.  Below I'm including the recipe for my favorite thing I learned to make.  It's that coconut chicken soup you can get at any Thai food place, but I swear it's even more delicious when you make it yourself, and I think it took maybe 10 minutes to make?  Oooh maybe I can be the next Rachel Ray!  Ten Minute Thai Meals.  Yumm-eeee!

Some of the ingredients
Chicken and Coconut Milk Soup (Tom Yum Gai)


2 1/2 cups coconut milk (you can do half coconut cream and half water to make this)
1/2 cup of coconut cream
4 slices of galangal (thai ginger- but regular ginger works too!)
A few lemon or lime leaves
A handful of oyster mushrooms
A couple green onions diced up
A quarter of a white onion diced up
1/2 a small tomato
2 Tbs of lemon or lime juice
1-3 tiny red chilies depending on how spicy you want it
1 and 1/2 Tbs of fish sauce
Fresh cilantro to garnish


1.  Put coconut milk in the wok and add the chopped ginger. green onions, regular onions and tomatoes
2.  Add the chicken and cook until tender
3.  Add the mushrooms then the think coconut cream, lemon leaves, and chilies.  Cook for another 4-5 mins
4.  Take off heat and add the lemon or lime juice and fish sauce
5.  Be impressed with how quickly and easily you just made that awesome soup!  And if it doesn't taste good blame me and look up a better recipe online :)